Withlacoochee River good despite dirty creek 2020-05-01

Update 2020-05-04: Clean Withlacoochee River, less bad Crooked Creek 2020-05-02.

Update 2020-05-03: WWALS tester Suzy Hall says she got zero (no) E. coli at the GA 31 bridge (State Line Boat Ramp) for yesterday, Saturday, May 2, 2020.

Good news, boaters, fishers, swimmers: apparently the Withlacoochee River is clean this weekend. This is because of much river and Okapilco Creek water coming downstream; flow matters.

WWALS continues sampling, and you can help us afford testing supplies.

[WWALS Water Trail signs]
Photo: John S. Quarterman, WWALS Water Trail signs at Nankin Boat Ramp, Withlacoochee River 2020-05-01

You may have some difficulty getting a boat into the water, but if you do, it appears that the small rain in Brooks County, Georgia, Thursday, April 30, was not big enough to contaminate Okapilco Creek much.

[Small rain, small river contamination]
Small rain, small river contamination
For context, see wwals.net/issues/testing/.

On Friday I sampled seven stream locations in Brooks County, GA, but only one on the Withlacoochee River, at Clyattville-Nankin Bridge.

[Suzy Hall: State Line Boat Ramp, Withlacoochee River 2020-05-02]
Photo: Suzy Hall, State Line Boat Ramp, Withlacoochee River 2020-05-02

However, Madison Health’s readings from Tuesday, April 28, are probably not far off for Friday, at State Line Boat Ramp and downstream into Florida.

Photo: John S. Quarterman, Crooked Creek @ Devane Road, Downstream, 2020-05-01

How is this possible, even though Crooked Creek was filthy with E. coli as expected?

[Crooked Creek @ MCR & Devane Rd.]
Crooked Creek @ MCR 4,166 E. coli/100 mL & Devane Rd. 4,700

Upstream the Little and Withlacoochee Rivers apparently were clean. WWALS tester Alex Chesna tested the Little River @ GA 37 (Adel-Moultrie Landing, just below Reed Bingham State Park) on Wednesday, April 29, and got no (zero) E. coli. That was before the recent rain, and we don’t know how much fell at that location, because for unknown reasons the Adel Gauge, which is located there, is not currently recording rainfall.

Alex also tested Spring Branch, which enters the Withlacoochee River above US 84, on Monday, April 27, and got zero at Bland Pond and 200 at the top of Spring Branch itself. That was also before the rain, but at least that stream, which is downstream from Valdosta’s Withlacoochee Wastewater Plant (WWTP), the county landfill, and a golf course, was clean before that rain.

That clean river water, much of it still from a previous rain, was apparently enough to dilute any incoming contamination.

[Gauge levels]
Gauge levels, Little River @ Hahira (GA 122), Withlacoochee River @ Skipper Bridge & @ US 84.

The red line is for Skipper Bridge, where the Withlacoochee River went up rapidly in the big rain April 23, and has been going down ever since.

The green line is for the Hahira Gauge (GA 122), where the Little River went up with the big rain, up a notch a couple days later, and stayed up, presumably due to water coming down from Tifton, but the recent rain had little effect.

And the blue line is for US 84, where the Withlacoochee River rose immediately after the big rain, and then went on up as water from all of the above locations came downstream past the Little River Confluence, finally starting to fall off on Wednesday, April 29.

Photo: John S. Quarterman, Troupville Boat Ramp, Little River, Downstream, only a few thousand feet above the Little River Confluence, 2020-05-01.

The little rain Thursday had no visible effect on the Withlacoochee River @ US 84, presumably because it mostly fell on Brooks County.

There used to be a USGS gauge on Okapilco Creek @ GA 76, but no more, due to lack of funding. Somebody should fund it so we could see rainfall and water levels there.

Photo: John S. Quarterman, Okapilco Creek @ GA 76, Downstream, 2020-05-01

For comparison, when there was a big rain the previous week, more than five inches, in Brooks County and upstream on the Little and Withlacoochee Rivers, everything was filthy.

[Big rain, big river contamination]
Big rain, big river contamination

Even at Okapilco Creek @ US 84 Valdosta got 6,000.

Wait, US 84? But Valdosta was previously reporting results for “Bray Prop.”, not US 84, for Okapilco Creek?

Well, while Lowndes County did indeed sample at what everybody local knows as the Bray property, downstream on Okapilco Creek from US 84, from the Quitman Land Application Site, and downstream from where Crooked Creek joins Okapilco Creek.

Valdosta has never sampled there. All Valdosta’s Okapilco Creek sampling has been at the US 84 bridge.

[Downstream east]
Photo: John S. Quarterman, Okapilco Creek @ US 84, Downstream east, 2020-05-01.

I would like to thank Scott Fowler, Environmental Manager, Valdosta Utilities, for correcting that location, and Ashlyn Johnson, Valdosta Public Information Officer, for fixing the column label in the results table Valdosta reports.

I’d also like to thank Lowndes County Chairman Bill Slaughter for confirming the location of the former Lowndes County “Bray prop.” sample station location. I say former, because apparently Lowndes County stopped sampling at the end of March. That may be related to the recent no-bid single-source Lowndes County contract for apparently weekly stream sampling, which apparently started in April, but that’s another story.

Photo: John S. Quarterman, Crooked Creek @ Monument Church Road, Upstream 2020-05-01.

Knowing that Valdosta is really sampling Okapilco Creek @ US 84 resolves some former mysteries, such as how could TNTC on Crooked Creek not show up at “Bray prop.” the same day, since it’s probably not a stream mile downstream? I may revisit some examples later.

But the big difference is that it’s now clear that while Crooked Creek is usually full of E. coli after a big rain, and it never was the only source, even more so now we know it’s not the only source.

Yes, we are talking to some likely sources. Please be patient. Because it’s agriculture, there is no switch to flip. Fixes will take time: months, if not years.

Yes, Valdosta finally got fined by GA-EPD, and there is more Valdosta needs to do even beyond that recent Enforcement Order, such as reimburse people downstream for well and river testing. But the recent river contamination is not coming from Valdosta.

[Two weeks: 2020-04-21 -- 2020-05-01]
Two weeks: 2020-04-21 — 2020-05-01

Anyway, a small rain in Brooks County can wash E. coli into Crooked Creek, but that can be diluted by river water still coming downstream, as apparently happened this last week. But a big rain can end up with E. coli from there and everywhere massively contaminating the Withlacoochee River, as happened week before last.

I drive across Millrace Creek every time I go sample in Brooks County, so Friday I took a sample there.


The results weren’t great, but not bad, either: 133 cfu/100 mL, higher than the 126 average limit, but lower than the 410 single-sample limit. See also What do these numbers mean?

[Millrace Creek @ Troupeville Rd.]
Millrace Creek @ Troupeville Rd.

This was even though Millrace Creek was pretty muddy. Also notice there was not much water in Millrace Creek, and not much flow. So contamination here would probably not affect the river much anyway.


Millrace Creek runs directly into the Withlacoochee River upstream of US 84.

[Joe Cook returns, 14:27:12, 30.81473, -83.43731]
Photo: John S. Quarterman, Millrace Creek Confluence, Withlacoochee River, Joe Cook returns, 14:27:12 2020-06-15, 30.8147300, -83.4373100

Here are some water samples I collected Thursday. Can you tell which is which?

[Which is which?]
Which is which?

You might think Crooked Creek would be the darkest-looking ones, but you’d probably be wrong.

I say probably because of an embarrassing thing that happened on the way to the incubator Friday. Notice none of those Whirlpaks have labels. I wrote on them, for sure, before I took each sample. But it wasn’t my usual marker, and it was water soluble. Every one of the labels washed off. So I had to go back Friday and sample again.

[Can't tell by water color]
Can’t tell by water color

The Friday Whirlpaks are labeled. Here they are arranged left to right:

cfu/100 mL Stream @ Road
133 Millrace Creek @ Troupeville Road
100 Okapilco Creek @ GA 76
133 Okapilco Creek @ US 84
4,166 Crooked Creek @ Monument Church Road
4,700 Crooked Creek @ Devane Road
333 Piscola Creek @ Old Madison Road
100 Withlacoochee River @ Clyattville-Nankin Road

You might have thought, as I did, that Millrace Creek would come out pretty bad by the way its water looks.


But no: few E. coli colonies showed up on the Millrace Creek plates.

[Millrace Creek @ Troupeville Rd.]
Millrace Creek @ Troupeville Rd.

You may have thought that Okapilco Creek water would look the cleanest, but no.

[Okapilco Creek @ GA 76 & US 84]
Okapilco Creek @ GA 76 & US 84

Actually, Crooked Creek water looks the cleanest, but is the most contaminated.

[Crooked Creek @ MCR & Devane Rd.]
Crooked Creek @ MCR & Devane Rd.

Also notice there wasn’t much flow in Crooked Creek Friday. So its water may have been filthy, but there wasn’t much of it. And we’ve already seen that Okapilco Creek was very high and fast, which would dilute anything coming out of Crooked Creek.

Photo: John S. Quarterman, Crooked (McCracken) Creek @ Monument Church Road, Downstream, 2020-05-01.

Piscola Creek looks the worst but isn’t. This bridge on Old Madison Road is south of Quitman. Piscola Creek runs into Okapilco Creek just before the Withlacoochee River.


The Withlacoochee River looks almost as dark, but was the cleanest.

[Piscola Creek @ OMR, Withlacoochee R. @ Nankin]
Piscola Creek @ OMR, Withlacoochee R. @ Nankin

So, what colors the river water, other than clay and soil from erosion, is probably mostly tannic acid from oak leaves, the same that colors tea. It’s that tannic acid that gives our rivers the adjective blackwater, because when you look through enough of it, it looks black, just like tea.

It’s a good weekend for bucket surfing, or river boating, as near as we can tell. Of course, all such advice is just that: advice. There is no way to tell what’s in the river right now, because it takes 24 hours just to incubate E. coli samples.

Photo: John S. Quarterman, Withlacoochee River from Clyattville-Nankin Bridge, Downstream, 2020-05-01.

There are more pictures on the WWALS website, including this tree canopy on Old Madison Road.

[Canopy Road]
Canopy Road

Remember, you can help WWALS do water quality sampling, and write up results, and help the sources do something about this contamination.

Yes, including keeping after Valdosta.

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

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

2 thoughts on “Withlacoochee River good despite dirty creek 2020-05-01

  1. Ruthann Phenis

    Thank you so much for the information in your May newsletter. A lot of proof of what we’ve been complaining about for years. It appears GA might be taking steps to rectify the problems, but Valdosta has a long history of ignoring it and/or complaining no money to repair/maintain. Look what it took for the State of GA to finally fine them! Would appreciate your thoughts as to the hiring of an environmental attorney? Perhaps one would take it on pro bono , as a civic duty of sorts? Put pressure on GA.
    We were at our Withlacoochie property this weekend. Have been seeing foam, but Sunday morning there was a lot. Some huge billows of it. We used to see it a lot several years back and then it eased up. Now, it is back with a vengeance. We are halfway between Blue Springs and the State Park.
    Please inform people who might dare to canoe or kayak, be careful. There are boaters flying on the river right now! Dangerous. Thank you, again, for all you do.

    1. jsq Post author

      You’re welcome.
      As you probably know, Madison County, Florida, has an RFP out for an environmental attorney.
      If you want to talk more about that, please call, 229-242-0102.
      Please send pictures of the foam you’re seeing, and anything else relevant you see in the water.
      Good point about the fast boaters.
      And thanks for being a WWALS member.

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