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State and area health officials are, once again, urging caution when coming into contact with water in the Suwannee River.
The Florida Department of Health issued a health advisory Friday because of possible contamination from a spill of partially untreated sewage from a Valdosta treatment plant that officials there reported to environmental authorities the day before.
The tainted water, about 7.5 million gallons of it, made its way into the nearby Withlacoochee River, which, ultimately, feeds into the Suwannee River.
“The incident followed a peak flow of 13.47 million gallons into the treatment plant which resulted from the heavy rain from the previous day,” a City of Valdosta report stated.
The plant, on average, processes about 8 million gallons per day of wastewater, though it has the capability of handling up to 12 million gallons. Anything over that volume of water, quite often, overloads the facility and ends up in the river.
“After utility managers investigated the cause of the violation, it was determined that excess solids building up in the secondary clarifiers caused some solids to wash out and pass through the remaining treatment processes.”
The incident is the fourth such occurrence to happen within the span of about a year. Last year, about 37 million gallons of treated and untreated sewage escaped the plant or was the result of leaky pipes owned by the county. In each case, the contaminated water made its way into the Withlacoochee River – prompting testing from environmental agencies in Georgia and Florida, as well as the releasing of health advisories about limiting contact with water from both the Withlacoochee and Suwannee rivers.
Save our Suwannee President Annette Long said, upon hearing the news Friday, “Enough is enough. The Suwannee River and its tributaries are already under assault from low flows, elevated nutrients and pesticides from agricultural and urban fertilizer. Now, it’s human waste with every chemical that people pour down the drain included. These spills are illegal. When will our state and federal protectors start doing their job? Valdosta needs to fix the problem or keep their wastes to themselves.”
Thursday’s reporting by Valdosta brings the total for a period of about a year to about 45 million gallons of contamination making its way into the sensitive ecological systems of area rivers. The first event of last year, also in February, came after floods compelled officials to shut the plant down, in order to preserve some of its equipment.
In an interview last year, Valdosta spokeswoman Sementha Mathews said the city was taking precautions to keep another incident from happening until the wastewater facility could be relocated some time in 2015, but none of those precautions, which included the use of a catch pond to accumulate excess water, seems to have worked this time.
Mathews was unavailable for comment as of Friday.
Water contaminated with wastewater overflow presents several immediate health issues to people and animals, according to FDOH. Until more in known on the spill, the agency is cautioning people who come into contact with the water to wash thoroughly before eating or drinking.
“Children and older adults, as well as people with weakened immune systems,
are particularly vulnerable to disease so every precaution should be taken if in contact with the
river water,” FDOH warns.