EPA passes the buck to GA-EPD for Valdosta raw sewage spill 2020-01-31

The EPA took weeks to write to WWALS to confirm less than what it said in the January 8, 2019 meeting in Madison, Florida:


      220 years to fix? Need better oversight --Brannan, EPA
Photo: John S. Quarterman for WWALS, still from WWALS Video, Madison, Florida, of Carol L. Kemker, Director, Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Division, and others.

In Georgia, the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) has authority for establishing procedures for how permitted utilities are to respond during a major spill event. The EPA has delegated permitting authority to the state under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Program (NPDES). However, the EPA does maintain a state oversight role. After the sewage spill into the Withlacoochee, the EPA reached out to EPD to ensure the spill’s cause was properly addressed and notification procedures were followed. The EPA continues to work with EPD to reduce the possibility of future spills from Valdosta into the Withlacoochee River.

No detail was included in the EPA Region 4 letter to WWALS as to how the spill’s cause was to be addressed, or why notification procedures were the only other topic worth mentioning. EPA Region 4’s response says nothing about water quality testing, tracking procedures, alternative water supply, water well testing cost reimbursement, wildlife on land and water, underground plumes of contamination, or an educational campaign; all topics listed in the WWALS letter to which EPA is replying.

Apparently it took a week for the email I forwarded to EPA Region 4 on December 17th to get there on December 23, 2019. Then it took another month for EPA to send a paper reply letter in fancy packaging.

EPA also recommended:

For further information on EPD’s NPDES program and their response to the Valdosta spill, please contact Mr. Lewis Hays, Program Manager, Watershed Compliance Program at (404) 463-4953.

Yes, I copied Lewis Hays when I sent the letter to GA-EPD back on December 17th, and I confirmed later that he had in fact gotten it.

Director Kemker said more at the January 8th Madison meeting, as transcribed by Stew Lilker, Columbia County Observer, 7.5 Mil Gal of Raw Sewage Headed Into N. FL From Valdosta – FL Sen. Bill Montford Wants Answers:

My experience is Georgia is issuing a new order… They are looking for weeks, not months [to issue a new order].”

It had already been three weeks after January 8th before EPA Region 4 dated their response letter to WWALS as January 31, 2020. It’s been more than five weeks now. Where’s the new or updated GA-EPD Consent Order?

Photo: Stew Lilker, Columbia County Observer, 7.5 Mil Gal of Raw Sewage Headed Into N. FL From Valdosta – FL Sen. Bill Montford Wants Answers, of Carol L. Kemker, Director, Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Division.
Photo: Stew Lilker, Columbia County Observer, 7.5 Mil Gal of Raw Sewage Headed Into N. FL From Valdosta – FL Sen. Bill Montford Wants Answers, of Carol L. Kemker, Director, Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Division.

In Madison Director Kemker also said:

Ms. Kemker continued, “Georgia is working for there to be improved oversight at the operation of the plant as a whole, not just third parties, but everyone that touches and operates that plant… My understanding is that Valdosta is working on standard operating procedures to help and have better operational controls and accountability, even before an order comes out… It has to be a time frame that matches the urgency, but at the same time is realistically doable by the City of Valdosta.”

Well, I guess it’s time to take Valdosta City Manager Mark Barber’s advice from the Valdosta meeting, also January 8th, when in response to my question of how to get a copy of Valdosta’s Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), he said:

…from EPD; you know them well.

Monday I will file Georgia Open Records Act (GORA) requests with GA-EPD and the City of Valdosta for Valdosta’s SOP, old and updated.

EPA Region 4 response to WWALS

Thanks to Gretchen Quarterman for scanning the paper letter. Thanks to the tesseract optical character recognition software for turning it into machine-readable text.

[EPA-to-WWALS-2020-01-31]
EPA-to-WWALS-2020-01-31

UNITED STATES ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
REGION 4
ATLANTA FEDERAL CENTER
61 FORSYTH STREET
ATLANTA, GEORGIA 30303-8960
JAN 3 1 2020

CERTIFIED MAIL 7019 0700 0000 6131 2869
RETURN RECEIPT REQUESTED

Mr. John S. Quarterman
WWALS Watershed Coalition
PO Box 88
Hahira, Georgia 31632

Dear Mr. Quarterman:

Thank you for your December 23, 2019 email to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concerning Valdosta’s sewage spill into the Withlacoochee River and warning signs at public access points. Your email was forwarded to the EPA Region 4 office in Atlanta, Georgia, for response.

In Georgia, the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) has authority for establishing procedures for how permitted utilities are to respond during a major spill event. The EPA has delegated permitting authority to the state under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Program (NPDES). However, the EPA does maintain a state oversight role. After the sewage spill into the Withlacoochee, the EPA reached out to EPD to ensure the spill’s cause was properly addressed and notification procedures were followed. The EPA continues to work with EPD to reduce the possibility of future spills from Valdosta into the Withlacoochee River. For further information on EPD’s NPDES program and their response to the Valdosta spill, please contact Mr. Lewis Hays, Program Manager, Watershed Compliance Program at (404) 463-4953.

We appreciate your desire to protect and preserve the environment and hope you find this information helpful. If we may be of further assistance, please contact Ms. Mary Jo Bragan on my staff at (404) 562-9275,

Sincerely,
[signed]
Carol L. Kemker
Director
Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Division

cc: Jac Capp, GA EPD
Lewis Hays, GA EPD

Internet Address (URL) • http://www.epa.gov
Recycled/Racyciable • Printed wth Vegetable Oil Based Inks on Recycled Paper (Minimum 30% Postconsumer)

You Can Help

You can help WWALS test water quality by donating to our WWALS water quality testing program.

[Suzy with a Petrifilm]
Suzy Hall with a Petrifilm.
Each bacterial test costs $6 for Petrifilms alone.
WWALS is spending about $40 a day on Petrifilms after this Valdosta spill.

Much more about this December 2019 Valdosta record-largest raw sewage spill is on the WWALS website.
http://wwals.net/issues/vww/valdosta-spills/

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

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