Updated By: Winnie Wright
March 19, 2014, 5:30pm
The Florida Department of Public Health is warning residents to avoid contact with water from the Withlacoochee River.
The warning comes after the City of Valdosta reported contamination of stormwater with wastewater during this weeks' storms.
The water will flow downstream and continue to impact other communities on the Withlachoochee River.
"We got so much rain in a short period of time, it doesn't have time to percolate into the ground, and so it's just standing water," said Henry Hicks, Utilities Director for the City of Valdosta.
The City of Valdosta has reported that over one million gallons of untreated wastewater has spilled into local waterways and onto local streets. The stormwater and sewage combination was overflowing from several manholes yesterday in local neighborhoods.
"That causes a lot of water to infiltrate and flow into the sewer system which is not designed to handle that water. So, that's why we have the overflows occurring right now, because of that large amount of rain in a short period," said Hicks.
Two Mile Branch is one of the areas most impacted. Many yards are still filled with the untreated wastewater. This is not the first time this area, which is one of many that were impacted, has dealt with overflow. Residents declined to comment because of an ongoing lawsuit filed against the city.
"We're at the bottom of the bowl, so everything from the North comes down to here, and when the river gets that high, it actually causes the creeks to back up, and that's what floods the yards," said Hicks.
The City says they don't expect the river to crest until Thursday, meaning the problem could be ongoing. The Florida Department of Health warns residents downstream of Valdosta to avoid contact with the river water until the bacteria is diluted.
"If you come in contact with river water, wash your hands after you have been in or come in contact with the river, and certainly before eating or drinking. Those are the two messages we want the public to be aware about," said Dr. Carina Blackmore, Deputy State Epidemiologist, State of Florida.
Dr. Blackmore says the only residents who need to be concerned about boiling their water are those who get water from wells near the Withlacoochee River.
Hicks also told us that the City is replacing the current sewage lines with the nearly $37M force main project. He says the new system should alleviate the back-ups, which cause the overflow.
News Release: Florida Department of Health
TALLAHASSEE- The Florida Department of Health today issued an advisory to residents in counties surrounding the Withlacoochee river. The City of Valdosta has reported a spill, made up of a combination of storm water and untreated sewage that has overflowed into One-Mile Branch, Two-Mile Branch, Sugar Creek and Cherry Creek which flow into the Withlacoochee River.
Until further information is known regarding possible contamination of the rivers, residents are urged to take precautions when in contact with the Withlacoochee River. This includes those individuals in the counties of Hamilton and Madison.
Water contaminated by wastewater overflow presents several health hazards to humans and may contain untreated human sewage with microbes that could cause gastro-intestinal and other diseases.
Anyone who comes in contact with the river water should wash thoroughly, especially 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.
For more information about the potential health effects of wastewater overflow, Floridians are encouraged to contact their local county health department. To find contact information for your county health department, please visit www.floridahealth.gov.
Follow us on Twitter at @HealthyFla and on Facebook. The Department protects, promotes and improves the health of all people in Florida through integrated state, county and community efforts.