Sewage spills prompt concern over Withlacoochee River safety

Published: Aug. 21, 2018 at 7:21 PM EDT
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By: Emma Wheeler | WCTV Eyewitness News

August 21, 2018

MADISON, Fla. (WCTV) -- A North Florida community is fighting for cleaner water.

Community members in Madison are pushing for safer waterways. It stems from concerns over sewage spills at Valdosta's Withlacoochee Treatment Plant. The most recent of the spills happened in June.

Many of those concerned said their goal is to have no sewage spill into the river.

"These are public resources, they belong to us," said Thomas Potter with the WWALS Watershed Coalition. "It's our duty and our responsibility to make sure that they remain clean."

The Madison community said these concerns have been going on for years. Although many have acknowledged improvements made by the City of Valdosta, the spill in June has some folks exploring legal action.

"That river is a big source for recreation, a lot of people swim there, a lot of people live on there, a lot of people drink that water. So, there is a huge concern," said attorney Bo Hardee.

On Tuesday, Hardee held an open meeting to answer any questions about legal options. He said many of the concerns revolve around loss of personal business, like selling homes and river recreation, that has been impacted because of river pollution.

Hardee said on Wednesday the Madison County Board of Commissioners plans to discuss their options moving forward.

"Reevaluate what's going on, why is it happening and what can be done," Hardee said.

In 2016, the City of Valdosta rebuilt the Withlacoochee Treatment Plant, costing more than $35 million. City officials said this is just one of the many ways the city is prioritizing system improvements.

Valdosta Utilities Director Darryl Muse said the city has treated about 2.2 billion gallons of sewer, recalling 300,000 to 400,000 gallons worth of releases. He said this puts the city at an over 99 percent success rate.

"I think most industries would be okay with .2 of one percent failure rate, but we're not. We're still working diligently, we want to get that number down as low as we can," Muse said.

Others said that's not enough.

"Hopefully these are small hiccups on the path to getting a system that essentially works flawlessly. In the meantime, these problems are still occurring," Potter said.

Valdosta officials said keeping the river safe and clean is a priority, and staff will continue to make efforts to keep it that way.