Valdosta Daily Times

March 5, 2013

Waters recede; safety concerns grow

Standing raw sewage raises questions

Jason Schaefer
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Residents in the Old Wood Valley area, the housing area near the YMCA, are still watching the flood waters recede since the river peaked Thursday, and one resident is concerned that a streak of drying raw sewage running across his property may pose health concerns for his family and children.

 The resident reported that sewage was “boiling” from a manhole on an easement that runs along his property as the flood waters rose, and the sewage remained behind when the waters receded, leaving behind a gray, crust-like residue that he's afraid to let his children walk through.

The homeowner requested his name be withheld, as he feels his concerns are a community health issue but the city has not yet provided any assistance. When he called the City Monday to request treatment of the spill, he was turned away, at least for now, he said.

“They told me, ‘You are just as important, but we were told to go to Meadowbrook first,”’ he said.

The Meadowbrook neighborhood stands on the bank of the Withlacoochee River opposite the YMCA. When the resident asked how the City was addressing similar spills in Meadowbrook, he was told they were spreading lime on the sewage “to handle the smell,” he said.

The resident believes it should be a City service to clean up and disinfect the sewage in his yard, and he is concerned harmful bacteria or any number of other hazards could exist in the residue and the soil underneath it, he said.

“I don’t know what it is; I don’t know what’s in it; I don’t know what it’s going to do,” the resident said. “I just want to make sure it’s safe.”

The City issued public warnings last week that the flood waters contained unsafe levels of fecal coliform and other bacterial hazards that could cause infections and illness, and advised the public not to come into contact with the water. In addition to the raw sewage released from the wastewater plant into the river, the City reported numerous manholes throughout the city failed due to the overflow, spilling sewage in several areas.

The raw sewage released from the wastewater treatment facility is estimated to be between 16 to 24 million gallons spilled in a three- to four-day period.

“That is a lot, especially for raw sewage,” said Marzieh Shahbazaz, Municipal Compliance Manager for the Georgia Environmental Protection Division. “I haven’t seen anything like that.”

For comparison, she said Phenix City, Ala. experienced its own raw sewage spill during the weather event that caused the flooding in South Georgia, but only spilled eight million gallons.

“However, the river had a tremendous amount of water in it,” Shahbazaz said, explaining that the sewage was significantly diluted in the flood.

The GEPD is currently investigating whether the sewage spill can be considered an act of God, in which case the City would face no penalties. If the City is found culpable for the spill, they would face a fine and other enforcement measures, Shahbazaz said.

She said the plant is one of the largest in the region, and has experienced previous problems. Shahbazaz provided the most recent compliance report, which showed 17 major deficiencies and violations in October 2012. (See Sidebar for Details).