More about the Valdosta Knob Hill or Williamsburg Drive sewage spill 2024-01-10

Update 2024-01-26: Five clean rivers and a clean creek 2024-01-25.

I discovered a can of worms when I took a few pictures to illustrate the 100,000-gallon Knob Hill Road or Williamsburg Drive, Valdosta sewage spill of 10-12 January 2024.

The actual location is not quite where I was told by Valdosta Utilities. But I cut them a lot of slack for that, because they were working on getting it stopped, not precisely determining ownership of the affected properties.

[Spill site behind 215 Knob Hill Road, VALORGIS, VLPRA, Lowndes County Tax Assessors, Pebblewood Drive detention pond, Three Mile Branch]
Spill site behind 215 Knob Hill Road, VALORGIS, VLPRA, Lowndes County Tax Assessors, Pebblewood Drive detention pond, Three Mile Branch

More importantly, according to Valdosta Utilities Acting Director Jason Barnes, the cause was not as first thought a collapsed sewer main. When Utilities examined the pipes, they found rocks and some sort of lid in them.

And according to Valdosta Mayor Scott James Matheson yesterday, they also found other materials that never should have been in a sewer pipe. I will leave it to the City of Valdosta to reveal in their own time exactly what they found.

From the descriptions I heard, those things could not have gotten in there accidentally, and they could not have been washed into the sewer main by stormwater.

The basic point seems clear: this ten-times-major spill was not caused by failing old sewer infrastructure. It was caused by somebody putting things into the sewer pipes that never should have been there. Vandalism is one of the more polite words for that.

Plus the Mayor is making the City of Valdosta an offer of a location for a WaterGoat trash trap.

So I went to the reported location of the sewage spill, “213 Knob Dr”, which apparently the Georgia Environmental Proection Division (GA-EPD) abbreviated from 213 Knob Hill Road in its Sewage Spills Report for January 16, 2024.

[Knob Hill Road sewage spill in GA-EPD Sewage Spills Report]
Knob Hill Road sewage spill in GA-EPD Sewage Spills Report

Here is that address, 213 Knob Hill Road.

[213 Knob Hill Road, 12:17:08, 30.8773060, -83.3134780]
213 Knob Hill Road, 12:17:08, 30.8773060, -83.3134780

Around back you can see a sewage spill sign. Note the power pole just across a backyard drainage ditch.

[Spill sign visible behind Knob Hill Road, 12:18:06, 30.8771876, -83.3131982]
Spill sign visible behind Knob Hill Road, 12:18:06, 30.8771876, -83.3131982

Lime uphill from a sewer pipe with a Valdosta sewage spill sign. That sure seems like the spill location.

[Spill site and sign behind Knob Hill Road, 12:18:57, 30.8767673, -83.3132495]
Spill site and sign behind Knob Hill Road, 12:18:57, 30.8767673, -83.3132495

That’s on a drainage ditch just east of the power line, and at the bottom of the backyard drainage ditch. The big drainage ditch goes into Three Mile Branch, which runs into the Withlacoochee River at the southwest corner of Langdale Park.

[Power line, spill site, sign, 12:19:25, 30.8769252, -83.3130887]
Power line, spill site, sign, 12:19:25, 30.8769252, -83.3130887

In the Lowndes County Tax Assessors map, you can see that power pole and the backyard drainage ditch, leading to the bigger ditch. If the Tax Assessors property lines are drawn correctly, that spill sign is actually in the corner of Langdale Park.

[VLPRA, Lowndes County Tax Assessors]
VLPRA, Lowndes County Tax Assessors

Which matches what VALORGIS shows. See the green sewer line running south of the Williamsburg Drive lots, and west through the Knob Hill Drive lots. Where that sewer line crosses the big drainage ditch is on the property of the Valdosta-Lowndes County Parks and Recreation Authority. Which is the east corner of Langdale Park.

[Knob Hill Road, Williamsburg Drive, Pebblewood Drive, VALORGIS]
Knob Hill Road, Williamsburg Drive, Pebblewood Drive, VALORGIS

The actual spill is on the east side of the big drainage ditch. It’s hard to tell whether the ditch is right on the property line, but if it is, the spill itself was on the property of Stephen P. Lincoln.

[Stephen P. Lincoln, Lowndes County Tax Assessors]
Stephen P. Lincoln, Lowndes County Tax Assessors

Looking between 213 and 215 Knob Hill Drive, you can see the spill sign is actually behind 215, not 213.

[Spill sign visible behind 215 Knob Hill Road, 12:21:37, 30.8769653, -83.3135840]
Spill sign visible behind 215 Knob Hill Road, 12:21:37, 30.8769653, -83.3135840

The owner at 215 Knob Hill Drive came out to confirm that location. Also, he mentioned that Valdosta is taking daily water quality samples from the big ditch uphill from the spill, but he has not seen any downstream sampling.

He provided what may be a clue to the downstream sample site. He said that the spill had affected a detention pond on Pebblewood Drive.

[215 Knob Hill Road, 12:33:06, 30.8781341, -83.3130687]
215 Knob Hill Road, 12:33:06, 30.8781341, -83.3130687

So I left the Worthington Woods subdivision, and drove around North Valdosta Road and Country Club Drive to reach Pebblewood Drive.

[Worthington Woods, 12:35:57, 30.8819482, -83.3106321]
Worthington Woods, 12:35:57, 30.8819482, -83.3106321

As you’ve already seen by the maps, these detention ponds are not far as the crow flies or the sewage runs down the ditch.

[Detention ponds on Pebblewood Drive, 12:39:36, 30.8747570, -83.3129650]
Detention ponds on Pebblewood Drive, 12:39:36, 30.8747570, -83.3129650

I would guess Valdosta Utilities is sampling downstream of the spill by walking to Three Mile Branch from one of these detention ponds.

[Between the two Pebblewood Drive detention ponds, 12:48:09, 30.8753291, -83.3140656]
Between the two Pebblewood Drive detention ponds, 12:48:09, 30.8753291, -83.3140656

Seen from the north side of the lower detention pond, the spill site is near the power pole in front of the board fence.

[Knob Hill Road seen from Pebblewood Drive deention pond, 12:44:22, 30.8755320, -83.3136910]
Knob Hill Road seen from Pebblewood Drive deention pond, 12:44:22, 30.8755320, -83.3136910

You can maybe see the yellow spill sign in the weeds to the right of the foreground power pole.

[Knob Hill Road spill site is near the foreground power pole, 12:44:35, 30.8755320, -83.3136910]
Knob Hill Road spill site is near the foreground power pole, 12:44:35, 30.8755320, -83.3136910

How did sewage from that drainage ditch get into the detention pond? Maybe some of it came out of this manhole near the southwest corner of that pond. That manhole had clearly been raised much higher very recently.

[Closeup, Raised manhole, Pebblewood Drive detention pond, 12:45:56, 30.8754372, -83.3141052]
Closeup, Raised manhole, Pebblewood Drive detention pond, 12:45:56, 30.8754372, -83.3141052

This is looking across the detention pond to Knob Hill Road. It’s not very far; about 530 feet.

[Context, Knob Hill Road across Pebblewood Drive detention pond, 12:46:57, 30.8753849, -83.3141036]
Context, Knob Hill Road across Pebblewood Drive detention pond, 12:46:57, 30.8753849, -83.3141036

Recalling Valdosta Mayor Scott James Matheson had told me he was willing to let the city put a WaterGoat trash trap in his back yard, I went six houses to the east and interrupted his lunch. This is Three Mile Branch behind his house.

[Three Mile Branch, 2809 Pebblewood Drive, 13:01:28, 30.8755, -83.31035]
Three Mile Branch, 2809 Pebblewood Drive, 13:01:28, 30.8755000, -83.3103500

The creek itself downstream from Country Club Drive is owned by the City of Valdosta, in a strip averaging about 250 feet wide.

[Downstream, Three Mile Branch, 2809 Pebblewood Drive, 13:01:31, 30.8755, -83.31035]
Downstream, Three Mile Branch, 2809 Pebblewood Drive, 13:01:31, 30.8755000, -83.3103500

Between the city land and the Mayor’s property there’s a hundred-foot-wide strip owned by George Eager Family LLC, which is offering to sell the bit behind his house to the Mayor. Since VALORGIS says the sewer main runs through that Eager property, presumably this manhole is on the Eager property.

[Manhole, 2809 Pebblewood Drive, 13:00:56, 30.8754, -83.31035]
Manhole, 2809 Pebblewood Drive, 13:00:56, 30.8754000, -83.3103500

This is looking from the Mayor’s backyard fence across the Eager property and the manhole to Three Mile Branch, which is below the wall of shrubbery in the background.

[Fence, Manhole, Deadfall, to Three Mile Branch, 2809 Pebblewood Drive, 13:03:37, 30.8751850, -83.3103560]
Fence, Manhole, Deadfall, to Three Mile Branch, 2809 Pebblewood Drive, 13:03:37, 30.8751850, -83.3103560

I asked the Mayor to clarify: is he offering to buy a WaterGoat? No, he said, he is offering for the city to buy a WaterGoat, and he is offering to man it. By man it, because of previous discussions, I believe he means to clean trash out of it.

The City Engineer does not want to put a WaterGoat on Country Club Drive yet, because massive roadwork is planned there, and any access would have to be redone later.

So it seems to me the Mayor is making quite an attractive offer.

All this because I thought I’d take a few pictures on the way back from town.

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

You can help with clean, swimmable, fishable, drinkable, water in the 10,000-square-mile Suwannee River Basin in Florida and Georgia by becoming a WWALS member today!
https://wwals.net/donations/