Dogs find sewage in Berrien County rivers

SAWYER, Mich. – It was a scene you’d likely see during a manhunt or a raid but the dogs that searched the Galien River near Sawyer Tuesday weren’t looking for drugs or a body. The dogs were searching for human sewage.

The Berrien County Health Department along with the Conservation Fund and Pokagon Fund are funding the search to locate failing septic systems along eight county streams and rivers that have caused Lake Michigan beach closures.

“It’s very dangerous here,” said Peg Khorling with the Conservation Fund. In August E-coli levels on Shorewood Hills’ stream, a tributary of the Galien River, tested more than 3,000 times higher than the limit for safe human contact.

This summer the Shorewood Hills Beach closed along with a number of other Lake Michigan beaches for high E-coli tests. Last week the New Buffalo Public Beach closed until water was tested at safe levels.

“Deer and raccoon (E-coli is) not the problem,” said Khorling. “We’re pretty confident that it’s failing septic systems.”

The scent dogs, with Lansing based Environmental K-9 Services, are two of only three dogs in the world trained to locate only human sewage.

The k-9 units scanned the Galien River near Three Oaks in the spring of 2012 and found 17 failing septic systems. This week the dogs will be searching Berrien County for four days.

“We can cover a large area in a short period of time,” said Scott Reynolds with Environmental K-9 Services. The scent dogs can do the same work in one day that would take months of traditional water testing. “All that time you’re waiting that pollution continues to be in the waterways and continues to be a risk to human health.”

“For ten years we’ve been trying to find those septic systems,” said Khorling. She estimates the scent dogs will find more than 100 failing septic systems throughout the week.

On Friday officials with the Berrien County Health Department will contact the owners of all septic systems found in violation.

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