Too Numerous To Count: E. coli, Madison County, Withlacoochee River 2020-03-05

Update 2020-03-09: Bad Withlacoochee Friday, Worse Crooked Creek Saturday 2020-03-07.

Update 2020-03-08: Plus Valdosta Wednesday data, which shows contamination rising in Okapilco Creek in Brooks County, Georgia. Valdosta promises their Friday data Monday. WWALS is testing this weekend.

Madison Health tested Thursday, and found TNTC, so we know all that rain in Georgia washed something nasty into Florida. That’s Too Numerous To Count, which is a technical term for so many colonies of E. coli bacteria on the test medium that you can’t count it. See also what do these numbers mean? What is it? We have some clues.

[Plus Valdosta Wednesday data]
Plus Valdosta Wednesday data
* indicates too wet to test.
For the entire WWALS composite spreadsheet of all known data sources and context, see

That contamination is moving downriver. We don’t know how far yet, because the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) so far as we know has not tested. Maybe Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD) has. We’ll know in a few days.

And maybe by Monday Valdosta will post their Wednesday and Friday results from this week. Update 2020-03-08: Valdosta Wednesday data is in the updated table above.

WWALS is testing upstream this weekend. You can help.

[Quitman and Valdosta to Suwannee River]
Quitman and Valdosta to Suwannee River
In the WWALS map of the Withlacoochee and Little River Water Trail.

Thanks to Kimberley Allbritton of Madison Health for sending the TNTC numbers and Katelyn Potter of SRWMD for forwarding them. discussion last night

So what is the source of this contamination? Katrina Yancey of FDEP wrote yesterday:

I can confirm that no additional sampling has been done by DEP this week, our last sampling event was on 2/27. Yesterday we did receive genetic marker results from last week’s sampling events though, which I’ve summarized below.

All results for the dog and two bird markers were below detection limits.

There were multiple detections of the human genetic marker HF183 (see first table below), but these were all I-qualified and not considerably higher than the MDL. The only other genetic marker results which were detections were five results for the ruminant marker BacR on 2/27, at every site sampled (see second table below). One result is between the MDL and PQL (I-qualified), but the rest are above the PQL. Please let me know if you have any questions.

So probably not chickens or domestic dogs. Probably not mostly remaining Valdosta sewage, or the human markers would be higher.

However, at the Madison BOCC meeting last night, Commissioner Rick Davis said he had tested on private land near the Quitman settling ponds and LAS and gotten TNTC, I think he said on February 29th. WWALS plans to test on the Quitman sites, in addition upstream on Okapilco Creek and the Valdosta and Lowndes County testing downstream.

Ruminants include goats, sheep, deer, and cattle. Of those, the only species numerous enough to be the likely source are cattle. There are more than 10,000 cows in Brooks County, Georgia. Which matches what WWALS has been finding on Crooked Creek. And there are cows in Hamilton County, Florida, that walk right down into the river. As well as more cows in Suwannee County.

Pretty much everyone in the room at the Madison BOCC meeting seemed to agree that Florida should be testing very frequently, not just waiting for a spill or for someone else to find a problem.

Oh, and they did approve the Request for Proposals for an environmental attorney. Whoever that is will have their work cut out for them, with multiple sources in two states.

You Can Help

Please continue to contact your local and state elected officials in Florida and Georgia to ask for funding and personnel for frequent (several times a week) testing at closely-spaced stations along all our rivers, with timely online publication. And water well testing, too.

You can help WWALS test water quality by donating to our WWALS water quality testing program. Or maybe you know a bank or other source of larger financial support.

[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 and other materials after this Valdosta spill.

Maybe you want to get trained and help test; if so, follow this link.

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

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