By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
Representatives from the city of Valdosta, including City Manager Larry Hanson, Utilities Director Henry Hicks, and Stormwater Utilities Director Emily Davenport, addressed the Madison County Commission at their last meeting to discuss the recent flooding at Valdosta’s sewage plant, the effect it had on the Withlacoochee River and on Madison which sits downstream, and the steps Valdosta is taking to mitigate future incidents.
With slide presentations that included aerial photos on the flooded plant from this year and from 2009, Hanson stated that Madison sits at the bottom of a 1500 square mile flood basin.
“This is a regional watershed issue, not issues caused by our city,” said Hanson. “We’re impacted by rainfall as far north as Cordele.”
Even so, Hanson explained that Valdosta had not been simply standing by and allowing events to unfold, but has be actively taking steps to try to mitigate the situation. After the 2009 flood, the city tried to go through FEMA to get funding to move the plant. FEMA denied their request three times, a process that took three years. Each time, FEMA wanted more or different information, or wanted something changed in the proposal. The third time, FEMA sent in its own engineers, and then still denied the request. It was frustrating time for the city management, because only after FEMA had denied them for the third time could they begin taking any steps to address the issue themselves.
In the meantime, they discovered that FEMA’s floodplain maps, which showed the present plant located outside the floodplain zone, were outdated. New maps show that the 500-year floodplain boundary actually runs right through the middle of the plant.
Currently, the city of Valdosta is operating under a consent order to make improvements to the existing plant and has begun work on a $56 million project to relocate the plant in five years’ time. The site for the new plant is several miles to the west, where the ground is approximately 70 feet higher.
At the current plant, the wastewater main line has been moved further away from the river. The city is also upgrading its stormwater runoff system, replacing outdated manholes at the rate of 30 a year. So far they have replaced nearly 500. They have also replaced eight lift stations and are rehabbing four more.
The upgrading and improvement at the present plant will keep it in compliance and keep it working as it is supposed to, and the upgraded and replaced pieces of equipment are items that can be picked up and relocated to the new plant as soon as it is completed.
The city is also constantly sampling water around the plant, and the usual findings show that, except under extraordinary circumstances like flood events, river water downstream of the plant was actually lower in contaminants than water from upstream. There were also other sources of daily pollution that included animal droppings from wildlife, domestic animals and livestock, urban runoff, agricultural runoff, construction sites and failing septic systems.
The Valdosta officials encouraged everyone who is interested to visit their website at HYPERLINK “http://www.valdosta.com/utilities”www.valdosta.com/utilities and take a look at what is happening and what is being done. While there, website visitors can also sign up for the enews feature if they wish and receive email updates that will keep them informed of ongoing developments.