Health Officials Weigh In Over Sewage Spills

Screen shot 2014-03-27 at 1.11.57 PMBy Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
Kim Albritton, Executive Director of the Madison County Health Department, and Bob Vincent Environmental Health Administrator of Water Programs, Florida Department of Health, addressed the County Commission at the March 26 meeting to update them on the condition of the Withlacoochee and Suwannee Rivers in the aftermath of recent sewage spills upriver in Valdosta.
Heavy rains the previous week had overwhelmed the Valdosta stormwater and sewage drainage system, resulting in raw sewage being dumped into the river system March 19.  Additionally, a broken underground sewage pipe March 26 resulted in spillage of treated effluent.
Vincent updated the commission on results of lab samples tested by the Department of Environmental Protection in the wake of last week’s spill, noting that some levels of fecal coliform in the Withlacoochee had exceeded the maximum allowable number of 800.  A level of 200 is considered very good, and usually, the levels in the river hover around 100, according to routine monthly lab tests by DEP.
“This particular (March 19) incident was bad because raw sewage rather than treated effluent spilled into the river,” said Vincent, adding that Valdosta had a four-year improvement plan in place.  “Hopefully, we won’t see many more of these, but that will depend on rainfall.”
When asked about more frequent testing, Albritton explained that the monthly test were done by the state.  “Occasionally, during times of emergency, we (the county) might have funds for testing, but not for day-to-day tests.”
Commissioner Rick Davis said that he had requests from the public to find out more about the history of the river, and County Attorney Tommy Reeves asked if there was a printout of data that would show every time the river had exceeded the 800 mark.  Vincent said that there was a public, downloadable database, but that it was difficult to extract data and get it to “spit out what you wanted.”
“These incidents (spills) tend to clear out in a day or two,” said Reeves.  “So, we could have a tremendous incident and miss it completely.”
Epp Richardson of the Madison County Sheriff’s Office, who lives in Pinetta, just below Valdosta, asked if any liability fell on Valdosta for a spill that effected its neighboring communities downriver, even if they were across a state line.  “Anytime we have  more than a two-inch rain, we have a sewage spill.  Does somebody hold Valdosta responsible or do we just be forgiving for the next four years?”
Homeowners could have their well water tested at a private
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Lynette Norris

Written by Lynette Norris