WERF Study Uses Dogs to Find Fecal Contamination in Storm Drains

In a new project, the Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF) is using canine scent tracking, or sewage sniffing dogs, to find sources of human waste contamination in storm drains.

Trainer/handler Scott Reynolds of Environmental Canine Services will test Sable's tracking ability in Santa Barbara's Creeks Division. Sable, a German shepherd mix that was rescued from a shelter, is the first dog in the world to be scent-trained to track sources of human waste in storm drains. Photo courtesy Scott Reynolds.

Previous research using DNA-based techniques 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.

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 on:
  • Correlating the results of canine scent tracking in locations previously tested using DNA-based microbial source tracking, traditional indicator bacteria tests, and chemical fingerprinting.
  • Testing 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.
  • Investigating the feasibility of using canine scent tracking for systematic outfall testing.
  • Searching for instances of illegal waste-tank dumping by recreational vehicle owners.
  • Developing community outreach events where the public can learn more about sewage sniffing dogs and source tracking.

Stormwater 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.

The project is funded under WERF’s unsolicited grant program and will be completed in December.

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