Meet the four-legged detectives inspecting your water quality

Since 2016, over 565 acres of the Navesink River in Fair Haven was prohibited from harvesting shellfish due to high levels of human waste being detected.

We treat 4.4 billion gallons of sewage a year. We have about 200 miles of pipe we maintain. We send a robot in at least once every five years to inspect from the inside,” said Michael Gianforte, executive director of the Two Rivers Water Reclamation Authority. “We also use lasers and sonar to just see the condition of the pipes. But the use of the dogs was interesting because it’s actually results-oriented because it’s out in the stream, walking up where we might have an influence.”

He’s referring to two canines, Kai and Remi. They may look like any other dogs, but they’re actually trained for a specific purpose. Whether it’s land or water, these four-legged detectives can sniff out human fecal pollution anywhere.

“And that can be from damaged sewer lines or from septic tanks that are not being properly maintained,” said Alison McCarthy, coastal watershed protection coordinator of Clean Ocean Action. “It can also be from illicit connections from people’s homes into the storm water system. And what happens is if you have sewage either that’s leaking out of a pipe, when you get a good rainstorm, it can wash right off of the land or through the soil and find its way down into the river.”

In response, Clean Ocean Action launched a rally for the Navesink River and partnered with the Environmental Canine Services to help identify several areas where fecal contamination is a problem. The trained pooches wasted no time showing off their talented noses. The dogs were taken away by one handler, while the other handler hid a bag of fecal matter in the middle of rocks. The dogs were then brought out and unleashed and within minutes sniffed out the hidden bag.

One of the doggy detectives, Kai, is 3 years old and trained with Environmental Canine Services for about year.

“His alert is a bark sit, but he gets so excited, that often there’s a jump in there in the middle,” said Laura Lecker, canine handler for Environmental Canine Services.

Lecker and Environmental Canine Services President Karen Reynolds say the dogs are a game-changer when it comes to the cost and time it takes to identify fecal pollution. 

“It is very cost-effective because it is cheaper than hiring people to go do the work. They can find things in hours, days or weeks that it may take people to find in months, years,” said Reynolds.

McCarthy says the goal is to restore the contaminated area of the river by 2020, which they say they’re on track to do. They also hope to expand and use the dogs in other parts of the state where human waste is an issue.