One of the newest staff members at the Berkeley County Water and Sanitation Department is 2 years old and crawls.
She is a Golden Retriever-Labrador mix named Agua, donated to the department by the Berkeley County Animal Center in October 2020. Since then, she has been specially trained with Lowcountry Dog Training to detect water leaks.
Specifically, it is made up of a specific scent, said John Eponpeaux, the department’s water superintendent.
“It’s the gases, the chlorine gases,” Eponpeaux said. “…This is how they treat the water to clean and purify it. There is a hint of chlorine in all of our water.”
Since training, the dog has detected several service line leaks across the county, as well as at utilities in neighboring municipalities.
Before Agua, it often took BCWS days or weeks to find leaks. Now it only takes a few minutes.
During a particular call in October 2021, Agua was able to identify a leak in a sewer line within 30 minutes, after a contractor spent several days trying to locate it.
“Agua has proven to be a major asset to water and sanitation in Berkeley County and the county as a whole, saving us a lot of time and money – and she never calls sick” , BCWS director Doug Tompkins said in a statement.
Agua trains weekly and works closely with a BCWS service truck operator, Tim McKnight. It’s like she’s a police dog. The two live together and spend every day working together.
Agua only needs about one dice filled with water to detect a leak.
“I can put two ccs (cubic centimeters) of water on the floor and she can detect it,” McKnight said. “She is very precise. She found one here (on) Oakley Road that they worked on for months and was able to locate it within a few feet.
The labor and money saved by Agua have not yet been totaled, but BCWS officials believe the savings will be substantial. Which begs the question of why more water utilities aren’t using animal noses more often.
“The only other (water leak detection dog) in the United States that I know of is in Arkansas,” Eponpeaux said. “I think it’s from Britain. That’s where a guy from Arkansas discovered it. He was at a seminar there and they were talking about it.”
Agua is expected to be in office for years. The time and money it will save the department makes Agua worth its weight in gold.
“Our success with this unique dog is due in large part to the Berkeley Animal Center, Lowcountry Dog Training and Pet Supplies Plus of Goose Creek,” Thompkins said. “We are confident that Agua will continue to be a vital community resource in the future.”