Ohio River Case Study

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The Ohio River Basin, covering a drainage area of 204,000 square miles, extends 1,306 miles from the headwaters of the Alleghany River in Potter County, Pennsylvania, to the confluence of the Ohio River with the Mississippi River at Cairo, Illinois. With a length of 981 miles from the confluence of the Alleghany and Monan-gahela rivers with the Ohio River at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Cairo, Illinois, and a drainage area of 192,200 square miles, the Ohio River is the largest single tributary to the Mississippi River. In the United States, the Ohio River ranks tenth in length and third in mean annual discharge (258,000 cfs) (Iseri and Langbein, 1974).

Figure 11-1 highlights the location of the Ohio River case study watersheds (catalog units) identified along the Ohio River as major urban-industrial areas (e.g., Cincinnati, Ohio, and Louisville, Kentucky) affected by severe water pollution problems during the 1950s and 1960s (see Table 4-2). In this chapter, information is presented to characterize long-term trends in population, municipal wastewater infrastructure and effluent loading of pollutants, ambient water quality, environmental resources, and uses of the Ohio River. Data sources include USEPA's national water quality database (STORET), published technical literature, and unpublished technical reports ("grey" literature) obtained from the Ohio River Valley Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) and other local agency sources.

The ORSANCO district encompasses three-quarters of the basin, accounting for 155,000 square miles of the Ohio River watershed. The district contains nearly one-tenth of the nation's population in one-twentieth of the nation's continental area. Ten percent of the people in the watershed receive their water supply from the Ohio River. Population densities in the ORSANCO district range from less than 50 people per square mile in the southwest to more than 600 in the eastern urban centers. Land use in the area is primarily agricultural, but concentrations of industry, coal mining, and oil and gas drilling are present throughout the region. In addition to agricultural and industrial uses, the Ohio River supports fish and wildlife habitats, water-based recreation, navigation, and power generation.

Utility of the Ohio River had significantly declined by the 1930s as the result of rising discharges of raw sewage and untreated industrial waste. Widespread public concern was spurred by drought-induced epidemics in 1930 and continually high levels of bacterial pollution. Citizens of the Ohio River Valley proposed a regional approach to water quality management in the form of an interstate compact. Eight states joined the Ohio River Valley Sanitation Commission in 1948, setting a precedent for

cooperation among state, local, and private interests and the federal government for unifying waste management within individual watersheds. The benefits of pollution control standards implemented through this region-wide compact have been significant to the overall condition of waterways in the Ohio River Basin.

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