VDT corrects Valdosta drinking water story 2017-05-17

Congratulations City of Valdosta! You got the VDT to issue a correction for that one sentence a week ago, even though the VDT blamed it on “a source cited in the article”, and came up with yet another number of violations that doesn’t match what NRDC says nor what Valdosta says, with still no specific comparisons to other local governments. So it’s a correction that doesn’t resolve anything. And you’re not helping your credibility problem, Valdosta, by quibbling over a single digit while neglecting to mention an entire year in which you did have drinking water violations that match what’s in NRDC’s map.

Correction, red faced non-admission
Valdosta Daily Times, page 3A, 17 May 2017

CORRECTION

An article headlined “Report. Georgia 5th in drinking water violations,” published 1n the May 10 edition of The Valdosta Daily Times contained an error that originated from a source cited in the article.

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division said in an email, “Valdosta had six violations: two total coliform violations (one monitoring violation and one MCL exceedance) and four haloacetic acid violations (four consecutive quarters of a running annual average MCL exceedance from one sample location). These violations have all been resolved in an old database that preceded our current database. This actual violation was resolved in 1998.”

This correction is on page 3A, below the Crime Report. It does have a big red CORRECTION header, but it still does not quote the email from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) that the VDT originally claimed was its source, and still doesn’t bother to name the NRDC report.

on Page 3A below Crime Report

The number six from GA-EPD does not match the 5 total violations listed in the NRDC map. Violations resolved in 1998 do not address Valdosta Mayor John Gayle’s admission to the VDT that “We have had violations in 2014…”.

And the VDT still does not provide any specific comparisons of Valdosta to other local governments, not even ones based on the NRDC map figures like Valdosta and Lowndes County water treatment quality compared to region by WWALS.

However, the VDT did not correct anything other than the number seven in its assertion that

The City of Valdosta, with seven violations, had the most offenses of any city of its size in the state but is now in full conpliance, the group said in an email.

That may be because, based on what I could find in the NRDC map data, that statement may well be true; it’s certainly true from that data for cities in south Georgia and north central and northeast Florida.

It looks like WWALS will need to dig into the data that NRDC used to see what’s going on. The VDT did include a clue to what the NRDC’s source is:

[Mae] Wu [senior attorney in NRDC’s health program] urged people to inquire about their water systems. The EPA’s database of violations can be found here: https://www.epa.gov/enviro/sdwis-search.

The EPA SDWIS Violation Report for Valdosta shows “Monitoring and Reporting and Other Violations” in 1997 for “Lead and Copper Rule” and one each in 2014 and 2015 for “Coliform (TCD)”.

The same report shows “Health Based Violations” in

  • 2009 “Coliform (TCR)”,
  • 2010 “TTHM”,
  • 2013 “Coliform (TCR)”
  • 2014 “Coliform (TCR)”
  • 2014 “Total Haloacetic Acids (HAA5)”
  • 2015 times 4 “Total Haloacetic Acids (HAA5)”
  • 2015 “Coliform (TCR)”

Mayor Gayle was quoted by the VDT as admitting some unspecified number of violations in 2014, and asserting Valdosta had no violations in 2016 or 2017, but he neglected to mention the five violations in 2015.

Five matches the number in the NRDC map data, as does two for the number of rules violated. Add the two violations from 2014, and there’s the number seven the VDT originally reported. Was that what NRDC told the newspaper? We don’t know, because the VDT did not quote the NRDC email.

Also, the SDWIS report says near the top:

NOTICE: EPA is aware of inaccuracies and underreporting of some data in the Safe Drinking Water Information System. We are working with the states to improve the quality of the data.

So, who’s right? NRDC? The City of Valdosta? GA-EPD? EPA? More inquiries will be required.

In EPA’s size categories, Valdosta is in the “Large 10,001 to 100,000” range, and there are 96 such cities in Georgia and 200 in Florida. To make comparisons more complicated, Lowndes County has more population than that (114,000), but no single water system, and “Lowndes Co.-Alapaha Plantation”, which had 16 violations in 2015 (confirmed in SWDIS, plus 4 in 2016), serves only 213 people, putting it in SWDIS’s “Very Small 0-500” category. And we already saw that Valdosta had more violations that much bigger cities, and so did tiny Alapaha Plantation. So comparing only to the same size category is not adequate. Plus SWDIS provides no obvious way to group water systems by watersheds or aquifer.

If anyone wants to forge ahead with comparisons, please report back what you find.

Please remember this issue is about drinking water, not wastewater, but Valdosta with this very public feud with the VDT over one number, Valdosta is not helping its credibility with either. Actually, quibbling over past violations distracts from what the VDT said in two previous stories: Valdosta is currently in full compliance with drinking water regulations. The correction didn’t mention that, instead leaving the last word in the newspaper that Valdosta has had violations.

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

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