Madison Co., FL Withlacoochee River Bacterial Advisory 2020-02-11

Update 2020-02-15: EPA passes the buck to GA-EPD for Valdosta raw sewage spill 2020-01-31.

This unusually-worded Florida bacterial advisory for the Withlacoochee River probably has nothing to do with yesterday’s Valdosta 200 gallon sewage spill into two-mile branch:

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The unusual wording is that the advisory gives no hint of the source of the contamination:

Jasper, FL — The Florida Department of Health in Hamilton and Madison counties today issued a joint health advisory to residents and visitors near the Withlacoochee River in North Florida.

Until further information is known regarding possible bacterial contamination of the river, people in the area are urged to take precautions when in contact with the Withlacoochee River. The Florida Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Protection are conducting water sampling.

We got the advisory at 4:42 PM today. At 5:10 PM Nathan Dean, reporter for WCTV, called to ask why the advisory. The best I could do was to say that tiny amount of Valdosta sewage could not possibly have made its way to Florida by today, and probably never would, because it was so small it would get diluted long before that.

At 7:48 PM I got forwarded through two intermediaries an explanation from SRWMD’s Darlene Velez that she orginally sent at 5:20 PM. She said Madison County Health Department had decided to do weekly sampling. I quote in part:

Because their samples came back high, a new health advisory was released. At this point, the Madison CHD is planning to continue sampling daily until it bacteria levels drop, per our standard protocol.

We do not know for sure the source of these high bacteria counts. Hydrologic timing suggests that this is unlikely to be related to the 200 gallon reported on February 10. Timing after the 0.6- inch rain event on 2/6 in Valdosta suggests it could still be residuals from the December Valdosta spill. However, since it has been just over 2 months since that spill it is also possible it is from another unknown/ unreported source.

Due to E.coli results at CR 150 and FL145, an advisory was issued for the Withlacoochee River.

The results were:

Fecal
Hwy 150=292
Hwy 145=379

Total Coliform
Hwy 150=TNTC
Hwy 145=TNTC

E.coli
Hwy 150=517.2
Hwy 145=770.1

The units are presumably the usual MPN/100 mL. 410 MPN/100 mL is the usual Florida and Georgia too-high limit for a single sample. I added the red color. TNTC means Too Numerous to Count.

She didn’t give a date for the samples, but given the timing of the advisory I would guess they were collected yesterday, Monday, February 10, 2020, and finished processing this afternoon.

Hwy 145 is presumably CR 145, aka GA 31, where Horns Ferry Bridge crosses the Withlacoochee River, the location of Mozell Spells aka State Line Boat Ramp.

[Valdosta to Madison Blue Springs]
Valdosta to Madison Blue Springs, in WWALS map of all public landings in the Suwannee River Basin, these all on the Withlacoochee and Little River Water Trail.

That’s about 38 river miles downstream from where Sugar Creek joins the Withlacoochee River. Twomile Branch flows into Sugar Creek. So you can see there’s no way a Valdosta spill yesterday of any size could have gotten to the state line, also by yesterday.

Hwy 150 is presambly CR 150 aka Belleville Road, site of Sullivan Launch, 5.35 more river miles downstream of the state line.

So, where’s it coming from? More as we know more.

Most likely not Valdosta this time. But if Valdosta could be bothered to test downstream of itself, we’d be able to track this sort of thing much more easily.

I think this advisory also demonstrates why Florida needs to do at least weekly testing no matter what Valdosta does.

 -jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®

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