County to monitor Whitewater Center channels after upcoming reopening

Water from Whitewater Center discharged into Catawba River

Water discharge began just before 6:30 a.m. Saturday and should be concluded around midnight, a Mecklenburg County spokesman said in an email.
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Water discharge began just before 6:30 a.m. Saturday and should be concluded around midnight, a Mecklenburg County spokesman said in an email.

Mecklenburg County’s health director said Monday he’s confident the U.S. National Whitewater Center can safely reopen its rafting channels, possibly this week. The channels were closed in June after a visitor caught a fatal infection from an amoeba.

Dr. Marcus Plescia said the reopening date is unclear, although a county document projected it to be Wednesday. “I feel very good that they have in place a system that is safe,” Plescia told reporters.

The center has installed a chlorination system that will be the primary water treatment system. Existing water filtration and ultraviolet disinfection units will become secondary.

County staff expect to initially make weekly visits to the center to check levels of chlorine and organic material, which the amoeba Naegleria fowleri lives in. The center will vacuum sediment from the bottom of its channels.

The amoeba “lives in the sediment and if there is no sediment, it has no place to go,” Plescia said.

The county checks would decrease to twice-monthly in September and to monthly for the remainder of the year.

Mecklenburg County commissioners discussed potential regulation of the privately run facility but made no decisions. Plescia said Monday that observations of the center’s operations over the next few weeks will indicate what rules, if any, are needed.

“The public needs to keep all this in perspective,” he said of the visitor’s death. “There are a lot of risks out there, and this is a very unfortunate thing but a very uncommon thing.” Infections from Naegleria fowleri are extremely rare but nearly always fatal – a South Carolina girl died last week after swimming in a river.

Channels at the center were drained after the water tested positive for the brain-eating amoeba in June.

Mecklenburg County said public health workers were monitoring the refilling of the man-made whitewater channels.

The process of cleaning the channels follows the death of an 18-year-old Ohio woman that was blamed on a brain-eating amoeba she came into contact with while rafting at the center in June.

The water drained from the center was heavily chlorinated and dechlorinated before running across a vegetation field and entering the Catawba River, officials said. The sediment, which health officials said contained most of the amoeba, was scattered across a field above the center. Health officials said spreading the sediment would kill anything in it.

“We have not released an official date (for opening the channels) yet, but anticipate it being later this week,” the Whitewater Center’s communications and brand manager, Eric Osterhus, told WBTV, the Observer’s news partner.

Naegleria fowleri, or "brain-eating amoeba", is an incredibly rare and deadly microorganism that can be found in warm freshwater.

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