'They're super sniffers': Dogs taught to detect human waste help solve pollution origins
MOUNT VERNON, Wash. (KOMO) -- A dog that's trained to sniff out human waste is helping Skagit County officials figure out what's polluting the waterways.
It's an issue that officials say is threatening shellfish beds, and even people who get in those waters.
"They are super sniffers," said Karen Reynolds who is the President of Environmental Canine Services. "They're born to smell and they help humans in so many different capacities with their sniffing."
On Tuesday afternoon, Reynolds was leading a testing site in a parking lot in Mount Vernon where one of her canines, Crush, was trying to detect human waste in water samples. Crush and her handler, Aryn Hervel, traveled from California to Skagit County to figure out if human waste is the source of pollution in Skagit County waters where high levels of bacteria have been detected.
"We have a number of sites that we have high levels of bacteria that we haven't been able to figure out what the problem is," said Karen DuBose who is a Pollution Identification and Correction Coordinator for Skagit County.
DuBose regularly tests the water quality in Skagit County, and does it weekly during the wet season. She said the high bacteria levels are coming from the Samish River basin near Bow, Edison and Allen-- an area where there has been a lot of flooding recently with all the heavy rains.
Workers took water samples from those locations and put them inside containers that Crush would later sniff. During the investigation, if Crush stops and lies down next to a container then it's a sign the water contains human waste.
Once Crush's work is done, then DuBose will check county maps and records and do more water quality sampling to figure out where the pollution is coming from.
"It's really important because we have 4,000 acres of shellfish beds that are out in Samish Bay that are commercial shellfish beds, and right now they are conditionally approved, which means there's some pollution problems out there," said DuBose.
DuBose said it's possible the pollution is coming from failing septic systems. Last year, the county found 60 failing septic systems. She said it's important that homeowners inspect their systems every one to three years to make sure the system is working properly.