Cleaner Withlacoochee Monday, Tuesday; Suwannee unknown 2020-03-03

Update 2020-03-06: Special meeting to approve an RFP for an environmental attorney –Madison BOCC 2020-03-06

Tuesday data from Lowndes County, Georgia, shows much better water quality in Okapilco Creek upstream from Quitman and in the Withlacoochee River downstream. Remember, Lowndes County has its own sewer system, which did not spill. And one of Lowndes County’s results for the previous week is very interesting.

All the maps and charts in this post are on the WWALS website in a PDF for printing. They’re also on facebook.

The most recent data we have from Valdosta and Florida is for Monday. WWALS has not tested this week because of rain, but soon. You can help.

Yesterday and today, five inches of rain fell on Tifton, and all that water is washing downstream, with the Withlacoochee already in flood at Pinetta.

[Quitman to Withlacoochee River]
Map: Quitman to Withlacoochee River.
In the WWALS map of the Withlacoochee and Little River Water Trail.

In the above map, northeast of Quitman near Okapilco Creek, are the Quitman sewage settling ponds, which spilled in January 2019. East of Quitman and just south of US 84 is the Quitman Land Application Site (LAS), which did not spill. WWALS Executive Director Gretchen Quarterman and Science Committee Chair Tom Potter toured the Quitman LAS last Wednesday, and we have since gotten testing data from them. Stay tuned.

On Crooked Creek north of US 84 is a sewage pond on Monument Church Road, next to a dairy. WWALS tests at the creek culvert on Monument Church Road, and on Devane Road, just north of US 84.

Lowndes County and Valdosta test on Okapilco Creek between the Crooked Creek Confluence and where Piscola Creek comes in just before the Withlacoochee River.

The Okapilco Creek Confluence is downstream on the Withlacoochee River from US 84, and upstream from Knights Ferry Boat Ramp.

[2020-03-03 Lowndes County tests]
2020-03-03 Lowndes County tests
* indicates too wet to test.
The entire WWALS composite spreadsheet of all known data sources is on the WWALS google drive.
For context, see http://wwals.net/issues/testing/.

Some places Lowndes County could not test Tuesday, because the rivers were high due to rains last week.

High enough that the Knights Ferry Boat Ramp parking area was flooded, making access to the flow of the Withlacoochee River difficult.

[Knights Ferry Boat Ramp flooded]
Photo: Suzy Hall, of Knights Ferry Boat Ramp flooded

The Lowndes County US 84 number was 192 cfu/100 mL, which is still below the 410 limit for single tests. Like all the Valdosta tests on Monday, and all the WWALS and Florida tests on Sunday, nothing was above the 1,000 alert level. So that’s good! See also what do these numbers mean?

All Lowndes County’s results on Okapilco Creek and on the Withlacoochee River from Nankin and at the state line were below 126 cfu/100 mL, so within the recommended longterm average for E. coli.

[Quitman and Valdosta to Suwannee River]
Quitman and Valdosta to Suwannee River
In the WWALS map of the Withlacoochee and Little River Water Trail.

It’s interesting to look at the Lowndes County numbers for the previous Wednesday, February 26, 2020.

[2020-02-26 Lowndes County tests]
2020-02-26 Lowndes County tests
The entire WWALS composite spreadsheet of all known data sources is on the WWALS google drive.
For context, see http://wwals.net/issues/testing/.

Thanks to Lowndes County Chairman Bill Slaughter for sending this recent Lowndes County data. Frankly, I had not realized Lowndes County was still testing these locations now that Valdosta is. But it’s fortunate that they are. Not only did Lowndes County have Tuesday numbers when nobody else did, but these numbers from last week expand our picture even where Valdosta did test.

All the Lowndes County Withlacoochee River tests were TNTC, for Too Numerous To Count, which means many thousands cfu/100 mL, way above the alert limit. This is higher than Valdosta found, at least at Knights Ferry and Nankin.

Even more interestingly, Lowndes County got TNTC at US 84 on the Withlacoochee, which is above the Okapilco Creek Confluence, so it could not have come from the main suspects in Brooks County. This is why it is so hard to completely rule out any remaining Valdosta sewage still lurking in sloughs, being washed downriver by rains.

And Lowndes County got 1,550 at GA 76 north of Quitman on Okapilco Creek, also upstream of those main suspects. That can’t be from Valdosta. There are dairy farms and other possible sources upstream from Quitman on Okapilco Creek. The number of possible suspects keeps multiplying.

What about Valdosta?

[Quitman and Valdosta]
Quitman and Valdosta
In the WWALS map of the Withlacoochee and Little River Water Trail.

As you probably knew, Valdosta is upstream of US 84.

[Remerton to WWTP]
Remerton to WWTP
In the map of the Withlacoochee and Little River Water Trail.

This map shows Valdosta’s Withlacoochee Wastewater Treatment Plant (WWTP) highlighted in the lower left, and due north its outfall of cleaned-up water on the Withlacoochee River. In between is the old, closed, WWTP, the one that was underwater in 2009 and 2013. Upstream on the Withlacoochee you can see the Little River coming in from top left, joining at Troupville, the old Lowndes County seat, and the future site of the Troupville River Camp.

The new WWTP did not fail in December 2019. So what did?

[Valdosta spill 2019-12-03]
Valdosta spill 2019-12-03
In the map of the Withlacoochee and Little River Water Trail.

None of the equipment Valdosta has spent upwards of $60 million dollars on had any hardware or software problems. The Consent Order from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (GA-EPD) that included the WWTP also included the Gornto Road Pump Station (top center) and the Remer Lane Pump Station (lower right) on a new force main.

About December 3, 2019, a subcontractor turned off the Remer Lane Pump Station and disconnected the SCADA cable that was supposed to keep Valdosta Utilities informed about operations. Nobody noticed for four days. Meanwhile, raw sewage poured out of a manhole a bit downstream on Sugar Creek (highlighted yellow diamond).

This record-largest 7.5 million gallon raw sewage spiil happened when there was no rain. The sewage mostly sat there in Sugar Creek for a week. We hear Valdosta got vac trucks out there and pumped up as much of it as they could, also out of the river when it oozed down there. We know they limed the manhole area.

Then rains came, and the sewage moved down the rivers, in about three weekly waves.

[Tifton to the Gulf]
Tifton to the Gulf
In the WWALS map of all public landings in the Suwannee River Basin.

But that fecal contamination that moved down the Suwannee apparently all the way to the Gulf last week probably did not come from Valdosta sewage. Except that Lowndes County February 26th US 84 Withlacoochee number still makes us wonder. However, more likely it came from one or more sources in Brooks County.

And possibly elsewhere: Notice how several times Suwannee River numbers have spiked at Dowling Park and at the bridge between Luraville and Mayo. Meanwhile, we have reports of E. coli in wells near Luraville. In Suwannee County there are numerous possibilities, ranging from a sewage sludge composting operation to a chicken processing plant to many chicken CAFOs to chicken manure in heaps on the ground to dairies to septic tanks.

Yes, Valdosta is the biggest spiller of sewage. But it’s not the only culprit.

Yes, everyone wants Valdosta to clean up its act, and Valdosta has more to do, such as reimburse downstream counties for well and river testing, plus ongoing eco-tourism marketing to help repair the decades-long reputational damage to our rivers. Some of that latter is happening: stay tuned.

But we need ongoing frequent, closely-spaced, waterway testing all the way to the Gulf to see what else is getting into our rivers and when they are clean and when they are not.

Why have I included Tifton, way up at the top of this map? Because yesterday and today five inches of rain fell there, and more than an inch several places all the way to the GA-FL line. All that water is coming down the Little and Withlacoochee River and the creeks, including Okapilco Creek, dislodging all sorts of manure and other deposits, and we hope also diluting some of that. I included the Alapaha River, the Okefenokee Swamp, and the Santa Fe River because water coming down all those goes into the Middle and Lower Suwannee River.

And, as SRWMD reminded us this week, when the rivers are high, springs backflow, taking river water into the aquifer. The Floridan Aquifer from which we all drink. We need frequent well testing, too.

You Can Help

Please continue to contact your local and state elected officials in Florida and Georgia to ask for funding and personnel for frequent (several times a week) testing at closely-spaced stations along all our rivers, with timely online publication. And water well testing, too.

You can help WWALS test water quality by donating to our WWALS water quality testing program. Or maybe you know a bank or other source of larger financial support.

[Suzy with a Petrifilm]
Suzy Hall with a Petrifilm.
Each bacterial test costs $6 for Petrifilms alone.
WWALS is spending about $40 a day on Petrifilms and other materials after this Valdosta spill.

Maybe you want to get trained and help test; if so, follow this link.

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

You can join this fun and work by becoming a WWALS member today!

2 thoughts on “Cleaner Withlacoochee Monday, Tuesday; Suwannee unknown 2020-03-03

  1. Anonymous

    “Yes, Valdosta is the biggest spiller of sewage. But it’s not the only culprit.”

    Thank you for acknowledging this. It’s important to find the true sources of contamination in our rivers so people can get the help they need, instead of blaming everything on one city. Nonpoint sources plague all of Georgia’s rivers, and there is far too little regulation to force private properties to clean up their messes in comparison to municipalities. Plus far too little manpower at State agencies to have oversight of every single source. People like you bringing attention to polluters is what helps regulatory agencies do their job when they’re understaffed. Thanks.

    1. jsq Post author

      We’ve been saying this in almost every post on this subject for years.
      Yes, I visited GA-EPD Wednesday last week, and they and FDEP and EPA hear from us frequently. -jsq

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