Valdosta Daily Times

Local News

April 13, 2014

City sewage woes continue

More than 305 million gallons and counting

VALDOSTA — Calculating the total gallons of treated and untreated sewage that the City of Valdosta has spilled into the Withlacoochee River and its tributaries is difficult because it has been going on for over 25 to 30 years. From numbers provided by the City and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD), the total is 305,295,750 million gallons of raw and partially treated sewage from Oct. 18, 2007 to present.

However, the total may actually be far higher as, for some spills, the City claims the amount spilled is “unknown” or “undetermined,” and for others they only provide the flow per hour, or the peak flow per hour, with no time frame provided in order to calculate the total amount spilled.

For instance, a major spill at the Withlacoochee Wastewater Treatment Plan (WWTP) was reported on August 24, 2013. The city provided two numbers, the total from August 22, which was 12.1 million gallons, and a peak hourly flow of 15.58 million gallons. It was never stated how long the spill occurred, the average rate per hour, or the total amount of sewage spilled.

“Since 1992, the city has received $179 million in Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funds and invested in capital improvement projects (CIP),” the City’s website states. “During the same time frame, the city has expended $167 million for water/wastewater projects from SPLOST proceeds, system revenues, bonds, and Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) loans.”

Despite the $167 million spent to address the water and wastewater issues since 1992, the City of Valdosta continues to have sewage leaks.

The City of Valdosta set aside $52 million of its SPLOST VII revenue for the Force Main Project, the relocation of the WWTP, and debt repayment, and the City also allocated $3.4 million from SPLOST VII for inflow and infiltration repairs.

Typically, major spills occur when the WWTP becomes overwhelmed by flood waters from the Withlacoochee River, but its far more common for local waterways to become contaminated due to manhole overflows.

The manholes overflow because the city’s sewer system is a gravity-fed system and when it rains, storm water mixes in with the wastewater and the system fails at multiple points along its lines; the eroded sewer lines exacerbate this mixture.

The city is smoke testing the entire 317 mile sewer system for defects. This testing began in 2014, and will not be completed until 2018.

City Manager Larry Hanson commonly calls this a “find and fix project,” meaning the city is making the repairs after they find the problems. This project costs $700,000.

When asked about the manhole issues, Utilities Director Henry Hicks stated that there are 6,523 manholes throughout the city, and they are difficult to keep track of. Even so, in 2011, the City Council of Valdosta approved a manhole replacement/rehabilitation program, which, in three years, has seen half of the system inspected, and fewer than 100 of the estimated 3,000-plus inspected manholes have actually been replaced or rehabilitated. This project cost the city $2,250,000, and should be completed by December 2018.

The Valdosta City Council has taken steps to resolve the flooding issues by approving a Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) loan in the amount of $36,781,448, for the pump station, force main, headworks, and EQ Basin Project for the city’s sewer system.

The Force Main project is expected to eliminate manhole overflows because the project will construct two major pump stations, two minor pump stations, a 6-mile 32-inch and 40-inch force main. The project will replace an existing 54-inch gravity sewer main to the current plant. It is not due to be complete until 2016.

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