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Vote Could Sunset Protections for Ohio River

Could communities such as Marietta suffer if regional Ohio River pollution controls are eliminated? (Mike/Flickr)
Could communities such as Marietta suffer if regional Ohio River pollution controls are eliminated? (Mike/Flickr)
October 1, 2018

COLUMBUS, Ohio – A vote this week will determine if Ohio and other states will lose some pollution control standards for the Ohio River.

Consisting of representatives of the eight watershed states and the federal government, the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, known as ORSANCO, sets uniform pollution standards for the states along the river's 981-mile course to the Mississippi River.

On Thursday, commissioners will vote on a plan to scrap their standards and allow state and federal standards to take precedent.

It’s a move that Gail Hesse, director of the Great Lakes Water Program for the National Wildlife Federation, says would have a big impact on communities along the river.

"In cities like Cincinnati, they've just made an enormous investment in their waterfront properties and its paying off for them,” she points out. “And to think about turning the clock back and allow for environmental degradation of water flowing through those areas just is the wrong move.”

Those favoring the proposed change say each of the states has its own water quality standards, making ORSANCO redundant.

The Ohio River is the source of drinking water for 5 million people.

Hesse points out that unlike the states, ORSANCO is responsible for overseeing pollution controls for the entire river system, a kind of oversight that the proposal would bring to an end.

"Ohio could have one set of standards for its section of the river, but just across the river on the other side Kentucky could have a completely different set of standards,” she explains. “And so establishing a framework for inconsistency we believe is a bad idea."

Hesse adds that ORSANCO assists the member states, where environmental agencies are often understaffed, with assessing pollution risks and setting control standards.

And she contends that the potential impact of turning control of pollution permits over to the individual states has not been adequately studied.

"There has not been any analysis about what consequences might happen looking at the disparities across the states and what that might mean for permit limits, both existing and potential future permittees along the river," she stresses.

Hesse says uniform, shared standards are the most efficient, effective and fair way to manage the Ohio River.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH