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Valdosta Wastewater Spills Floating Into Florida – Barring an Act of God – A Thing of the Past

Graphic showing how much SPOLST public funding, $150,145,207 was raised by Valdosta
Image:  "Utilities At Your Service" from Valdosta ppt. Graphic by the Observer

Madison, FL – The October meeting of the Middle and Lower Suwannee River Task Force (Task Force) was held with the participation of Valdosta City Manager Mark Barber and Valdosta's Director of Utilities Darryl Muse and chaired by Madison County's Rick Davis.


Map showing Valdosta Withlacoochie river and waste water flow
Map showing Valdosta, Withlacoochee River, impacted FL counties.                                          ++  enlarge

According to figures provided by the North Central Florida Planning Council, between March 2009 and August 2018, Valdosta spilled almost 78,000,000 gallons of raw sewage and storm water into the Withlacoochee River, which floated south into Florida past Hamilton, Madison, Suwannee, Lafayette, Gilchrist, Dixie, and Levy counties.

In December 2018, Valdosta suffered major rains.

Spokesperson Ashlyn Becton told the Observer, "We are told that the December rain was a 100 year event. We don't normally get 13 inches of rain in a 24 hour period. I think they estimated about 8 billion gallons of water fell in the area."

Related Articles:
Valdosta Wastewater Spills Floating Into Florida – Baring an Act of God – A Thing of the Past
October 19, 2019

North FL's "Red Tide" - Sewage Floating South From GA into the Suwannee River in N. Florida
March 22, 2019
Middle & Lower Suwannee River Task Force On Tap In LC: Fighting Pollution From Valdosta, GA  February. 27, 2019
Valdosta: Water Quality Testing for Wastewater Spills Benefits Everyone On the Suwannee January 30, 2019
North FL Leaders Agree to Reach Out to Valdosta to Find a Solution to Pollution
January 26, 2019

Storm water infiltrated the wastewater transmission pipes feeding Valdosta's Wastewater Treatment Plants (WWTP).

Unable to process and/or retain the unexpected flow into the treatment plants, the storm water, along with the untreated sewage, overflowed the plant and into the Withlacoochee River; then into the Suwannee River into Florida.

The water pressure in Valdosta's sewer lines was so high that it caused many of Valdosta's manhole covers to blow off their manholes.

Since December 2018, and before, Valdosta has been upgrading its utility system.


N. FL River Task Force & Valdosta Sit Down in Madison

The always affable Madison Commissioner Rick Davis kicked off the meeting by inviting audience members to sit at the table in the empty seats. During the meeting he invited questions from meeting participants and guests.

Darryl Muse, Valdosta Director of Utilities, makes a presentation to the North Florida River Task Force
Valdosta's Utility Director, Darryl Muse, updates the Task Force on the advances at the utility. Task Force Chairman Rich Davis (left) and Valdosta City Manager Mark Barber (right).

Valdosta's Utility Director Darryl Muse updated the Taskforce on Valdosta Utilities progress and updates of continuing upgrade programs.

Lift Stations:  a lift station is a pump station that raises fluid, in this case wastewater, so that it can continue to flow by gravity.

Director Muse told the Task Force that Valdosta is continuing its lift stations rehabilitation program. The program started six years ago and new pumps and electrical panels have been installed and emergency pump around procedures have been established.

Director Muse said, "We're making sure that every station could be run from either a permanently installed generator or a mobile generator, to make sure we can keep on operating."

Terracotta Pipe (clay) was used for sewers in the clay rich south for many years. Age, traffic, roots and other things has caused the pipes to deteriorate and leak. Aging utility infrastructure is a nationwide problem.

The City is repairing the pipes it can with a Cured-In-Place Pipe Program.

The program installs pipes inside the City's deteriorated terracotta pipes. This will keep the City from having to dig up those repaired pipes. Others will need to be replaced.

Drones & Actual Inspections

The wastewater infrastructure is being checked with drones and actual inspections.

Director Muse said the City had identified 250 places where there are wastewater infrastructure (pipes) crossing streams. Dir. Muse said, "There are thirty five left to get to and the City has a crew that checks those. That's all they do to make sure the integrity is good."

Expensive to fix: the City recently found another pipe ruptured causing inflow into the WWTP.  "We found a 350 foot piece of pipe going under a stream that failed." The project is $550k to replace 350 feet of pipe.

Director Muse said the work of upgrading the sewer systems is ongoing. The City is hardening the lift stations and doubling backup battery power. He said, "I think we have gotten most of the low hanging fruit. We will continue to work toward improving those systems."

SCADA: A Big Deal

An example of what SCADA looks like.
An example of what SCADA looks like. Read more about SCADA here and here.

The City has installed a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition system. SCADA refers to ICS (industrial control systems) used to control infrastructure processes (water treatment, wastewater treatment, gas pipelines, wind farms, etc), facility-based processes (airports, space stations, ships, etc,).

The SCADA system will give Valdosta Utilities the ability to open and close valves, start pumps, and redirect flow to keep the system working efficiently and keep wastewater out of the river and streets.

The City is also installing AMI (automatic meter infrastructure – meter reading).

Director Muse said the AMI system, besides being hooked into SCADA, will allow the meter readers to transfer to wastewater collection duties "so we will have more boots on the ground."

He added, "We are expanding water quality initiatives all the time: tank maintenance and making sure our water quality is high."

The City is doing smoke testing of the wastewater pipe infrastructure. They fill the pipes with pressurized smoke and where it escapes above ground indicates repairs are needed.

Storm water intrusion into a terracotta sewer pipe.
Storm water intrusion into a terracotta sewer pipe.                       Photo: pipeline supply

The City is fixing its brick manholes. That work is coming in-house to save money.

Director Muse said the City is "doing everything we can to keep storm water out of our sewer collection system."

City Manager Barber said, "According to our engineers, since we've been really focused on inflow and infiltration the things that we have found...have already decreased I&I (inflow and infiltration) by 25%. We are seeing the difference."

Your reporter asked, "Who paid for the improvements?"

There was a pause.

More about SPLOST. (Photo: WSB)

Director Muse answered, "The citizens - the users - really. We fund a significant portion through user fees. The water and sewer customers are paying the brunt of that. SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax). It is a penny sales tax that the state of Georgia allows us to use toward infrastructure rebuild."

After the meeting, City Manager Barber updated the City's utility expenditures via email. He wrote, "Over the last 8 years the City of Valdosta has expended $150,145,207 on new water treatment facilities and the related infrastructure. Over the next five years it is anticipated that approximately an additional $60 mil plus will be directed toward this project as well."

All this is locally raised money.

Water Treatment Plants

Valdosta has two Wastewater Treatment Plants: the Withlacoochee and Mud Cree,

City Manager Barber said with the SCADA system the utility will be able to redirect wastewater flow between the two plants.

The Withlacoochee plant is being hardened and its overflow capacity is being increased to 12 mil gallons.

Director Muse said the plant should be able to handle 4 times the normal flow. The Mud Creek plant handles "about 2 mil gpd (gallons-per-day) and is designed for 12 mil gpd. If wastewater needs to be redirected from the Withlacoochee plant to the Mud Creek facility this will be able to be done remotely.

Task Force Members Weigh In

John Meeks, Levy County, County Commissioner
Commissioner John Meeks: he had a change of heart and thanked the folks from Valdosta.

In January of this year, Levy County Commissioner John Meeks said, "We're being used as a septic tank."

As the meeting wound down Commissioner Meeks told the folks from Valdosta, "From where we started at; what we perceived; what we understood; where we're at today -- I commend you all. You all made a dedicated commitment. The citizens made a commitment in passing these one-cent sales taxes to add these funds. It sheds a new light for me... I think you've done everything you can do and beyond to reduce these outflows. Thank you for doing that."

Rick Davis, N. Florida River Task Force Chairman and Madison County, County Commissioner
Task Force Chairman Rick Davis

Your reporter asked Chairman Rick Davis, "Are you satisfied with what these folks in Georgia have done?" 

Commissioner Davis answered, "I've been pretty impressed with what I've seen them do. I've seen a lot happen in the last year. I know they are continuing to do that. They have been forth coming with what they doing... Hopefully the bigger storms will be overcome with the steps they are taking."


Valdosta City Manager Mike Barber
Valdosta City Manager Mike Barber makes a point during the meeting.

Without government handouts, the way of things in Florida, the folks in Valdosta have taken their water and wastewater infrastructure problems seriously and stepped up to the plate.

As the Madison meeting concluded, City Manager Barber said, "We are taking this seriously as a total community. Our elected officials, our community, they're putting the money behind it."

* Update Oct. 23, 2019  02:45 am: typo

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