Horrendous water quality at GA 133 & US 84 Wednesday, clean downstream 2020-11-12

Update 2020-11-16: Better now, Withlacoochee River water quality 2020-11-14.

We’ve never seen anything quite like this.

Valdosta got 137,600 cfu/100 mL E. coli for Wednesday at GA 133 on the Withlacoochee River. That’s 137 times the Georgia Adopt-A-Stream alert limit of 1,000.

That’s far higher than the highest E. coli reading we’ve ever seen for the Withlacoochee River, which was the 39,000 Valdosta got on December 10, 2019, just after its infamous record spill. Which at least makes it unlikely that this contamination is coming from Valdosta.

Even the 85,600 Valdosta got for US 84 Wednesday is higher than that previous record at GA 133, and far above unprecedented for US 84. The previous US 84 record was 1,505 on April 1, after a big rain.

GA 133 is the same place Valdosta keeps finding very high E. coli and Fecal coliform, including 11,600 E. coli Friday a week ago. There has not been any rain. Which makes it very unlikely that this is runoff from farm animals.

[Horrendous upstream, clean downstream]
Horrendous upstream, clean downstream
Photos: Michael and Jacob Bachrach at Knights Ferry, Nankin, and State Line Boat Ramps, Thursday, November 12, 2020.

Yet Valdosta’s Wednesday downstream water quality results were all good, as were those by WWALS and Madison Health for Thursday.

According to the latest water quality results downstream of US 84, things look great for the Withlacoochee River this weekend. But I have to tell you I wouldn’t get in that water without more sampling.

I wish I could tell you what caused this, but so far I can only say a few things it’s not, and then speculate.

[Horrendous GA 133 & US 84, clean downstream]
Horrendous GA 133 & US 84, clean downstream.
For context and the entire WWALS composite spreadsheet of Georgia and Florida results, see
https://wwals.net/issues/testing/

I can say it’s not the dairy farms in Brooks County, Georgia, because GA 133 and US 84 are upstream of Okapilco Creek. It’s not deer. There aren’t enough deer in the Suwannee River Basin to cause that much contamination.

It could be something coming down Sugar Creek, possibly from Onemile Branch or Twomile Branch.

Or it could be somebody dumping RV tanks or portapotties into the river.

Did this horrendous contamination not manage to travel the 8.44 river miles from US 84 to Knights Ferry in a day? Did it already go 40 river miles down past FL 6? Neither of those scenarios makes any sense, since the river is neither especially low nor especially high.

Is it compact and it was somewhere between these sampling stations on Thursday? If so, how did it show up at both GA 133 and US 84 on Wednesday, when those locations are 10.8 river miles apart? Did somebody dump into two locations, upstream and downstream of GA 133? That could explain it. It could also explain the vanishing contamination: it could be something small and compact that got diluted.

It’s time for GA-EPD, the City of Valdosta, the County of Lowndes, WWALS, and the Lowndes County Sheriff to find whoever is doing this.

Meanwhile, new WWALS testers Josh and Angela Duncan got 33 cfu/100 mL at Sasser Landing on the Alapaha River.

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

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