Raining now, sending Valdosta sewage downstream; Florida warns; Valdosta does what? 2019-12-22

Update 2019-12-23: E. coli at Little River Confluence, Spook Bridge, and Knights Ferry, Withlacoochee River 2019-12-21

The National Weather Service predicts rain coming down now will raise the Withlacoochee River from Low to Action stages above Valdosta starting today. This is after WWALS already apparently detected Valdosta sewage passing GA 133 on Tuesday, continuing Thursday, so Valdosta’s record-largest sewage spill is likely headed downstream. Florida has put out alerts, allocated funds for testing, and at least one county has declared a state of emergency. When will Valdosta even post signs downstream to the state line? When will Valdosta reimburse the downstream Florida Counties and health departments for their expenses?

[Skipper Bridge Gauge, Withlacoochee, above Valdosta, 2019-12-22, 7:30 AM]
Skipper Bridge Gauge, Withlacoochee, above Valdosta, 2019-12-22, 7:30 AM
water.weather.gov, with predicted water levels.

There’s a lot of concern downstream in Florida. Hamilton County put warning signs at all its boat ramps and Florida Parks put one at Madison Blue Spring. Those signs were still in place when I looked Monday afternoon, December 16, 2019.

[Florida Health Advisory on kiosk]
Florida Health Advisory on kiosk at Florida Campsites, upstream from Madison Blue Spring, 2019-12-16.

But Valdosta has only posted warning signs at a few places within its own city limits and at Troupville Boat Ramp, with no signs at US 84, Knights Ferry Boat Ramp, Nankin Boat Ramp, or State Line Boat Ramp.

[Caution, WLRWT, Troupville Boat Ramp, 12:41:24, 30.8512217, -83.3472582]
Caution, WLRWT, Troupville Boat Ramp, 2019-12-13, 12:41:24, 30.8512217, -83.3472582

WWALS volunteer water quality testers were out again yesterday, so we should have more results today. However, we cannot test during the rain, nor can anybody else.

[Valdosta to Madison Blue Springs]
Valdosta to Madison Blue Springs, in WWALS map of all public landings in the Suwannee River Basin, these all on the Withlacoochee and Little River Water Trail.

You can help WWALS test water quality by donating to our WWALS water quality testing program.

No process for warning people

You might think you would find out about all this on the websites of the City of Valdosta, or Hamilton County, FL, Health, or Madison County, FL, Health, or maybe SRWMD.state.fl.us. But very little and very seldom is what we find on any of those sites.

Most of the information we’ve gotten is from email and telephone inquiries including open records requests, from showing up in person at rivers and certain offices, and from facebook.

We also even checked Lowndes County EMA, even though Lowndes County’s sewage system did not spill. All we could find was this facebook disclaimer comment, apparently from December 15:

EMA Lowndes Lowndes County has no jurisdiction over this issue. This spill is from the City of Valdosta. Valdosta is one of five cities in Lowndes County. In Georgia, one local government cannot assume jurisdiction over another. This being the case, Valdosta is the point of contact for this matter.

Seems to me Lowndes County should be prodding Valdosta to do something.

Elected State Officials

December 13 at 3:45 PM

Due to the most recent spill affecting the Withlacoochee River, Senator Montford and Representative Shoaf have been in contact with the office of Mary Walker, who is the Region 4 EPA Director for the southeast. They are actively working with the Middle and Lower Suwannee River and Withlacoochee River Task Force to bring her to the area for a meeting with county officials to discuss the ongoing issues.

The Health Department is also continuing to monitor the situation. Due to low flows, contamination had yet to reach the state line as of yesterday, however, it was predicted to reach the line today.

Suwannee Riverkeeper has been in contact with Sen. Montford’s office frequently, and our recommendations to GA-EPD also went to EPA’s Mary Walker and Sen. Montford and Rep. Shoaf, along with the rest of the Georgia and Florida statehouse delegations.

Florida Health Advisory lifted (briefly)

Meanwhile, Florida Health lifted its previous advisory, as noted on Madison BOCC’s facebook page: December 17

This is the latest wastewater advisory from the Department of Health. If you have any questions regarding the lifting of the advisory, or the sampling, please contact the Health Department.

[FL DOH lifted health advisory 2019-12-17]
FL DOH lifted health advisory 2019-12-17

Special Water Testing

On Tuesday, December 17, 2019, the Hamilton County, FL, BOCC, met and voted $5,000 for water quality testing, $4,000 to Hamilton Health for well testing, and $1,000 for citizens to bring in samples to be tested. We know this from Hamilton County Coordinator Louie Goodin the day before, and WWALS member Chris Mericle who asked for an emergency item to be on the agenda, and who attended the meeting and spoke there.

And the Hamilton BOCC asked its attorney to look into how to sue Valdosta to recover those costs. I’d like to know why any downstream county should have to sue. Why isn’t Valdosta volunteering to cover downstream testing costs? And if not, why isn’t GA-EPD making Valdosta cover such costs?

Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office Division of Emergency Management, December 20,

Posted as a courtesy for FL Dept of Health Hamilton.

[Free water testing, Florida Health]
Free water testing, Florida Health

Madison County, Florida, followed suit, with very similar arrangements. Madison BOCC, December 20, 2019,

Date: December 21, 2019
RE: Special Water Testing in response to Valdosta Wastewater Spill 12/2019

1) Free water test kits are for residents that live within 5 miles of the Withlacoochee River.

2) The samples must be collected no earlier than 9:00 a.m. Thursday morning and turned into the health department no later than 11:00 a.m. Friday morning. This sampling schedule will remain in effect through January 3, 2020. A new schedule will be released following the holidays.

3) Sampling instructions are located on the back of the sample form provided by the health department.

4) Please ensure the sample bottle label has your name and address.

5) Contact our Department of Health Environmental Health Team with any questions 850-973-5000.

[Special Water Testing 2019-12-20]
Special Water Testing 2019-12-20

Madison County Commissioner Donnie Waldrep Sr. is being proactive. December 21, 2019,

FYI: To the residents that live within 5 miles of the river, I will be at Pinetta Fire Dept. Monday morning between 10:00 and 12:00 with well water test kits. Stop by and pick up your kits, which include instructions on collecting your samples.

**Please share this with others that may not have internet access.

Thanks , Donnie Waldrep

Health warning reinstated

Meanwhile, Florida Health reinstated its river water health warning.

December 21, 2019,

City of Valdosta, Georgia reported a spill of approximately 7.5 million gallons of untreated sewage that they believe began on December 3, due to repair work on a major lift station. Sampling and laboratory results show the river water is impacted by the sewage spill and has recently moved into the Withlacoochee River at State Road 84 in Georgia. Due to the recent rains, the impact is predicted to be in Florida waterways within a day. In an abundance of caution, a public health advisory is being issued for the Withlacoochee River in Florida….

[FL DOH reinstated health advisory 2019-12-20]
FL DOH reinstated health advisory 2019-12-20

State of Emergency

Madison BOCC, December 21, 2019,

Today the County Commission met in special session. A resolution declaring a local state of emergency due to water quality conditions of the Withlacoochee River was approved. The County Commission also set aside $5,000 for use by the Department of Health for testing resources.

Local state of emergency declarations are only in effect for seven days. Therefore, the County Commission will meet again in special session on Friday, December 27th at 9:00 a.m. to consider extending the declaration based on updated water testing data.

Please continue to monitor this page and our Emergency Management page for imformation.

[State of Emergency 2019-12-21]
State of Emergency 2019-12-21

As we pointed out in our recommendations to GA-EPD, a process is needed for tracking sewage spills downstream and for paying for expenses of those affected.

We will continue filling in the big gap between Valdosta’s minimal upstream testing and Florida’s testing. The story thus far is on the WWALS website.

You can help WWALS test water quality by donating to our WWALS water quality testing program.

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

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