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Charlotte Talks: Safety And Quality Of Charlotte's Drinking Water / Mosquito Control In Carolinas

tap water
Steve Johnson

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

A look at the work that goes into keeping Charlotte tap water safe and at some of the challenges in doing so. Then, mosquitos love our city and we hear about research to predict where mosquito-borne diseases will occur.

Part One: Charlotte's Drinking Water Quality

We don’t think much about it when we turn on the tap, but there's a lot that goes into making sure the water we drink is safe. Our water supply, which comes from Mountain Island Lake and Lake Norman is treated and tested for 150 contaminants before it reaches households and businesses - as many as one million users a day.

Charlotte Water, the public utility that provides drinking water to the city and county, recently issued its annual report on the quality of our drinking water. The utility says that last year Mecklenburg County's drinking water met federal standards for safety and quality. 

But there are always threats to the water supply. Lead-contaminated water in Flint, Michigan is a worst-case scenario, but recently Wilmington has had to deal with chemical byproducts in their water supply. There's the ongoing debate whether well-water along the Catawba River has been tainted by coal ash in the groundwater. And a recent report from an advocacy group calls into question the quality standards used by Charlotte's utility. Mike Collins and guests discuss the health and safety of Charlotte's drinking water.

Some highlights from the segment:

The confusion of multiple standards

“The standards are different for bottled water and municipal water. Municipal water standards are actually more stringent. They’re regulated by two different groups. Drinking water is regulated by EPA and bottled water is regulated by the FDA as a food product. The testing we have to do for tap water is more frequent, ongoing and rigorous.”

-Barry Gullet, Director, Charlotte Water

“California has a state board that sets standards for California with more safety factors. Anywhere our analysis was higher than their standards was added to the list as a potential area for concern.”

-Ron Hargrove, Deputy Utilities Director, Charlotte Water

“You have two different standards which confuses people. When there is a public outcry over something, like coal ash or hexavalent chromium, the state looked at ground water and set a precautionary or screening limit that was more stringent than a drinking water standard. The more stringent limits are based on health. When you set enforceable standards you take into account the practical ability to get to that standard which tends to be higher.  People are being told two things, their water has hexavalent chromium above the health standard, but it also meets federal standards.”

-Bruce Henderson, Reporter for the Charlotte Observer

On Charlotte’s water

“Charlotte has got great water. It’s safe to drink. There are technological and practical limits as to how clean you can get it. A lot of folks are moving here from places where they had concerns about the tap water. We want our customers to have confidence in our water.”

-Barry Gullet, Director, Charlotte Water

“We’re blessed with an abundant and clean water supply source. We get some of our water for the Northern communities from Lake Norman and as part of the Catawba River chain.”

-Rusty Rozzelle, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services’ Water Quality Program Manager


Bruce Henderson - Reporter for the Charlotte Observer

Barry Gullet - Director, Charlotte Water, City of Charlotte

Rusty Rozzelle - Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services’ Water Quality Program Manager

Ron Hargrove - Deputy Utilities Director, Charlotte Water

Part Two: Mosquito Control and Research in the Carolinas

Credit Flickr/Katja Schulz

In 2016, North Carolina reported over 100 cases of travel-associated Zika - a mosquito born virus. In 2017, Charlotte ranked number nine on Orkin’s list of Top 50 Mosquito plagued cities. Organizations like the American Mosquito Control Association are dedicated to raising awareness on the importance of mosquito control as mosquitos are said to cause more human suffering than any other organisms.

Researchers at UNC Charlotte and the Mecklenburg County Health Department are partnering in a study to determine the best ways to predict where mosquito-borne diseases will occur. We'll examine their research.

Highlights from the segment:

Charlotte is a hot spot for mosquitos

“There are a few different reasons why Charlotte is a hotspot for mosquito activity. The climate, it’s very hot in the summers here and we have mild winters. We also get a lot of rain.  We also have a rapidly urbanizing population. A growing city paired with the climate that we have puts us in the position to have these flying around. Temperature makes a difference in the dynamics of disease and mosquito population. The warmer the air the faster the mosquitos grow and die. It’s less time for them to transmit virus, but it’s also a more rapid turnover in population.”

-Ari Whiteman, founder, Urban Mosquito Project       

On mosquito transmitted diseases

“During an epidemic like Zika the virus is in the mosquito, the mosquito bites someone infecting them. Then, that person can be bitten by another mosquito and the cycle continues. Malaria is the big one, but viral diseases are a concern because they’re on the rise. The geographical extent of dengue and number of cases per year have experience a 30-fold increase in the last 50 years”

-Dr. Dan Janies, Bioinformatics and Genomics professor at UNC Charlotte, researcher with the Urban Mosquito Project

On the Urban Mosquito Project

“The mosquitos I study, container breeders, are quite tied to people. They breed in manmade containers like flower pots or wheel barrels. We’re looking at things across the socioeconomic gradients in asking questions like, Are high income community at a greater risk than low income? There does seem to be a connection between the socioeconomic status of the neighborhood and its capacity to create a burgeoning mosquito population.”

-Ari Whiteman, founder, Urban Mosquito Project


Ari Whiteman - Doctoral Student at UNC Charlotte, founder of The Urban Mosquito Project

Dr. Dan Janies - Carol Grotnes Belk Distinguished Professor of Bioinformatics and Genomics at UNC Charlotte, researcher with the Urban Mosquito Project

Erin Keever is Senior Producer of WFAE's Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins. She has been with the show since joining the station in 2006. She's a native Charlottean.