Snipe the spaniel sniffs out water mains leaks

Snipe the spaniel sniffs out water mains leaks
Snipe sniffs out the only pot of tap water from the pots of rainwater. Image: United Utilities

United Utilities is the first water company to use the extraordinary olefactory senses of dogs to help detect mains pipe leakage. A cocker spaniel is being trained to detect chlorine near pipelines which could signify a leakage of water that has been disinfected for drinking.


The water company has recruited a rescue puppy called Snipe to become the UK’s first sniffer dog to be trained in this specialist skill. He will be used to help pinpoint problem pipes in rural areas where the water does not always show on the surface. Water is disinfected for drinking using one part of chlorine per million parts water and a cocker spaniel’s super-sensitive nose can detect scents at one part per billion so Snipe should have little difficulty.


The 16-month old cocker spaniel has been going through a rigorous training programme to help him learn how to recognise the tiniest traces of chlorine used to disinfect water supplies. Next he will learn how to put this into practice in a live environment, working with the leakage detection teams at the water company.


Hannah Wardle, Leakage Manager at United Utilities, explained: “Tackling leakage is a real priority for us and we’re always looking for new and innovative ways to do the job more effectively.


“The North West of England is a notoriously wet region, and sorting the leaks from the puddles, especially out in the fields, can be real challenge. This is where we hope Snipe will really come into his own, as his sensitive nose can detect mains water at incredibly low concentrations.


”With leakage detection it’s all about building up the evidence using a range of different technologies. We’re trialling the use of satellites and drones to get a bird’s eye view of a particular area, but the devil is in the detail, and pinpointing the exact place to start digging is more difficult than you might think.


“Snipe is going to be an invaluable asset to the team.”


Snipe is being trained by North West-based Ross Stephenson and Luke Jones, both ex-military dog trainers. Ross said: “Using dogs to search for drugs and explosives is well known, but there are a host of other applications that we are only just starting to explore. We’re really excited by the progress Snipe is making and we hope that soon water leak sniffer dogs will be a common sight.”