Valdosta and Lowndes County water treatment quality compared to region

Valdosta indeed didn’t have the worst water treatment violations in Lowndes County, Georgia, but it was worse than any nearby city in Georgia or Florida (and Lowndes County was worse than any nearby county). Once again, the Valdosta Daily Times said (twice) that Valdosta “is now in full compliance”. This is about drinking water treatment; sewage is another story. But in both cases, if Valdosta doesn’t want the local newspaper to treat the city as the villain of the piece, maybe it should stop reacting like one.

Georgia and Florida

The above screenshot from Threats on Tap: Widespread Violations Highlight Need for Investment in Water Infrastructure and Protections shows Georgia has been pretty bad, but Florida was much worse.

Let’s look at the area around Valdosta.

Valdosta area

That map says “VALDOSTA” in big letters, but we’ve >already seen that most of the violations in Lowndes County were from subdivision water treatment systems, not from the city of Valdosta.

Yet let’s look in more detail. I’ve summarized the map information for several counties in tables. As is pretty obvious from the map, the tables also show no other county in the Suwannee River Basin had as many violations as Lowndes, and no other city had as many as Valdosta.

Lowndes County SWDA Violations

Water SystemSystem IDPopulationTotal ViolationsNumber of Rules ViolatedHealth Rules in Violation
VALDOSTAGA185000251,691 52DBP; Coliform
PINERIDGE SUBDIVISIONGA1850025208 61DBP
GREENBRIAR ESTATESGA185005581 21Coliform
LOWNDES CO.- ALAPAHA PLANTATION S/DGA1850274213 161DBP
LOWNDES CO.- SPRING CREEK S/DGA18502972,306 41DBP
Lowndes CountyTotal 54499 33 2 DBP; Coliform

Brooks County SWDA Violations

Water SystemSystem IDPopulationTotal ViolationsNumber of Rules ViolatedHealth Rules in Violation
QUITMANGA02700024,942 11Colifors
Brooks CountyTotal 4942 1 1 Colifors

Berrien County SWDA Violations

Water SystemSystem IDPopulationTotal ViolationsNumber of Rules ViolatedHealth Rules in Violation
NASHVILLEGA01900024,896 11Coliform
Berrien CountyTotal 4896 1 1 Coliform

Atkinson County SWDA Violations

Water SystemSystem IDPopulationTotal ViolationsNumber of Rules ViolatedHealth Rules in Violation
WILLACOOCHEEGA00300011,940 11Coliform
Atkinson CountyTotal 1940 1 1 Coliform

Columbia County SWDA Violations

Water SystemSystem IDPopulationTotal ViolationsNumber of Rules ViolatedHealth Rules in Violation
LAKE CITY WTPFL212063017,775 11Coliform
FORT WHITE, TOWN OFFL2124399750 21DBP
Columbia CountyTotal 18525 3 2 Coliform; DBP

Gilchrist County SWDA Violations

Water SystemSystem IDPopulationTotal ViolationsNumber of Rules ViolatedHealth Rules in Violation
LANCASTER CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTEFL22106471,175 11Coliform
Gilchrist CountyTotal 1175 1 1 Coliform

Let’s look farther afield in Georgia. Grady County has an arsenic problem. Yet it and the city of Cairo had fewer violations than Lowndes County and Valdosta, and ditto for Chatham County and Savannah (which had none), and Liberty County.

Georgia

Grady County SWDA Violations

Water SystemSystem IDPopulationTotal ViolationsNumber of Rules ViolatedHealth Rules in Violation
CAIROGA13100009,703 31Arsenic
HILLSIDE PARKGA1310022309 31Arsenic
Grady CountyTotal 10012 6 1 Arsenic

Chatham County SWDA Violations

Water SystemSystem IDPopulationTotal ViolationsNumber of Rules ViolatedHealth Rules in Violation
POOLERGA051000121,187 11Coliform
BELLAIRE VILLAGE SUBDIVISIONGA051011457 11Coliform
CROSBY MOBILE ESTATES IIGA051022365 11LCR
Chatham CountyTotal 21309 3 2 LCR; Coliform

Liberty County SWDA Violations

Water SystemSystem IDPopulationTotal ViolationsNumber of Rules ViolatedHealth Rules in Violation
USA-FORT STEWART MAINGA179002427,573 21Coliform
C.R.STANFORD APARTMENTSGA179004852 21Coliform
Liberty CountyTotal 27625 4 1 Coliform

Now let’s look nearby in Florida. We have a winner! High Springs in Alachua County had 6 violations, more than Valdosta’s 5. But even more populous Alachua and Duval Counties had fewer violations than Lowndes County, and bigger cities Gainesville and Jacksonville had none. Duval County water treatment systems did violate more types of rules than any of these counties; a very dubious distinction.

Florida

Alachua County SWDA Violations

Water SystemSystem IDPopulationTotal ViolationsNumber of Rules ViolatedHealth Rules in Violation
HIGH SPRINGS WTPFL20102013,750 61DBP
NEWBERRY WTPFL20102073,885 11Coliform
MICANOPY WATER SYSTEMFL2010749650 61DBP
Alachua CountyTotal 8285 13 2 DBP; Coliform

Duval County SWDA Violations

Water SystemSystem IDPopulationTotal ViolationsNumber of Rules ViolatedHealth Rules in Violation
SUNNY PINESFL216011080 42SOC; Coliform
ATLANTIC BEACH WATER SYSTEMFL216020026,172 11Coliform
N.S. MAYPORTFL216073420,500 11Coliform
CREEKSIDE COMMUNITY PARK MHPFL2160906150 22Coliform; VOC
BELLE OAKS WTPFL216440060 11Coliform
DINSMORE CORRECTIONALFL2164401150 32DBP; Coliform
Duval CountyTotal 47112 12 4 VOC; DBP; Coliform; SOC

There’s some explanation for why big cities seem to have cleaner drinking water than smaller ones in the NRDC’s Threats on Tap: Widespread Violations Highlight Need for Investment in Water Infrastructure and Protections,

The report found that people who live in rural communities could be particularly vulnerable. Nationwide, small systems that serve 500 or fewer people account for nearly 70 percent of all violations of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

These small systems triggered a little more than half of all the health-based violations.

“We shouldn’t have a two-tiered water system in this country,” Wu said. “It shouldn’t mean just because you live in a town with fewer people that you don’t have access to as clean drinking water. They should demand that.”

Wu urged people to inquire about their water systems. The EPA’s database of violations can be found here: https://www.epa.gov/enviro/sdwis-search.

Georgia has hundreds of these small systems, found in subdivisions, mobile home parks and other communities all across the state.

And Florida apparently is even worse.

Back to the VDT story that started the present kerfluffle. Jill Nolin, Valdosta Daily Times, front page, 2017-05-10,

The City of Valdosta, with seven violations, had the most offenses of any city of its size in the state but is now in full conpliance, the group said in an email.

I haven’t looked at all the data for the entire state of Georgia (or Florida), but it seems quite possible that “The City of Valdosta … had the most offenses of any city of its size in the state”.

So Mayor John Gayle of Valdosta seems to have not been completely accurate in what he told the VDT the next day. Kimberly Cannon, Valdosta Daily Times, 10 May 2017, City celebrates water: Mayor refutes water quality report,

“This article in the paper today was totally inaccurate;”

And, as the VDT pointed out in both articles, “the city is now in full compliance”, a point on which the mayor agrees, so obviously the VDT was not completely inaccurate in what it wrote recently about local drinking water treatment quality.

And the seven downstream Florida counties (now plus a city) weren’t completely inaccurate, either, when they passed resolutions asking the state of Florida to step in about Valdosta sewage downstream. As I tried to point out to Valdosta Mayor and Council in one of their recent meetings, those downstream governments have a point that any sewage spill by Valdosta triggers Florida Department of Health advisories that make people get off the water, which is a huge problem for local economies dependant on the rivers. Laughing that off, as the mayor did, did not help.

I applaud the city of Valdosta for spending many millions of tax dollars (some of which I paid) to fix its drinking water treatment and wastewater treatment problems. Yet the city could do better in making its case.

Similarly I applaud the county of Lowndes for spending (not as) many millions of tax dollars (some of which I paid) to fix its drinking water treatment problems. I don’t applaud all the no-bid contracts the county seems to employ. And I wonder how many spills or overflows have occurred from Lowndes County’s Land Application Site (the county does not have any wastewater treatment plants), or from its closed landfill, or from the privatized open landfill with its coal ash, PCBs, and Superfund wastewater.

Anonymous informants inside the city of Valdosta say their local government is more transparent about water issues than any other around here. While that is a very low bar, such a claim may be true. I look forward to Valdosta improving its public relations so people will know it.

River and drinking water quality, which are very interrelated, since river water leaks into groundwater and comes up in wells. Once again I suggest Valdosta could help persuade Georgia and Florida to fund reqular, frequent, independent water quality monitoring on the rivers above and below Valdosta. Yes, I know Valdosta does its own water quality monitoring. But “independent” is one of the keywords.

It would also help if the VDT would quote its sources and dig deeper into these water issues.

More in later blog posts.

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

You can join this fun and work by becoming a WWALS member today!

-jsq

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  1. Pingback: SDWA Health Violations: Valdosta, Lowndes County, and beyond 2017-05-02 | WWALS Watershed Coalition (Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®)

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