Thanks to Scotti Jay Jones for discovering and photographing a fish kill on One Mile Branch a year ago, and for taking water quality samples. Thanks to Sara Jay Jones for plating those samples. Suwannee Riverkeeper reported all that to GA-EPD.
One year later, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (GA-EPD), levied a Consent Order on the City of Valdosta for that fish kill and various sewage spills.
Maybe that Consent Order and its requirements for Standard Operating Procedures will help prevent sewage spills from getting into One Mile Branch, Hightower Creek, and Sugar Creek and the Withlacoochee River, as well as into Knights Creek into Mud Swamp Creek, the Alapahoochee River, and the Alapaha River. There have also been many personnel changes in the Valdosta City government, and the current Acting Utilities Director so far seems like a big improvement.
And you can join Scotti and Sara and WWALS at Iche Nippy Dip Day Swim and Paddle, Ichetucknee River, Ichetucknee Headspring, 2024-01-06.
Below are links and snippets for previous WWALS blog posts during that year.
One Mile Branch Fish Kill 2022-09-23,
Scotti Jay says, “I’m glad my dog doesn’t like to get in the water.”
The One Mile Branch water full of dead fish from Oak Street at VSU down to West Gordon Street and Sugar Creek in Remerton. Sugar Creek goes on down to the Withlacoochee River.
A sewage bypass pipe starts just downstream (west) of Patterson Street and ends near the VSU practice football field west of Oak Street, near where the dead fish start. Such equipment could only have been put there by Valdosta Utilities or its contractors.
I saw such equipment at Patterson Street after The Happening on August 30th. Which makes me wonder how long this fish kill has been going on.
There are no signs and no lime anywhere along the sewage bypass. There is fresh dirt between the bottom manhole and the creek. No dead fish were found upstream of that work site.
Valdosta’s Azalea City Trail for walkers and bikers runs right next to One Mile Branch.
Scotti says, “I’ve never seen a spill kill so many fish.”
High E. coli near One Mile Branch fish kill, and maybe fuel spill 2022-09-23,
The City of Valdosta says “a fuel spill may be a contributing cause” of the One Mile Branch fish kill.
Meanwhile, WWALS finds E. coli counts too high even upstream of the fish kill, but more than doubling in the fish kill.
WWALS rescheduled our Chainsaw cleanup, which was supposed to be this morning, on the Withlacoochee River downstream from Sugar Creek, which is downstream of One Mile Branch.
I recommend everyone else also avoid One Mile Branch, Sugar Creek, and the Withlacoochee River from Sugar Creek at least down to the Little River Confluence, until there is some resolution of this fish kill, the high E. coli counts, and the alleged fuel spill.
Scotti Jay collected water samples Friday and Sara Jay plated them….
- Equipment next to One Mile Branch at VSU was put there by Valdosta to route around a sinkhole.
Another Valdosta River Street Spill into Hightower Creek 2023-07-17,
At least they got the press release out in a more timely manner this time: only the day after the sewage spill. They also included an estimated number of gallons and a sort of precise location, as well as a cause of the spill.
Map: 1700 River Street into Hightower Creek, Sugar Creek, Withlacoochee River
in the WWALS map of the Withlacoochee and Little River Water Trail (WLRWT)
Speaking of cause, notice no mention of rain, which is probably because there was no significant rain on Valdosta Saturday, Sunday, or Monday.
Indeed, rain can cause sewage spills, but Valdosta does not seem to have many of those these days, and that’s a good thing. However, Valdosta still has spills for other reasons, mostly related to sewer system infrastructure that was not updated for decades. In recent years the city has spent upwards of $100 million on sewer system fixes, but there is still a long way to go.
This 6,000 gallon sewage spill is in the same place as a 1,170 gallon spill on February 8, 2023.
The Valdosta press release does not name “the creek”, but it’s a branch of Hightower Creek, which runs into Sugar Creek, the Withlacoochee River, and then the Suwannee River. I wonder if the erosion was partly caused by the previous spill.
WWALS received this press release from Valdosta at 5:16 PM today. Which is interesting, because I was in a meeting with City Manager Richard Hardy and Assistant City Manager Catherine Ammons from 2:15 to almost 3 PM, with one of the topics discussed being sewage spills, and they did not mention this spill.
One thing I mentioned to them was that the two previous Valdosta spills (into Knights Creek and into One Mile Branch) finally showed up in the GA-EPD Sewage Spills Report yesterday, after I asked the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (GA-EPD) why they had not already appeared. We shall see how long this one takes to show up there.
- Valdosta sewage spills bad for people, wildlife, economy –Suwannee Riverkeeper on WTXL.TV 2023-07-21, “It’s bad for people, it’s bad for wild life, it’s also bad for the economy. Valdosta is trying to be a place for ecotourism, and you’re not really helping that if you have sewage spills, if you have trash in the creeks and rivers,” [John S.] Quarterman said.
Valdosta notified GA-EPD four days after the latest Knights Creek sewage spill 2023-07-06,
That word “immediately,” I don’t think it means wait yet another day before informing the public, after Valdosta Utilities already waited four days to tell GA-EPD about the sewage spill.
Even though Valdosta wrote to GA-EPD, “we did not observe any direct flow to the creek,” Valdosta’s own state-required followup testing showed too-high Fecal coliform and E. coli in Knights Creek a week later, downstream, but not upstream, of the spill. Just because they didn’t see the sewage running over the ground doesn’t mean it’s not seeping through the vegetation or the ground itself.
Maybe you’re as tired as I am of Valdosta blaming sewage spills on contractors. Who hires the contractors? Who supervises them? Why doesn’t Valdosta’s fancy SCADA system alert the city to these spills early, where, when, and how much?
The information seemed pretty skimpy that Valdosta Utilities supplied to the public about its July 6, 2023, sewage spill into Knights Creek. Also, I wanted to know when did Valdosta tell GA-EPD, since that spill did not show up in GA-EPD’s Sewage Spills Report for a long time, Not until after I asked GA-EPD about it, actually, even though Valdosta City Manager Richard Hardy had said he would look into that.
So I filed an open records request with the City of Valdosta for all communications between Valdosta and GA-EPD about Valdosta’s last three sewage spills. I only got back information about the Knights Creek spill, so here is that much.
- Valdosta City Council approved match for a GA-EPD seed grant that WWALS told them about 2023-07-27, “Let the public know because you don’t want to be fishing in that creek with that stuff in it,” Quarterman said. “Downstream there’s the the Alapahoochee river and Alapaha river people don’t want to be swimming, paddling, fishing if this is happening.”
GA-EPD Consent Order on Valdosta for One Mile Branch fish kill and sewage spills 2023-09-15
The Georgia Environmental Protection Division (GA-EPD) found contamination and dead fish upstream of that alleged fuel spill. GA-EPD also cited numerous other Valdosta sewage spills, not only into One Mile Branch, but also into Hightower Creek (also draining through Sugar Creek into the Withlacoochee River), and spillsinto Knights Creek (which drains into Mud Swamp Creek, then the Alaphoochee River, and the Alapaha River).
Result? A new Consent Order on Valdosta, including a hefty fine as one of five conditions, the rest of which have sixty (60) day deadlines.
$56,139.30 may not sound like much as a fine, but it is huge compared to typical GA-EPD fines of maybe $10,000, and it is almost half of the $122,000 of the 2020 Consent Order after the huge December 2019 Valdosta sewage spill.
Please note that the Valdosta Utilities Department is under new management since all this happened.
Acting Utilities Manager Jason Barnes now has the task of cleaning up the physical and regulatory mess, even though he had nothing to do with causing it.
Valdosta Standard Operating Procedures as conditions on Consent Order EPD-WP-9424 2023-11-13,
Valdosta has sent GA-EPD a check for the $56,139.30 fine and the information required by the other four conditions of the September 15, 2023, Consent Order on Valdosta for the One Mile Branch fish kill and various sewage spills.
Maybe these Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) will help further reduce Valdosta sewage into creeks and the Alapaha, Alapahoochee, and Withlacoochee Rivers.
For many water quality reports and sewage spill investigations, see:
-jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®