More contamination after big rains, Withlacoochee River 2021-03-04

As usual, the big rains washed more contamination into the Withlacoochee River, most likely mostly down Okapilco Creek from cattle in Brooks County, Georgia.

However, since the rains were Monday and Tuesday, by the time Madison Health and WWALS tested Thursday, much of it had already started washing downstream. By Thursday it appears to have already been flushed down to the state line and beyond by more rainwater. By now it’s probably down into the Suwannee River, where it may well have been diluted by even more rainwater coming down the Alapaha and Suwannee Rivers.

So above the state line the Withlacoochee is probably OK to boat, swim, and fish this weekend. It may even be safe below the state line by Saturday morning, although we have no data on that.

[Last week, Swim Guide, this week]
Last week, Swim Guide, this week

So on Swim Guide I’ve set red from the state line down into Florida, yet green at Knights Ferry and Nankin Boat Ramps, as well as green for Valdosta’s readings upstream Monday before the rains.

[Map: Swim Guide]
Map: Swim Guide

The 3,784 cfu/100 mL E. coli Madison Health got at Florida 6 Thursday is far higher than the 1,000 alert limit. But a year ago on Thursday, March 5, 2020, Madison Health got TNTC (Too Numerous To Count) at all three of State Line, Sullivan Launch, and Florida 6. Plus that Friday Valdosta got 4,600 at the state line and 25,000 at Knights Ferry Boat Ramp. So there is still ample room for improvement, but it’s possible that the Best Management Practices (BMPs) the Brooks County dairies have been implementing are starting to work.

[Oops, manure washed down in rain]
Oops, manure washed down in rain
For context and the entire WWALS composite spreadsheet of Georgia and Florida water quality results, rainfall, and spills, see:

Probably Knights Ferry and Nankin would have been red or worse if tested Wednesday, but more rainwater upstream has already flushed those locations.

Of course, that would mean the contamination is probably in the Suwannee River. But there were sizable rains upstream on the Suwannee, too, so there may be enough rainwater to dilute it all.

If FDEP was testing regularly on the Suwannee from the state line to the Gulf, we would all know. Floridians can ask your elected and appointed officials to do that testing.

Once again I’ve heard the myth that Georgia opens sluice gates when it rains hard. The only dam on the Suwannee River is the Suwannee River Sill at the bottom of the Okefenokee Swamp, and that has been constantly open for decades. The real situation is as simple as water comes from rain and runs downhill. Rainwater both on the upper Suwannee River and on the Alapaha, Withlacoochee, and Little Rivers, all of which end up in the Suwannee River in Florida.

Valdosta has finished posting its data for last week, which corroborates what WWALS and Madison Health saw: pretty clean that week.

[Not bad last week]
Not bad last week


Here are Josh Duncan’s incubated Petrifilms for Knights Ferry, Nankin, and State Line Boat Ramps.

[Knights Ferry #1]
Knights Ferry #1


[Nankin #1]
Nankin #1


[State Line #1]
State Line #1

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

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