Kentucky Waterways Alliance has long held that the health of the Ohio River (“La Belle Riviere”) is critical to the well-being of our Commonwealth and country, both its citizens and wildlife. KWA has been working for 30 years to protect it. The Ohio River Basin is a region of 204,000 square miles covering parts of 14 states and including a population of nearly 25 million people. For 664 miles the Ohio River flows along the Kentucky shore. KWA is pleased to see renewed attention from many sectors focused on restoring, protecting, and celebrating the Ohio River, one of the great rivers of the world.
Bad News and Good News:
First, the bad news: A report released in September 2022 by Environment America titled “Wasting our Waterways” noted that heavy industries including coal-fired power plants, steel and aluminum manufacturers, petrochemical plants dumped 41 million pounds of toxic pollution, including “forever chemicals” polyfluoroalkyl substances – known as PFAS, into the Ohio River watershed, more than any other in the United States in 2020. Ward Wilson, KWA’s Executive Director says, “It's disheartening to hear that the Ohio River once again is at the top of this list of polluted waterways. But let's not write it off - it is still a beautiful river and deserves to be protected, restored, and yes, even celebrated.”
And now the good news: The river is healthier than it’s been in one hundred years. But there is much work left to accomplish. The National Wildlife Federation (KWA is the NWF Kentucky affiliate) and the Ohio River Basin Alliance (ORBA) are overseeing a process to craft a regional restoration plan to protect and restore the Ohio River, its tributaries, wetlands, and surrounding habitats in the 14-state region. The restoration plan will address serious threats to fish, wildlife, and people, including problems such as sewage contamination, mining waste, polluted runoff, and toxic pollution. The plan will also seek to reverse environmental injustices, including inadequate water sanitation services, unaffordable drinking water, and flooding concerns. The restoration plan will be delivered to the U.S. Congress in 2023, with the goal of securing new federal investments to implement the plan and to provide clean, safe, and affordable water to every person in the region. This restoration plan is modeled on successful large-scale initiatives to restore Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes regions. KWA held a Listening Session for the restoration plan in August, on one of the hottest and most humid days of the summer. A capacity crowd filled the unairconditioned Community Boathouse located just steps from the Ohio River, demonstrating their support and passion for the health of the Ohio River.
In addition to our work with NWF, KWA also applauds the efforts of many volunteer and nonprofit groups who are committed to the Ohio River. KWA is engaged with organizations large and small whose work benefits the Ohio River, including Salt River Watershed Watch, Rotary Club of Louisville, Ohio River Way, Payne Hollow on the Ohio, AFLOAT: An Ohio River Way of Life, Artist at Exit Zero, Albertus Gorman, and watershed groups across the state. KWA encourages our members to join us in being a voice for the Ohio River.