The Valdosta Daily Times
The City of Valdosta’s announcement Thursday that the Withlacoochee Wastewater Treatment Plant had to be shut down due to floodwaters brought with it the news that an estimated 5 to 6 million gallons of untreated sewage will be discharging daily into the Withlacoochee River until further notice.
The City states that the plant’s power was shut down to protect the facility and will remain offline until the floodwaters recede, which could be several days.
The Withlacoochee River originates northwest of Valdosta and flows through the city, past the treatment plant, into Florida, where it merges with the Suwanee River. Florida officials from the Suwanee River Water Management District contacted were unaware Thursday of the sewage discharge, as were officials at the Nestle Waters Bottling Plant in Madison County.
The company bottles Deer Park Natural Spring Water and Nestle Pure Life at the facility, along with Zephyrhills Natural Spring Water from its Zephyrhills facility.
According to the company’s website, the plant in Madison County pulls water from the Blue Spring, a pristine natural spring, that connects to the Withlacoochee downstream from Valdosta.
A company spokesperson, Lisa Garcia, when contacted Thursday said there is no need for concern.
In a statement from Kent Koptiuch, natural resource manager for Nestle Waters North America, “Nestle Waters does not draw water from the surface, it intercepts water through a borehole long before the water gets to either the spring vent or the river.”
According to Koptiuch, the bottling lines are tested 200 times daily to ensure that their products meet or exceed Food and Drug Administration requirements, as well as their own internal standards.
“We are aware of the problems posed by flooding on municipal wastewater treatment systems; anytime raw sewage is dumped into the waterways it is a concern to everyone. However, the city of Valdosta’s emergency will have no effect on our operations,” Koptiuch stated.
Nestle Waters is permitted by the Suwanee River Water Management District to withdraw 1.6 million gallons per day, but “rarely comes close to withdrawing even two-thirds of that amount,” said Garcia.
“Natural spring water is very minimally treated with filtration and ultraviolet light to ensure the safety of our product for consumers,” offering a detailed schematic demonstrating the filtration process.
Although company officials said Thursday that the contaminated water from the Withlacoochee River would not affect their bottling operations, Nestle company attorneys argued against moving the landfill from Lowndes to Brooks County several years ago, stating that the company had “grave concerns” over potential chemical contamination and infiltration into the Withlacoochee, according to a 2006 Times story, even though the new landfill would have been farther from the river than the current location.