In Valdosta’s written reports to GA-EPD about a couple of recent sewage spills, we find a few more details. Details that were not in GA-EPD’s Sewage Spills Report or in Valdosta’s press release about the one that had a press release.
The December 4, E. Park Ave. 7,500 gallon spill had no Valdosta press release. The report Valdosta sent GA-EPD says, “CAUSE OF OVERFLOW: Contractor owned/operated pumps for city projects bypass were turned down for unknown reason by contractor. Allowed Infiltration and Inflow to overwhelm system.”
Also, “ CORRECTIVE ACTION TAKEN TO MITIGATE OR TO REDUCE ADVERSE EFFECTS: Central Maintenance Operators directed Contractor to increase pump speed to deal with backup. Pumps at maximum to deal with flow, no issue.”
And, “CORRECTIVE ACTION TAKEN TO PREVENT FUTURE SPILL: Contractor to be counseled on new SOPs for private pump monitoring and usage on City Bypass systems. Any other action TBD.”
And GA-EPD has provided a bit more information beyond that, including willingness to get more precision on spill location and affected waterway from the reporting organization.
Eddy Basileo of GA-EPD’s Municipal Compliance Unit, Watershed Compliance, Watershed Protection Branch, answered early Monday morning two of the three Georgia Open Records Act (GORA) requests I sent over the weekend. The response included the emails from Valdosta Acting Utilities Director Jason Barnes that delivered those reports to GA-EPD. They read:
Sent: Monday, December 4, 2023 11:14 AM
Subject: Emailing: Pin Oak Circle 12-2-23 Spill Report
Mrs. Basilio, Here’s the spill report for Pin Oak Circle let me know if you need anything else.
Sent: Tuesday, December 5, 2023 1:08 PM
Subject: Emailing: 1800 Park Avenue `12-4-23EPD OVERFLOW Report
Mrs. Basilio, Here’s an overflow report for 1800 Park Avenue.
Let me know if you have any questions.
As I discussed last week with Director Barnes, those emails document that Valdosta did send the written reports to GA-EPD the same day as each of these spills, or the next business day.
Ms. Basileo’s cover note included this:
Please note that I was out of office the entire week of December 4, so the spills were not entered until December 11th, which is why they did not show until the December 12th spill report.
I responded to her message:
Thanks again for a speedy response to GORA requests.
You’ve already answered my first question.
Sounds like the legislature needs to fund EPD well enough to have more than one person available to do this work, as well as for many other purposes. I will mention this to legislators, not that I alone will convince them.
[See my questions inline with her answers below.]
Thank you for organizing the Sewage Spills Reports and otherwise dealing with sewage spills.
Especially thanks for requiring Valdosta to have SOPs, especially for contractors.
After all, it was WWALS and 30 other organizations in Georgia and Florida that asked for the GA-EPD Sewage Spills Report.
Here are her answers, received a few hours after I asked them.
Below are the answers to your questions in order. Some of the questions and concerns are outside of what information I can provide, but I will reach out to my managers to determine what more EPD may be able to do.
- When will this no longer be considered adequate? “Contractor to be counseled on new SOPs for private pump monitoring and usage on City Bypass systems. Any other action TBD.”
Generally speaking, when we see spills that seem to be occurring for the same reason or in the same location, we reach out to the municipality to get further information than what is provided in the spill reports. Those concerns about chronic spill locations, volume, and/or repetitive causes are then often included in enforcement actions. We are aware of the chronic spills in the Knights Creek area and are keeping in contact with the City on the work being done. The City currently has contractors repairing the lines in the area and has communicated to EPD an expected completion by the end of January 2024.
- Can locations of spills be made more specific? “1800 Block E Park Avenue” is rather vague. The reporting organization knows the exact street address and latitude and longitude. Florida, for example, requires such precision in their Public Notice of Pollution.
Yes, I will reach out to the City to confirm the precise location and will make sure it is updated for future reports.
- Can RECEIVING WATERS be required even for spills where supposedly nothing reached waters of the state? 1800 E. Park Ave. is 1,000 feet uphill from Knights Creek, and previous spills with that same address have reached Knights Creek.
We only require a receiving stream when a spill has reached State waters. Otherwise, we record those as overflows to dry land. For Knights Creek in particular, there have been different circumstances when there may be a spill that only impacts the ground and some that impact State waters. That information is recorded accordingly.
- Can these be made more specific? “RECEIVING WATERS: Withlacoochee River” The affected houses have One Mile Branch in their back yard, so One Mile Branch would be a more appropriate response, so people downstream would know to watch out.
We do require that the municipality report what receiving stream was immediately impacted by the spill. For example, if it hit a tributary of the Withlacoochee River, we want to know that information by either reporting using the name of that tributary or by reporting as unnamed tributary of Withlacoochee River.
- Can EPD please post these reports from the reporting organizations on the EPD website? The Sewage Spills Report is very useful, but these reports often have more information.
The current report provided on the EPD website has proven beneficial for the public and GORA has been useful when the public would like access to the original report. Including the reports on the EPD website may be possible in the future, but I am not sure of the feasibility at this time.
- Does EPD have any objection to the reporting organization posting such reports on their own website, e.g., Valdosta on valdostacity.com?
There would not be any objections to this. Municipalities can post reports on their own websites if they would like, however it is not a requirement of EPD. The Georgia Water Quality Act and Rules require that they submit a 24- hour notification and then the details of the spill within 5 days, but it does not require that they post the reports themselves on their website.
- Does EPD have any objection to the reporting organization putting more detail into their own reporting organization press release?
There would not be any objections to the organization including more details, however, sharing additional detail beyond what is required by the Georgia Water Quality Act and Rules is at the discretion of the reporting organization.
I hope this answers your questions. Please let me know if I need to provide more clarification or if you have any other questions.
I look forward to the E. Park Avenue Knights Creek spills being resolved by the end of January. And to more precision on spill location and affected waterway. And if neither GA-EPD nor Valdosta will post these reports on their website, I guess WWALS can keep filing open records requests and posting the responses.
What we got this time is on the WWALS website.
Also, we look forward to a response to our third GORA request of the weekend, the one about the most recent, almost half-a-million-gallon, Valdosta sewage spill. The statutory three days to respond to a GORA request are not up yet.
-jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®