Withlacoochee River Water Testing Within EPD Standards

City commits to providing information in timeliest manner

It is the City of Valdosta's goal and policy to communicate factually and comprehensively with our citizens and stakeholders. Earlier in the week, the city sent out information regarding a wastewater spill which resulted from a busted seal under warranty at the new Withlacoochee Wastewater Treatment Plant's equalization basin. The city understands the concerns of some who would have preferred a quicker release of information and commits to making similar information available in the timeliest manner.

On Jan. 23, while the spill was contained on the city's 75-acre property, spill information was shared with the Georgia Environmental Protection Agency (EPD), per their requirements. The information was also shared with the Florida Department of Health and several other agencies downstream who could and did communicate with their citizens. Information reported by other agencies was provided by the city.  When contractors for the new plant arrived on Jan. 24 to confirm the cause and scope of the incident and the timeline for repairs, the city sent out additional and complete information to the public.

During the storm, the city was responding to numerous emergency situations that involved nearly all city departments. In this particular issue concerning the equalization basin, the city was waiting for a response and confirmation from its contractors. Since the plant is under warranty, any attempt to repair the plant by city staff would have voided the warranty which would have resulted in the taxpayers having to pay for any current and future repairs.  Furthermore, the information from contractors responsible for their work and warranty repairs was helpful in explaining the cause and timeline for repair of the plant leak, which the city felt was important to include in the second round of communication.

The additional notifications to the Florida agencies are not part of Georgia EPD reporting requirements but are a Valdosta protocol that has been implemented above and beyond the requirements of EPD to proactively communicate with nearby Florida agencies—and thus their citizens— after a spill event. As a result, the information was posted through those agency's channels to communicate with their citizens more than a day before the river waters would enter their communities, as the state line is 20-30 miles from the plant.

Another proactive measure the city has implemented since 2014 is its periodic water quality sampling program for the Withlacoochee River, in which data is collected that exceeds mandated sampling required in the event of a wastewater spill. The data collected provides a baseline assessment to compare water quality in the Withlacoochee River, and more specifically, provides information about the impact on the river before, during and following major rain events. (See Notes 1 and 2.)

The city is unaware of any other agency collecting this much information or any similar data to compare normal river conditions to major storm conditions. Similar sampling information from communities upstream and downstream from Valdosta, as well as samples that are collected and measured utilizing the same methods, would be useful, if available.

Valdosta samples at three independent locations along the Withlacoochee River, which exceeds all requirements. The first sampling site is on North Valdosta Road, which provides insight of river water quality before it reaches the city and indicates river water quality upstream. The second sampling site is at a midpoint in the city, located at Highway 133 West in the city limits yet still upstream from the plant. The third sampling site is on Highway 84, below where the Withlacoochee Wastewater Treatment Plant discharges treated water into the river. This third location is critical in determining any impact the treatment plant may have on the water quality and health of the river seasonally or during major weather events, floods or wastewater spills.

  ​Fecal Coliform Results
Counts per 100 milliliters

 

Jan. 23, 2017

Jan. 24, 2017

A

WITHLACOOCHEE RIVER  at N Valdosta Rd. 3400/100 ML

WITHLACOOCHEE RIVER at N Valdosta Rd.

1900/100 ml

B

WITHLACOOCHEE RIVER at HWY 133 WEST

3600/100 ML

WITHLACOOCHEE RIVER at HWY 133 West

1800/100 ml

C​

WITHLACOOCHEE RIVER at HWY 84 West

(located below treatment plant)

2400/100 ML

WITHLACOOCHEE RIVER at HWY 84 West (located below treatment plant)

1400/100 ml

Please note that the above results are consistent with historical data
with regards to flood or heavy rain events (View data from Jan. 23-29, 2017)

A review of this data identifies some very important factors. River water quality flowing into the city is generally of a lower quality (see line A in the chart) and remains that way until after the Withlacoochee Wastewater Treatment Plant discharge location (See line C in the chart). The data clearly shows that the discharge from the treatment plant measurably improves the river's water quality and health.

A major contributing factor for lower quality river water is runoff into the river from the regional drainage system. Fecal coliform numbers always increase following major rain events. Contributing factors include animal waste from livestock, wildlife, domesticated animals, stormwater runoff, spills, overflows, pesticides, herbicides, old or failing septic systems along or adjacent to the river, etc. being washed into the river. (See note 3.)

While the data has shown over the years that the water quality is better below the city's plant, this in no way implies that the city doesn't accept responsibility for environmental stewardship and accountability for any spill—to include those such as this one that was outside of the city's control.

The city does not suggest that wastewater spills do not have any negative impact on the river, but the data does clearly show that those impacts are not significant in almost every case. According to the data, by the time the river water passes the treatment plant's discharge point, the river's water quality has significantly improved from what it was when it entered the city. 

During an emergency event, the priorities are to respond and manage any issue that may arise and to communicate the issue with citizens. To that extent, the city will continue to be transparent with these issues and ensure that the information will be provided in the timeliest manner.

For more information, contact Public Information Officer Sementha Mathews at 229-259-3548.

Note 1:

The city has a significant amount of river water quality data from as far back as 1996. This data set is comprised of sampling sites on the Withlacoochee River inside the city limits and on Highway 84, as well as another sampling location on the Little River before it merges with the Withlacoochee River. This data does not include the monitoring site on N. Valdosta Road location until 2014.

Note 2:

Samples collected are tested for Dissolved Oxygen (D.O,), Temperature, pH, and Fecal Coliform, which give the city a snapshot on the health of the river at that point in time and give insight into how weather events and seasonal changes impact that water quality and health of the river.

Note 3:

Animal waste in the river reduces dissolved oxygen content and decreases the natural pH of the river water. These numbers either remain the same or increase slightly as it passes through the city and sampled at the midpoint location. However, after passing the plant's discharge point, the fecal numbers decreased significantly, dissolved oxygen has improved measurably, and pH is back to normal.

Posted by Sementha Mathews Friday, January 27, 2017 4:26:00 PM