Meck Co. commissioners to discuss, possibly vote on USNWC regula - | WBTV Charlotte

Meck Co. commissioners to discuss, possibly vote on USNWC regulation

Paddlers return to the water Aug. 14, 2016, at the U.S. National Whitewater Center after re-opening the rafting channels. (Charlotte Observer/File photo) Paddlers return to the water Aug. 14, 2016, at the U.S. National Whitewater Center after re-opening the rafting channels. (Charlotte Observer/File photo)
CHARLOTTE, NC (Bruce Henderson/The Charlotte Observer) -

Mecklenburg County commissioners scheduled an Oct. 18 vote on the county’s first regulation of the U.S. National Whitewater Center, where an Ohio visitor contracted a fatal infection this summer.

The public hearing is set for 6:30 p.m.

The nonprofit-run center is not now regulated, but tests its 12 millions of gallons of water for fecal bacteria under the lease terms of its 1,100-acre site with Mecklenburg County.

That hands-off status appeared likely to change after the death of Lauren Seitz, 18, who contracted a rare brain infection caused by the amoeba Naegleria fowleri after visiting the center on June 8.

RELATED: Ohio teen dies from suspected amoeba after visiting Whitewater Center

The center suspended whitewater rafting in June after the amoeba was detected in its water. Whitewater activities resumed in August after the center drained and cleaned its whitewater channels and installed a new chlorination system.

The rule county commissioners will consider is intended to foster “an environment that is not hospitable to potentially pathogenic microorganisms” to protect public health.

It was written with advice from federal and state health experts and after two months of county monitoring of the center since whitewater channels reopened.

Disinfection "must demonstrate a substantial kill of potentially pathogenic microorganisms (Naegleria fowleri) at least equivalent to free chlorine at a level of 0.5 part per million in the same body of water when a secondary disinfection method such as ozone or ultraviolet light is active," the Mecklenburg County rules state. 

The director is instructed to make inspections, surveys and collect samples of water. The Recreational System Operator will inspect the water system at least twice a day and keep a written record of operating conditions.

"The inspection must be conducted prior to members of the public entering the system and 4-6 hours after members of the public have had access (to) the system," the rules state. 

Click HERE to read the full Mecklenburg County Health Department rules governing recreational whitewater systems

The proposed rule requires an annual operating permit from the county health department that can be suspended if the center doesn’t meet water-quality or safety standards. It also gives the health director ability to declare conditions a public nuisance that could trigger its shutdown.

“These are teeth,” commissioners Chair Trevor Fuller said of the rule. County officials said the Whitewater Center has agreed to comply with it.

The rule requires daily tests of water quality and organic material in the water. It also approves chlorine as a disinfectant to kill disease-carrying pathogens, followed by a secondary disinfection method such as the ultraviolet light that previously was the center’s primary disinfection system.

The center has said it now has three overlapping systems to kill or disable pathogens: chlorine injection system, ultraviolet and ozone oxidation.

Commissioner Vilma Leake again questioned the costs to Mecklenburg County of policing the Whitewater Center since Seitz’ death -- $109,000, county manager Dena Diorio said -- in light of the $6 million in subsidies the county gave the once-struggling center.

“They were out there not to protect the company but to protect our citizens,” commissioner Jim Puckett said.

The rule is expected to be in "full force" after January 1, 2017.


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