Central Arkansas Water has a new tool to detect leaks in its distribution system. The company unveiled Vessel, the nation’s first water leak detection dog, during a news conference on Tuesday. Vessel, a black Labrador mix, has undergone training to detect leaks in the water distribution system.
According to Central Arkansas Water CEO Tad Bohannon, unaccounted water rates for the company are around 11% or 12%. While the "gold standard" from the American Water Works Association is around 9%, Bohannon had a greater goal of reducing it to 5%.
"We’ve tried lots of things including satellite detection and many of the other technical responses. But even then, it’s a time-consuming process for the employees to go out and look for surfacing water, test every one of those surfacings to see if it’s done," Bohannon said.
Vessel achieves the same objective by sniffing out the chlorine that’s present in treated water and laying down and barking when she finds the leak. The chemical odor from treated water helps her differentiate between what is a treated water leak and what is ground water. Doug Shackelford, director of Public Affairs and Communications for Central Arkansas Water, says using Vessel is a cheaper and quicker alternative.
"With Vessel, the fact that we were able to get her from Paws in Prison, as a rescue, there was no cost to the utility for Vessel to come to us. Really, all we’ve paid for is just the training," Shackelford said.
Bohannon said the idea for a water leak detection dog came from a trip abroad to the United Kingdom, where a water utility there had recently introduced its detection dog.
"I came back and told the employees at CAW, 'We’re going to have a dog that can find water leaks.’ And they kind of laughed, 'Ha ha. Another crazy idea of Tad’s'," Bohannon said. However, the company put money in the budget for it and eventually teamed up with trainers from Arkansas Paws in Prison, an organization that gives inmates the opportunity to train rescue dogs for adoption. Professional trainers identified Vessel as a possible candidate for the job and she underwent specific training to detect leaks.
According to Shackelford, Vessel has already gotten attention from other water treatment companies across the nation.
"We’ve begun to get the word out more and more nationally. Other utilities are following our social media, they’re following Vessel on social media now. They want to know what she’s doing, how it happened and how they can get involved or get their own dog," Shakelford said.
In addition to meeting the public, Vessel also conducted a demonstration on her detecting skills with her handler Stephen Sullivan. After successfully finding the hidden water container on two separate occasions, Vessel was rewarded with a ball to play with. Sullivan said Vessel was quick to take up the training and enjoys being challenged.
"What we were going to do is we were going to set up just some canisters and make her go to the one with the CAW water in it. No deal. She wasn’t having it. She knocked them over. The first time she found it, the second time she was like 'Nope. I’m not doing it. C’mon guys, y'all can do better than this,'" Sullivan said.
If Vessel proves herself to be a success, Shackleford said they are open to expanding its fleet of detection dogs and increase the area where Vessel detects water.
"Can we take Vessel to other parts of the state to provide the same services for them and help them find their issues? I think we can," Shackleford said. "I think that’s one of our goals is to get Vessel out more and more if she really does prove to be effective for us and let her help out some of those smaller utilities elsewhere that really need the help."