Human waste getting into our rivers: It takes a special method to sniff out the problem

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- It's a dirty job, but Milwaukee Riverkeeper is committed to it. The organization monitors water quality in the Milwaukee, Menominee, and Kinnickinnic Rivers. It's been testing a lot lately, and testers don't like what they've found -- human waste, is flowing.

We can't necessarily see it, but 8-year-old Sable can definitely smell it.

"Sable`s specific alert is a bark," said Scott Reynolds, Environmental Canine Services LLC.

He's rewarded with a ball or great after detecting something we find not so appetizing.

"What he is to do is  very quickly go up to a manhole that`s part of the storm water or a water sample and sniff that sample and let you know if there is human contamination," said Reynolds.

The K-9 working with the Milwaukee Riverkeeper to identify human waste that's getting into the river.

"We have very high bacteria levels in Kinnickinnic River. ...as well as in the low Menomonee river, very high bacteria levels," said Cheryl Nenn, Milwaukee Riverkeeper.

Nenn says since 2008, the group tested about 308 places where a sewer or drain discharges.

"About 150 of those pipes are positive for human sewage essentially. This is sewage that's  getting into river through the storm water system and that should really have rain and snow melt and run off the road," said Nenn.

In a lot of cases, signs of human waste is indicative that there are faulty pipes.

"A lot of times  the storm water pipes and sanitary pipes are very close to each other they could be cracks and broken and cross mixing," said Nenn.

After Sable gets a hit, the testing is taken on e step further, individuals with UWM Freshwater Sciences collect samples.

"They will run those samples in the lab and look for a bunch of different types of bacteria they look for things like ecoli etc," said Nenn.

The fecal matter has the potential to be very harmful.

"Its more likely to have viruses and pathogens and things associated with it that can make people sick and we have kids playing in the rivers fishing the rivers, paddling n the rivers," said Nenn.

The ultimate goal of the Riverkeepers is to find the source of the bacteria and get the rivers to a point where they are safe for fishing and swimming.

The information is given to municipalities that will help them identify where the priority area are and where they need to work to fix the pipes.

 

CLICK HERE to learn more about Milwaukee Riverkeeper and its projects.

CLICK HERE to download a canoe and kayak guide to Milwaukee's urban water trail.