Brittany McClure, Jason Schaefer, Stuart Taylor and Kay Harris
The Valdosta Daily Times
Floodwaters from 6 to 10 inches of rainfall several days ago has created hazardous conditions throughout the area, with road closures, flooded homes and businesses, and untreated sewage flowing into the river.
Although not quite as bad as the flood in April 2009, the same areas that were threatened then have been affected again. The area around Sugar Creek off Gornto Road, including the YMCA, Creekside Tavern, and homes along Meadowbrook were reporting flooding, causing businesses to close and residents to evacuate. Numerous road closures across Brooks County, with additional road closures in Lowndes, is seriously affecting residents attempting to get in and out of their homes and businesses. And a major sewage discharge from the Withlacoochee Wastewater Treatment Plant are exacerbating the serious issues the city of Valdosta faced four years ago.
According to the National Weather Service, the floodwaters may rise several more feet in areas before beginning to recede by the weekend.
Wastewater plant overwhelmed
As floodwaters continued to rise at the Withlacoochee Wastewater Treatment Plant Thursday, the City of Valdosta released a statement stating that, until further notice, the plant has been taken offline, and “as a result, an estimated 5 to 6 million gallons of untreated sewage will be discharging directly into the river each day until the flood waters recede.”
More than 15 million gallons of partially-treated wastewater from city sewers has already entered the Withlacoochee River as a result of the floodwaters, and since Monday, 12 manholes throughout the city have overflowed, spilling sewer contents into area waterways.
The city stated that the power to the plant was shut off to prevent further damage to equipment and associated electrical and control systems.
The rising water is halfway through its crest at the plant, according to Valdosta’s Utilities Director Henry Hicks, who spent the day monitoring the floodwaters. Hicks projects the water will rise another two to three feet before it begins to recede.
An eight-foot-high chain link fence that was exposed yesterday at the plant is now completely underwater, and the water has flooded the influent pump station and the chlorinator building, which houses a one-ton cylinder of chlorine gas used in the treatment of city wastewater.
The water main that feeds treated water back into the Withlacoochee lays 40 feet underground, Hicks said, which is the main cause of inflow and water spillage problems.
Due to the amount of sewage in the floodwaters, citizens are advised to keep out of contact with the water, which now poses significant bacteriological contamination.
"If you have cuts, scrapes or open sores, contact with the water could cause those sores to become infected," Hicks said.
As soon as the floodwaters recede, workers at the plant will begin emergency pumping and treatment of city sewage. City tap water is still safe to drink, Hicks said Wednesday, and Valdosta citizens should still
be able to flush their toilets.
Houses and businesses affected
The streets along Meadowbrook Drive were lined with moving trucks, trailers and pickup trucks on Thursday as rising flood waters caused some residents to evacuate their homes and move out their belongings.
“It has not stopped rising yet,” said home owner Jason Parker around 11 a.m. on Thursday.
While residents were not required to evacuate, many used updates from the Emergency Management Agency (EMA) to help make their decision.
“We've got some of our furniture out,” said Parker.
Parker and his family began moving possessions out of the house Wednesday.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time Parker has had to leave his home. In 2009, he and his family evacuated due to flooding just four weeks after moving into their home on Meadowbrook, which lies next to Sugar Creek.
“Now just four years later we're doing it again,” said Parker.
The 2009 flood was all too familiar for Meadowbrook resident Chad Harrison.
“We would like to thank the city and county offices for everything they have done to prevent this from happening again . . . which is nothing,” said Harrison.
Harrison's home flooded in 2009 but as of Thursday afternoon — despite being just a few houses down from Parker — he was fortunate enough not to have to move out any of his belongings.
“We should be fine at this time," said Harrison. "But there's no sure thing.”
While Harrison was upset with the lack of prevention from the local government, he was thankful for the Valdosta Police Department, the Valdosta Fire Department and Second Harvest Food Bank who all were working to assist the Meadowbrook residents any way they could.
“It’s brought our neighborhood closer together once again,” said Harrison.
By Thursday afternoon, water had engulfed the Traditions Flooring parking lot on Gornto Road and was encroaching into the building. Floodwaters had also filled the parking lots of the YMCA and Creekside Tavern, but had not yet reached either building. In 2009, both facilities were breached by several feet of floodwater.
Creekside is closed until at least Saturday but the YMCA has remained open, according to CEO Larry Tobey.
“I can’t tell you how much we appreciate Ashley Tye (emergency manager for Lowndes County). He has been keeping us updated, even through the night, to make sure we knew what to expect. As far as we can tell, the water has crested and should start receding sometime tomorrow,” Tobey said.
Lowndes, Brooks close roads
In response to rising water levels, Lowndes County and Brooks County have shut down several roads.
In an official press release, Lowndes County officials announced that Shiloh Road, Clyattville Nankin Road, Morven Road and Gornto Road would remain closed until the water recedes.
Local rivers are still flowing well above flood stage in most areas of the county, according to officials.
The Little River crested at Ga. 122 Wednesday afternoon, but the crest is still continuing downstream. Points south of 122 can still expect up to an additional foot of vertical rise in the water level, with the crest expected to hit the Ga. 133 boat ramp Thursday night.
The Withlacoochee River crested at Skipper Bridge Road early Thursday morning. It may take several days for the waters to recede and people along Little River and Sugar Creek can expect an additional foot of rise in the water level before it crests.
The river area along U.S. 84 is expected to crest Friday morning at 32 feet, which is two and a half feet below the level it crested at in 2009. All lanes of U.S. 84 were closed Thursday evening due to flooding, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation.
Reports from homeowners along the Withlacoochee River tells stories of slowly rising water levels, and of back doors opening to open water.
Brooks County reports that the following roads are closed as of Feb. 28: 751 Emerson Road to Grooverville Road, Ham City Road from S.R. Hwy 84 to Old Thomasville Road, Cannon Road between Marso Road and Hester Road, Lawson Pond Road at Lowndes County, Rocky Ford Road off Nankin Road, Spain Road off Jackson Road, Nankin Road Bridge at Lowndes County, McAllister Road, Hempstead Road to Alderman Road, Radford Road to Milton Road to Madison, Florid, Moody Road to Burton Road, Alderman Road North of State Hwy 122, Monument Church Road at Brooks Co. Dairy, Bethlehem Church Road of Greenville Highway, Reedy Creek Road to Pedrick Road to Tom Lodge Road, Lee Road, Tucker Road to 3306 Beasley Road and Intersection of Hempstead Church Road & Burton Road to Hempstead Church Road Bridge.