John Quarterman, Suwannee RiverKeeper, has sent the following notice about the meeting of the Florida Task Force for the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council with the Valdosta authorities. Escaping sewage from Valdosta has contributed to pollution in the Suwannee River for years, with no satifactory solution yet in place.
John Quarterman has pressured local agencies to initiate and/or improve water testing in order to ascertain more reliable information as to sources and intensities of contamination.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
Like three months ago, the dozen downstream Florida counties will meet with Valdosta again tomorrow. It’s a public meeting and anyone may attend. Presumably, like last time, anyone may ask questions.
When: 6PM, Wednesday, July 10, 2019
Where: General Purpose Room,
Valdosta City Hall Annex,
300 North Lee Street, Valdosta, GA 31601
We already knew about this from Jim Tatum’s report from an April Task Force meeting, but I have confirmed it today with the Valdosta City Clerk. She says an agenda is in process, and she will send it along.
Meanwhile, you can watch the WWALS videos of what happened last time. Maybe they’ll have a better plan this time than 10% completion in 162 years.
As I promised, I did file three open records requests, and I got:
- Valdosta’s followup testing data after their December 2018 spills. Well, I got it faster from the state of Georgia.
- Valdosta’s regular monthly river testing data. Which showed everything below the state limit for E. coli for the first week of April. In May, bacterial counts were up upstream on the Withlacoochee River.
- The Parsons sewageshed report from 2015. But the city delivered it only on paper. Utilities Director Darryl Muse told me it came in before he started working there, and if anybody saved it in electronic form, he doesn’t know where it is. I did mention that when Henry Hicks was Director, such reports got put on the city’s own website.
Meanwhile, the state of Georgia has started publishing GOMAS, the Georgia Environmental Monitoring and Assessment System, with a plethora of water data.
Georgia since 20 December 2018 has already been publishing each weekday Sewage Spill Reports, from which we know that Valdosta has reported no sewage spills this year.
Nevermind sewage running across Ashley Street Wednesday, June 19, 2019, which Valdosta told WALB TV was not a spill, because it was caused by Fats, Oils, and Greases (FOG) and Valdosta claimed to have sandbagged it and vacuumed it up before it got into the storm drains or Onemile Branch.
WWALS did test upstream and downstream in Onemile Branch the following Monday and found a high reading downstream. But we found similar readings in Drexel Park during Azalea Festival in March, so it’s not clear what the cause was this time. It is clear that there are sources of bacteria in our waters that are not Valdosta.
Yet let’s remember that last time Mayor John Gayle said “Valdosta is privileged to be a regional city”, serving eighteen counties and benefitting from sales taxes of all those who shop in Valdosta.
With that privilege comes responsibility to inform those shoppers. They may not be able to vote in the election going on right now of Mayor and City Council of Valdosta, but they do vote with their sales pennies. Also, they have relatives who will be voting in that election, and in the one in November for the Special Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST), from which Valdosta hopes to get another $40 million for water and wastewater improvements.
Maybe Valdosta should consider that staff convenience does not outweigh informing the public.
-jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®