Editor Kay Harris contributed to this story.
Potential health risks
The health risks associated with exposure to raw sewage, according to the EPA, include hepatitis, gastroenteritis, along with skin, wound, respiratory and ear infections. While ingesting contaminated water is the most common cause of these illnesses, “they may also be contracted through inhalation of water vapors, eating contaminated fish.. and swimming. The most common symptoms are diarrhea and nausea.”
The EPA’s 2011 directive for “Keeping Raw Sewage & Contaminated Stormwater Out of the Public’s Water,” following the guidelines of the Clean Water Act, show that occasional combined sewer overflows or CSO’s are common following rain events, but “they pose risks to human health, threaten aquatic habitats and life, and impair the use and enjoyment of the nation’s waterways.”
As part of the directive, all local governments are required to conform to the CSO policy, which states that they must follow Nine Minimum Technology-Based Controls,
including “Proper operation and regular maintenance programs of the sewer system and CSOs.”
Since the 2009 flood event, the city has applied three times to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for funding to make major improvements to the sewer system, move and rebuild the plant at a cost of more than $90 million. FEMA denied the city’s requests each time.
At this time, the sewage discharge is also a potential risk to the city’s drinking water supply. According to information provided by the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the Upper Floridan aquifer is the sole source of water supply for Valdosta and much of the surrounding area. The aquifer “receives large volumes of direct discharge from the Withlacoochee River through sinkholes in the streambed or off-channel.”
The USPS states,”The strong connection between the Withlacoochee River and ground water in the Valdosta area has created concerns about the potential for contamination of groundwater supplies by contaminants in the river.”
The water for residents and businesses in the city of Valdosta is filtered and monitored through the water treatment plant, and the city has not issued any warnings regarding drinking water.
At this time, the city has issued a statement cautioning citizens from “fishing, boating, swimming, or any contact with river water until the flood waters recede and the treatment plant returns to normal operation.”