By: Emma Wheeler | WCTV Eyewitness News
October 2, 2018
MADISON COUNTY, Fla. (WCTV) -- Several North Florida communities are teaming up to try and stop sewage spills from polluting the region's rivers.
Over the last several years, spills at water treatment plants in Valdosta have caused concern over local water quality. Officials in Madison County, located down the Withlacoochee River from Valdosta's Withlacoochee Treatment Plant, cited 300,000 gallons of sewage released in to the river earlier this summer.
"It has a negative impact on our livelihood," said Madison County Commissioner Rick Davis. "It's a health issue, it's an environmental issue, it has a negative impact on our economy and it certainly negatively impacts our tourism."
Madison County is now teaming up as part of the Regional Planning Council, which is made up of representatives from 12 North Central Florida counties. The group will be forming a task force to come up with a solution.
"It's not only a Madison County issue, this is not only a regional issue around the basin, around the Withlacoochee, Suwannee River Basin. It has an impact all the way to the state level," Davis said.
Some of the ideas are for the task force to look at prevention, finding out the root of what's causing these spills and if they can be stopped by things like better equipment of better employee training.
"Let's identify what are some of the strategies we can do to address this, and basically hold the city of Valdosta accountable," Davis said.
Organizers also want to see immediate notification when a spill occurs, which they believe is not yet happening. The WWALS Watershed Coalition is asking for the same.
"If you're swimming in this river you don't really want to know the fecal coliform is 100 times higher than the state limit, and that happens in this river sometimes in the summer," said Riverkeeper John Quarterman. "So, if that is happening no matter what the source we want to say, not safe, don't swim."
Over the last few years, the City of Valdosta has invested millions of dollars to improve the wastewater treatment plants, including building a new multi-million dollar facility in 2016.
"They've made a lot of progress, which is partly why it's so frustrating to people. Why are they still spilling, they need to not be doing that," Quarterman said.
This task force is just getting started, but organizers are planning to hit the ground running. They hope to have the group formed and start developing a strategic plan in the next two months.
WWALS Watershed Coalition has started a petition that asks for the state of Georgia to require immediate reports of spills. The group is also asking local municipalities to support its water quality testing program to help keep the rivers clean.