What Are Sewer Dogs?

Environmental Canine Services visited Piney Creek Watershed and sniffed around. The results from their work are shown below. All the spots are were samples were collected. The blue outline is the limits of the Piney Creek Watershed. Funded by the WVDEP.

Full Water Shed Plan

Sewer Dog Project

The most widespread problem in the Piney Creek drainage is stream contamination from sewage bacteria. Identifying the sources of bacterial contamination is the first step in solving this problem but conventional laboratory methods are costly and time consuming. PCWA received a grant from West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection to evaluate an innovative technique to utilize a scent-trained dog for tracking the sources of bacterial contamination in the field. The two-day visit by a dog (Sable) and handler (Scott Reynolds) from Environmental Canine Services (ECS) of Vermontville, Michigan was very successful and included field reconnaissance work in the watershed, a public demonstration, and an environmental professionals’ workshop.

As a new and unique technology, the goals of our canine source tracking project were to learn about the technology and evaluate its suitability in our environment as well as provide data on fecal contamination in the watershed and provide opportunity for outreach and education of the general public and environmental professionals. All of these goals were achieved.

The canine team evaluated a mile of Little Whitestick Creek on the morning of May 26, 2013. The dog was directed to each outfall into the creek by his handler and responded by barking if sewage was detected. Numerous outfalls were indicated as hits and one stretch of broken sewer pipe has already been repaired. The team also evaluated nearly a half mile of residential areas by examining storm sewer inlets and road-side ditches for sewage contamination. In the afternoon of the 26th the dog evaluated over 20 samples collected from tributaries of Piney Creek. Again some hits were noted yet most of the samples were clean. (See the map for locations evaluated during the project).

An evening presentation/demonstration was conducted at the Erma Byrd Higher Education Center in Beaver, WV. This meeting was open to the public and had over 20 residents in attendance. Scott Reynolds described the history of his efforts to use dogs as an efficient technique for tracking sewage and included a demonstration using bucket samples. Attendees enjoyed meeting Sable, heard about the water pollution issues in our watershed and also learned about the local animal rescue group that was invited to our meeting since Sable had been rescued from an animal shelter as a puppy.

During the morning of May 30th an environmental professionals’ workshop was held at the Erma Byrd Center with 25 people in attendance from as far away as Morgantown and Harrisonburg, Va. The program started with an introductory talk “The Need for Source Tracking” by Jeremiah Johnson, General Manager, Beckley Sanitary Board. Charles Hagedorn, Professor, Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences, Virginia Tech then presented “Tools and Strategies for Tracking Sources of Fecal Pollution in Watersheds”. This talk covered a wide range of techniques including biochemical/genetic testing to identify the specific species (human, canine, bovine, avian, etc)sewer2responsible for fecal contamination. Scott Reynolds talk “Canine Source Tracking” described his experience with source tracking in general and his development of the canine source tracking concept. Beth Schrayshuen, Engineer, Beckley Sanitary Board concluded the presentation portion of the program by summarizing the previous day’s field experience with the dog. An informal demonstration period followed a short break with plenty of time for interaction among attendees and presenters.

Through this project, the public was made aware of the important issue of bacterial contamination of our streams through the public live presentation, a local newspaper article, three TV reports on local stations, and one extended report broadcast statewide on WV Public Radio. This project has benefitted PCWA, Raleigh County and extended communities by educating professionals and the general public about the issue of bacterial contamination in our streams and how it can be successfully tracked using a variety of techniques.