Mecklenburg County officials are considering a plan that would take water from the U.S. National Whitewater Center blamed in the death of a teenager and dump it into the Catawba River.
Lisa Corbitt, program manager for Groundwater and Wastewater Services, told county commissioners Wednesday that authorities are still trying to determine how they will safely remove water that contains the Naegleria fowleri amoeba.
Under one scenario, Corbitt said, authorities would treat the water and then release it into the nearby Catawba River.
Some citizens have expressed worries about dumping the water in local waterways because the amoeba can cause deadly infections. Infections are extremely rare but almost always fatal.
Although the amoeba is common in open bodies of freshwater, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found levels at the Whitewater Center that were higher than those previously seen. The amoeba was not found in samples from the Catawba River but was detected in its sediment.
Corbitt and other officials gave no timetable on when they would finalize a plan to dispose of the water from the park.
The Whitewater Center closed to whitewater rafting on June 24, five days after Lauren Seitz died of an infection caused the amoeba.
Authorities believe Seitz, 18, of Ohio, contracted the waterborne illness when she fell out of a raft at the center and water went up her nose.
Sam Perkins of the Catawba Riverkeepers, a nonprofit environmental group, said releasing the Whitewater Center’s water into the river causes concern.
“Is the treatment they provide sufficient to get rid of the amoeba?” Perkins asked. “It’s a good question. You don’t want to put a high concentration of (the amoeba) in a public waterway.”
A CDC report distributed to county commissioners Wednesday said the agency “believes there need to be engineering and operating modifications before reopening” the center’s channels. It provided contacts for several consultants who design and engineer large water systems.
Last week, the CDC called the center’s filtration system “inadequate” to properly clean its turbid waters.
Water quality at the center is not regulated, unlike public swimming pools and similar artificial rivers.
The Whitewater Center has now drained water from the upper channels to dry them and will clean all concrete and rock in the channels.
All of the water now sits in a lower pond while authorities figure out what to do with it.
Mecklenburg County Medical Director Dr. Stephen Keener said he and other officials do not know when the center can reopen for rafting and kayaking.
But commissioner Dumont Clarke said it appears it will be a “significant amount of time” before engineering modifications can be accomplished.
Clarke said modifying the park likely will be challenging.
Officials said one problem is that the channels have very shallow water that heats up quickly. That provides a habitat that allows the amoeba to thrive, they said.
One potential solution, they said, is figuring out how to cool the water.
Fred Clasen-Kelly: 704-358-5027