People keep asking me what can be done to prevent this from happening again? Valdosta has already built an entirely new Withlacoochee Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) uphill out of the flood plain, and a force main to reroute sewage around most of the manholes that previously were leaking: see their extensive writeups on those and other improvements. This recent event was due to equipment failure at the new WWTP, and they have the contractors out there redoing that under warranty.
What can you do?
- Show up in Valdosta when Valdosta or WWALS holds meetings about this.
- Write a letter to Valdosta demanding they hold to their new promise of “making similar information available in the timeliest manner”.
- Call, write, or show up at SRWMD and FDEP meetings and demand Florida do regular water quality monitoring on the Withlacoochee, Alapaha, and Suwannee Rivers so we’ll know what’s normal and what comes from Valdosta and what comes from somewhere else.
- Realize Valdosta isn’t the only city that has sewage spills (Tifton and Moultrie did, too, in the recent storms), and don’t pretend the smallest spill is equal to what happened in 2009.
- Of course, it will sure help if Valdosta will come clean early if this ever happens again, so maybe we can start to believe what they say.
- And, if you like what WWALS is doing to keep you informed and to try to get Valdosta to come clean, become a WWALS member.
City of Valdosta PR, 4:26 PM, 27 January 2017, Withlacoochee River Water Testing Within EPD Standards: City commits to providing information in timeliest manner,
It is the City of Valdosta’s goal and policy to communicate factually and comprehensively with our citizens and stakeholders. Earlier in the week, the city sent out information regarding a wastewater spill which resulted from a busted seal under warranty at the new Withlacoochee Wastewater Treatment Plant’s equalization basin. The city understands the concerns of some who would have preferred a quicker release of information and commits to making similar information available in the timeliest manner.
On Jan. 23, while the spill was contained on the city’s 75-acre property, spill information was shared with the Georgia Environmental Protection Agency (EPD), per their requirements. The information was also shared with the Florida Department of Health and several other agencies downstream who could and did communicate with their citizens. Information reported by other agencies was provided by the city. When contractors for the new plant arrived on Jan. 24 to confirm the cause and scope of the incident and the timeline for repairs, the city sent out additional and complete information to the public.
During the storm, the city was responding to numerous emergency situations that involved nearly all city departments. In this particular issue concerning the equalization basin, the city was waiting for a response and confirmation from its contractors. Since the plant is under warranty, any attempt to repair the plant by city staff would have voided the warranty which would have resulted in the taxpayers having to pay for any current and future repairs. Furthermore, the information from contractors responsible for their work and warranty repairs was helpful in explaining the cause and timeline for repair of the plant leak, which the city felt was important to include in the second round of communication.
The additional notifications to the Florida agencies are not part of Georgia EPD reporting requirements but are a Valdosta protocol that has been implemented above and beyond the requirements of EPD to proactively communicate with nearby Florida agencies—and thus their citizens— after a spill event. As a result, the information was posted through those agency’s channels to communicate with their citizens more than a day before the river waters would enter their communities, as the state line is 20-30 miles from the plant.
Another proactive measure the city has implemented since 2014 is its periodic water quality sampling program for the Withlacoochee River, in which data is collected that exceeds mandated sampling required in the event of a wastewater spill. The data collected provides a baseline assessment to compare water quality in the Withlacoochee River, and more specifically, provides information about the impact on the river before, during and following major rain events. (See Notes 1 and 2.)
The city is unaware of any other agency collecting this much information or any similar data to compare normal river conditions to major storm conditions. Similar sampling information from communities upstream and downstream from Valdosta, as well as samples that are collected and measured utilizing the same methods, would be useful, if available.
That PR continues with details of Valdosta’s sampling locations and results. Applauds, Valdosta!
However, after this recent incident, people are going to have a hard time believing the results. As has been discussed for years, we need independent third-party monitoring not only just after spills, but also regularly all the time so we know what’s baseline and what’s coming from somewhere else.
-jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®
You can join this fun and work by becoming a WWALS member today!