Year in review: water quality testing, February 2020-2021

Suzy Hall, WWALS Testing Committee Chair, pointed out that bacterial water quality results a year ago were generally worse than recently.

Results were awful for Monday, February 17, 2020 on the Withlacoochee.

[Awful KF, Nankin, SL 2020-02-17]
Awful KF, Nankin, SL, 2020-02-17

Suzy Hall filed Nankin Boat Ramp for Monday, February 17, 2020, as TNTC: Too Many To Count. Yes, that is a technical term, and you can see why: how many blue colonies with bubbles would you count?

Knights Ferry Boat Ramp wasn’t much better, at 8,933 cfu/100 mL. The Georgia Adopt-A-Stream high alert level is 1,000; see What do these numbers mean?. We have seen worse, namely the 39,000 Valdosta result at GA 133 on December 10, 2019.

But that was plenty bad enough.

Also, Valdosta later reported an even higher result for Knights Ferry for that same Feb 17, 2020, and Madison Health got horrible for the next day at State Line, Sullivan Launch, and FL 6.

For Wednesday, FDOH found a hot spot at Dowling Park on the Suwannee River.

[Downstream into Florida]
Downstream into Florida, 2020-02-19.

So once again Suzy was vindicated.

Crooked Creek in the WWALS map of the Withlacoochee and Little River Water Trail (WLRWT).

And, despite what I wrote for that Monday, I did not test the right place for Crooked Creek, and Conn and Trudy Cole’s test a few days later showed some of it is indeed coming down that creek.

TNTC, 2020-02-19.

The even better news is that even though in recent rains we’ve seen a health advisory and some other too-high numbers, the max was 11,000 at Nankin on 2021-02-16. That is less than Suzy’s TNTC at Nankin or Valdosta’s TNTC at KF for the same Monday Feb 17, 2020. And we haven’t seen a repeat of Madison Health’s TNTC at State Line, Sullivan Launch, and FL 6 for that Tuesday. This despite the recent rains were heavier and longer than a year ago.

Most recently, Michael and Jacob Bachrach got the seldom-seen zero counts for Nankin and State Line Boat Ramps on the Withlacoochee River, and Valdosta upstream and Madison Health downstream agreed.

Even the week before, with numerous Tifton spills, showed nothing attributable to those, and the downstream too-high results were not as high as a year ago.

[Spill Week 2020-02-13-19]
Spill Week 2020-02-13-19

So maybe some of the Best Management Practices (BMPs) the dairies are doing are working. Still ample room for improvement.

Of course, we have seen that completely absurd 137,600 at GA 133 for 2020-11-11, and other too-high numbers there.

[Horrendous GA 133 & US 84, clean downstream]
Horrendous GA 133 & US 84, clean downstream, 2020-11-11.
For context and the entire WWALS composite spreadsheet of Georgia and Florida results, see

But that was apparently a different problem. And we haven’t seen anything higher than 1,000 at GA 133 since December 4, 2020. So maybe whoever was dumping upstream from there has finally stopped.

In case you wonder how I can find this stuff, it’s all in the main testing page under Test Results:

I put them there so anyone can find them later. Searching by date on the WWALS blog,, also usually works, as in 2020-11-11.

For results before February 2020, the testing web page links to Valdosta Spills:

In which we see Suzy’s most notorious result, Suzy, 4,966 at Knights Ferry for 2019-12-21.

[Knights Ferry & State Line Ramps]
Photo: Suzy Hall, of her Petrifilms of water samples taken from the Withlacoochee River at Knights Ferry & State Line Boat Ramps, 2019-12-21.
Method: count blue dots with bubbles (E. coli colonies) on each plate.
Add the counts, divide by three, and multiply by 100, to get colony forming units (cfu) per 100 mililiter of water.

That got coverage in the Albany Herald.

Then Suzy got 6,766 at KF for 2019-12-24.

[Knights Ferry Boat Ramp]
Photo: Suzy Hall, of Petrifilms of water from Knights Ferry Boat Ramp, 2019-12-24.

Valdosta really did not want to believe Suzy’s results. Which is why Lowndes County started testing at Knights Ferry, Nankin, and State Line and got similar results for 2020-01-06, followed by higher numbers for Okapilco Creek, and eventually Valdosta started testing those locations. Which led to WWALS contacting some of the dairies, which were already working on BMPs, which now may be showing improvement. We’ve written that up in:

And now for easy display of results, we have Swim Guide.

[Map: Swim Guide]
Map: Swim Guide

Quite a difference a year makes.

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

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