Update 2024-01-28: Valdosta Knights Creek water quality test results in Four more Valdosta sewage spills 2023-12-17.
Update 2023-12-22: Bad water quality, Withlacoochee and Santa Fe Rivers 2023-12-21.
The Valdosta written report about its December 11, 2023, 425,000-gallon sewage spill, received in response to a WWALS open records request to GA-EPD, contains some information that was not in the Valdosta press release. Including a bit more about corrective action than was in the reports of the two previous spills.
Plus Valdosta has started posting water quality test results upstream and down from the spill location.
More about that and the spill location below.
Here’s the spill report. As you can see, it has both the start and stop dates and times of the spill: start 9:30 AM December 11, end 6 PM December 14. GA-EPD also returned the Valdosta Utilities cover letter of the report, which was sent Friday, December 15, 2023 2:20 PM. Which confirms what Valdosta Utilities Acting Director Jason Barnes told me on the phone: the report went in (and the Valdosta press release went out) after the spill stopped.
The affected waterway is identified, as “Knights Creek/Mud Creek”,
and the creek is also named at the top of the report:
“MAJOR SPILL REPORT TO EPD Knights Creek Sanitary Sewer Spill.”
As you know, Knights Creek flows into Mud Swamp Creek, then the Alapahoochee River, the Alapaha River in Florida, and the Suwannee River, on the way to the Gulf of Mexico.
The report gives the cause as equipment failure, not blamed on the contractor:
“CAUSE OF MAJOR SPILL: Bypass pump failure and Hydraulic Overload”
And there is more about what the city did and what it plans to do to prevent such spills.
CORRECTIVE ACTION TAKEN TO MITIGATE OR TO REDUCE ADVERSE EFFECTS:
The central lines division cleaned and applied disinfectant to the site also Environmental Services started the upstream and downstream sampling/monitoring.
SPILL STATUS: Stop
SIGNS POSTED: YES
CORRECTIVE ACTION TAKEN TO PREVENT FUTURE SPILL:
The city is reworking operating procedures into place to handle future issues and reviewing purchasing emergency equipment.
DATE STREAM MONITORING INITIATED: 12/15/23
DATE MEDIA / HEALTH DEPARTMENT / OTHERS NOTIFIED: 12/11/23
This spill appeared in the GA-EPD Sewage Spills Report for this Monday, December 18, 2023, which was the first business day after the written spill report was received by GA-EPD.
Valdosta has a webpage where they’ve been reporting water quality results upstream and downstream from previous spills next to Knights Creek. They’ve now added test results for December 11, 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18. Those recent daily results are part of the stream monitoring mentioned in the report. That monitoring is required by Valdosta’s NPDES permit from GA-EPD for the Mud Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant.
For context, look at this excerpt from the WWALS composite spreadsheet of water quality results, spills, and rainfall.
The aftermath of this sewage spill is somewhat disguised because of recent heavy rainfall. The December 11 results were just after more than an inch of rain, and Valdosta also got too-high results at US 84 on the Withlacoochee River, for example.
The December 16-18 results are also obscured by more than two inches of rain on December 16 and 17.
If the Knights Creek results continue to be too high after Monday, December 18, especially if other test results go down, it may be possible to attribute those high KC results to the spill. If they do not remain high, that would indicate Valdosta successfully contained the spill.
Finally, notice this in the Valdosta report, echoed in the GA-EPD Sewage Spills Report:
“LOCATION OF MAJOR SPILL (GPS location): 312,311 N 2,582,912 E
Good try, but those are not GPS coordinates. East longitude means east of Greenwich, i.e., Europe, Africa, Asia, or Australia. And longitude actually only goes to 180, not millions. Latitude only goes to 90, not hundreds of thousands.
The actual GPS coordinates should be more like 30.86078, -83.255134. That’s the location of Valdosta’s Lakeland Highway Lift Station, at 1850 E. Park Ave., Valdosta, GA 31602, just uphill from Knights Creek.
I have asked GA-EPD’s Eddy Basileo to try to obtain actual GPS coordinates, but she is out of the office until December 27th. I will also ask Valdosta Utilities.
Meanwhile, here is a map of where this spill probably was:
I thank GA-EPD for their speedy responses to open records requests and to questions.
And I can see that Valdosta Utilities is making an effort to deal with these recent sewage spills and to prevent future ones. We all know Valdosta has already spent more than $100 million in that effort. It is my observation that the current Acting Utilities Director is making even more of an effort than his predecessors.
However, it is not the role of WWALS or Suwannee Riverkeeper to unconditionally praise either GA-EPD or Valdosta Utilities (or any other organization that spills sewage).
WWALS is an advocacy organization, and the job of Suwannee Riverkeeper is advocacy. Where possible, we communicate with and constructively engage the relevant parties, as we are doing about these spills. That includes pointing out flaws as we see them, as we are also doing about these spills and the reporting of them.
And of course, nobody, probably including Valdosta Utilities and GA-EPD, will be completely satisfied until there are no more sewage spills.
-jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®