HAHIRA — Water quality tests since last week are looking good for the Withlacoochee River in Georgia, and if those continue this week, it will be all clear to paddle with the new mayor of Valdosta, Scott James, on Saturday.
“We’ll paddle by the site of the projected Troupville River Camp, supported by Valdosta and Lowndes County, and Madison and Hamilton Counties, Florida,” said Suwannee Riverkeeper John S. Quarterman. “We’ll also pass the outflow from Valdosta’s Withlacoochee Wastewater Treatment Plant, which did not spill, although it is in a stretch of the river that was contaminated by Valdosta’s December 2019 record raw sewage spill.”
“The paddle was requested by me, and John was gracious enough to organize it and call it the ‘Mayor’s Paddle,’” James said. “It is to show my commitment to zero tolerance for future spills and to show my love for our natural resources.”
“The only way to dispell the stigma of sewage spills that affect the entire Suwannee River Basin, is frequent, regular, water quality sampling with published results,” Quarterman said. “The dozen-county Florida Rivers Task Force forced to deal with Valdosta sewage wants to promote cross-state-line eco-tourism. We should all be marketing our rivers. We are, with this paddle, and with Troupville River Camp. But we need a solid foundation of testing so we can say when the rivers are clean, and the few (we hope) times when they are not.”
WWALS Watershed Coalition Inc., the parent organization of Suwannee Riverkeeper, was set to collect water quality samples Wednesday at numerous points on the Withlacoochee River to have current results before the paddle. Lowndes County (which has its own sewer system, that did not spill) is sampling weekly. The Florida Department of Enviromental Protection and the Suwannee River Water Management District are sampling downstream, and SRWMD has even sampled some sites well into Georgia. WWALS is publishing all this data, along with what data Valdosta has supplied in response to open records requests, online at wwals.net/issues/vww/valdosta-spills/#vldrecord2019.
On the paddle, WWALS will sample above and below the WWTP outfall and at other locations along the route.
To paddle with the mayor, arrive by 9 a.m. Saturday. The paddle will start at 10 a.m. Participants can just show up; however, the expedition leader, Bobby McKenzie, likes to have some idea of how many people are coming.
This paddle is free to WWALS members and $10 for non-members. We will waive the fee for elected officials.
The put-in is Troupville Boat Ramp, 19664 Valdosta Highway, Valdosta on Georgia 133 off Interstate 75 Exit 18, in Lowndes County. Go west on 133 (St. Augustine Road) from Valdosta toward Moultrie. Soon you will see signs saying turn right for Val Del Road. Turn left instead, and that will take you to the boat ramp.
The paddle will take about six hours to go 11 river miles.