Catawba River: Cleaner Than the U.S. National Whitewater Center?

Contradictions in Understanding of Water Parks and Natural Rivers

As summer heats up, many people are looking to cool down. But with the recent death of an Ohio teen, questions are being raised as to whether it’s worth seeking out local water as a relief.

Legend has it that the Catawba River is notorious for being polluted and many people refuse to step foot in or eat fish from the waters. The Catawba Riverkeeper website states that river is nothing short of a hazardous waste site:

“American Rivers, a river advocacy group, named the Catawba River as the most endangered river in the United States. In 2009, the U.S. EPA announced that four of the 44 highest hazard coal ash ponds in the United States are located on the Catawba River and all of these high hazard ash ponds are located on reservoirs used as a source of drinking water. In 2013, the Catawba River was named the 5th most endangered river in the United States.”

The Catawba has Some Competition: The USNWC

Despite a “state of the art” water filtration system that supposedly inactivates 99.99 percent of such waterborne amoeba as the one that killed the Ohio teen, Naegleria fowleri was found to be present in 11 out of 11 samples taken from the Whitewater Center recently, whereas only 1 in 5 of the Catawba River samples indicated Naegleria was present.

Man Made Rapids Equated to Pools

One problem is that the Whitewater Center’s design has been commonly compared to that of a pool. The Whitewater Center’s website states:

“Everyone recognized this was not a pool or a natural river and therefore would present its own unique circumstances.”

Yet, Governor McCrory says,

“We should have a total reexamination of how these types of facilities are dealt with in comparison to swimming pools.”

The uniqueness of the Center’s water features are largely uncategorized and are dealt with in their own way when it comes to testing. But the testing looks eerily similar to that of a pool, according to their FAQ page:

“The USNWC utilizes a third-party testing laboratory service to examine water quality on a weekly basis. The lab’s tests focus on fecal coliform, PH levels, temperature, and total suspended solids.”

The lack of standardization is what fostered the growth of the amoeba because generalized water testing and regulation of water quality is in line with that of public pools.

As the Charlotte Observer headline points out: “The U.S. National Whitewater Center is the only one of three similar parks in the nation that is not regulated to help prevent waterborne illnesses.” Because it’s not a pool. The officials that monitor water conditions do not otherwise test for the presence of the

Because it’s not a pool. The officials that monitor water conditions do not otherwise test for the presence of the amoeba at such parks as the Whitewater Center because it’s less like a pool and more like a river, which cannot be regulated.

The Center is basically an independent operation of over 12 million gallons of water that is accountable only to itself and generalized standards. They operate independently and keep records of the processes and any testing they do under no county or state a defined regulatory system.

Maintenance logs seem Elusive

The Whitewater Center has been contacted by numerous individuals as stated in press release conferences for any information they are willing to provide but have been dodgy on submitting any comments outside of their website. Since the Center supposedly keeps their own logs of the filtration system and any water quality tests it does, they should at least have knowledge of the results.

However, when asked by the Charlotte Observer for maintenance logs of the filtration and disinfection systems, Eric Osterhus, Brand Manager at U.S. National Whitewater Center referred the Observer to the CDC and local health officials. “They have thoroughly examined our systems and processes and can provide their perspective,” he said.

How to Regulate a River

So far, it’s the general consensus that officials want to regulate the Whitewater Center to minimize the possibility of another tragedy, but there is no clear idea on how to do so as of yet.

However, Fox Carolina reported that Representative William Brawley proposed an amendment that would change state law and how the state regulates water attractions like the U.S. National Whitewater Center. “Water recreation attractions include, but are not limited to, water slides, wave pools, water amusement lagoons, and recirculating artificial whitewater rivers where contact between the patron and the water either occurs or is intended to occur.”

This begs the question; since the Center has been in operation for ten years now, why has it taken a young girl’s life to have such an idea dawn on them? Not just tracking the deadly amoeba, but more thorough testing for more bacteria, which obviously can breed in warm water that thousands of people and their personal equipment enter.

This begs the question; since the Center has been in operation for ten years now, why has it taken a young girl’s life to have such an idea dawn on them? Not just tracking the deadly amoeba, but more thorough testing for more bacteria, which obviously can breed in warm water that thousands of people and their personal equipment enter.

Sadly, prolonging the inevitable has allowed time to run out for a solution to a supposed “unlikely” problem. Knowing that the Center attracts millions of parkgoers, something is bound to go wrong. Surely a brain-eating waterborne illness was the last thing expected in the millions of gallons of water.

In a video posted on Mecklenburg County’s Facebook page, Dr. Stephen Keener, Medical Director, explained that the USNWC older test results he saw “have not been problematic.” To what extent the term problematic means is anyone’s guess. And at what point the amoeba started showing up is also anyone’s guess since the water is not regularly tested for it specifically.

Could This Have Been Prevented?

Dr. Cope, a CDC representative, said that Naegleria can be killed by chlorination and UV light, but not with certain variables. Variables such as dirt and debris that no amount of UV radiation or chlorine can kill. This is because the clarity of the water was turbid, or debris-filled.

When this happens, the chlorine reacts with debris in such a way that it is no longer present to kill bacteria. The same is true about UV light.

“If you’re passing turbid water through UV light the ultraviolet rays cannot inactivate pathogens.”

Upon questioning, she agreed that “the treatments were inadequate to kill Naegleria in that setting.”

If the water had not been so turbid, Dr. Cope said it’s hard to say if the cleaning system would have been effective in killing this particular amoeba.

When asked about smaller, more controlled bodies of water (i.e. pools), when properly measured systems are used, they would be successful in killing Naegleria. So, could this have been prevented in such a setting as man-made rapids? There is no clear answer.

So, could this have been prevented in such a setting as man-made rapids? There is no clear answer.

 

Join the party
Facebook
Facebook
Twitter
Follow by Email
RSS

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)

  • Facebook
    Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Follow by Email
  • RSS