Avoid Withlacoochee River from Knights Ferry to Confluence with Suwannee River 2020-01-08

Update 2020-01-11: Signs in Georgia on Withlacoochee River and new data; thanks Lowndes County and SRWMD 2020-01-10.

It would be prudent to avoid contact with the Withlacoochee River from Knights Ferry Boat Ramp all the way to the Suwannee River, due to test results from Lowndes County, Georgia, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP).

[Avoid red area]
Avoid red area.
WWALS Map of Landings in the Suwannee River Basin.

The problem access points would seem to include Knights Ferry Boat Ramp, Nankin Boat Ramp, and State Line Boat Ramp in Georgia, and in Florida Sullivan Launch, Florida Campsites Ramp, Madison Blue Spring, Madison Boat Ramp, and Allen Ramp on the Withlacoochee River. I believe Hamilton County also has a warning sign upstream on the Suwannee River at Suwannee River Campsites. There’s a sign at Madison Blue Spring, and I’d bet there’s one at Suwannee River State Park Ramp. There will be signs in Georgia today, one way or another.

Here is an excerpt from the latest FDEP data, received this morning. The entire updated FDEP spreadsheet is on the WWALS website.

[6-8 Jan 2020]
6-8 Jan 2020
Thanks to Julie Espy for sending this FDEP data.

As you can see by the dates in the highlighted middle column, the latest FDEP results are from Wednesday, January 8, 2020, and the farthest downstream they show high is at Florida 6, just above Madison Blue Spring. Given that whatever it is seems to have moved the 10.5 river miles from State Line to FL 6 in two days, and it’s only 12 more miles to the Withlacoochee River Confluence with the Suwannee River, it would seem prudent to avoid that whole area.

Upstream, I am told by Lowndes County Chairman Bill Slaughter that the county tested Monday, January 6, at State Line and found results very similar to FDEP’s high number for that day. Lowndes County also tested Knights Ferry and Nankin Boat Ramps Monday, and found not as high but very high E. coli counts there, too. I do not have this Lowndes County data yet, but I think it is important to go ahead and warn people before the weekend.

Frankly, I wouldn’t touch the water at US 84, either. The county did not test there, but the contamination at Knights Ferry came from somewhere.

Do we know for sure that these recent sky-high bacterial counts are because of Valdosta sewage? No, we do not. It is possible that the contamination at Knights Ferry came down Okapilco Creek from Brooks County. But we know of no other source of contamination that could cause such high counts, so Valdosta remains suspect number one.

Apparently Lowndes County is printing signs to place at Knights Ferry, Nankin, and State Line Boat Ramps, but I do not know whether those will be ready today. If the county does not plant signs today, WWALS will.

Please note: Lowndes County has its own sewer system, which did not spill. I think Valdosta, which did flush more than 7 million gallons of raw sewage into our waterways, should be doing this testing in Georgia, and planting signs. But I thank Bill Slaughter and Lowndes County for stepping in to help fill the gap.

Meanwhile, WWALS will be doing more sampling. We will especially be testing at Troupville Boat Ramp, at the Little River Confluence, and upstream at GA 133 on the Withlacoochee, as well as at US 84, because we would like to know the state of the Withlacoochee River in that area before we paddle with the new Mayor of Valdosta from Troupville to Spook Bridge on Saturday, January 18, 2020.

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.

Thanks to all who have donated recently.

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

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