LOWNDES CO., Ga. – Since the December 2019 City of Valdosta raw sewage spill of 7.5 million gallons into the Withlacoochee River, local WWALS Watershed Coalition, Inc., testers have been reporting frequent positive results of E. coli.
On January 26, 2020, WWALS’ certified water tester Suzy Hall tested Knights Ferry Boat Ramp. Her PetriFilms (pictured below) revealed a 500 count for E. coli, and a much higher, more dangerous count at the State Line Boat Ramp (GA 31) of 1233.
“I’m saddened. I feel like these numbers are conservative because I only counted the obvious larger purples, whereas some of the typical small ‘reds’ could be purple,” said Hall of the test results. “I honestly cannot rule that out. The sheer numbers of bacteria is horrid though.”
“You can easily see the difference in color between the blank and the rest. Just like they did with the very highest counts before. I’m going to collect some more water today,” Quarterman said on Wednesday. “But 1233 basically means do not get anywhere near the water.”
Quarterman expanded by saying they don’t know where the most recent contamination came from since there has been a minimal amount of rain in the past few days.
“Hardly enough it would seem to cause this, especially since the river has continued going down,” Quarterman said. “Maybe (it’s coming from) Okapilco Creek, which Lowndes County discovered contaminated back on January 10 and January 16,” Quarterman wrote on his WWALS website. “Maybe something still washing down from Valdosta’s record-largest December 2019 raw sewage spill. Whatever it is, we recommend don’t go in the river from Knights Ferry to the state line.”
The entire spreadsheet depicted above is on the WWALS website.
“You’ll notice it’s rather empty of results from Florida, Lowndes County, or Valdosta for the past ten days,” Quarterman said. “I am sending this off to those other sources to see if they will send their results.”
Lowndes County released the following results to Valdosta Today on Wednesday, January 29, 2020 (pictured in the table below).
“As you can see, levels continue to decrease with the exception of one location,” Lowndes County Clerk and Public Information Officer Paige Dukes said. “I think Utilities is planning on testing again today. I’m not sure how long it will take to receive those results.”
Knights Ferry Boat Ramp is 15.55 river miles apart on the Withlacoochee River from the State Line Boat Ramp, with Nankin Boat Ramp in between. Hall did not have time to test Nankin.
“We are leaving our WWALS CAUTION signs up at all three locations,” Suwannee Riverkeeper John S. Quarterman said.
The Lowndes County warning signs were also still up at those places Sunday.
Florida test results have been added to the WWALS composite table, but the most recent from Florida were for last Thursday, three days before the WWALS high Sunday results at the state line, according to WWALS.
The Valdosta Lowndes Parks and Recreation Association (VLPRA) oversees the maintenance on public waterway entries such as Knights Ferry Boat Ramp, Little River Boat Ramp, Madison Highway Boat Ramp, and Nankin Boat Ramp.