FL Sen. Nelson to EPA about Valdosta sewage and response

Here is a letter from Florida Senator Bill Nelson to the EPA about the Valdosta wastewater situation, and the EPA’s response, which was underwhelming.

A suggestion: say what it is you’d like the EPA, GA-EPD, FDEP, etc. to actually do. And what I’d suggest is get them all to fund and implement regular, frequent, closely spaced, water quality monitoring along all the rivers in the Suwannee River Basin. That way we’d know where pollution is coming from, we’d be able to calibrate what cities including Valdosta say from their own monitoring, and we’d have baselines to compare to.

Sen. Bill Nelson to EPA

United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510-0905

Bill Nelson

February 3, 2017

Acting Administrator Catherine McCabe
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20460

Dear Acting Administrator McCabe,

FL Sen. Bill Nelson to EPA I’m writing to ask that you ensure Florida’s waters are safe following the most recent raw sewage spill in Valdosta, Georgia, that contaminated the Withlacoochee and Suwannee Rivers in Florida.

After the spill was detected, the Florida Department of Health issued a public advisory urging residents in Hamilton, Madison, and Suwannee counties to avoid contact with water in the area. As you know, bacteria can cause some very serious health problems, from rashes and gastrointestinal issues to even more harmful diseases.

While I’m relieved residents were notified, I’m concerned that Floridians are forced to rely on another state’s environmental agency to alert them to a problem. I strongly urge you to make sure Floridians are getting the most up-to-date information they need to safely enjoy life along the water.

Further, there have been at least eight spills from Georgia over the past several years that have impacted these waterways and nearby communities. Each time, public safety and local businesses pay the price. In a state known for its rivers, streams, and beaches, folks in Florida need to know whether the water is safe on any given day.

The Environmental Protection Agency should help both states find a long-term solution to fix the problems causing these recurring spills. Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Bill Nelson

EPA Sen. Bill Nelson

MAR 2 2017

The Honorable Bill Nelson
United States Senate
Washington, DC. 20510

Dear Senator Nelson:

EPA to FL Sen. Bill Nelson Thank you for your February 3, 2017, letter concerning the recent discharge of untreated sewage into the Withlacoochee River by the City of Valdqsta’s (the City) Withlacoochee Water Pollution Control Plant (the Plant).

The Clean Water Act (CWA) establishes programs to protect the nation’s water quality, including the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program. The CWA also allows the US. Environmental Protection Agency to authorize state agencies to conduct the day-to-day program implementation. In accordance with that authority, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (GA EPD) implements the NPDES program in Georgia, and serves as the primary enforcement authority.

A Consent Order (CO) between the GA EPD and the City was executed on December 4, 2013. Under the terms of the CO the City must complete, by December 20l8, work that includes constructing a new Plant, evaluating the entire sanitary sewer collection system and ensuring compliance with the City’s NPDES permit. The GA EPD has determined the City is making satisfactory progress toward full implementation of the requirements of the CO, including early completion of the new Plant in May 2016. The GA EPD has informed us that the City is currently in compliance with the CO.

We are aware of the January spill at the Plant, which was caused by equipment failure during an extremely heavy rainfall event. The EPA has consulted with the GA EPD to ensure that the spill was appropriately addressed, including notification of downstream agencies. The GA EPD is currently evaluating the incident and has not determined what, if any, enforcement action is warranted. We do intend to continue to follow this situation. For additional information you may contact Lewis Hays, Watershed Compliance Program Manager, at the GA EPD. Mr. Hays may be reached at (404) 463-4953.

If you have questions or need additional information from the EPA, please contact me or Allison Wise, in the Region 4 Office of Government Relations, at (404) 562-8327.

V. Anne Heard
Acting Regional Administrator

Thanks to Trip Lancaster, Mayor of Fanning Springs, Florida, for copies of the letters. Here is the resolution the City of Fanning Springs passed. Resolutions from multiple Florida counties and other information, such as the letter from FL House Rep. Elizabeth Porter to the EPA, is under Issues, then Valdosta Wastewater.

All the environmental agencies have been defunded so much they are pretty toothless. The Lowndes County landfill accepted PCBs and GA-EPD fined them all of about $13,000. They accepted coal ash, and no special permit was required. Sabal Trail blew drilling mud up from their pilot hold into the Withlacoochee River near Quitman: no fine. They caused multiple sinkholes in Florida, including two in public roads: no fine from FDEP. They stacked huge mounds of pipe in what sure looks like filled wetlands north of Lake City: FDEP punted to USACE, which said they weren’t sure: no fine, no nothing. Maybe we should try to get FDEP, EPA, USACE, etc. fully funded and actually doing their jobs.

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

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2 thoughts on “FL Sen. Nelson to EPA about Valdosta sewage and response

  1. Pingback: Protection of the Suwannee River against Valdosta Sewage –City of Fanning Springs, FL 2017-04-11 | WWALS Watershed Coalition (Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®)

  2. Jim McFarlane

    Yes and no.

    There is a problem as always with communication across state lines. That is why we have Federal Agencies that assure the safety of people on each side.

    An interesting financial point is as we think of regulations and where the money goes. Fully funded sounds good by, if EPA and Army Corps are doing their job, they will fund themselves from the implemented fines.

    If in fact more funding is needed then lets raise state and federal fines to be in line with something that corporations won’t just shrug a shoulder and say it was a simple cost of business to get the job done. Repeat occurrences of violations should stop that entity in its tracks.

    Additionally to avoid movement into bankruptcy and avoiding the fines, corporate executives and board members should be subject to criminal prosecution and jail time for falsifying records and failure to act.

    It is time to stop water issues in the south. They seem to have made great progress in the NE and we are lagging behind.

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