GA-EPD’s Atlanta office sent their entire sewage spill database for January 2017 in response to an open records request from WWALS. For the Suwannee River Basin, I see only the known ones by Valdosta, plus a spill from Moultrie’s Carlton Woods Lift Station into the Ocholockonee River, with 36000 gallons, which matches the amount we got directly from Moultrie. That Ochlockonee spill is still not in the Suwannee River Basin.
The Georgia Environmental Protection Division (GA-EPD) Southwest office in Albany handles the other sewage treatment operations in the Suwannee River Basin in Georgia, and that Albany office already told us by telephone that they had no reported spills other than the Tifton spill into the New River which I had gotten directly from Tifton. So I think we can conclude there were no other sewage spills into the Suwannee River Basin in Georgia in January 2017 other than the ones from Valdosta and Tifton.
Interestingly, Valdosta with its 2.2 million gallon Withlacoochee Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) leak (and three manhole spills) was not the winner. Augusta managed 9.1 million plus 3.7 million and assorted smaller spills, and Fort Stewart spilled 10.5 million. So Augusta was the winner with more than 13 million gallons spilled in January.
This is a huge statewide and national problem, with decaying infrastructure that would have difficulty handling traditional rainfall, much less the increased and erratic rainfall we’re seeing lately. Augusta is now working on plans to update its infrastructure.
Valdosta seems to have a bit more to do, as well. For example, two out of three of the manhole locations that spilled in January had spilled before and are in the Alapaha River watershed that Valdosta has not previously made a high priority.
Now I’m sure Valdosta will be quick to say most of their 2.2 million never even got to the Withlacoochee River. But they won’t say how much of it soaked into the groundwater. And Valdosta spilled more sewage than Atlanta and all but one of the dozen or more bigger Georgia cities.
People downstream won’t be satisfied to hear that some other cities spilled more than Valdosta. Especially not now that at least one downstream county is spending a significant fraction of its budget sampling wells. If Valdosta really wants to come clean about its sewage problem, maybe Valdosta should consider paying for independent water quality sampling upstream and down.
-jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®
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