After two years, Lowndes County has still not found sources of the fecal contamination in its streams. Maybe the testing methodology needs to be revised.
Fortunately, WWALS is covering part of what the county does not: WWALS is testing for E. coli after big rains on Cat Creek and Beatty Branch and multiple Withlacoochee, Little, and Alapaha River locations, and we are doing some DNA spot tests.
Lowndes County has not identified any point sources within the drainage areas that can be attributed to the widespread exceedances. Based on the limited data collected to date, it is the opinion of Lowndes County that the cause of the exceedances is from natural conditions.
There are no DNA marker or chemical tracer results in the report. A few DNA tests would have given some indication of what species were producing the fecal contamination.
Also, the report includes no Fecal coliform tests for Cat Creek or Beatty Branch, so little information on what is getting into the Withlacoochee River upstream of US 41 (North Valdosta Road). And no E. coli tests for any waterway.
The report does include Fecal coliform tests for Franks Creek and Mud Creek. It looks like Hahira has significantly cleaned up its wastewater plant since the previous report. This report does not say that, but its graphs include both the 2020 and 2021 data, so the trend is clear (if it is a trend; see below).
But Mud Creek has gotten a lot worse. Valdosta’s Mud Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant is not the only thing upstream of Mud Creek, but it or something has a problem that seems to have gotten worse.
Although the changes from the 2020 to 2021 results could just be coincidences of rainfall, since the samples are only done quarterly. Rainfall amounts and dates are not included in the report.
The report does mention rainfall for Dissolved Oxygen (DO), which is the only thing they tested on Cat Creek:
DO levels in Cat Creek at the Highway 122 bridge near the Lowndes County-Berrien County line are below 4.0 mg/L for most of the sampling period. Water flow conditions at the bridge are almost stagnant. The channel at this point is wide and shallow with low flow velocities. As the stream flows southward, water velocity and depth transition into more defined streambank conditions. There were three sampling events at the Highway 122 bridge for which DO levels exceeded 4.0. In all three cases, the sampling events were preceded by rainfall events in excess of 1.5″; over several days. DO levels begin to increase and are at or near compliance levels +/- 2.7 miles downstream at the Cat Creek Bridge with the exception of early June. May and June of 2021 experienced below average precipitation levels with a 60% and 30% drop respectively resulting in below normal water velocity and depth for this period.
It would have been useful to have E. coli results, or at least for Fecal coliform, at the same times and places as for those DO results. But there are none for Cat Creek in this report.
No doubt the county’s contractor is doing only what GA-EPD required related to the county’s Stormwater permit. But it seems the monitoring plan is flawed and should be revised.
The entire 2021 Annual Report, Lowndes County Impaired Streams Monitoring, received in response to a WWALS open records request, is on the WWALS website.
The rest of the report is on the WWALS website.
-jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®