LIVE OAK — Health advisories issued for the Withlacoochee and Suwannee rivers last week have been lifted by the Florida Department of Health in Hamilton, Madison and Suwannee counties.
After the City of Valdosta, Georgia, reported a large spill of untreated sewage that overflowed into Sugar Creek and then the Withlacoochee River, an advisory was was issued for the Withlacoochee on Dec. 9. An advisory followed for the Suwannee River on Dec. 10.
The advisories urged individuals to not come into contact with the rivers.
However, water samples taken for the Florida Department of Environmental Protections and the health department indicate the rivers now meet surface water quality standards.
According to the City of Valdosta, more than 7.5 million gallons of wastewater discharged through a manhole into Sugar Creek adjacent to the 1800 block of Norman Drive.
The city said the spill was the result of human error when a contractor testing the system failed to reconnect a cable at the Remerton Lift Station. With the cable disconnected, the system failed to alert staff to an issue.
City employees noticed Dec. 9 that flow into the Withlacoochee Wastewater Treatment Plant had decreased by 50 percent over several days.
This was the biggest sewage overflow of 2019 in Valdosta. The city had a series of sewage discharges in December 2018 caused by heavy rains, but none totaled the amount of this spill.
“December’s just not our month,” Valdosta City Manager Mark Barber said. "We don't care if it's 100 gallons or seven million gallons, any amount for us is inappropriate.”
Marzieh Shahbazaz, a municipal compliance manager at the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, confirmed to the Valdosta Daily Times that there will be an enforcement action after the five-day period where information will be collected. Georgia EPD and the city will have discussions to determine the course of action, according to Shahbazaz.
“Obviously it’s a violation,” Shahbazaz said. “This is a huge spill.”