If you have concerns about pollution in the Suwannee River which may affect human health, please go and speak your mind.
After the agenda information is some background posted by John Quarterman of WWALS.
northcentral councifeb28 1 In: ACTION ALERT  LAKE CITY MEETING ON VALDOSTA SEWAGE SPILLS | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. | Protecting the Santa Fe River in North Florida
northcentral councifeb28 2 In: ACTION ALERT  LAKE CITY MEETING ON VALDOSTA SEWAGE SPILLS | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. | Protecting the Santa Fe River in North Florida
Only recently the Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD) found out there was no valid baseline for water sample comparisons in the Suwannee River, sorely needed now because of Valdosta sewage spills.  Thanks to  OSFR board member Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson and Suwannee Riverkeeper John Quarterman, we are seeing some progress.  Below is a post from WWALS.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-

Monthly Florida bacterial monitoring 2019-02-21

merrilleeJAN151
Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson

Two weeks ago, WWALS member Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson asked the state of Florida what baseline water quality testing had been done downstream of Valdosta, and:

Please begin water samplings for the isotope for sucralose, fecal coliform testing and any other water testing establishing what or who is culpable of contamination in our protected, Outstanding Florida Waterways.

Yesterday she got an answer. She agrees with my assessment of the data supplied: “Sparse locations and only monthly, but better than nothing.”

[DEAR bacterial monthly sampling stations]
DEAR bacterial monthly sampling stations

However, how can the state of Florida be “committed to monitoring and stopping this recurring problem.” when they “do not allow for enforcement actions directed at the source of sanitary sewer overflows, nor for routine water quality surveillance for sources of river water contamination”?

Now it’s true that last restriction was only cited as applying to the Florida Department of Health (FDOH), not the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration (DEAR), and not to the Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD). But which of this alphabet soup of agencies should be doing “routine water quality surveillance for sources of river water contamination”?

The beginning of the final paragraph of the response does not indicate any intention to do more sampling:

The Agency will continue to monitor the identified systems and respond to spills as we have indicated in this letter.

Also, while the monthly data they attached to the response is a good start, it stops in October 2018, before Valdosta’s record spills of December 2018. Possibly the link supplied in the response somewhere enables downloading up-to-date data, but I can’t figure it out from the minimal instructions:

Click on the search bar at the top right corner of the interface and use the third station name dropdown menu to identify the exact locations of the sampling stations.

Yes, I can find out where the sampling stations are. But how do we the public get to see all the data?

I guess we’ll have to follow the suggestion in the final sentence of the response:

We encourage you to remain engaged as continued public interests is driving solutions.

The first step towards solutions is doing the missing water quality monitoring. Yes, WWALS is building a volunteer water quality monitoring program. But the state of Florida could, with probably less expense than the salary of one of the department directors named, ramp up much more quickly to cover the entire affected area in a timely, frequent, manner.

Merrillee also asks:

The sucralose isotope samplings are still a curiosity to me. How many septic tanks are in this region and how effective are they?

Yes, how many?

And there are other ways to test for human waste in rivers, such as a fluoroscope that tests for detergent markers in real time. WWALS doesn’t have one, although we’re looking for grants for the $2500/unit cost. Seems like the state of Florida could afford one.

It’s the health of the citizens of Florida we’re asking about, and the health of the economies of the dozen downstream counties, which depend on eco-tourism on these rivers.

Yes, I knew Merrillee was going to send that request, which is why I did not send a request to the state of Florida. And yes, we and WWALS will remain engaged.

-jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

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

Request

February 5, 2019

To: Governor Ron DeSantis (emailed through portal)
Executive Director of FDEP, Noah Valenstein
Executive Director of SRWMD, Hugh Thomas
Executive Director of DOH, ??
Executive Director of FWC, Eric Sutton

Cc: Andrew Reich, Administrator of Public Health
Drew Bartlett, Deputy Secretary Ecosystem Restoration

Senator Rob Bradley
Senator Bill Montford
Representative Chuck Brannan
Representative Chuck Clemons
Representative Halsey Beshears
Tom Mirti, Deputy Executive Director of SRWMD
Duly noted: not one woman or POC in authority is addressed through these listed positions above.

Dear Sirs,

For more than a decade, the Valdosta wastewater systems have been spilling their semi-treated and untreated effluent into the basins of the Withlacoochee and Alapaha river systems. These 2 water bodies flow directly into the Suwannee River near the Suwannee River State Park region.

As a former president of Save Our Suwannee; as a Suwannee St. Johns Sierra Club Excom member; as a board member of the Our Santa Fe River organization and as a recreational tourism business owner, I am keenly aware, through conversations with residents and local government communications, of the desperation and hopelessness experienced by pollution to the downstream citizens.

I have heard about potential lawsuits for nearly eight years now regarding the Valdosta spills. However, after attending a recent North Central Florida Regional Planning Council Task Force meeting in which we heard from the Department of Health, I am still unclear as to what water testing has been achieved to develop a baseline for water quality in these watersheds. How do we know that the pollution in the river and in people’s well water is directly from Valdosta’s wastewater? The only way we to know for certain is through water quality testing and monitoring.

In 2012, on the Santa Fe River we experienced one of the worst cyanobacteria blooms in the known history of this river. The FDEP, SRWMD and DOH were held accountable and worked to create baseline samplings at key locations on the river to establish where the nutrient loading was apparently coming from. The tests were able to identify “weathered sucralose”; a test which proves human wastes in the water column.

I am asking for the same accountability from these same three state agencies in Northern Florida on the Withlacoochee, Alapaha and Suwannee Rivers. Please begin water samplings for the isotope for sucralose, fecal coliform testing and any other water testing establishing what or who is culpable of contamination in our protected, Outstanding Florida Waterways.

Thank you for your consideration in this highly charged water quality matter.

Sincerely,
Merrillee Jipson
Rum 138
2070 SW County Road 138
Fort White, FL
1-352-222-8893

Response

From: Office of Public Services <[email protected]>
Date: Thu, Feb 21, 2019, 3:54 PM
Subject: Valdosta Spills Concerns 91482 SF Reference: ref:_00DG0i115._5004A1VYc3K:ref
To: [email protected] <[email protected]>

Ms. Jipson,

The Governor’s Office received your letter with concerns about the Valdosta spills into the Withlacoochee and Alapaha river systems and has asked that FDEP respond on their behalf. First, I assure you that we are committed to monitoring and stopping this recurring problem.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP or department) and Department of Health (FDOH) share responsibilities for monitoring water quality, including drinking water sources. FDEP’s Division of Environmental Assessment and Restoration (DEAR) is responsible for monitoring and evaluating surface waters and groundwater. DEP’s Source and Drinkwater Water Program exercises DEP’s statutory authority to monitor and evaluate public drinking water systems that provide water to 25 or more people. FDOH regulates smaller systems, including private wells, under Chapter 64E-8, F.A.C. Under Chapters 514 and 381, Florida Statutes, FDOH has jurisdiction to issue public health advisories, but they do not allow for enforcement actions directed at the source of sanitary sewer overflows, nor for routine water quality surveillance for sources of river water contamination.

DEAR performs monthly monitoring of the Alapaha, Withlacoochee and Suwannee rivers at the following sites:

Location Station Name
Withlacoochee River at the Florida – Georgia state line WIT010
Alapaha River 1½ miles east of Jennings, FL ALA010
Suwannee River at the confluence of the Suwannee and Withlacoochee rivers SUW100
Suwannee River at Branford, FL SUW140
Suwannee River at Fanning Springs SUW160

You can view the locations of these sites via mapdirect using this link:

https://ca.dep.state.fl.us/mapdirect/?focus=wmstvsw

Click on the search bar at the top right corner of the interface and use the third station name dropdown menu to identify the exact locations of the sampling stations.

Site sampling includes evaluation of multiple parameters and pollutants including bacteria (i.e. fecal coliform and e. coli). This monitoring has been done for almost 20 years and has included routine sampling for sucralose in 2012 and 2015. The site on the Withlacoochee had frequent detections of sucralose higher than at other sites. Sucralose may be introduced into a waterbody from multiple sources, though, so it is not a reliable indicator of contamination from discrete sources. Because there are other sources of sucralose along the Withlacoochee, it is difficult to definitively attribute excessive levels of sucralose to sanitary sewer overflows from the Withlacoochee or Mud Creek wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs).

In addition to monthly monitoring, the department has responded to overflows of Valdosta’s combined sewer system as well as spills at the Withlacoochee River Water Pollution Control Plant and Mud Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant since 2014. We typically sample, in coordination with FDOH, as soon as possible after being notified of a spill.

Sampling locations generally depend on where a spill occurs. The spills discharge wastewater to Valdosta area creeks and wetlands and that water makes its way through Hamilton and Madison counties and either to the Withlacoochee or Alapaha rivers. Sampling locations are determined by which river receives the spilled wastewater. Both rivers ultimately flow into the Suwannee River near Ellaville, Florida, so the department also often samples the Suwannee River below the confluence of all three rivers. When there is a larger spill, sampling is typically performed on multiple days and at more locations.

[DEP Valdosta spill response locations]
DEP Valdosta spill response locations

The Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD or District) performs ongoing water quality sampling at the Withlacoochee River at CR 150, but the parameter suite does not include bacteria due to time limits associated with sample processing. During spills or excursions from either of the Valdosta WWTPs, the District assists FDEP and FDOH in their bacterial sampling efforts by providing information on river travel times, coordinating/communicating with city staff, providing funding for sample analysis and, when necessary, obtaining samples and having them analyzed at a contract laboratory in Madison, FL. Since the District’s contract lab is closer than the main FDEP lab in Tallahassee, the District can provide sampling results relatively quickly during an incident.

For spills into the two rivers flowing from Georgia and into Hamilton and Madison counties, public health advisories are issued after an SSO occurs and FDOH is alerted of the situation, or when laboratory test results of river water taken after the spills exceed the surface water quality standard of 410 CFU/100 mL for E. coli.

Florida’s Department of Health (DOH) has responded on numerous occasions during the last decade to sanitary sewer overflows originating from Valdosta’s combined sewer system and WWTPs by issuing advisories regarding public health that includes advisories to avoid contact with potentially contaminated river water, information on fish handling, and advice for drinking water well testing when warranted. This advice is shared by posting signage along river entry points and by issuing press releases.

As the public health advisories may span multiple counties, FDOH coordinates with various local media to make the public aware of the advisories. FDOH’s response also involves coordination with FDEP water quality section and the FDEP Jacksonville district office as well as the SRWMD. FDOH may lift the advisories once E. coli levels meet or fall below the surface water quality standard.

The Agency will continue to monitor the identified systems and respond to spills as we have indicated in this letter. We encourage you to remain engaged as continued public interests is driving solutions.

Regards,

[FL-DEP-LOGO]
John Calhoun
Director
Office of Public Services
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
[email protected]
Phone: 850 245 2118

-jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®