Withlacoochee advisory lifted; more FDEP DNA marker and chemical tracer data 2021-01-12

Update 2021-01-21: Clean Withlacoochee 2020-01-14 and Suwannee River tests 2021-01-18.

It’s lifted: the bacterial advisory from Madison and Hamilton Health Departments, because of two successive good sets of results from Madison Health on the Withlacoochee River, the lastest for Tuesday. And Valdosta got good results upstream for Monday. All of which corroborates the Thursday Madison Health, Friday Valdosta, and Saturday WWALS results.

[Lifted, Chart, Markers, Map]
Lifted, Chart, Markers, Map

We also have more DNA marker data from FDEP, for Wednesday, January 6, 2021, which shows continued high ruminant DNA marker results on the Withlacoochee River, this time for Horn Bridge at the State Line, plus CR 150 at Sullivan Launch, and FL 6 just above Madison Blue Spring. Plus some clarifications of what I wrote in the previous blog post.

Before we get into all that, happy boating, swimming, and fishing on the Withlacoochee River!

[Lifting Withlacoochee Advisory --Madison, Hamilton Health 2021-01-13]
Lifting Withlacoochee Advisory –Madison, Hamilton Health 2021-01-13

We have no new data for Knights Ferry Boat Ramp, because it’s still underwater.

[Repeated good results, Withlacoochee River]
Repeated good results, Withlacoochee River
For context and the entire WWALS composite spreadsheet of Georgia and Florida water quality results, rainfall, and spills, see:

Other than Knights Ferry, all the WWALS Withlacoochee River “beaches” remain green on Swim Guide.

[Swim Guide green 2021-01-09]
Swim Guide green 2021-01-09


Here are some clarifications of what I wrote in the previous blog post when we had just the FDEP DNA marker results for Monday, January 4, 2021, at three locations, one each on the Withlacoochee, Alapaha, and Suwannee Rivers.

Here’s what I meant by this:

The Withlacoochee, Alapaha, and Suwannee Rivers were contaminated with E. coli Monday, January 4, 2021, all the way from US 41 at North Valdosta Road to US 90 below the Withlacoochee River Confluence, and probably farther downstream, according to Valdosta, Madison Health, and FDEP data for that day.

All three rivers were indeed contaminated at the locations for which we have test results. For the Alapaha and Suwannee Rivers, that’s just one location each, so we can’t say much about upstream or downstream on those rivers. For example, it is possible that all the contamination found by FDEP at Sasser Landing on the Alapaha River came from nearby upstream, or maybe it came down the Alapahoochee River. In either case, the Alapaha River upstream could have been clean. I tend to think the Alapaha was not clean, given the high WWALS result of 1,119 cfu/100 mL E. coli at Naylor Park Beach for Sunday, January 3, 2021. However, there are 36 river miles downstream from there to Sasser Landing and many things could have happened by a day later.

My point was that on the path from US 41 (North Valdosta Road) on the Withlacoochee River down that river and onwards on the Suwannee River to US 90, that whole path was contaminated according to the data we have. It is of course still possible that there was no E. coli on the Withlacoochee River between the state line and its Confluence with the Suwannee, but that seems unlikely given the FDEP result at US 90.

Plus we have reports from farther down the Suwannee River of the same spring water coloration we have had reported in previous incidents of contamination coming down the Withlacoochee River into the Suwannee.

The inability to say more due to lack of data is an argument for more sampling, especially by the State of Florida all the way to the Gulf.

Updates with additional FDEP DNA marker data

Dr. Tom Potter, Chair of the WWALS Science Committee, has extracted some columns from the FDEP data from Wednesday and added a helpful column on the right that shows which results were significant.

[2021-01-06 FDEP preliminary DNA marker results]
2021-01-06 FDEP preliminary DNA marker results
PDF, spreadsheet, and the full spreadsheet as received from FDEP.

In the above table, “FL HWY 145” refers to Madison County CR 145, which continues as GA 31 or Madison Highway, where it crosses the Withlacoochee River on Horn Bridge, just north of the state line. The sampling site is at that bridge.

For reference, here again are the corresponding E. coli results for that day, and the surrounding days.

[Bad Withlacoochee, Alapaha, and Suwannee Rivers 2021-01-04]
Bad Withlacoochee, Alapaha, and Suwannee Rivers 2021-01-04
For context and the entire WWALS composite spreadsheet of Georgia and Florida water quality results, rainfall, and spills, see:

As you can see, the ruminant DNA marker continued to be well above the minimum detection limit, while the human DNA marker was not above its detection limit.

Ruminants include cattle, sheep, deer, antelopes, and giraffes. If there are any antelopes or giraffes around here, they are probably at Wild Adventures and are not very numerous.

There are sheep farms and deer in the woods. This DNA marker does not distinguish which ruminants, so we cannot say for sure that it was not caused by sheep or deer or both.

However, we do know there are many thousands of cattle in Brooks County, Georgia, and elsewhere, including Colquitt County, also on Okapilco Creek, and upstream on the Withlacoochee River.

Further circumstantial evidence is that the E. coli and ruminant DNA marker results so far have always been lower for the Alapaha River than for the Withlacoochee River. Deer are probably at least as numerous near the Alapaha, with fewer people living near and less agriculture. If the ruminants in question are deer, why would the Alapaha results be lower?

So we cannot definitely say the culprit is cattle, but it sure looks like it.

Meanwhile, the DNA marker results for birds, dogs, and humans were all below their detection limits for that Wednesday.

FDEP chemical tracer results

Notice in the FDEP chemical tracer results, all three locations showed significant amounts of AMPA, which is Aminomethylphosphonic acid, a breakdown produce of glyphosate, commonly known by the name Roundup. And for CR 150, the tracer for Roundup itself was significant. Since Roundup is so widely used, it is difficult to say where it came from. I’ll just quote Dr. Tom Potter: “It certainly possible that the source of glyphosate and its degradate AMPA was runoff from farm fields. Although agricultural uses are expected to be small in January. Other possible sources include residential use, maintenance of right-of-ways and control of road side vegetation and sewage treatment plant discharge.”

Meanwhile, the other chemical tracers were all below their detection limits.


Thanks to Katrina Yancey of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) for the preliminary DNA marker and chemical tracer results. All analysis in these blog posts is by WWALS, for which FDEP is not responsible.

Thanks to Valdosta PIO Ashlyn Johnson for getting upstream results posted in a timely manner.

How You Can Help

WWALS can always use new volunteer water quality testers, especially downstream in Florida; you can sign up to get trained.

WWALS is always happy to receive donations:

As we keep writing here and in the Gainesville Sun, Florida needs to fund and implement frequent, regular, closely-spaced water quality testing on all Suwannee Basin rivers all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. If Valdosta, Georgia, can do it three times a week on forty river miles to the GA-FL line, the great state of Florida can do it from the state line to the Gulf. Floridians, please ask your statehouse delegation to make it so.

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

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