The Whitewater Center is ready to reopen whitewater activities to the public and plans to do so tomorrow, August 10.
The decision came after refilling its main channel and installing a new filtration system over the weekend. Everything has been closed since late June, after an Ohio teenager died from a rare amoebic infection after visiting the whitewater center.
In response, the center worked closely with the Mecklenburg County Health Department and several outside consultants to create and design a new filtration system that relies on the chlorination of the water rather than UV light to keep it clean.
While the UV method won’t disappear completely and will continue operating, it will take the backseat to the chlorine.
In the new sanitation system, the level of chlorine level won’t pose a risk to rafters and will actually be at a lower level than what you’d find in a swimming pool, Health Department Director Marcus Plescia said at a press conference Monday afternoon.
The system is being put into place to create an environment that Naegleria fowleri can’t live in. That’s the type of amoeba that was linked to the death. Infections from the amoeba are very rare, even though it’s present in most natural bodies of water.
“If the chlorination reaches that level and they keep the sediment from forming at the bottom, there won’t be an amoeba,” Plescia stated. Chlorine dissolves the sediment that the amoeba thrives in.
The regulation of the Whitewater Center is still not the responsibility of the county health department, but it will be monitored closely by the department for the next few months.
The department’s role as a “public agency” for the center will be “a little less” from this point on, Plescia said, but they will continue working with the center to make sure nothing like this happens again.
“[Our] role right now is a monitoring role,” he said. “Working collaboratively with them. That has gone very, very well so far.”
In August, the Department will be on-site once a week in order to make sure that everything is “going okay.” They’ll be testing and monitoring chlorine levels while keeping track of accumulation of sediment and other matters visually. By September, visits will become bi-weekly to monitor the same elements.
It won’t be until October that visits will drop to once a month to make sure chlorine levels and organic matter accumulation are both where they need to be. This will happen through December, when the center closes the channel for the season.
At no point during the monitoring will the department test for the presence of the amoeba, Plescia said. The only organization that has the capacity to do so is the CDC.
Historically, the channel is drained into surrounding areas every December for a deep clean, but that may not be the case this year.
Right now, draining for a second time this year is a gray area. If the new filtration system is able to eliminate the sediment that gathered on the bottom of the channel and may have led to the presence of the amoeba this summer, the threat of something like that happening again is low. The health department believes that how often the center cleans and drains the channel, along with the effectiveness of the filtration system, may determine the draining schedule this year.
Plescia noted that he finds it “hard to say” if he would be disappointed by the absence of a second draining.
“I think once a year is probably not a bad idea,” he said. “But we don’t know exactly how it’s going to work. The system may do away with the need to drain completely.”
The presence of chlorine in the water also makes draining more complicated, as draining chlorinated water through the vegetative system used last week would significantly harm the surrounding ecosystem.
The health department says it feels “very, very good” about the Center’s decision to aim for a reopening this week. Look for activities to resume Wednesday — we’ll keep you posted.