By: Emma Wheeler | WCTV Eyewitness News
December 5, 2018
VALDOSTA, Ga. (WCTV) -- Weekend rains in South Georgia are raising concerns about water quality in the Withlacoochee River.
On Wednesday, health officials in Hamilton and Madison counties issued a warning for communities to take extra precautions near the river. The warning comes after a sewage spill at the Withlacoochee Water Treatment Plant in Valdosta.
The Valdosta area received more than 10 inches of rain over the weekend, and city officials said it was too much for the facilities to handle.
"The creeks overflowed their banks in most cases, the streets were flooded, that water made its way into the sewer system," said Valdosta Utilities Director Darryl Muse. "Our system pumped that to the treatment plants, and it was more water than the treatment plant was able to store."
Muse said the plant can maintain about 30 million gallons. The storm caused a flow of more than 32 million gallons. Officials said most of that was rain water, but what actually made it to the river can't be measured.
"That water has to navigate past that 40 acre site, get into that drainage system, go into a retention pond, overflow that retention pond into another body of water, overflow that retention area, and then it would meander, not through a canal, just meander across property over a mile and a half to get to the river," Muse said.
Every spill raises concerns downstream. More than a dozen North Florida counties have formed a task force to figure out how to get these spills to stop.
Commissioner Rick Davis, representing Madison County, explained in October why the task force is needed.
"It has a negative impact on our livelihood. 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," Davis said.
Over the last few years, the City of Valdosta has invested millions of dollars to improve infrastructure at these plants, and continue to do so.
On Thursday, the Valdosta City Council will be voting on purchasing a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition, a monitoring system that could notify crews when something is wrong before a spill occurs.
"It's time for us to take that information, take those systems that are operating correctly, collect data and make good, logical decisions based on that data," Muse said.
Madison County officials said the task force will have its first meeting next Wednesday. Members plan to brainstorm what's next and how to address these spills.