Valdosta spilled 6.7 million gallons including 1.34 million gallons raw sewage 2024-04-12

Update 2024-04-18: Updates on Homerville, Quitman, Tifton, and Valdosta in GA-EPD Sewage Spills Report 2024-04-11.

Update 2024-04-17: Madison County, Florida, Health advisory for Withlacoochee River about Valdosta sewage spill 2024-04-17.

Update 2024-04-15: Homerville, Rochelle, and Tifton sewage spills 2024-04-11.

Valdosta says of the 6.7 million gallons of liquid that overflowed from its catch basin, 20% was “conventional sewage”, so that’s 1.34 million gallons of raw sewage.

[Valdosta spilled 6.7 million gallons, including 1.34 million gallons raw sewage, Withlacoochee Wastewater Treatment Plant, Spring Branch 2024-04-12-14]
Valdosta spilled 6.7 million gallons, including 1.34 million gallons raw sewage, Withlacoochee Wastewater Treatment Plant, Spring Branch 2024-04-12-14

The press release says the City of Valdosta knew about it Friday morning, and the spill stopped Sunday morning, yet Valdosta did not tell the public until Monday, this morning.

That’s from the equalization (EQ) basin at the entrance to the Withlacoochee Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP). The one Valdosta built while never revealing how they picked its size. The one with two creeks flowing to the Withlacoochee River, at least one of which is filthy.

[Sign and WWTP, 2024:04:14 18:30:52, 30.8206292, -83.3595903]
Sign and WWTP, 2024:04:14 18:30:52, 30.8206292, -83.3595903

Yesterday I collected water samples in the two creeks that run out of that plant, and they stank like an unflushed toilet. Except they had been flushed, and were still flushing.

The samples won’t be fully incubated until this evening, but the plates for one of them are clearly going to be very high in E. coli.

[Spring Branch, 2024:04:14 18:24:57, 30.8204800, -83.3598860]
Spring Branch, 2024:04:14 18:24:57, 30.8204800, -83.3598860

Spring Branch flows into the Withlacoochee River through Kinderlou. It seems very likely that this and the other recent Valdosta spills have affected the Withlacoochee River.

You’d think people on the river or living next to it, especially with wells, would want to know while a spill like that was going on.

That’s the catch basin that was put in after Valdosta spilled millions of gallons from that same plant back in 2017 and 1,814,000 gallons on December 15, 2018.

Valdosta, Tifton, Quitman, and Lowndes County, December 2018, Table

That’s the new WWTP that Valdosta built uphill out of the floodplain after the previous plant was underwater in 2009 and 2013. Back in 2009 the rain fell mostly upstream on the Withlacoochee River, and there was no reason to believe that if the rain fell directly on Valdosta the effect on the plant would not be greater.

After Valdosta in December 2018 proposed building the catch basin, I asked in April 2019 what was the city’s inflow model to determine how big the catch basin should be built?

What is your inflow model? --Suwannee Riverkeeper 2019-04-12

Then-Mayor John Gayle replied, “We built that plant, John, based on figures that we had, you know, and the maximum amount of inflow that we would get. We built that plant to accomodate that. The Lord didn’t see fit to apply that other figure. So he sent much more rain. And now we’ve got to build up to accomodate that.”

I asked “what’s your model for how much might possibly happen.” Then-City Manager Mark Barber said this was not a new problem, but did not answer the question.

[Valdosta City Manager Mark Barber]
Valdosta City Manager Mark Barber

I suggested maybe some of the scientists in the room could help evaluate the problem. Then-Utilities Director Darryl Muse said, “We have that data. We have that data. That was part of the evaluation that Parsons Engineering of Atlanta dif for us. And they forecasted and put together the hydraulic model for the sewer system collection system based on X number of rain, inches of rain, and the percentage of input that we could get, and based on… and they gave us a list of prices, this project, this project, and this project….” to eliminate various percentages of I&I (Infiltration and Inflow). ”

Valdosta Utilities Director Darryl Muse, April 12, 2019

At that same meeting of the dozen downstream Florida counties with the Valdosta City Council and Mayor, Jim McBrayer, a Hamilton County, Florida resident, asked the city to build another 8 million gallon catch basin.

[Jim McBrayer asks a question]
Jim McBrayer asks a question

So I filed an open records request citing what the Utilities Director said and got the Parsons report. As I pointed out in another such meeting in July 2019, that report did not answer the question of how big for how much rain.

Parsons report does not answer how big the catch basin should be. --Suwannee Riverkeeper 2019-07-10

Darryl Muse claimed he had not understood the question I was asking. He said GA-EPD was asking, “If it rains X amount, or we have this amount of a flood, how much would that structure that you are designing, how much load will that take off the [creek?]?”

Then-City Manager Mark Barber said it was important that the city had reprioritized and was taking a different approach. Darryl Muse volunteered that “If we get 20 inches of rain, we’re going to struggle to keep it in the basin.” That’s the most information we’ve ever seen about how much rain would be too much.

I later got the Valdosta Catch Basin Plans for WWTP 2019-09-01. They also did not say how much rain would cause how much inflow, and they did not say how the size of the catch basin was arrived at.


At another meeting of the dozen downstream Florida counties with the Valdosta Mayor and Council in January 2020, Mark Barber announced that GA-EPD had permitted the catch basin. He did not say anything about how the size of the catch basin was determined. He did say that Valdosta did only what GA-EPD required it to do, and even to get Valdosta’s Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for the sewer system I’d have to ask GA-EPD. That caused several citizens to get angry. But the city stuck with only doing the letter of what they are required to do. And look where that has got us.

At a regular Valdosta City Council meeting (still looking for that one) I asked again how was the size of the catch basin determined. The late Valdosta City Council member Sonny Vickers said something to the effect of God decides the weather, and there is nothing we can do. That was the only answer in that meeting.

In July 2020 Valdosta held a groundbreaking for the catch basin, with still no word on how its size was determined.

[Ground breaking]
Photo: City of Valdosta, Ground breaking

Then this weekend Valdosta discovered 6-8 inches was too much.

Now I’m told by high-level city officials that Valdosta is considering building a second catch basin; they have plenty of land on the site to do that. But how big? Determined how?

I hope this time they don’t just build another one to handle only the amount of rain of this incident.

More housing is going in and more industry, which means more impervious surface (streets, parking lots, and buildings) causing more runoff, and more water and wastewater used.

Plus there is no reason to believe that what we just saw was the maximum amount of rain we will ever see.

I am well aware that former Mayor John Gayle, former City Manager Mark Barber, former Utilities Director Darryl Muse, the former City Engineer, and City Council Sonny Vickers are all gone from the city government.

I commend the current Mayor Scott James Matheson, the current City Manager Richard Hardy, the current acting Utilities Director Jason Barnes, and the current City Engineer Benjamin O’Dowd as well as the current City Council for being much more proactive in trying to deal with the sewage situation.

Both Scott James and Jason Barnes answered their phones yesterday and said the city was writing up a report on this spill. I thank them for that.

However, could the city please inform people when millions of gallons of sewage start spilling and not wait until a day after the spill stops.

And my main point remains: how will the city determine how big another catch basin needs to be?

Could we please have something more than guesswork this time.

Valdosta Press Release

Received at 7:57 AM this morning via email: Utilities Administration Notified of Impending Overflow

On April the 12th, 2024, at (0600), Utilities Administration were notified that the Withlacoochee River WPCP Secondary Equalization Basin was in danger of Overflowing. Utilities Staff arrived on site and found the Equalization (EQ) basin overflowing into a low-lying area with an unnamed tributary/drainage ditch that drains to Spring Branch and the Withlacoochee River. The Withlacoochee WPCP is equipped with two equalization basins which are designed to help equalize treatment flow and to mitigate the risk of system overflows during wet weather.

This spill occurred in response to the recent weather event which took place on April 10th during which the city of Valdosta received between 6” and 8” of rain within 4 hours. The Lowndes County Emergency Management Director Ashley Tye stated in an emergency response email update distributed on April 11th: “In the central part of the county, including Valdosta and Remerton, we saw totals of 6 ½—8 inches. This resulted in several flooded neighborhoods and some road closures to major roads like Inner Perimeter. South of Hwy 84, including Dasher and Lake Park, we saw totals ranging from 7-9 inches. All of this rain fell in about a 4-hour span, so it simply overwhelmed drainage infrastructure and had nowhere to go.” During severe weather events, rainwater seeps into the soil and the resultant groundwater can infiltrate the sewer collection and distribution system and possibly overwhelm treatment infrastructure.

The City Sewer collection System is still in a state of hydraulic overload and the Withlacoochee Plant is receiving that groundwater. Utilities personnel are still working around the clock to manage the inundated collection system.

The Spillage stopped at 0400 on 4/14/2024. The total estimated volume of the spill is 6.7 million gallons. This overflow is composed of approximately an estimated 20% conventional sewage and 80% groundwater. This approximation is based on the ratio of average dry weather treatment flows and wet weather flows we have experienced in response to the recent historic rain event.

All required regulatory authorities and other requested entities have been notified of this issue. The City is following all required testing and monitoring of the affected waterways and will continue to do so per Georgia Environmental Protection Division regulations. Results of Bacteriological testing for sites can be found on the city website under Water Quality Data.

The City of Valdosta continues to dedicate significant resources into preventing Sanitary Sewer overflows. Currently the Utilities department is not only updating aging infrastructure but also managing a multitude of programs and developing new plans of action to limit and prevent Sanitary Sewer overflows in the City of Valdosta. If you would like more information about these programs or how you can contribute, please contact the City of Valdosta Utilities Department, Environmental Division, at 229-259-3592.


 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

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