Ohio River


The Ohio River is formed by the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. From this point, the historic river flows 981 miles through hundreds of riverside communities toward its confluence with the Mississippi River near Cairo, Illinois. Six hundred and fifty-five miles of the river form Kentucky’s northern border. Throughout its bordering communities, the river provides numerous local benefits, including a source of drinking water, multiple recreational opportunities, diverse fish and wildlife habitats, and expanding opportunities for economic development and waterfront revitalization.

However, threats continue from stormwater runoff, agricultural runoff, mercury deposition from coal-fired plants, industrial wastewater discharges, and millions of gallons of untreated sewage that flow into the river each year from sewer overflows. Plus, over the last two years, evidence indicates that government pollution prevention and enforcement programs are not working well. According to a report from the Environment America Research & Policy Center, the Ohio River ranks number one in the country for toxic discharge pollution.

To combat this growing problem, KWA has led a coalition of organizations working to guarantee water quality and aquatic habitat on the Ohio River continues to improve since 2005. Together we’ve been able to protect the health of people who play, swim, and fish on the river by fighting against harmful standards that would have lowered the river’s water quality.

A primary instrument of protection for the Ohio River basin is the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO).  Established in 1948, it is an interstate commission that operates programs designed to control and abate pollution in the Ohio River Basin.  Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia are the eight member states who work together towards improving water quality across the Ohio River and its tributaries.

Some of the ORSANCO programs include: setting waste water discharge standards; performing biological assessments; monitoring the chemical and physical properties of the waterways; conducting special surveys and studies; promoting applied research, public education and participation in these programs; coordinating emergency response activities; and facilitating the exchange of information and technology among federal agencies and member states.

In 2006 we claimed a huge victory when we fought against standards proposed by the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) that would have allowed increased amounts of sewage-related bacteria into the water during peak recreation season. And our campaign against #Mercury Rising in the Ohio is ongoing as we stay active in the fight to curb mercury pollution in the Ohio River.  We also comment on various changes that ORSANCO proposes to its Pollution Control Standards.  These standards are set by ORSANCO “for industrial and municipal wastewater discharges to the Ohio River, and tracks certain dischargers whose effluent can seriously impact water quality.  The standards designate specific uses for the Ohio, and establish guidelines to ensure that the river is capable of supporting these uses.  To keep pace with the current issues, ORSANCO reviews the standards every three years.  As part of the review process, workshops an public hearings are held for public input.”

If you wish to learn more about the work ORSANCO is doing in your backyard, visit them here.

Ohio River Watershed Map