Sewage-Sniffing Dog on the Trail of Pathogen Pollution

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Sable and his trainer/handler Scott Reynolds of Environmental Canine Services, LLC, will travel to the City of Santa Barbara Creeks Division to test canine scent tracking. Sable is the first dog in the world to be scent-trained to track sources of human waste in storm drains. Sable is a German Shepherd mix obtained from a shelter. (Photos courtesy of Scott Reynolds.)

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WERF research is going to the dogs to help identify local sources of fecal contamination in storm drains that discharge to creeks and beaches. A new project, Canine and Microbial Source Tracking in Santa Barbara, CA (U2R09), uses canine scent tracking, or sewage-sniffing dogs, to locate sources of human-waste contamination in storm drains.

Storm water professionals, coastal managers, and watershed protection groups need effective, easy, and low-cost methods to identify and locate sources of fecal contamination in storm drains that discharge to creeks and beaches.

Through the use of DNA-based techniques, previous research has shown that some storm drains are contaminated with human waste.Yet finding the precise locations where waste enters the storm drain network is challenging, due to a relatively high cost per sample and three-week turnaround time for results.

The project brings together a team from academic research on microbial source tracking, private consulting on illicit discharge detection and elimination, and a municipality that conducts extensive research and voluntary efforts to locate and mitigate the contamination of recreational waters.

Principle Investigator Jill Murray from the City of Santa Barbara and her collaborators, Scott Reynolds of Environmental Canine Services, LLC, and Patricia Holden of the University of California, Santa Barbara, will focus their efforts in five areas:

  • Correlate the results of canine scent tracking in locations previously tested using DNA-based microbial source tracking, traditional indicator bacteria tests, and chemical fingerprinting. 
  • Test the use of canines to detect physical locations of human waste entering storm drains in areas that are known to be problematic based on previous results.
  • Investigate the feasibility of using canine scent tracking for systematic outfall testing.
  • Search for instances of illegal waste-tank dumping by recreational vehicle owners.
  • Community outreach events where the public can learn more about sewage sniffing dogs and source tracking. 

This project is funded under WERF’s unsolicited grant program and will be completed in December 2010. For more information please contact Rhonda Kranz, program director of WERF’s pathogens research.

June 2, 2010