SDWA Health Violations: Valdosta, Lowndes County, and beyond 2017-05-02

The VDT and the City of Valdosta are feuding again about water quality, this time about drinking water (not sewage). Lowndes County They’re both wrong and both right, and neither named any of the other poor local water sources. The VDT didn’t make this story easy to follow by omitting the key piece from its first online story and not quoting its source, and the city didn’t acknowledge some main points the VDT made.

Kimberly Cannon, Valdosta Daily Times, 10 May 2017, City celebrates water: Mayor refutes water quality report,

After presenting the proclamation naming May 7-13 Valdosta Drinking Water Week, Mayor John Gayle responded to a Valdosta Daily Times report claiming the city had received seven citations for water violations in 2015.

The news article was based on information released by the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council.

The mayor claimed the number of citations reported is false.

“This article in the paper today was totally inaccurate; it was changed to suit the editor of the paper’s fancy for whatever he was trying to do,” Gayle said. “We have not had a violation in 2016 and 2017. We have had violations in 2014, not the number that the paper reported. We’re not sure where the other violations came from.”

The newspaper article reported the city is now in full compliance.

OK, so what is the mayor complaining about? The online version of that VDT story doesn’t mention Valdosta at all. Jill Nolin, VDT, 9 May 2017, Report: Georgia fifth in drinking water violations,

ATLANTA — About one-third of Georgia residents could be filling up their cups with water that isn’t safe or hasn’t been properly checked for contaminants, according to a new report from an environmental advocacy group.

The report, released this month by the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council, ranked Georgia fifth in the nation for total water violations by population served in 2015.

Neither the mayor nor the VDT bothered to name the NRDC report, which seems to be Kristi Pullen Fedinick, Mae Wu, Erik D. Olson, NRDC Report, 2017-05-02, Threats on Tap: Widespread Violations Highlight Need for Investment in Water Infrastructure and Protections. Valdosta is not mentioned anywhere in the text of that story nor in the attached PDF files.

So what is the fuss about? Well, the paper newspaper story starts on the front page like this:

Front page

Jill Nolin, Valdosta Daily Times, front page, 2017-05-10,

As the City of Valdosta prepares to observe National Drinking Water Week, a report out from a national advocacy group indicates about one-third of Georgia residents could be filling up their cups with water that isn’t safe or hasn’t been property checked for contaminants.

The city will host a proclamation event Wednesday, and water plant tours are being conducted throughout the week.

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.

That last sentence is presumably what the mayor is complaining about. He didn’t acknowledge that it says Valdosta “is now in full compliance”. He could have just emphasized that and moved along, but he didn’t. Well, let’s see if there’s any substance in this kerfluffle.

The VDT didn’t make it easy for people to see that sentence, either, by not putting it in the online story. Maybe the material about Valdosta was on the VDT’s website and the VDT removed it. Or maybe the VDT ran the story online with different text from the beginning; this would not be the first time the VDT has done that.

In neither story and in none of the versions (online or not) does the VDT actually quote the email it got from NRDC, so we don’t know what NRDC actually said.

There are some clues in the interactive map in the NRDC report. Click on the shape for Lowndes County, and you’ll see this information:

Lowndes County

The number of violations reported there for Valdosta is 5, not 7, over some unknown timeframe. So on that one numerical point the mayor appears to be correct. But that’s still worse than Savannah, Lake City, Gainesville, or Jacksonville; see next post.

Repeatedly I’ve heard Valdosta city officials complain (anonymously) that the VDT goes after Valdosta but not Lowndes County or other water quality violators. In this one story, that appears to be true. But it’s not true historically.

I’ve summarized the map information about Lowndes County in this table:

Lowndes County SWDA Violations

Water SystemSystem IDPopulationTotal ViolationsNumber of Rules ViolatedHealth Rules in Violation
VALDOSTAGA185000251,691 52DBP; Coliform
GREENBRIAR ESTATESGA185005581 21Coliform
Lowndes CountyTotal 54499 33 2 DBP; Coliform

You can see in that table that there were more total violations in subdivisions in Lowndes County. Two of those subdivision water systems are run by Lowndes County, and one of them, at Alapaha Plantation, was by far the worst in the county, with 16 violations, and the county’s Spring Creek had 4.

This isn’t a secret. See below links to and quotes from a series of LAKE blog posts and several VDT stories about these county water treatment plants. Naturally the newspaper stories aren’t as numerous as the blog posts, but the VDT did indeed cover these county water quality problems.

Apparently the water wasn’t good at Alapaha Plantation in July 2013, despite the county utilities director saying it was, which does raise the question of how can we know. But after the county spent $1.6 million for new equipment there and for Spring Creek, apparently the water now is good. By the way, Lowndes County since then has a different utilities director.

Meanwhile, once again, the VDT story that started the present kerfluffle said Valdosta “is now in full compliance”.

I will follow up with further water quality information in later blog posts.

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

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

  • 2013-07-23: John S. Quarterman, Lowndes Area Knowledge Exchange, The water is good now, right? —Demarcus Marshall about Alapaha Water Treatment @ LCC 2013-07-23

    Answer from [Lowndes County] Utilities Director Mike Allen:

    Yes, it is good. —Mike Allen No sir. The water is, is good, yes.

  • 2013-07-23: John S. Quarterman, Lowndes Area Knowledge Exchange, Violations at Alapaha Water Plant in Lowndes County —EPA @ LCC 2013-07-23

    Did Demarcus Marshall know when he asked, “The water is good now, right?” about the 15 “Health Based Violations” and the 4 “Complete Failure to Report” plus the 1 “Monitoring, Routine Major (TCR)”, all in the last ten years? Maybe some of those have to do with why Lowndes County is doing major upgrades to the Alapaha Water System by the end of March 2015. However, given all those “Complete Failure to Report”, how will we know when or if it’s fixed?

  • 2013-08-13: John S. Quarterman, Lowndes Area Knowledge Exchange, No-bid contract for Alapaha Water Treatment Plant @ LCC 2013-08-13

    A no-bid contract for the engineering firm that already wrote a letter to GA EPD on behalf of the county, this one for upgrading the Alapaha Plantation Water Treatment Plant, at the 13 August 2013 Regular Session of the Lowndes County Commission.

  • 2013-09-03: John S. Quarterman, Lowndes Area Knowledge Exchange, Where is the Alapaha Water Treatment Plant?

    Where is the Alapaha Water Treatment Plant that has had 20 violations in the past 10 years, for which the Lowndes County Commission had Lovell Engineering write a letter to GA EPD and then approved a no-bid contract to the same firm? April Huntley supplied this pictorial answer.

  • 2014-05-21: Matthew Woody, VDT, May 21, 2014, Lowndes County awarded wastewater infrastructure loan,

    Georgia Environmental Finance Authority approved a $1.71 million Georgia Fund loan Tuesday to the Lowndes County Commission for wastewater system improvements.

    This loan will finance installing an advanced ion exchange unit to treat contaminants and other wastewater system improvements.

    The county will pay .82 percent interest on the five-year loan.

    On Jan. 28, Lowndes County commissioners voted to approve an application for a $1.71 million GEFA loan.

    “The Alapaha Water Treatment plant is in need of an upgrade,” said Lowndes County Clerk Paige Dukes. “The design for the project was approved by the Board of Commissioners on Aug. 13 (2013). The loan will pay for the engineering, equipment and installation of all needed upgrades.”

    This county project is unrelated to the City of Valdosta’s on-going wastewater treatment projects.

  • 2014-07-21: John S. Quarterman, Lowndes Area Knowledge Exchange, 6.a. Purchase of Alapaha and Spring Creek Equipment

    6.a. Purchase of Alapaha and Spring Creek Equipment 6.a. Purchase of Alapaha and Spring Creek Equipment

    Video. Followup on no-bid contract approved 13 August 2013 to Lovell Engineering. Lovell now offers a reduced price of $71,000 for Spring Creek if county purchases it right now along with equipment for Alapaha.

    Commissioner Demarcus Marshall asked if any of this equipement went out for bids. Answer: no, staff approved it.

    Marshall expressed concern about a GEFA loan and the total amount going up from the budgetted $1 million to $1.6 million. Chairman Slaughter said “We can get you some more information on that, Mr. Marshall.”

  • 2014-07-22: Matthew Woody, VDT, Jul 22, 2014 Water treatment plant discussed,

    The Lowndes County Board of Commissioners discussed purchasing two pieces of equipment for the Alapaha Water Treatment Plant and the Spring Creek System for a total of $1,638,000 during its Monday work session and is expected to vote on the issue tonight.

    During the August 2013 commission meeting, the board approved the engineering services for the rehabilitation of the Alapaha Water Treatment Plant. The purchase price for this upgrade is $759,000. Staff also noted another similar type of treatment will be needed for the Spring Creek System in the near future and they negotiated to buy both pieces of equipment with the second piece discounted by $71,000 to $879,000. These purchases will use an existing GEFA loan and SPLOST VII funds. Orica Watercare is the sole source provider for these systems, county officials state.

  • 2014-07-25: Matthew Woody, VDT, Jul 25, 2014 New equipment expected to deal with Lowndes water violations,

    The Lowndes County Commission’s recent approval of $1.6 million for water-treatment equipment is expected to counter a past series of water-quality violations within the county.

    The Lowndes County Utilities Department notified customers of the county’s water quality violations from Aug. 6 to Sept. 6, 2013.

    The county’s Alapaha Water System exceeded the maximum contaminant level (MCL) for trihalomethanes (TTHM) and haloacetic acids (HAA5s) for the third quarter in 2010, the fourth quarter in 2011, all quarters of 2012, and the first and second quarter of 2013.

    “The cause of these violations was from adding chlorine to the ground water, which contain high levels of organic carbons and thereby creating disinfection byproducts above normal levels,” said Mike Allen, Lowndes County utility director. “Currently, the Alapaha Water Plant is being engineered for an upgrade to help remove the organic carbons from the water source. The Spring Creek system will be undergoing the same process in the near future.”

    That story continues with details of past violations, the equipment being purchased, etc.

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  1. Pingback: VDT corrects Valdosta drinking water story 2017-05-17 | WWALS Watershed Coalition (Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®)

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