City sewage spill stopped

Jason A. Smith | The Valdosta Daily TimesA worker checks the seals on one of the pipes for the 6-million-gallon basin that had a 2,237,650 gallon leak following storms Sunday. 

VALDOSTA — A six-million-gallon basin at the city’s new wastewater treatment plant leaked more than 2.2 million gallons of sewage and storm water during a two-day period.

City officials estimate 2,237,650 gallons of raw sewage and storm water spilled from the basin.

The leak was discovered at 11 p.m. Sunday and stopped at 2:24 a.m. Wednesday, according to city officials.

The spill was the result of a link seal being pushed out of the basin but what caused the issue with the seal remains unknown, said John Waite, superintendent of the Withlacoochee River Wastewater Treatment Plant.

The link seal is part of one of three pipes connected to the basin and was not due to a failure in the plant’s processes, he said.

A temporary fix to the leak was applied Wednesday afternoon and a permanent fix will be applied to all three of the pipes sometime next week, Waite said.

While the temporary fix is sufficient, the water level in the basin will stay beneath where the spill occurred until permanent repairs can be made.

All three of the seals are being monitored pending the permanent repair, city officials said.

During the storm, the plant processed 17 million gallons of water with no issues, Waite said. The plant is designed to process up to 18 million gallons.

The WWTP may be fined for violating its discharge permit from the state and for an unapproved discharge, Waite said.

The first fine may come from exceeding the allowed amount of solids, oxygen demand, ammonium nitrogen, potential of hydrogen and bacteria in a discharge. Waite said he does not think the WWTP exceeded the allowed limits.

The second fine will be considered by the Environmental Protection Department and is given out on a case-by-case basis.

“Hopefully, the state will not fine us because of the storm we had was extreme and the issue we had was not operational,” he said.

Valdosta’s new Withlacoochee Wastewater Treatment Plant opened just one year ago and is still under warranty.

Garney Construction built the plant. All appropriate regulatory and public health agencies have been notified of the spill, the city said.

The massive sewage spill will most likely contaminate water in Mud Creek and the Withlacoochee River, Madison County, Fla., Emergency Management said.

Florida residents in Madison and Hamilton counties should be extra careful around the Withlacoochee, according to the Florida Department of Health.

“Until further information is known regarding possible contamination of the river, people in the area are urged to take precautions when in contact with the Withlacoochee River,” Madison’s Emergency Management said on its social media account Tuesday afternoon. “Water contaminated with wastewater overflow presents several health risks to humans. Untreated human sewage with microbes could cause gastrointestinal issues and other conditions.

“Anyone who comes into contact with the river water should wash thoroughly, especially hands and before eating or drinking. Children and older adults, as well as people with weakened immune systems, are particularly vulnerable to disease so every precaution should be taken if in contact with the river water.”

People with questions about the spill can contact: Hamilton Department of Health, (386) 758-1059; Madison Department of Health, (850) 973-5000; or Valdosta Superintendent John Waite, (229) 259-3592.

Jason Smith is a reporter at The Valdosta Daily Times. He can be contacted at 229-244-3400 ext.1256.

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