City of Valdosta Water Quality Testing, Gornto Rd., US 84 2019-12-12

Update 2019-12-14: Sugar Creek, Gornto Road, after Valdosta record sewage spill 2019-12-12.

Finally, some testing data from the City of Valdosta, which indicates Sugar Creek yesterday was pretty dirty at Gornto Road, but the Withlacoochee River was not yet dirty at US 84, after Valdosta’s worst-ever sewage spill.

Thanks to Valdosta City Manager Mark Barber for sending this data after I visited him in his office this afternoon. He also explained why we found no E. coli Wednesday at Knights Ferry, Nankin, or State Line: the sewage is moving very slowly due to low creek and river levels.

[Signs, 13:43:03, 30.859734, -83.317029]
Valdosta Caution Sewage Spill and bridge Signs, 13:43:03, 30.8597340, -83.3170290

Received 6:44 PM, December 13, 2019:

Good Evening Mr. Quarterman,

Please see below the test results that were received today from the sampling Thursday afternoon.


L. Mark Barber
City of Valdosta
City Manager
P.O. Box 1125
216 E. Central Ave.
Valdosta, Ga. 31603

What he forwarded came from Environmental Manager Scott Fowler, to Valdosta Utilities Director Darryl Muse, to Mark Barber. I’ve quoted just the substantive part below:

St. Augustine (Above) = 555/100 ml
Gornto (Below) = 1,745/100 ml
HWY 84 = 40/100 ml

Reporting on this spill is controlled by Valdosta’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit for its Withlacoochee Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP), since this sewage was supposed to go to the WWTP. That permit requires Valdosta to do water quality monitoring at a point upstream (above) and a point downstream (below) from the spill.

So Sugar Creek is already pretty dirty at its unmarked crossing under St. Augustine Road just northwest of Hightower Circle, at about 30.836949, -83.315488. According to Georgia Adopt-A-Stream (AAS)’s Bacterial Monitoring instructions: “E. coli counts (cfu/100ml) that exceed 235 cfu/100 ml are considered “high” and should be closely monitored,…”

[Earl Wetherington Foot Bridge, 13:42:54, 30.859732, -83.317035]
Earl Wetherington Foot Bridge, 13:42:54, 30.8597320, -83.3170350

Sugar Creek was even more dirty at the Earl Wetherington Foot Bridge, at about 30.859734, -83.317029. AAS continues: “but when counts exceed the 1000 cfu/100 ml threshold, they warrant special action.”

[Upstream, 13:43:30, 30.8596695, -83.3172841]
Sugar Creek Upstream from Gornto Road, 13:43:30, 30.8596695, -83.3172841

The Withlacoochee River was not very dirty Thursday at US 84, which is at the lower left corner of the map below. So the sewage apparently hadn’t reached that far by yesterday.

[Sugar Creek to U.S. 84]
Sugar Creek to U.S. 84 on the WWALS Withlacoochee and Little River Water Trail (WLRWT) map.
City Hall is where it says Valdosta towards the lower right.
The Gornto Road bridge over Sugar Creek is highlighted towards top center.
The spill site is marked by the yellow diamond upstream (southwards) on Sugar Creek.

Valdosta also does monthly water quality monitoring on the Withlacoochee River at US 41 (above Sugar Creek) and at GA 133 (St. Augustine Road), which is between Sugar Creek and US 84. If they tested those locations yesterday, they did not include those results in what they sent. I will inquire.

I also asked for all of Valdosta’s water quality testing results since the spill. I hope they were testing before yesterday. I will inquire about that, too.

Why Valdosta picked Gornto Road as the “below” site for testing after this spill is unclear. The first bridge downstream from the spill site is on Baytree Road. There was not even a caution sign on Baytree Road today.

[No caution sign, 13:53:55, 30.847, -83.3137]
No caution sign, 13:53:55, 30.8470000, -83.3137000

There was a City of Valdosta Caution sign at Troupville Boat Ramp. Which is a bit puzzling, because that’s on the Little River, upstream from its Confluence with the Withlacoochee River, and thus not downstream from the spill site. However, boaters putting in at Troupville Boat Ramp quickly reach the Withlacoochee River downstream.

[Valdosta warning sign, WLRWT signs, 12:37:25, 30.8512852, -83.3472211]
Valdosta warning sign, WLRWT signs, 12:37:25, 30.8512852, -83.3472211

Nonetheless, Wednesday when I visited Knights Ferry Boat Ramp, Nankin Boat Ramp, and State Line Boat Ramp, all downstream on the Withlacoochee River from Troupville Boat Ramp, I saw no City of Valdosta Caution signs. When I mentioned this to Mark Barber, he seemed to agree that the City would put signs there as the sewage approaches.

[CAUTION SEWAGE SPILL... CITY OF VALDOSTA, 12:40:53, 30.8512217, -83.347259]
CAUTION SEWAGE SPILL… CITY OF VALDOSTA, 12:40:53, 30.8512217, -83.3472590

Tomorrow: some more WWALS testing results.

Remember, testing costs money for Petrifilms ($6 each bacterial test) and other supplies. You can help by donating to the WWALS water quality testing program.

The photographs here are by John S. Quarterman, Friday, December 13, 2019, for WWALS Watershed Coalition, Inc.; there are a few more on the WWALS website.

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

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