Jim Tatum reports on FL Rivers Task Force meeting 2019-04-25

Thanks to Jim Tatum of OSFR for reporting from the April 25th meeting of the twelve-Florida-county Rivers Task Force meeting in Lake City. His Task Force on Valdosta Spills says the Task Force is asking Florida Senator Rubio to speed permitting for Valdosta’s WWTP catch basin. It doesn’t say whether they get the point that the other third of Valdosta’s December spills would not be affected by that.

It says they’re still agonizing about direct notification of spills. Our experience with Valdosta and that of many others is that it’s not worth wasting time expecting Valdosta to notify anybody except the state of Georgia, which is why it’s so useful that GA-EPD publishes Sewage Spill Reports each business day. That’s been going on since December 20, 2018, after 30 organizations in Georgia and Florida, including OSFR, signed a resolution asking GA-EPD to do that.

Photo: Jim Tatum for OSFR; Darlene Velez of SRWMD explains the water quality missions of the state agencies.
Photo: Jim Tatum for OSFR; Darlene Velez of SRWMD explains the water quality missions of the state agencies.

The hot button at the moment is water quality monitoring and sampling. Thanks to OSFR’s Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson and WWALS ‘ John Quarterman, it was revealed some time ago that water sampling has been less than adequate by our (and Georgia’s) agencies, lacking even a baseline for comparison in places.

Once called out, the agencies have been scrambling and Ms. Velez’ PowerPoint covered this wonderfully. Your writer did not know that SRWMD tests for nutrients, metals, alkalinity, etc. but not for bacteria, pesticides, herbicides, mercury, pharmaceuticals, radionuclides, industrial byproducts or petroleum products.

SRWMD has the most transparent water data porta in Florida, way easier to use than FDEP’s notorious OCULUS database.

As might be expected, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection covers the most bases in testing, and implements state laws to protect quality in both surface and ground water.

Yes, as FDEP responded to Merrillee back in February, FDEP does monthly water quality monitoring at numerous sites, but they don’t publish the data for four months. I do have an update on that from the Waterkeepers Florida meeting with FDEP in Orlando that I need to publish.

On the contrary, the Florida Department of Health has no enforcement powers, but concerns itself with public education and can issue public health advisories. This agency does private well testing, onsite sewage programs and public swimming pools.

Least active of these agencies is SRWMD in sampling, which concerns itself with water quality improvement projects involving the DEP’s nutrient loadings, employing the Surface Water Improvement and Management plans, and the Basin Management Action Plans. They also monitor to identify areas of concern.

That may be changing. More later.

Water sampling has come to the forefront with a bang, in part because the Valdosta spills have been considered the bad guy for all the E. coli presence in the Suwannee, even while others have suggested there may be other animal sources. Testing for sucralose will determine human vs. animal origins.

According to FDEP’s Tom Frick, both via email and in person in Orlando, FDEP is also now doing DNA tests monthly at at least four locations, to determine species origin of E. coli. More on that later.

Jim couldn’t make it last time and I reported with videos from the February Task Force meeeting.

Since then there’s been the April 10, 2019, meeting of the Task Force with Valdosta.

Meanwhile, I pried loose Valdosta’s permit-required spill-followup testing data, with GA-EPD returning it from Atlanta with three business days, as required by the Georgia Open Records Act (GORA), and Valdosta getting around to it after nine business days. Yes, it was faster to get Valdosta data from Atlanta than from Valdosta.

Jim’s report concludes:

The task force plans to meet again with Valdosta representatives on July 10 at 6 pm. in that city. The group will next convene on June 27 at 4 pm in Lake City.

That July 10th meeting is not on the Valdosta City calendar. Which is not surprising, since the April 10th meeting never showed up there, either.

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

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