Update 2020-10-17: Very clean Withlacoochee River 2020-10-15.
Ashburn, Georgia, spilled 210,000 gallons of raw sewage spread over three times in September and the public only got notified Wednesday, four weeks after the first spill. There’s not enough water quality testing data downstream from those spills to know what effects they may have had for example on Reed Bingham State Park.
Ashburn spilled once into Hat Creek, which runs into the Alapaha River, and twice from its MLK Lift Station into a tributary of Ashburn Branch, which runs into the Little River. We don’t have any data downstream on the Alapaha for that time period, so we don’t know anything about downstream effects. We do have quite a bit of downstream data for the other two spills, but so far downstream and with so many other things going on that it’s hard to tell if there were any effects showing up in that data.
About the only thing we know for sure is it would be great for Ashburn to get a grip on its chronic sewage spill problem, starting by at least reporting spills in a timely manner. That and it would be great if the state of Georgia or the federal government would resume testing on the Little and Alapaha Rivers as they apparently used to do up until about 1998, so we would know, for example, did this spill affect Reed Bingham State Park.
These are the spills, as reported in the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (GA-EPD) Sewage Spills Report. WWALS commends GA-EPD for those online reports. GA-EPD can’t publish spills until it receives reports from the spilling organizaiton. Maybe Ashburn could be a bit more timely in reporting.
|FACILITY NAME||BEGIN DATE||COUNTY||CITY||OVERFLOW LOCATION||QUANTITY GALLONS||OVERFLOW TYPE||PERMIT NUMBER||SPILL SOURCE||SPILL PRIMARY CAUSE||RIVER BASIN||WATERWAY IMPACTED|
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|Ashburn, City of (Airport WPCP)||2020-09-27||Turner||Ashburn||MLK Lift Station||60,000||Raw Sewage||GA0025852||Collection System||Wet weather||Suwannee||Ashburn Branch|
|Ashburn, City of (Airport WPCP)||2020-09-18||Turner||Ashburn||MLK Lift Station||100,000||Raw Sewage||GA0025852||Collection System||Wet weather||Suwannee||Ashburn Branch|
|Ashburn, City of (Airport WPCP)||2020-09-17||Turner||Ashburn||Rockhouse Rd. and Sylvia Dr.||50,000||Raw Sewage||GA0025852||Collection System||Wet weather||Suwannee||Hat Creek|
The most recent Ashburn spill was on Sunday, September 27. It couldn’t have had any effect at US 41 or GA 133 on the Withlacoochee River, because those are both upstream of the Little River Confluence. The first place it could have shown up was at US 84 on the Withlacoochee. Valdosta did report very high Fecal coliform at US 84 three days after the Ashburn spill. But Valdosta also reported very high FCOLI and E. coli at GA 133 that same Wednesday, and there was rain upstream and down to US 84 Tuesday on the Withlacoochee. So it is impossible to tell just by these bacterial results whether any of the underlying contamination came down the Little River. Maybe DNA markers or chemical tracers could tell, but we have no such results.
The situation is similar after the Friday, September 18, Ashburn spill, except the downstream rain was mostly on Thursday and Friday. Something else showed up at US 41 and GA 133 and US 84. There’s no obvious way to tell from the bacterial testing results whether anything from the Ashburn spill made its way to the Withlacoochee River.
The sheer water miles distance from Ashburn (more than creek and river 130 miles to the state line) would not necessarily stop a big sewage spill from making its way all the down.
However, the dam at Reed Bingham State Park might. Did that Ashburn sewage make it that far down the Little River? Nobody knows, because there is no testing data to tell.
Well, presumably Ashburn had to do upstream and downstream water quality tests after each of these spills as required by its NPDES wastewater permit, so maybe we can at least get those data. But they won’t have tested all the way down to Reed Bingham SP.
In addition to Florida needing to test from the GA-FL line all the way to the Gulf, it appears that Georgia needs to test all the way from Ashburn (and Rochelle on the Alapaha River) down to the state line.
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has a long list of testing sites, including many points downstream from Ashburn, with data available through an online portal. Unfortunately all the relevant data stops at the end of 1998.
At least that data demonstrates it is possible for state or federal agencies to do such testing. It’s time for the Georgia legislature of the U.S. Congress to fund such testing.
-jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®
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