Trash traps, detention ponds, and parking lots: Sugar Creek, Withlacoochee River, Valdosta, GA 2024-05-07

For years WWALS has been promoting work by Russell Allen McBride and others to clean up Sugar Creek and the Withlacoochee River.

[Trash traps, detention ponds, and parking lots, Valdosta, GA, Sugar Creek, Withlacoochee River]
Trash traps, detention ponds, and parking lots, Valdosta, GA, Sugar Creek, Withlacoochee River

Russell’s net full of trash is the top graphic on the WWALS trash issue page:

[KFC in net]

The trash story so far

Many stories about the Sugar Creek trash problem, often featuring Russell’s work, are compiled over time here:

They start with when WWALS was alerted to trashjams in Sugar Creek and Two Mile Branch by a neighbor in April 2020. In August 2020, thanks to another neighbor, John Mark Eager, we did a cleanup on both creeks, and saw there was much trash in Sugar Creek that could only be reached by boat. In October 2020 Bobby McKenzie and Scotti Jay retrieved a boatload of tires from Sugar Creek, among 577 pounds of trash.

In May 2021, Valdosta Mayor Scott James Matheson got to see the trash problem for himself in a paddle from Langdale Park up Sugar Creek organized by Bobby McKenzie with Russell Allen McBride as sweep.

In June 2021, Russell and Bobby did a major Sugar Creek boating cleanup (with my help) featuring a tower of trash, and a paddle up Sugar Creek illustrating what a nice urban creek it will be once it is free of trash and sewage spills.

In August 2021, I raised the trash issue on the Mayor’s radio show, including that the city had documented the problem in pictures and descriptions back in 2010 in its Master Stormwater Management Plan, which says that the trash problem and the sewage problem needed to be fixed immediately.

[Radio 2021, Plan 2010]
Radio 2021, Plan 2010

The Mayor remarked, “If you see it, it’ll break your heart. In a deadfall it all gathers”

The trash story is long, with numerous further Sugar Creek and Withlacoochee River cleanups, as well as discussions with the Mayor, City Council members, and various city officials. So let’s fast forward to January 2022, when WWALS Science Committee Chair Dr. Tom Potter and Suwannee Riverkeeper John S. Quarterman deployed a homemade trash boom across Sugar Creek. That one didn’t float very well, and at the end of the month, Russell Allen McBride and Bobby McKenzie and I and others deployed Russell’s version of a homemade trash boom, which did better.

WWALS lobbied for an even better trash trap, at Valdosta City Council and online, as well as in a meeting with city officials, and at another cleanup including the Mayor.

Sugar Creek WaterGoat

In May 2022, the Mayor and City Council Andy Gibbs vied to be the one to announce the city was going to buy a trash trap for Sugar Creek. Russell and Bobby were there.

[Suwannee Riverkeeper, Andy Gibbs, Mayor James, Richard Hardy]
Suwannee Riverkeeper, Andy Gibbs, Mayor James, Richard Hardy

That WaterGoat was installed in June 2022, with Russell leading the festivities.

[Start down to the creek]
Start down to the creek

WWALS continued lobbying for more trash traps on more creeks, at the City Council and online.

Russell volunteered to clean out the Sugar Creek WaterGoat. That was supposed to be a temporary stopgap until the city arranged more complete plans to keep this trash from washing into the nearby Withlacoochee River, plus plans to stop trash from getting into the creeks.

Russell and his helpers continued cleaning out the Sugar Creek WaterGoat, and leading WWALS and other cleanups downstream on the Withlacoochee River.

However, in January 2023, we posted videos of Russell saying he could not take on cleaning out more trash traps unless the city makes that his full time job. Well, the city didn’t do that.

But in February 2023 Valdosta promised an upgraded Sugar Creek WaterGoat. Which was finally delivered, and the old one was moved to Two Mile Branch at Berkley Drive. Valdosta cleans out the Two Mile Branch WaterGoat, as well as a home-made trash trap the city built at the entrance to its Lee Street detention pond on One Mile Branch.

WWALS continues to compliment Russell’s work, especially cleaning out the Sugar Creek WaterGoat, including in the Valdosta Daily Times and on WTXL ABC 27 TV.

Parking Lots and Valdosta City Trash Ordinances

Also, after years of us requesting it, in April 2023 “Valdosta Community Protections Manager Anetra Riley yesterday told WWALS that City Marshalls have sent notices to all parking lot owners in Valdosta that they must follow city ordinances and place trash cans in their parking lots. Not just under the roofs at the store entrances: strategically placed, as the ordinance says.” That is starting to keep some trash out of the creeks, since much of it comes from parking lots upstream.

A Sugar Creek trash trap compliment

In a recent post, Valdosta test results: filthy Withlacoochee River after big spill, many creeks still filthy after smaller spills 2024-04-11, I included this compliment to Russell’s work and criticism of the City of Valdosta’s sewage spills and reporting about them:

“Valdosta’s state-required followup testing shows some creeks filthy with E. coli three weeks later. That includes Sugar Creek at Gornto Road, just upstream from where Valdosta City employee Russell Allen McBride was honored this week for his volunteer work at the WaterGoat trash trap. His volunteers often include children and elderly people, who may not be aware that they are risking disease by getting Sugar Creek water on them. More on the state of that and other Valdosta creeks and the Withlacoochee River below.”

Since writing seven books showed me that no matter how clear a passage is, it can still be misinterpreted, let me spell out the point of the above paragraph:

  1. With one hand, the City of Valdosta (and a statewide organization) has recently honored him Russell for the good work he does at the Sugar Creek WaterGoat. WWALS shared the City’s announcement about that, with thanks to Russell.
  2. With its other hand, recent City of Valdosta sewage spills continue to contaminate Sugar Creek, and the city has not publicized its test results that show that contamination. So the City is risking people who get in Sugar Creek, including Russell, and, so far as I knew, his helpers.

Russell commented on facebook:

“Please stop with misinformation about the elderly and children risking getting a disease by helping at the WaterGoat. Not one elderly person or child has gotten in the water at the WaterGoat since any large rains and or sewage spills. I am the only one who gets in with my waders on. The WaterGoat should never come up in a negative way in a blog about sewage. I know the risk and act accordingly. If WWALS put a fraction of the effort into the trash problem as it does sewage we would have a trash free Withlacoochee River.”

I responded on facebook, and in an update to the original facebook post and WWALS blog post:

“This is good news which we did not previously know, that only Russell gets in Sugar Creek at WaterGoat cleanings.

“However, other people get Sugar Creek water on them for other reasons, and our main point still stands: Valdosta’s sewage spills are still contaminating Sugar Creek and other creeks, and anybody who does get that water on them risks disease.

“I have asked Russell what else he thinks WWALS should be doing about trash. Meanwhile, see:

To spell out that a bit more, I have seen facebook posts by Russell showing people of all ages, including children and elderly, at the WaterGoat trash trap. I have not seen in any of them his welcome clarification that after big rains or sewage spills only he gets in the water, and only with waders. Thanks again for that information, Russell.

But the city’s sewage spills and lack of notification to the public of creek and river contamination still risks people, and not just Russell or crew.

As Valdosta’s 2010 Master Stormwater Management Plan says, “Streams are a natural attractor for children and play structures occur along the stream edge. The pollution in this stream poses a serious risk of disease and injury and children should be strongly discouraged from playing in the stream until the trash and sewage are eliminated.”

[Water Quality]
Water Quality

For example, when WWALS did a Sugar Creek Chainsaw Deadfall on February 28, there were children playing near the WaterGoat and no adults around.

I do want to note as I did in the original post, that we only know about Valdosta’s followup water quality testing after its recent spills because Valdosta posts those results on its own website, unlike all the other cities that spilled. Thanks to Acting Utilities Director Jason Barnes for making that happen.

Russell, maybe you’d like to do a writeup for a WWALS blog post about your work at the Sugar Creek WaterGoat.

Bobby McKenzie added a facebook comment:

“I understand that the WaterGoat is not a WWALS initiative or generally supported by WWALS other than it’s god thing to have and that there should be more.“

Initiative I suppose is a matter of opinion: I remember spending a lot of time trying to get Valdosta to buy a trash trap for Sugar Creek. Much of that effort is documented above, much of it in conjunction with Bobby and Russell.

The Sugar Creek WaterGoat is not a WWALS project because Russell Allen McBride made it clear he wanted to clean it out as his private project.

As noted above, WWALS supports Russell’s work in a variety of ways, including quite a few events with WWALS and Suwannee Riverkeeper banners pictured with the WaterGoat.

[Banners at Sugar Creek WaterGoat, 2024-02-11, 09:42:24, 30.8624525, -83.3187372]
Banners at Sugar Creek WaterGoat, 2024-02-11, 09:42:24, 30.8624525, -83.3187372

Bobby continued:

“The water and sewage issue are 2 separate things with 2 separate resolutions and courses of action.”

I didn’t hear anybody saying these issues are separate when a Valdosta sewage spill and Valdosta high E. coli test results caused changing a cleanup paddle to an on-land cleanup on Sugar Creek and the Withlacoochee River.

[At Langdale Park Boat Ramp: Caution Sewage Spill City of Valdosta --Bobby McKenzie 2023-07-21]
At Langdale Park Boat Ramp: Caution Sewage Spill City of Valdosta –Bobby McKenzie 2023-07-21

We thanked Valdosta Assistant Utilities Director Jason Barnes for alerting us to the sewage spill contamination in Sugar Creek that caused us to reroute from a cleanup paddle to an on-land cleanup. We did this both on video during the cleanup and, since he arrived before we left, again in person with him and the Mayor in another video. Russell and Bobby were both in this cleanup.

The details of fixing the sewage and trash problems differ, but the basic solution is the same: the City of Valdosta needs to pony up funds and get on with it.

For sewage much of that is actually happening, although nobody is going to be satisfied until there are no more sewage spills.

For trash, while there has been some initial action with the several trash traps already mentioned, for many months there has been not much further movement by the city.

Bobby continued:

“Russell has been the largest proponent of getting that water goat installed and cleaning it out voluntarily as a private citizen…even encouraging other private citizens, local agencies, and organized students from VSU.

“I’ve been familiar with the water goat since its inception and I have helped clean out the water goat on several occasions along with my own children..who have also participated in numerous other cleanups. I know the Russell goes through great lengths to educate and protect anyone involved in the process either participating or observing. This low cost water goat/trash trapping device has along with had significant impact on the cleanliness of the river.”

Indeed. Good on you, Russell and Bobby and everybody else who has participated in cleaning. See above for quite a bit of WWALS documentation of much of that.

Bobby continued:

“One suggestion that WWALS could consider doing is putting some money towards an additional water goat or trash trapping device. I’ve heard the United Way has considered on a few occasions putting some money towards additional water goat/trash trapping devices.”

In several conversations with Greater Valdosta United Way (GVUW) on this subject, I’ve never heard any mention of them funding more than one trash trap. However, I have reconfirmed that GVUW does have funds available to assist the City of Valdosta in buying one trash trap. Michael Smith of GVUW has also announced that on the Mayor’s radio show.

Bobby continued:

“If WWALS puts some money WITH The United Way the collaboration/prevention/awareness grows and more active involvement grows into the community dramatically solving/reducing the problem.$rdquo;

Now here’s where we can agree to disagree. Valdosta almost never asks private citizens or nongovermental organizations to fix broken sewer lines. Valdosta should not ask private people or organizations to fix its ongoing trash spills.

Sure, people should not litter: there are fines for that. Just like letting sewage leak inside your building can result in citations by City Marshalls.

And parking lot owners should not let trash escape, which is where the City Marshalls notifying and citing offending parking lots is good.

But creek and river trash traps are the city’s responsibility, and it should buy them, place them, clean them out, as is already going on Two Mile Branch at Berkley Drive, at the city’s Lee Street detention pond, and at an even earlier Valdosta city trash trap above Lake Sheri on Baytree Road.

Apparently Valdosta Utilities is requiring a developer on One Mile Branch to remove and old manhole after they added a new one and left the old one, but that is a special case in which the development would add more sewage and stormwater runoff. The city does not usually ask nearby homeowners to fix sewage spills: that’s the city’s job. Similarly, the City of Valdosta should stop trash spills into and along the creeks and rivers.

Having worked with the City of Valdosta since 2012 on the sewage and other issues, and since 2020 on the trash issue, it is my opinion that NGOs offering to buy trash traps would just give the City of Valdosta an excuse to shirk its responsibility to fix the trash problem. The city should buy some more trash traps, install them, and clean them.

I would like to add that the City Engineer has plans to fix some of the upstream sources of trash getting into Three Mile Branch and One Mile Branch. I have asked him to complete a writeup on various things he’s doing, but I guess we’ll wait for the Valdosta PIO to toot the city’s own horn on that.

Nonetheless, WWALS has applied for several grants to fund trash traps, with no success yet. This includes a recent grant application.

WWALS members are encouraged to join the WWALS Grant Writing Committee to work up more applications.

Baytree Road One Mile Branch detention pond

Bobby continued:

“Perhaps the most effective and low cost would be reaching out to one chronically offending private stormwater pond that constantly dumps large amounts trash into Sugar Creek/the river. A simple cheap collaborative decision with the United Way/WWALS/the business/property owner…would would see a dramatic reduction in the amount of trash from an isolated known source being dumped into the creek/river.”

See Videos: Valdosta trash tour again 2023-05-23, in which I brought a Valdosta Daily Times reporter to that Baytree Road detention pond.

[Movie: Bandaid on a flesh wound, field fence for trash, detention pond, Baytree Road, Sugar Creek (58M)]
Movie: Bandaid on a flesh wound, field fence for trash, detention pond, Baytree Road, Sugar Creek (58M)

Russell Allen McBride commented on facebook:

“Bobby McKenzie that offending Stormwater pond. I talked to the owner several months ago. Mr Mike Gung. I asked if we could pick up the trash in that pond for a donation to the group. Mr Gung said yes. WWALS said no.”

I already answered in a facebook comment:

“Russell Allen McBride I have never seen any offer from Mike Gung. If you have such an offer, bring it to me so that the WWALS board can consider it. If someone else claimed to be speaking for WWALS, let me know who that is, and show me the communications.

“Meanwhile, it’s Sunday, and I am catching up with things at home that have long been deferred due to WWALS work. Later, I will answer each of yours and Bobby’s points one by one in a new post.”

This is that new post.

Since I answered Russell on facebook, I have dug through back correspondence on that subject. In May 2023, Russell wrote: “Heck Mr Mike Gung would probably pay WWALS to do a cleanup there. It could be a donation. Worth asking.”

Russell did not say anything about having already contacted Mr. Gung. Nor did he follow up with anything about later contacting Mr. Gung. I have never heard from Mr. Gung.

I responded to Russell within the hour back in May 2023: “Meanwhile, I’ll add Mike Gung to the contact list to ask to sponsor the WWALS gala. You never know until you ask. -jsq”

That’s two different ways I said Russell’s idea was worth pursuing.

If anybody has an offer from Mr. Gung, or direct discussion with him, please let me know.

Meanwhile, WWALS members are encouraged to join the WWALS Gala Committee which is asking for sponsors for the WWALS River Revue sit-down fundraising dinner at the Turner Center for the Arts on Saturday, September 7, 2024. Funds go to support the advocacy and activities of WWALS. If somebody wants to make a sponsorship donation for a specific purpose, they can do so.

Regarding that specific detention pond, the city has contacted the owner numerous times. They can’t apply the city’s trash ordinances, because those were passed after the detention pond permit was issued. I think there are other approaches the city could be using, which I will suggest to them.

I also have on my TODO list a thing WWALS can do to bring even more awareness to that site, as well as other things I have done recently. There’s no point going on about those in detail unless and until they bear fruit.

Bobby seems to be suggesting some sort of financial contribution from VUW or WWALS to fix this detention pond outflow. I think owners of detention ponds should fix their own problems. If a house or business had sewage spilling out of it in every big rain, the owner would be expected to fix that, at their own expense. Detention pond owners should fix their own trash spill mess.

Finally, trash traps, detention ponds, and parking lot trash cans and fences are good. But The Real Trash Problem is the Producers, and How to Stop It.

[Solid waste management hierarchy]
Solid waste management hierarchy

 -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!