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Withlacoochee River contaminated in parts of South Georgia and North Florida

Withlacoochee River
Withlacoochee River(WCTV)
Published: Jul. 13, 2020 at 6:52 PM EDT
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VALDOSTA, Ga. (WCTV) - The Florida Health Department issued an advisory last Friday for parts of North Florida near the Withlacoochee River regarding alarming rates of E. coli.

“Right now, the results are not good,” Suwannee river-keeper John Quarterman said.

For counts of E. coli, Quarterman says anything less than 410 is okay, but zero is always ideal.

On Saturday, his team discovered numbers as high as 5,233 just west of Clyattville at the Knights Ferry Boat Ramp in Lowndes County.

"Every time this happens, they immediately point and say it's Valdosta," Quarterman said. "Well, this time it's almost certainly not Valdosta."

The high data was collected just below the city from Knights Ferry Boat Ramp to Madison Blue Spring in Florida.

"You know it's something that we're continuing to keep an eye on, but as far as the numbers around the city of Valdosta, those have all stayed relatively low," the City of Valdosta's PIO Ashlyn Johnson said.

City crews test the river three times a week for 40 river miles down to the Georgia-Florida line. Since Valdosta's major sewage spill last December, they've seen no alarming contamination rates in the area.

But they’re taking more precaution now by building an additional equalization basin at the river treatment plant. It’s the city’s sixth storage space capable of catching more than 7 million gallons of river water in the event of an overflow.

"It's something that you hope you never have to use. But just kind of like insurance, you have it in case you get that huge rainfall again," Johnson said.

The new project will help prevent sewage spills into the river.

"It's good they're doing the catch basin and other improvements," Quarterman said. "They need to keep doing that because if there's a big rain without that catch basin, we could have a repeat of December 2018."

Johnson says the city will break ground on the new basin towards the end of the week.

“I think it shows transparency and accountability on the city’s part, just investing in infrastructure like this,” she said. “This is gonna be an expensive project, but I think it shows the residents that we’re committed to preventing these spills at all cost.”

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