USNWC reopens rafting activities after health department issues permit

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Mecklenburg County health inspectors were at the U.S. National Whitewater Center Tuesday morning, and officials with the facility said they have been granted a permit to resume whitewater rapid activities.

Chopper 9 flew over the Whitewater Center in west Charlotte when the first rafts went into the water at 11:00 a.m. Tuesday.

Health officials said the center could not reopen for whitewater sports this year until the county issued a newly required permit for the facility where an Ohio visitor contracted a deadly infection last summer.

[READ MORE: Whitewater Center rapids won't open Saturday; permits not obtained]

New water quality measures include automated filtration systems, back-up systems, maintaining at least .5 parts per million of chlorine in the water, keeping daily records and more. County inspectors will stop by at least four times a year. Three visits will be unannounced.

Visitor Ashlyn Dickson said she plans to raft soon after avoiding the Whitewater Center last year.

"(I) just didn't feel too good about going out here but now we're looking forward to it," Dickson said.

The Whitewater Center applied Feb. 23 for the annual operating permit from the county health department. The center was scheduled to resume water activities on March 4.

With water activities now open, the annual "Green River Revival" event will go on as scheduled this Saturday.

[READ MORE: Teen dies from rare brain-eating amoeba infection after visiting Whitewater Center]

The rafting channels have been closed since last summer. After the channels were drained, cleaned and refilled, county staff from Environmental Health monitored and tested the water on a regular basis to ensure chlorine levels remained stable.

The permit can be suspended if the center doesn't meet water-quality or safety standards.

The county began requiring the permit after 18-year-old Lauren Seitz of Westerville, Ohio, died of a rare brain infection caused by a single-celled animal, the amoeba Naegleria fowleri, after visiting the center on June 8.

Mecklenburg County health inspector Lisa Corbitt said the new measures are designed to kill the amoeba and prevent pathogens from growing. But because the amoeba is natural, it's impossible to keep it out of open water.

"There is no guarantee. It's an open water system that we can keep it out completely. It just can't grow there," Corbitt said.

The amoeba is widespread in warm, open waters. Infections are rare but almost always fatal.

[LINK: Naegleria fowleri fact sheet]

The county’s permit can be suspended if the center doesn't meet water-quality or safety standards.

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