High E. coli at state line in Florida DOH water quality data 2019-12-24

According to data sent yesterday by Florida Department of Health (FDOH), Valdosta found elevated E. coli and Fecal coliform counts at US 84, 14 miles downstream from Sugar Creek, on December 18th.

[14-18 Dec 2019]
14-18 Dec 2019

That is consistent with Suzy Hall finding high E. coli counts at Knights Ferry Boat Ramp 8.44 miles downstream and three days later on December 21st.

It’s also consistent with FDOH detecting elevated E. coli after a rainy weekend at the state line 15.55 miles and three more days later on December 24th.

[24 Dec 2019]
24 Dec 2019

FDOH sent no data from Valdosta for any days after December 18th.

[20-23 Dec 2019]
20-23 Dec 2019

Could it be that Valdosta’s NPDES permit for the intended destination of this sewage only requires monitoring once a week after the first week after a major spill?

Thanks to Michael Mitchell and Bob Vincent of FDOH for sending the data used above. Here is the PDF FDOH sent.

The three of us had an interesting telephone discussion yesterday about differing standards for bacterial sampling in Florida and Georgia. In particular, 3M Petrifilm is a standard used by Georgia Adopt-A-Stream (AAS). See AAS manuals, Chapter 2: Bacterial Monitoring:

“Volunteers have the option of processing their samples at home using 3M&tm; Petrifilm&tm; plates and an incubator or by packaging and shipping samples to a professional lab. Many studies have shown that the 3M&tm; Petrifilm&tm; method is as effective as the professional lab methods and is more practical and cost efficient for the volunteer monitor.”

All WWALS testers using it have been through hours of AAS training, our trainers have been through that course at least twice plus a train-the-trainer course, and everything you see me publishing has also been by our Testing Committee for review before I post it. Most (and soon all) of our bacterial (and other) tests are visible on Georgia Adopt-A-Stream’s website.

Several of us WWALS testers have also been through Florida training, so we are well aware that in Florida, bacterial data have to be sent to a certified lab to be actionable. Nonetheless, we do sometimes sample in Florida using Petrifilms, to calibrate our data with Florida’s data, and as indicators.

Meanwhile, Chris Mericle tried a different tack to get Florida data, going through Hamilton and Columbia Counties, Florida, Health Departments. He found out that a private company is actually doing the sampling and Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD) is compiling it. They sent him to Katelyn C. Potter, SRWMD Communications and Organizational Development Chair, who sent Chris what is apparently the private contractor’s latest report, while also referring him to Michael Mitchell.

The contractor’s data (see AnalysisRpt-1.pdf) is in a different format than what FDOH sent, but the December 24th data is the same, showing 517 cfu/100 ml E. coli at the state line.

[Data for 2019-12-24]
Data for 2019-12-24

And we’re still seeing high E. coli in between at Nankin Boat Ramp as recently as December 26th.

Thus so far as we know, according to data from Valdosta, WWALS, and FDOH, the Withlacoochee River is contaminated with Valdosta’s record-largest sewage spill from Sugar Creek all the way to Florida.

The good news is that as of December 24th, FDOH saw an only slightly elevated E. coli count at FL-6 (just above Madison Blue Spring). But that was four days ago.

If you live near the Withlacoochee River in the affected area and would like your well water tested, follow this link.

FDOH says Hamilton and Madison Counties have requested FDOH to sample weekly, and they expect to be doing that.

WWALS will continue sampling more frequently, and publishing our WWALS data and whatever other data we can get.

[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.

Data from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) is still not visible to the public. If I heard correctly, FDOH doesn’t even have FDEP’s data. FDEP doesn’t publish for four months. What good such data is in a situation like this, I don’t know. Maybe you’d like to ask FDEP Secretary Noah Valenstein that question:

Or maybe you’d like to ask your member of the Florida House or Senate.

I have filed yet another open records request for Valdosta’s recent water quality data. Why isn’t Valdosta’s data in Georgia Adopt-A-Stream or otherwise publicly visible? There’s some old Valdosta data in the Georgia Environmental Monitoring and Assessment System (GOMAS), but it stops in May and June 2018. Why hasn’t Valdosta posted warning signs downstream on the Withlacoochee River, which Valdosta’s own data shows as contaminated?

Maybe you’d like to ask these people those questions:
(229) 259-3592 Valdosta Utilities, Director Darryl Muse
229-259-3500 Ask for City Manager Mark Barber

All our WWALS reports after this Valdosta record-largest sewage spill are here:

Our WWALS data is showing up Georgia Adopt-A-Stream; soon all of it will be there.

You Can Help

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

[Suzy with a Petrifilm]
Suzy Hall with a Petrifilm.
Each bacterial test costs $6 for Petrifilms alone.
WWALS is spending about $40 a day on Petrifilms after this Valdosta spill.

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

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