Valdosta Daily Times

April 18, 2014

More spills? Valdosta braces for more rain

Matthew Woody
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — In the past four weeks, Valdosta has experienced four major rain events that dumped more than three to four inches of rain on the area per incident.

With more rain forecast for today, how does the city prepare for the likelihood of more wastewater overflows throughout Valdosta?

The rains come, the City of Valdosta’s staff inspects manholes and sewer mains and cleans the areas surrounding previous spills; they also remove any debris that could block the flow during heavy rain falls. Even with this preparation, some manholes are still at risk of overflowing.

“Of the city’s over 6,200 manholes, it is anticipated that five to 15 of them will have issues due to the volume of stormwater inundating the system,” the city stated Thursday. “Staff members are scheduled to check for overflows during events and document any spills for public notification and regulatory reporting. All materials are ready and in place for cleanup and disinfection at any spill location.”

Yet, even with this preparation, city officials admitted in a statement Thursday, “There is nothing that can be done to prevent six inches of rain and four major rain events in approximately four weeks.”

With more rain predicted, city officials worry because rivers have not recovered from the past heavy rains.

“Rivers are at or above flood stage, creeks and tributaries are high, the water table is very elevated, and flows remain quite high from previous events,” according to a statement from the city in response to several questions posed by The Times.

But to assuage concerns of wastewater spills, officials claim in the past major rain events, nearly 70 percent of the volume overflowing is stormwater.

As the city preps manholes, it also preps the wastewater treatment facilities.

The city states, “Whenever a heavy rain is anticipated, the following actions are initiated at least a day or more in advance. The staff at the Withlacoochee and Mud Creek Wastewater Treatment Plants implement wet weather protocols, which include, but are not limited to: solid levels in secondary clarifiers to prevent solids wash out at peak flows; cleaning of filters to ensure they can handle excess flows; removal of digested solids to belt presses for dewatering to have room in digesters for handling additional solids expected from clarifiers; checking all equipment for operability, and performing any required maintenance to ensure reliability during event; adjusting staff schedules to ensure adequate personnel are on hand during a storm event; and securing all equipment susceptible to wind damage.”

Since its expansion and renovation, the city states the Mud Creek Wastewater Plant has experienced no violations, and the Withlacoochee Wastewater Treatment Plant has not experienced any violations during the last three major rain events and since all of the $2.1 million in short-term improvements came on line, and its associated new operating protocols.    

As for what may happen now, forecasters predicted the area would receive three to three-and-a-half inches of rain during the weekend, but Ashley Tye, Lowndes County emergency management director, said, “The heaviest rain will now fall primarily to the west of us. Our updated rainfall estimate calls for one to two inches both locally and directly to our north.”

Even if the rain totaled the initial prediction of three and a half inches, it’s expected to be a light rain over 24 hours, so the impact is expected to be less than the previous two rain events when the area experienced two to three inches of rain in a few hours.

“Forecasters are not as concerned with the flash-flooding potential as they have been for the past two rain events, but with river levels already elevated and grounds saturated, ... flooding is a real possibility,” Tye said. “I would encourage everyone to be as prepared as possible prior to the onset of rains Friday.”

As of 5 p.m. Thursday, city officials state that all 11 manholes that spilled during the Tuesday morning rains have ceased overflowing, but they did not calculate the total spillage from the last two to be contained, located on Scott and Lake drives.

The last calculation for these two were on Wednesday, and the city estimated that the Scott Drive manhole released 216,000 gallons and the Lake Drive manhole released 199,500 gallons.

Using the Wednesday totals, the city has spilled more than 1,078,500 gallons of untreated wastewater into local waterways.

From Oct. 18, 2007 to present, Valdosta has spilled more than 306,374,250 gallons of treated and untreated wastewater into its rivers. This number is difficult to calculate because for some spills the city claims the amount spilled is “unknown” or “undetermined,” and for others the city only provides the flow per hour, or the peak flow per hour, with no time to calculate the total amount spilled.