Who is in office matters for protecting our water quality | Kentuckians For The Commonwealth

Who is in office matters for protecting our water quality

The Ohio River Valley Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) is a water pollution control agency established in 1948 among eight states that border the Ohio River. Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia celebrated the 70th anniversary of ORSANCO in 2018.

Since its creation, ORSANCO has made great progress in its ultimate mission of protecting and preserving the water from the Ohio River for legitimate uses. But with great steps forward come big leaps backwards as the ORSANCO commissioners voted in June to make the agency’s water pollution standards voluntary. With the no-longer mandatory regulations, many anticipate more threats to our environment, economy, and public health.

Nineteen of the 21 representatives on the ORSANCO board voted in favor of the voluntary standards. Nineteen who ignored the abundance of calls, the more than 4,000 emails and the cries of concerned citizens whom occupy the basin. Nineteen members who neglected their responsibility to protect the health of the Ohio River and those who rely on it.

The Ohio River supports 27 million people (10 percent of the U.S. population) with drinking water, jobs, recreational activities and more. It supports diverse aquatic ecosystems – nearly half of freshwater fish and one-third of mussel species in the U.S. can be found in the river.

The Ohio River also is a working river, meaning it provides the necessary water resources to support industries for manufacturing and energy production. With industrial use comes the likely potential of pollutants being released into the water, making it unsuitable for others.

Part of the importance of ORSANCO’s water pollution standards, other than the obvious, is it provides a framework for regional cooperation and agreement on pollution limits and ensures individual states are accountable and cannot cause harm downstream to the 981-mile-long river.

With the rise of petrochemical plants along the Ohio, this is a problem far from going away. According to scientists, natural gas infrastructure leaks methane at a higher rate than burning coal. It is also known that through the process of fracking and plastic production the chemicals released are “carcinogenic, endocrine disrupting, and obesogenic” that become persistent and more prevalent the more our environment is exposed.

Another threat we cannot ignore is nutrient pollution (includes sedimentation and storm water pollution). According to a recent ORSANCO report, this issue is only getting worse, one reason being the outbreak of blue-green algae along the river.

The reason we experience algae outbreaks is due to an excess of nitrogen and phosphorus in the water – which typically is a result from agriculture runoff (manure and fertilizers). Blue-green algae is harmful because when the bacteria die and split open, toxins are released that are very poisonous to animals specifically and even aquatic life.

Adding to the waste, rainwater runoff and sewage overflow also contribute to increased algal blooms as well as pollution to our water. A sewage overflow is when our raw sewage exceeds the pipe capacity and falls directly in our waterways, and ten percent of these outfalls contributes to the Ohio River.

I bring these threats to attention because they show our river is not clean, if you can’t already tell by its murky brown appearance. The purpose of the Ohio River Valley Sanitation Commission reads: 

“ORSANCO and its member states have cooperated to improve water quality in the Ohio River Basin, ensuring the river can be used for drinking, industrial supplies, and recreational purposes; and can support a healthy and diverse aquatic community. ORSANCO operates monitoring programs to check for pollutants and toxins that may interfere with specific uses of the river.”

Obviously, these issues aren’t going to go away overnight, and I’m not denying that ORSANCO has done great work the past 70 years working towards its goals. But we still aren’t there yet. Why weaken your stance when half the fight isn’t even through?

Water boil advisories are becoming more common. Not being able to swim or kayak because of toxins is the norm. Fish aren’t safely consumable out of the Ohio. And our aquatic life is dying because of the chemicals released into the waters.

The Ohio River always has faced threats from pollutants. But this river that supports more than five million people with drinking water faces more problems than ever. We need to tighten up to enforce and create laws that help protect the Ohio, not lean back.

With a federal administration that has been successful in 43 environmental rollbacks with 34 more in progress, we need an agency that will uphold strict regulations. Voluntary adherence to water quality standards means they eventually will become nonexistent. 

One thing I encourage readers to do is vote in upcoming elections. The governor of each state has the power to appoint new commissioners to represent that state, and the federal representatives get appointed by that current administration. If we elect leaders who align more with our needs and goals, the commissioners they appoint will represent the vision we want.

It is time we step up for our health and the environment. It is time for our needs to be heard and addressed. It is time for change, and that starts with us.




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