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

Update 2020-01-14: Recent water quality test results, Withlacoochee and Suwannee Rivers 2020-01-11

There are two warning signs at each of Knights Ferry, Nankin, and State Line Boat Ramps as of yesterday: by Lowndes County, and by WWALS. According to new data from Wednesday evening, those signs may not have been necessary, but at this point better safe than sorry. The new data did not come from Valdosta, nor did the signs.

[County and WWALS warning signs]
Photo: John S. Quarterman, County and WWALS warning signs at Knights Ferry Boat Ramp, 2020-01-10

Thanks to Lowndes County and Chairman Bill Slaughter for testing at Knights Ferry, Nankin, and State Line Boat Ramps, and for making and planting those tall metal caution signs after the county numbers for Monday, January 6, 2020, were quite high. The county is now doing weekly testing, including at additional locations.

Just in case, WWALS also made signs and placed them.

[By Suzy's relative]
Photo: By Suzy Hall’s relative at Nankin Boat Ramp 2020-01-10.

If we had known Valdosta would repeatedly refuse to place signs on the Withlacoochee River downstream of the Sugar Creek Confluence, we would have made and planted signs weeks ago.

Meanwhile, an update received yesterday evening from Julie Espy of FDEP contains upstream data from SRWMD.

[GA 133, US 84, Knights Ferry, and downstream]
Data: SRWMD and FDEP, GA 133, US 84, Knights Ferry, and downstream
Entire FDEP spreadsheet is on the WWALS website.

As Tom Mirti of SRWMD said at the Florida Rivers Task Force meeting with the Valdosta City Council Wednesday evening, Suwannee River Management District (SRWMD) tested in Georgia. It turns out SRWMD tested at GA 133, US 84, and Knights Ferry Boat Ramp that same Wednesday, January 8. The SRWMD numbers at all three locations were within acceptable limits.

State Line Boat Ramp 2020-01-10.

So was our warning yesterday to Avoid Withlacoochee River from Knights Ferry to Confluence with Suwannee River warranted? Well, I’d rather be safe than sorry. If our WWALS test results from today and Lowndes County’s test results from this coming Monday are clean, then I’ll announce the river is safe, not before.

It’s not that I don’t trust SRWMD’s numbers; I do. The problem is we still don’t know what else of Valdosta’s sewage may be stuck in Sugar Creek or the Withlacoochee River and washing downstream with the river higher. For that matter, we don’t know for sure the recent high counts were from Valdosta sewage. There could be something else getting into the river, conceivably even down Okapilco Creek (the county is testing for that, I think, and WWALS will, too).

I don’t want people getting sick from contaminated river water.

WWALS testers will also be deployed Wednesday, January 15, so we can check river water quality before the Mayor’s paddle from Troupville Boat Ramp to Spook Bridge 2020-01-18. Y’all come. The new Valdosta Mayor, Scott James, will be in a boat, and you can paddle up and ask him whatever you want to.

Looking back through the data received from the City of Valdosta in response to open records requests, I still do not see anything about Knights Ferry or Nankin Boat Ramps. Looking in the various spreadsheets received from SRWMD and FDEP, some of which contain Valdosta data, I don’t see any Valdosta data about Knights Ferry or Nankin in there, either.

Here is what we got at 4:20 PM Wednesday, January 11, 2020, before the 6PM meeting with Florida counties:

Good afternoon – As you requested through Open Records, listed below is the water quality testing data since December 17, 2019:

Hwy 133D.O.TempPh.Fecal
12/19/2019 8.8 mg/L 8.9 7.3 415/100 mL
12/20/2019 6.5 mg/L 9.8 6.6 485/100 mL
12/23/2019 6.6 mg/L 14.4 6.5 670/100 mL
12/27/2019 6.9 mg/L 15.5 6.7 215/100 mL
12/30/2019 6.4 mg/L 18.1 6.8 280/100 mL
1/3/2020 6.5 mg/L 16.8 6.8 520/100 mL
Hwy 84
12/19/2019 7.5 mg/L 11.5 7.5 155/100 mL
12/20/2019 6.9 mg/L 9.6 6.7 80/100 mL
12/23/2019 7.2 mg/L 14.1 7.2 670/100 mL
12/27/2019 7.4 mg/L 16 6.8 90/100 mL
12/30/2019 6.8 mg/L 17.4 6.7 160/100 mL
1/3/2020 6.0 mg/L 17.5 7.2 100/100 mL

Above and below spill site.

Above Below
12/19/2019 8.3 10.0 6.9 660 8.5 10.2 5.9 1,120
12/27/2019 6.4 17.9 6.3 285 7.4 17.3 6.5 180
1/3/2020 6.3 17.4 6.8 140 6.6 16.9 6.5 165

We can guess the units in that Above and Below table are the same in the same order as the other table. I can guess where the actual Above and Below locations were (St. Augustine Road and Gornto Road), but it seems Valdosta Utilities could have supplied that information.

Let me be clear: the City Clerk, Teresa Bolden, sends what she gets from Valdosta Utilities, and she is scrupulous about trying to send it within the three-day statutory limit in the Georgia Open Records Act. The lack of data and its slow delivery is due to Valdosta Utilities, not the City Clerk.

Why Valdosta Utilities doesn’t simply post its own data on its own website remains a mystery.

I will collate all this data into some composite form, but not today.

Meanwhile, somebody riddle me this: why is SRWMD having to spend Florida taxpayers money and Lowndes County having to spend county taxpayers money to do the job of testing and signage that Valdosta should be doing? Didn’t Valdosta “take full responsibility” for their record-largest raw sewage spill, as reported by Kristian Thomas for WTXL?

I don’t think that word “responsibility” means what they think it means.

[Water Trail and warning signs]
Water Trail and warning signs

I printed these WWALS warning signs on an ordinary laser printer, and WWALS E.D. Gretchen Quarterman laminated them on the WWALS laminator:


We will also get some larger metal signs made up in the same design. It’s become clear nobody can depend on Valdosta to put up signs.

Far more about this Valdosta record-largest raw sewage spill with no rain is on the WWALS website:

You can help WWALS test water quality by donating to our 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 the record Valdosta spill.

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

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