FL House Rep. Elizabeth Porter asks EPA to Valdosta wastewater

There’s been an outcry for the EPA to intervene, from people downstream of Valdosta on the Withlacoochee and Suwannee Rivers. Representing Hamilton, Suwannee, Columbia, and Baker Counties in the Florida statehouse, FL Rep. Elizabeth Porter [R-10] has taken up that cry.

In the current political climate of the EPA being downsized after it already was underfunded, not much is likely to come of this, especially given that Valdosta is already doing what it can to fix the problem. Although, as I may have mentioned, Valdosta brought this reaction on itself by not telling the public for two days about a massive wastewater leak, and then not even telling the public that it was stopped, while FDEP determined there were “high levels of enteric bacteria possibly due to a large spill of untreated sewage reported by the City of Valdosta, Georgia.” However, later the same Friday Rep. Porter sent her letter to the EPA, Valdosta promised to be more timely about telling people, and the contractor that installed the leaky seal is busily redoing all that.

Personally, I think a better request of the federal and state (both Florida and Georgia) governments would be to fund regular water quality monitoring of the Withlacoochee and Suwannee Rivers, not just when there’s a spill, but at regular frequent intervals, so we’d know what the baseline is, and when contamination is coming from other sources, such as other cities (remember Tifton also spilled), agriculture, septic tanks, wildlife, or domestic pets.

Maybe Rep. Porter would like to find out why the North Florida Regional Water Supply Plan (NFRWSP) does not include such regular water quality monitoring, and why SRWMD and SJRWMD passed it two weeks ago despite only rudimentary responses to comments from parties including WWALS, and only a week before scheduled adoption.

On that specific WWALS comment, the response concluded:

The water quality issues described in your comment are managed through the DEP Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) program and development Basin Management Action Plans (BMAPs).

There is no BMAP for the Withlacoochee River in Florida.

The FDEP August 2014 TMDL Report: Fecal Coliform TMDL for the Suwannee River Basin by Moira Rojas discusses those and other sources of contamination, and is apparenntly the most recent available from Florida for the Suwannee Basin. Here’s GA-EPD’s February 2016 Total Maximum Daily Load Evaluation for Five Stream Segments in the Suwannee River Basin for Fecal Coliform. Where’s the Florida update for 2016? Is the actual sampling more frequent than every two years? Maybe some of this will be addressed during the delayed Suwannee River BMAP process, although that seems to be concentrating on the Suwannee below the Santa Fe River.

Here is Rep. Porter’s letter to EPA (PDF):

Representative Elizabeth Porter
District 10

Committees [ etc. ]

January 27, 2017

Ms. V. Anne Heard, Acting Administrator
US Environmental Protection Agency
Sam Nunn Atlanta Field Center
61 Forsyth Street, SW
Atlanta, Georgia 30303-8960

RE: City of Valdosta Wastewater Spill

Dear Ms. Heard:

The recent unauthorized sewage discharge from the City of Valdosta, Georgia warrants an incident review and compliance review of the consent order between the EPA and the City of Valdosta, Also, it is imperative for the EPA to review the City’s response to the sewage spill. Any improvements to the City’s responsiveness is vital to ensuring that contamination is minimized and that the health of our citizens is protected.

As a result of the recent unlawful discharge the Florida Department of Health (DOH) issued an advisory on January 26th for the Withlacoochee River and portions of the Suwannee River. Testing confirmed that bacteriological contamination has occurred.

Over the last several years the City has had numerous wastewater plant failures resulting in unlawful discharges to the Withlacoochee River. These unlawful discharges have harmed my constituents. Families have been deprived of potable water for consumption and cleanliness, Businesses have been deprived of customers who have diverted their recreational opportunities elsewhere.

It is critical that the EPA take all necessary actions toward ensuring unauthorized and unlawful discharges from the City’s wastewater treatment plant are prevented.

Elizabeth Porter.
Member of the Florida House of Representatives,
District 10

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

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