Can you imagine if the Ohio River and its tributaries had legal rights? While speculative, the idea isn't necessarily far-fetched.
The Rankin Bridge crosses over the Monongahela River between the boroughs of Rankin and Whitaker, near Pittsburgh. (Credit: Kimberly Rowen/PublicSource)<p>Thomas Linzey, co-founder and senior legal counsel of the Pennsylvania-based Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund [CELDF], sees the creation of the bill of rights as a tool to go beyond the protection offered by existing environmental regulations. His organization helped draft the measure, which has served as inspiration for similar proposals in cities like Buffalo, New York, and Flint, Michigan.</p><p>"I think Toledo is a real watershed moment," Linzey said. Residents took local action because "it got bad enough for people to shift gears."</p><p>In Pittsburgh, the idea of extending specific rights to a river is hypothetical — the mayor's office said that rights-of-nature legislation is not currently being discussed. The city, however, was previously a leader in rights-of-nature legislation with a 2010 ordinance that banned natural gas drilling by giving Pittsburgh residents the legal standing to sue on behalf of the natural environment.</p><p>Ordinances of this type, however, are largely symbolic until courts either uphold or strike them down.</p><p>"In Pittsburgh and wherever else these laws exist, they're just sitting there, not doing any good there," Linzey said. "Folks need to start picking them up and enforcing."</p><p>But not everyone feels that way. Industry groups largely bristle at local ordinances that go beyond state and federal regulations, and state courts have struck down several local ordinances with language rebuking municipalities for overstepping their authority. And though they agree with the end goal, even some environmentalists question if the fight to push an untested area of law is worth the potential financial costs from litigation and loss in community morale if a law is defeated.</p><p>A recent complaint involving a "community bill of rights" adopted by Todd Township in Huntingdon County, Pa., is an example of the pushback rights-of-nature ordinances can face. The 2018 ordinance, which was later repealed, included a ban on two types of industrial agriculture and was drafted with help from CELDF. It's been bluntly opposed by Pennsylvania Attorney General's office, which said in a March 2019 response to the complaint that the ordinance is "without doubt" in violation of state law and must be repealed to avoid costly litigation.</p><p>"CELDF knows this," the filing said. "[M]ore to the point, so do the Courts."</p>
State of the law<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjY1MTE0NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMDA1ODc4Nn0.v694td9j3GJCtsjp-P9RwoF3koVPwlODfJSPT9LzS4Y/img.jpg?width=980" id="82c9f" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b79f020dbac881745ac0f579590b86a8" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A tugboat pushes barges along the Ohio River at the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers, near Point State Park in Pittsburgh. (Credit: Ryan Loew/PublicSource)<p>So why give rights to nature? Don't the state and federal government already enforce environmental regulations?</p> <p>That's the argument made by some industry groups that contend local environmental ordinances create a burdensome patchwork of rules municipalities aren't authorized to enforce.</p> <p>David Spigelmyer, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, said in a statement to PublicSource that oil and gas drilling in Pennsylvania is already regulated appropriately and "so-called model ordinances or zoning proposals" pushed by environmental groups "are nothing more than backdoor attempts at banning strongly regulated natural gas development."</p> <p>Linzey and other advocates, meanwhile, think current state and federal rules don't do enough.</p> <p>"What we've worked on for the past 15 years is actually creating a legal argument that says the city does have that authority, and the city authority can override the state permit" Linzey said. "And that's still a radical notion in legal circles."</p> <p>In 2006, Tamaqua Borough in Schuylkill County, Pa., became the first place in the United States to recognize rights of nature in law when it banned toxic sewage dumping. </p> <p>In 2013 and 2014, Highland Township in Chester County and Grant Township in Indiana County, respectively, adopted ordinances that banned hydraulic fracturing waste dumping. Both laws were challenged by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection [DEP] on the notion that they violated the state's exclusive right to regulate natural gas activity under the 2012 Oil and Gas Act. Highland's case was settled in favor of the DEP, but Grant's case is ongoing. </p> <p>A case involving the local authority of Robinson Township in Allegheny County to regulate fracking opened a pathway to limited local control. </p> <p>In 2013, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that Robinson Township did not have authority to ban fracking, though it could restrict where it happens. The ruling was partly based on a provision in the state Constitution called the Pennsylvania Environmental Rights Amendment. </p> <p>The 1971 amendment bestows the right to a clean environment on all Pennsylvania residents. In 2017, the state Supreme Court reaffirmed its 2013 decision, stating that the Robinson Township ruling was widely applicable to other municipalities.</p> <p>Grant MacIntyre, director of the University of Pittsburgh's Environmental Law Clinic, sees this ruling as a landmark environmental decision. The initial case "started to upend what people assumed was the existing structure for interpreting that amendment," he said, and the 2017 case "firmly placed the Environmental Rights Amendment back into the legal narrative."</p> <p>The amendment grants rights to people — not natural entities like the Ohio River. But MacIntyre said the "the values in that amendment are certainly those that express value for the environment in a way that would seem to align with a natural rights movement."</p> <p>Industry and agricultural groups view the Environmental Rights Amendment differently.</p> <p>Mark O'Neill, director of media and strategic communications for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, said current state regulation is consistent with the charge of the amendment. Local governments are permitted "considerable latitude in regulating farming" under state restrictions, O'Neill said. But "the key here for municipalities is that they exercise their regulatory authority in a reasonable, not punitive way."</p> <p>O'Neill also noted that Pennsylvania courts have repeatedly struck down local ordinances.</p> <p>Emily Collins is watching rights-of-nature cases closely. She is the executive director of Fair Shake Environmental Legal Services, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit law firm.</p> <p>Collins said potential clients come to her organization "literally out of desperation...mostly because they thought they had a right [to protect their environment], but the government isn't treating them like they do."</p> <p>But she's cautious to recommend rights-of-nature ordinances. She's seen communities "feel complete burnout" after seeing their ordinances fail to be upheld in the courts. </p> <p>"I think there's a limited amount of civic engagement and energy that you can put into these environmental questions that communities are facing," she said. "I would rather harness that energy to do something that I know is possible."</p>
Costs and strategy<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjY1MTE0MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNjQ0MDU0MX0.H-g465sIjvNSiQcYBpEQ8srbn6vYPk8ls2FOdcpn5NY/img.jpg?width=980" id="4b591" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="08d8a3748262f740cf0dc03600c9e3d1" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
David McKeag of Chalfant, Pa., casts into the Monongahela River at the Braddock boat ramp on Jan. 30, 2020. (Credit: Kimberly Rowen/PublicSource)<p>Chad Nicholson sees both promise and risk in rights-of-nature ordinances.</p><p>One afternoon in April, Nicholson stood at the Braddock, Pa., "beach," the site of a small cement dock for boats to come out of the river, adjacent to U.S. Steel's Edgar Thomson Steel Works. U.S. Steel has faced public criticism and multiple lawsuits over the harm of pollution and violation of air quality permits. Plans to allow fracking at the plant have also drawn criticism, though officials in nearby boroughs <a href="https://www.publicsource.org/the-well-next-door-east-pittsburgh-and-north-braddock-diverge-on-the-local-impact-of-proposed-fracking" target="_blank">both support and oppose the move</a>.</p><p>"The system is too cooked. We can't tweak it," Nicholson said, looking out at the Monongahela River. "We have to create something new." Nicholson, a Pennsylvania-based organizer for CELDF, believes rights-of-nature laws could be that something. </p><p>He notes, though, that a small borough like Braddock might not be well-positioned to pursue a hypothetical rights of nature legal battle — they're costly, both monetarily and in community morale. When towns are considering an ordinance, he asks, "Are you prepared to go bankrupt?"</p><p>Grant Township in Indiana County is concerned about that prospect. In an attempt to stop a frack-waste injection site, township supervisors in 2014 adopted a community bill of rights containing rights-of-nature language. Shortly after, Pennsylvania General Energy [PGE] filed a lawsuit that settled in April, after five years of litigation. Grant Township owes PGE just more than $100,000 in compensation for legal fees the corporation spent suing the township.</p><p>"We don't have it," said Stacy Long, vice chair of the Grant Township Board of Supervisors and board member of the East Run Hellbenders Society, an environmental group formed to oppose drilling. "I offered them a $250 Sheetz card," she said, chuckling. </p><p>In a <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-fracking-lawsuits-insight/green-groups-unconventional-fight-against-fracking-idUSKCN0P90E320150629" target="_blank">June 2015 Reuters article</a> about the township's efforts, Linzey was quoted saying that bankruptcy may be a necessary consequence for a municipality to push the rights-of-nature movement forward.</p>
The Allegheny River in Pittsburgh. (Credit: Jay Manning/PublicSource)<p>Long said she feels Pennsylvania's current environmental law has failed her community and the natural environment: "You have to wait to get polluted or poisoned, and then you can sue, but not before that."</p><p>In October, the DEP presented opening arguments in its <a href="https://www.indianagazette.com/news/hellbenders-have-their-day-in-court/article_a3381998-edaf-5743-8277-e2ac71ee60e6.html" target="_blank">lawsuit against Grant Township</a> for its attempts to limit oil and gas fracking. The DEP asserted the township's efforts were in direct opposition to the DEP's permitting process.</p><p>Lauren Fraley, the southwest regional community relations coordinator for the DEP, said the agency cannot comment on ongoing litigation. She referred to filings in the case in which DEP affirms the rights of municipalities to use zoning restrictions to promote environmental health. She also noted that if Pennsylvania residents believe DEP protections are insufficient, they have a right to advocate for change.</p><p>"Where citizens and local officials believe that existing regulation is insufficient, they have a few options: lobby state and federal representatives to pass laws providing more legal authority to regulate an activity; pass lawful ordinances within local authority to address the issues of concern (where the local government holds authority and is not preempted), and petition the regulatory authorities directly, like EPA, DEP, PUC, etc. to seek to have enhanced rules created," Fraley wrote in an email.</p><p>Thomas Hoffman, a clean water organizer for the Pennsylvania chapter of the Sierra Club, noted the importance of political organizing.</p><p>"The current strategy of the environmental movement is too reliant on legal strategy," he said.</p><p>For instance, he criticizes the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority [ALCOSAN] for not doing enough to address flooding and industrial runoff in its plans to invest $2 billion to reduce sewage contamination in local rivers. <a href="https://www.publicsource.org/how-much-green-infrastructure-will-be-included-in-alcosans-2-billion-upgrade-to-prevent-sewage-overflows/" target="_blank">ALCOSAN has repeatedly said</a> that its scope is limited to reducing sewage overflows. To advocate for more, the Sierra Club's Clean Rivers Campaign has a political strategy that includes public education, walking tours, petition signing and lobbying.</p><p>In Linzey's view, rights-of-nature laws are about more than court battles.</p><p>"What you're seeing is not just a legal strategy, it's an organizing strategy," he said. Ultimately, Linzey doesn't want to only see laws change. "It's not just a seismic shift in the law that has to happen," he said. "It's a seismic shift in thinking about nature that has to happen."</p>
I live in Mount Washington, on the east side of Cincinnati, roughly the midpoint of the 981-mile Ohio River. Below us, near the mouth of the Little Miami River, marinas, barge terminals and Cincinnati Water Works' Miller Treatment Plant line the river's bank.
Biologists testing fish species in the Ohio River. (Illustration by David Wilson for Belt Magazine)<p>ORSANCO is still going. These days, it monitors the river at locks, dams and tributaries for metals, radiation, chemicals and biologicals. Their biologists are out there every summer, electrically stunning and counting fish for the largest river fishery dataset in existence.</p> <p>Key to my health — and yours, if you live in a municipality along the Ohio's banks — is their source water protection program, through which ORSANCO partners with drinking water utilities. For example, ORSANCO operates an organic compound detection system, which monitors around the clock for spills. When one occurs, ORSANCO staff track, model and share information with downstream water utilities. ORSANCO also sets pollution control standards for levels of contaminants, based on their impairment of four essential uses of the river: drinking and industrial water supply, recreation and habitat for fish and wildlife.</p><p>A few years ago, ORSANCO's board of commissioners flirted with eliminating its pollution control standards. The reason, according to ORSANCO Chief Engineer and Executive Director Richard Harrison, is that the Clean Water Act had developed to a point that some people on the commission felt there were now redundancies between ORSANCO and the federal act — and that this entailed altogether too much regulation. "The thought that you can put everything in a regulatory arena and have the same level of investment in infrastructure replacement just isn't accurate," he said.</p><p>ORSANCO embarked on a multi-year review process that resulted in June 2019 with the decision to revise those standards to allow for "greater flexibility" among its member states. There was immediate blowback. Over three public sessions, four hearings and multiple webinars, the commission received more than 10,000 comments, almost all of them against revising the standards it had long set. It's the word "flexibility" that vexes many concerned citizens who worry it removes a much-needed check on polluters.</p><p>The news came at what felt like a bad time for the Ohio River. Cincinnati's "Bill Keating Jr. Great Ohio Swim," the only open water swim across the Ohio and back, was canceled in October due to a harmful algal bloom (HAB). The Trump administration's repeal of Obama-era protections of drinking water supplies was ringing in my ears. And for the umpteenth year running, the Ohio River had been listed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] as the dirtiest river in America based on raw tonnage of emissions. </p> <p>ORSANCO's seemingly softened stance felt like a steadfast defender of our river had put down its sword.</p><p>Harrison told me the recent revision doesn't in any way change its mission to protect the four uses of the river. And while the compact grants the commission authority to "issue orders on any entity discharging sewage or industrial waste," per the ORSANCO agreement, it falls to the states to actually enact legislation necessary to maintain their Ohio River waters according to the standards. In practice, enforcement happens through the EPA, which publishes its own water quality standards, and the National Pollutants Discharge Elimination System, which is part of the Clean Water Act.</p><p>Tom Fitzgerald, a federally appointed ORSANCO commissioner and director of the Kentucky Resources Council, was a voice of both dissent and compromise in the revision process. The latest review of the pollution control standards revealed that one state, Illinois, wasn't applying any of ORSANCO's standards to its discharge permitting and another, Ohio, was only using some of them, he explained. (Ohio has since moved to implement them.) Some ORSANCO commissioners argued that the discrepancy in application of the standards was leading to undue confusion.</p><p>"The reality is there's no mechanism in those pollution control standards or in the compact to compel a member state to use the standards," Fitzgerald told me. For ORSANCO to compel any one of the member states to comply would be unlikely, given that it requires a vote from two out of three of the commissioners appointed by each of the states, including the offending state. And for ORSANCO to force compliance on one of its member states would have a corrosive effect, he said, jeopardizing by extension the other vital roles ORSANCO fills.</p><p>But outright elimination of these historically agreed-upon standards "would have sent entirely the wrong message at a time when the science behind pollution control and the premise that you don't compromise public health for economic considerations are under attack," and when the EPA's standards are being delayed, repealed and otherwise revised, Fitzgerald said. "I think that for ORSANCO to have signaled a retreat on water quality would have been devastating."</p>
The Ohio River near Sewickley, Pa. (Credit: Nick Childers/PublicSource)<p>The muddy Ohio was unusually clear at Cincinnati this year. Near the banks you could actually see the bottom. But pretty quickly, a green film of algae formed in the water. As the date of the "Bill Keating Jr. Great Ohio Swim" approached, Miriam Wise was paying close attention to E.coli and harmful algae levels in ORSANCO's weekly water quality reports. Wise works for Adventure Crew, the nonprofit that organizes the swim. Adventure Crew hoped conditions would change, that the HAB would drift downstream. When it didn't, they canceled the swim. That's a shame, Wise said, because registrations for the event have been on the rise. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has also seen increased registration for kayaks and canoes. People are flocking back to the river, which feeds back into a wellspring of support.</p><p>The Ohio River Paddlefest, which Wise also organizes, wasn't canceled. This August event is the largest group paddle in the nation. The Ohio is closed to motorized and barge traffic for an en masse 10-mile float. As usual, thousands turned out. Kayaks and canoes spread across the mile-wide river in a bright flotilla. Wise said the event reconnects people with the river, which they then share, counteracting the bad rap for "the most valuable natural resource in the region," she said. </p><p>During the summer, Brewster Rhoads, who founded the Ohio River Paddlefest, swims in the river about five times a week from the Ohio River Launch Club, where he moors his steel, motorless double-decker Kelly houseboat. Rhoads has lived in Mount Washington much longer than me — since the 1980s — but like me, his preferred route into the city follows the water. Over the decades, he's watched that neighborhood, Cincinnati's historic East End, transform as Mom and Pop shops close with the departure of residents whose livelihoods were tied to the river. This was the center of Cincinnati's booming steamboat industry. Steamboat captains lived here, he said. And a couple of grand (if dilapidated) old dames still stand there, with high turret rooms that take in the broad sweep of water.</p><p>Photographers Charles Fontayne and William S. Porter captured the history of this place in their first panorama of an American city: "Daguerrotype View of Cincinnati." The image was taken from a Newport, Kentucky rooftop in September 1848, almost exactly a century before the ORSANCO compact was signed in Cincinnati. </p> <p>This length of bank is shown in the eighth and final plate of the series. It's a diagonal shot across the upriver water. Dozens of silvery sternwheelers stand along the banks at what was then called Fulton, named for the inventor of the commercial steamboat. Timber and industrial detritus tumble into the river beneath smoke-shrouded, denuded hills. In the foreground, just off the Kentucky shore, a man drives his horse and cart in the shallows. Held up to the present, it completes a picture of how deeply we have relied on this waterway, how hard we have used it. How central it was and will always be to the landscape and communities through which it wends.</p><p>Our present economic connection to the river is no less real, but easier to overlook. Energy generated along its banks travels over high-tension lines from rural power stations. Riverside utilities and industries are boxed in behind high levees and fencing. </p> <p>Meanwhile, in that familiar succession of neighborhoods, the old riverside villages are being replaced by new communities for those who can afford a premium river view. In downtown Cincinnati, as in many river cities, millions are being invested in riverfront development that draws on the beauty and sense of place only a river can provide. The shift from industrial to commercial and residential is probably good for the river's overall ecology, Rhoads thinks. And while location alone doesn't connect you with the river the way swimming or paddling these waters will, those new water-facing windows have potential to build what Rhoads calls "a constituency of concern for the health of the river."</p>
A castle-like tower at the Cincinnati Water Works' Miller Treatment Plant. (Illustration by David Wilson for Belt Magazine)<p>So if ORSANCO was never an enforcer, how did it manage to accomplish so much? And what does that say about its the future?</p> <p>Edward J. Cleary, ORSANCO's first director, believed the commission's success lay in its appeal to the ultimate authority on the fate of the river: public opinion. From the beginning, it mounted PR and community action campaigns in some 3,000 riverside cities and towns, made films, held rallies, all of which garnered citizen support at the ballot box for the bond issues that primarily financed water-treatment infrastructure. In "The ORSANCO Story: Water Quality Management in the Ohio Valley," Cleary, an engineer, writer and former employee of Thomas Edison, estimated the project came out to an average price of about $100 per capita across the Ohio River Valley.</p><p>ORSANCO is still waging a PR campaign for a river that many, including environmental activists, say still has an image problem: its designation as the most polluted waterway in America, based on the EPA's annual toxic inventory report. </p> <p>News reports touting those numbers do the river a disservice, Harrison said, because they don't account for overall volume, flow and other factors like where discharges occur. Under normal flow conditions, he said, from a bacterial standpoint the river is safe for recreation. "When you look at the Ohio River Sweep [the annual volunteer-powered cleanup ORSANCO organizes along the river's entire length], when you look at the Ohio River Recreation Trail, and at the Great Ohio River Swim, these are all events that show that in actuality the river is in amazing condition."</p><p>In the coming years, ORSANCO must adapt, developing programs to guard against emerging contaminants with difficult-to-pronounce names, even as it tracks legacy pollutants and residual damage from mining and industry past. Next year, Harrison told me, they will be partnering with the EPA on sampling for perfluorinated compounds, or PFAS, which are the focus of lawsuits against DuPont for releasing them into the Ohio. HABs, like the one in 2019 that covered 300 miles of river or a 2015 bloom that covered 700 miles, are a complex new threat to health, by no means unique to the Ohio River Valley.</p><p>And then there's a past that threatens to return. "There's the issue of the viability of small drinking water and wastewater systems," Fitzgerald said. "You know we almost have two worlds out there. We have those cities and those communities that can afford safe and reliable treatment and we have those systems that have failing or close-to-failing drinking water systems." </p><p>A river as powerful and important as the Ohio lays the groundwork for many possible futures. ORSANCO, it seems, has a role in all of them. There's just too much at stake. It's essential for all the river's users to sit at the table, because the more eyes on the river, the better. </p>
Looking upstream, the Kinzua Dam seems to protrude brusquely from the Allegheny River.
(Map created by Blue Raster)<p>The formidable Kinzua Dam, which protects Pittsburgh from flooding and pollution, came at a steep price for the Seneca Nation of Indians. They lost nine communities and 10,000 acres of their Allegany Territory to the dam. Pressure from climate change, however, could threaten the protection gained from the Seneca Nation's coerced sacrifice.</p><p>In 1956, plans for the Kinzua Dam — which for the previous two decades had been vague and nebulous — began to move forward. Twenty years earlier, in the infamous St. Patrick's Day Flood, the entire Ohio River Basin had experienced catastrophic flooding. In Pittsburgh alone, water levels rose 21 feet above the usual flood level. In one day.</p><p>The devastation caused by the flood lent urgency to long-standing calls for a flood control project on the Allegheny River. Congress responded by passing the Flood Control Act of 1936, which paved the way for the eventual construction of the Kinzua Dam. Fervor for the project waned for many years as the United States became embroiled in military conflict. By the mid-1950s, Congress and the Army Corps of Engineers were ready to move forward. Dennis Bowen Sr., a Seneca survivor of Kinzua Dam, considers dam building an essential part of the federal government's post-war strategy. "Keep in mind," he says, "that, by the early 1950s, this was after World War II and the Korean War. There were a lot of white families that needed jobs, they needed industry, and those factories, those industries all across the country needed electric power. And so why not steal Indian land and build a dam and make hydroelectric power?"</p><p>In October 1956, against the Seneca Nation's wishes, the Army Corps of Engineers began surveying Allegany Territory land in preparation for the Kinzua Dam. The proposed structure would require the flooding or condemnation of 10,000 acres of the Allegany Territory.</p><p>Much was at stake in the Kinzua Dam challenge: losing their land would eventually cost around 600 Seneca people their homes. In the balance hung communities like Red House, New York. Bowen grew up there, on the Allegany Territory. Red House was a small town that spanned the Allegheny River; connected by the eponymous Red House Bridge. He remembers his town as self-sufficient; its residents regularly canned vegetables, cut firewood, fished and hunted. Living there, he was happy.</p><p>Red House lay in the Kinzua Dam's "take area" — defined by the Army Corps of Engineers as any land behind the structure that fell below 1,365 feet of elevation. All of that land became subject to a flowage easement, meaning it could experience flooding due to the operations of the reservoir. Some of it is permanently inundated, construction or habitation is prohibited on the rest. The Army Corps used the flowage easement to forcefully relocate the inhabitants of the take area, including those of Red House and other towns. They then burned the towns. According to Bowen, his childhood home is the first one shown succumbing to the flames in the 2017 documentary <em>Lake of Betrayal.</em> Many of the markers of traditional Seneca life, like their houses, wood stoves and gardens, were consumed in such fires. The losses, both physical and intangible, reverberated across the Seneca Nation.</p><p>Stephen Gordon, a Seneca elder, grew up in a town called Coldspring, which was also within Kinzua Dam's take area. In Coldspring, he was surrounded by fluent speakers of the Seneca language. According to Gordon, his great-grandmother, Hannah Abrams, championed the continued use of their language in the home. She would say to his mother, "You leave that English language at the road. You don't bring it into this house. It isn't spoken here."</p><p>In his mother's time and in his own, the New York state public education system aggressively pushed assimilation for Native children. The education system, Gordon relates, hoped to erase his community's indigeneity. "They wanted us to become a part of the melting pot. And in order to do that, it was important that the education system drill it into us that you have to learn English, you have to learn mathematics, you have to learn history. And that your history doesn't matter," he says.</p>
The Kinzua Dam spillway. (Credit: Maria Diaz-Gonzalez/PublicSource)<p>Despite this, the Seneca language persisted, especially among older adults. Many Seneca elders however, passed away in the aftermath of the condemnation and burning of their homelands. They died, Bowen stresses, of broken hearts.</p><p>The devastation nearly stifled the passing down of the Seneca language. "That was the signal," Gordon says. He describes 1964 as "the signal of change, of leaving our past behind."</p><p>With an entire world at stake — a homeland, a way of life, a language — the Seneca Nation did not want to cede its territory and launched a legal case to protect it.</p><p>The Seneca Nation grounded its legal defense in the Treaty of Canandaigua. The 1794 treaty affirmed a "permanent friendship" between the fledgling United States and the Hodinöhsö:ni (Iroquois Confederacy, of which the Seneca Nation was a member).</p><p>President George Washington ordered the negotiation of the treaty with the hope of preventing a military alliance between the Hodinöhsö:ni and Ohio Territory Natives, which would have posed an existential threat to the United States. The treaty established in writing the extent of the Seneca Nation's territory: an area that encompassed the entirety of western New York. It declared of the land that "the United States will never claim the same, nor disturb the Seneka Nation ... in the free use and enjoyment thereof: but it shall remain theirs, until they choose to sell the same to the people of the United States, who have the right to purchase."</p><p>Robert Odawi Porter, a lawyer and former president of the Seneca Nation, asserts that treaties with Native Nations are legally the same as treaties with international ones. They are negotiated by the president, and ratified by a two-thirds vote in the Senate. They also carry the binding force of federal law.</p><p>In 1956, the Seneca Nation believed in the words of the treaty, and in the significance of George Washington's legally binding promises. Seneca leaders asserted that their lands could not be surveyed or condemned by the Army Corps of Engineers because the Treaty of Canandaigua remained in effect. In early 1957, however, a federal court decided against them. The judge in <em>United States v. 21,250 Acres of Land Etc. </em>ruled that the Seneca Nation could not bar federal agents from entering its territory and could not resist the taking of its land via eminent domain. The ruling declared that the Treaty of Canandaigua could not actually protect Seneca Nation land from seizure because it "cannot rise above the power of Congress to legislate."</p><p>Seneca leaders appealed the ruling. In doing so, they challenged centuries of racist legal precedent. The judge in <em>United States v. 21,250 Acres of Land Etc. </em>cited the 1903 Supreme Court Case <em>Lone Wolf v. Hitchcock</em> to affirm the federal government's right to expropriate treaty-protected reservation lands. The opinion in <em>Lone Wolf </em>granted Congress the right to unilaterally abrogate an Indian treaty, arguing that that no treaty could be interpreted to "materially limit and qualify the controlling authority of Congress ... when the necessity might be urgent for a partition and disposal of the tribal lands."</p><p>The Supreme Court leaned on racist notions about Native Americans to defend this decision. The opinion cited a passage from an earlier Supreme Court case <em>Beecher v. Wetherby</em>. The passage stated that in exercising its power to displace Natives, the federal government would presumably "be governed by such considerations of justice as would control a Christian people in their treatment of an ignorant and dependent race."</p><p>By 1959, these centuries-old forces closed the Seneca Nation's legal options against the Kinzua Dam.</p><p>The Seneca people offered yet another way.</p>
The Allegheny Reservoir, also known as Kinzua Lake, was created by the Kinzua Dam. (Credit: Maria Diaz-Gonzalez/PublicSource)<p>In 1957, Seneca leaders hired civil engineer Arthur E. Morgan, the first chairman of the <a href="https://www.tva.gov/About-TVA/Our-History" target="_blank">Tennessee Valley Authority</a>, to explore alternate flood control solutions for the Pittsburgh region. Over the next three years, Morgan and the Seneca Nation argued in court, on television and before Congress that the Kinzua Dam was not an optimal solution to flooding in the Ohio River Basin.</p><p>Instead, Morgan put forth the Conewango-Cattaraugus Plan. In it, he proposed a diversion dam near Coldspring, New York, to divide the flow of the Allegheny River. According to a Buffalo Courier-Express newspaper article from April 10, 1960, Morgan's dam would reroute some of the river's water into two outlets: Lake Erie and Conewango Creek by Waterboro, New York. On its way toward Lake Erie, diverted water would fill a natural depression in Conewango Valley, forming a recreational lake.</p><p>Morgan held that the Conewango-Cattaraugus plan had several advantages over the Kinzua Dam. He contended that having Lake Erie as an outlet provided his plan with much greater water storage capacity than the dam. This would afford the Pittsburgh region increased protection from flood waters and create greater opportunities for hydropower exploration, he says. The engineer also affirmed that the lake at Conewango Valley would be far more stable than the Allegheny Reservoir, whose seasonal fluctuations would reveal several miles of "unsightly mud flats" every year.</p><p>Morgan and the Seneca Nation's efforts succeeded in delaying the construction of the dam and rallying moderate government and strong public support for their cause. Luminaries like Eleanor Roosevelt voiced support for a resolution to the region's flooding problems that could leave Seneca lands undisturbed. Johnny Cash recorded a song "As Long as the Grass Shall Grow," chronicling the battle against the Kinzua Dam. But it was not enough. In late 1957, the Corps hired engineering firm Tippetts-Abbett-McCarthy-Stratton [TAMS] to evaluate its plans and Morgan's proposal. TAMS concluded that the Conewango-Cattaraugus plan would be too expensive. Morgan contended that TAMS was biased in favor of the Corps because the federal agency was its biggest client.</p><p>On Oct. 22, 1960, groundbreaking for the Kinzua Dam began, promising to drown an invaluable part of the Seneca's world.</p><p>The federal government has a long history of betraying Native people for American gain. In Bowen's words, "Indian people have always been the supermarket for America."</p>
The Allegheny Reservoir, also known as Kinzua Lake, was created by the Kinzua Dam. (Credit: Maria Diaz-Gonzalez/PublicSource)<p>At the Kinzua Dam, the Seneca Nation's loss protects the lower Allegheny valley from flooding and from the pollution of Pennsylvania's heritage industries. The Army Corps of Engineers do this by varying the amount of water in the Allegheny Reservoir: they sequester water during periods of heavy precipitation and release it during dry spells. The former prevents downstream flooding and the latter dilutes pollution in the river's water.</p><p>Dams, like people, have lifespans. According to Reilly, the Corps biologist, the buildup of sediment (siltation) defines the lifespan of a dam and reservoir system.</p><p>Doug Helman, a supervisory natural resource manager with the Pittsburgh District of the Army Corps of Engineers, explains that when moving river water approaches a reservoir, it slows down. "And when the water slows down, then those nutrients and chemicals and silt drop down to the bottom of the river."</p><p>Over the years, the buildup of such (sometimes toxic) materials can fill an entire reservoir with sediment and render it <a href="https://caltrout.org/campaigns/matilija-dam" target="_blank">obsolete</a> as a method of flood control. The Allegheny Reservoir is protected from siltation by its length; most of the river's sediment drops off near the reservoir's northern border in the Seneca's Allegany Territory, over 20 miles away from the Kinzua Dam.</p><p>The system however, may face mounting pressure from climate change. According to members of the Pittsburgh District Army Corps of Engineers, the region has in recent years experienced record rainfall. Helman warns that these conditions may require that the Corps release reservoir water from the Kinzua Dam at a greater rate than they would like. This would likely increase flooding downstream.</p><p>Areas upstream of, and not protected by Kinzua Dam are also affected by the changing weather. Mike Debes, a floodplain manager with the Army Corps, says the Allegheny River valley's development history is a leading cause of its flooding problems. "As more and more homes and roads and impervious structures and roads are built, more and more water is working its way into the small creeks, and more and more flooding is occurring."</p>
Fish near the base of Kinzua Dam. (Credit: Maria Diaz-Gonzalez/PublicSource)<p>The growing imperviousness of the river's floodplain, coupled with climate change, are bringing regular floods to communities that had rarely experienced them before. Those flood waters eventually find their way to the Allegheny Reservoir and Kinzua Dam, a system Reilly says is large enough to handle them, though it was built using climate data available before and during the 1960s.</p><p>Debes says the education public officials and community members will need to deal with the wetter reality of the Allegheny River valley will take a lot of time. But the need is pressing. Homes, towns, communities — the very things the water now threatens — are, in Debes' words, "one of the real basic things in life."</p><p>The Kinzua Dam was built during a time in American politics known as the Termination Era: a period after World War II in which the country tried to assimilate all Native people. To this end, in 1953, Congress adopted House Concurrent Resolution 108, which called for dissolution of all Native Nations in New York, Florida, California and Texas as well as other nations it specifically named from other states. </p><p>The resolution sought to "make the Indians within the territorial limits of the United States subject to the same laws and entitled to the same privileges and responsibilities as are applicable to other citizens of the United States." Subjecting Natives to the "same laws" as other American citizens in effect dissolves their governments, institutions and land holdings. In essence, the resolution meant to terminate Native Nations as sovereign, culturally distinct entities.</p><p>Seneca people fought against the Kinzua Dam while the federal government held the position that their entire nation should cease to exist. Even the settlement act that the Seneca Nation negotiated with Congress in 1964, which secured funds for the relocation and rehabilitation of Seneca communities, demanded that the Seneca Nation submit a plan for its own termination by 1967.</p><p>The Seneca Nation was not terminated. Gordon explains that his people always consider seven generations. "The way it was explained to me," he says, "it represents that first generation that we never saw ... and the seventh generation, we will not see." In other words, the first of those seven generations is one's great-great grandparents, and the last is one's great-great grandchildren. According to Caleb Abrams, a young Seneca filmmaker, Seneca leaders used the settlement funds to create a foundation for their future generations by building robust infrastructure, education and social programs.</p><p>The Allegany Territory is a site of resurgence. "I feel like I've noticed a ... growing movement across Indian Country in Native communities all across Turtle Island — North America, as they call it," says Abrams, "where indigenous people of all ages are taking steps to reclaim language and various cultural practices and integrate these things ... into their everyday life."</p><p>Gordon has been witnessing a revival of Seneca culture among the nation's young people: "More of the children want to know who they are ... a lot of our children, if you go to ceremony, you'll see that three-quarters of those in attendance are children."</p><p>The Seneca Nation has strengthened so as to never lose a part of itself again — for this generation and countless after. </p>
The Ohio River watershed is dotted with thousands of small dams.
A mayor’s vision starts with dam removal<p> After years of pushing for the removal of the old steel industry dam crossing the Mahoning River in his northeastern Ohio village near the Pennsylvania border, Lowellville Mayor Jim Iudiciani said it's coming down this summer. </p><p> "They call me the dam mayor, and for good reason, finally," Iudiciani joked. </p><p> Lowellville's low-head dam will be the first in a <a href="https://www.eastgatecog.org/environmental-planning/mahoningriver" target="_blank">regional plan to remove nine dams</a> along the Mahoning, a river that crosses into Pennsylvania and joins the Shenango to form the Beaver River, which flows into the Ohio. </p><p> The Lowellville dam is a series of eight concrete piers that point downstream. The river flows over them lengthwise. Right now, people can't canoe and kayak on the Mahoning without pulling their boats out of the river at this and other dam sites. </p><p> "Getting around the hydraulics at the dams is very dangerous," Iudiciani said. </p><iframe width="100%" height="300" scrolling="no" frameborder="no" allow="autoplay" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/749023993&color=%23ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=true"></iframe><p> Ohio regulators describe low-head dams, which can range from a 25-foot drop-off to just 6 inches, as " <a href="http://watercraft.ohiodnr.gov/lowheaddams" target="_blank">drowning machines</a>" because canoes and other watercraft can get trapped in the recirculating current below the dam and be drawn underwater. </p><p> Once the Lowellville dam is removed, Iudiciani expects more people in canoes and kayaks to make their way down the Mahoning, and he wants his riverfront village to become an outdoor recreation hotspot. </p><p> Near the dam site, Iudiciani said Lowellville plans to build a new park with a livery to rent canoes. Along the riverfront, he said there's talk of a new restaurant, bike and kayak rentals, a yoga studio, a bakery and new living space. </p><p> "We're looking at four- or five-story buildings being built on the river, possibly B&Bs and/or condos with multi-use parking underneath," Iudiciani said, "This whole thing's gonna be a catalyst for us for development." </p>
The regional plan<p> After the <a href="https://www.fishandboat.com/Transact/AnglerBoater/AnglerBoater2019/Documents/2019-0506mj07-fauna.pdf" target="_blank">steel mills closed in the Mahoning Valley</a>, from the 1960s through the early 1980s, the river was still polluted. </p><p> "Back in the early '80s and '90s when the<a href="https://www.epa.ohio.gov/portals/35/documents/mahon94.pdf" target="_blank"> [Ohio Environmental Protection Agency] surveyed this region</a>, they found fish with lesions and tumors on them," said Stephanie Dyer, who serves as environmental program manager for Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, the agency leading the Mahoning dam removal project. "The macroinvertebrate community was poor." </p><iframe width="100%" height="800px" src="https://eastgate.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapJournal/index.html?appid=127a0e7b7db14b38b0b19548cbafaf0f" frameborder="0" scrolling="no"></iframe><p> Once the last steel mill shut down, "...things were slowly turning around. However, we still had the contamination of legacy pollutants there,<em>" </em>Dyer said. In the late 1990s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers started studying <a href="http://www.villageoflowellville.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/MAHONING-MAIN-REPORT-EIS.pdf" target="_blank">dredging the river</a> to remove this legacy pollution from the streambed, but the Corps never moved forward with river cleanup, according to Dyer. </p><p> A more recent <a href="https://www.epa.state.oh.us/Portals/35/tmdl/TSD/Lower%20Mahoning%202013/2013-LMAHO-2_Mahoning%20TSD_FINAL.pdf" target="_blank">study by the Ohio EPA</a> found heavy metals, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in Mahoning River sediment, especially behind low-head dams. Water slows behind dams, <a href="https://science.jrank.org/pages/1942/Dams-Impact-dams.html" target="_blank">creating a pool</a> where sediment and pollution settle out.</p>
James Iudiciani, mayor of Lowellville, Ohio, stands in front of a dam that's scheduled to be removed this summer. He hopes removing the dam will spur economic growth in his community. (Credit: Julie Grant/The Allegheny Front)<p>Eastgate and communities in the Mahoning Valley were looking for solutions. "One of the ideas that everybody tried to rally around ... was not just the dredging, but also the removal of the dams," Dyer said.</p><p>In the early 2000s, an Ohio EPA grant program assisted communities on the nearby Cuyahoga River to remove dams.</p><p><em>"</em>And that's when it started to click here at Eastgate, as well as within the region, that … we can do this on our own as a local community, as a region," she said.</p><p>According to Eastgate, Lowellville has since gotten funding through the Ohio EPA <a href="https://www.epa.ohio.gov/defa/Resource/the-water-resource-restoration-sponsor-program-wrrsp-protects-turkey-creek-estuary" target="_blank">Water Resource Restoration Sponsor Program</a>, in the amount of $2.38 million to remove the Lowellville dam. Three miles downstream, the village of Struthers has secured $2.33 million to remove a dam with funds from the same program and through a portion of a settlement with LTV Corporation, which once operated steel mills in Struthers and Youngstown. Youngstown has secured $6 million to remove three more dams along the Mahoning.</p><p>"This river built the valley," Dyer said. "And so now it's time we all realized, which we're doing, is giving back to the river and creating the free-flowing state it should be in right now."</p>
‘Leave the dam alone’<p>About 20 miles up river, the view of dam removal is much different in Leavittsburg, a rural village in Warren Township.</p><p><em>"</em>You know what? We just want to be left alone," said Edward Anthony, a Warren Township trustee, who points to an October <a href="https://www.tribtoday.com/news/local-news/2019/10/warren-township-residents-question-leavittsburgh-dam-removal/" target="_blank">meeting about removing the dam</a> that was filled with people opposed to the idea. </p><p>Water currently pools behind the dam, and local fire officials say if the dam is removed, they won't have that as a secondary water source for emergencies. Health officials also see a problem. There is no public sewer infrastructure in this part of Trumbull County, and some houses have OEPA permits to treat and release their own sewage into the Mahoning. Frank Migliozzi, health commissioner of the Trumbull County Combined Health District, is concerned that removing the dam will lower water levels, and, "...permitted pipes could be discharging on dry land, instead of into the water," creating problems, he said. </p><p>"So it's a grave concern," Anthony said, "If they proceed with this [dam removal], then we're going to be left with the mess. I think everybody would be happy if they would leave the dam alone."</p><p>Others in Warren Township worry about what the dam removal means for their pontoon boats. </p><p>Russell St. Clair, 70, grew up in Leavittsburg, and for 39 years worked at General Motors, which shut down last year.</p>
Jim Haslett, Mike Arnold and Russell St. Clair (left to right) oppose taking down the Leavittsburg dam because they may lose their fishing spot as well as the slow-moving water that allows them to float on pontoon boats. (Credit: Julie Grant/The Allegheny Front)<p>"My kids grew up fishing in that river," he said. "They fished there every day in the summer when they were off school."</p><p>His grandkids are being raised along the Mahoning too. The dam slows down water behind it, so it's almost like a lake. Floating on pontoon boats, he and his neighbors report catching muskie and perch, seeing river otters and bald eagles.</p><p>"The river now is better than it's ever been," St. Clair said. They worry about how removing the dam will affect their fishing spots and other wildlife.</p><p><em>"</em>We're gonna lose the eagles, the blue herons we have here, the mink, the beaver, the river otter," said Warren Township resident Mike Arnold. "There's nothing for them to eat. The fish will be gone. They can't survive in that kind of water."</p>
‘If you unbuild it, they will come’<p>The Ohio EPA studied water quality in the Mahoning in 2006 and found that the dams in Leavittsburg and other communities were contributing to impairment of fish and other species. According to Eastgate, there has been no "formal determination" of whether, and how much, dam removal in Leavittsburg would impact water levels.</p><p>When a dam is released, there's still going to be water running down the river, "That's not going anywhere, that will always be there," according to Ben Lorson, a fish passage biologist with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.</p><p>"The type of recreation may change a little bit, rather than the large pleasure boats … pontoon boats … you may have more paddle craft canoes and kayaks," he said. </p><p>A dam can create good fishing spots because fish get blocked by the dam, but removing the dam is actually better for fish populations, he said.</p>
The Lowellville dam along the Mahoning River. Like many low-head dams, it's considered a safety hazard. (Credit: Eastgate Regional Council of Governments)<p>"There's kind of this misconception that you're taking a good fishing spot away, when in reality those fish want to go upstream, they're just not able to because the dam's in their way."</p><p>Lorson gives the example of the high quality trout fishery at Spring Creek in Centre County, Pennsylvania. The<a href="https://www.fishandboat.com/Transact/AnglerBoater/AnglerBoater2011/JanuaryFebruary/Documents/04spring_ck.pdf" target="_blank"> fish population behind the McCoy Dam</a> was less than a third of that in the free-flowing parts of the stream. "And once that dam was removed, it slowly caught back up within about three years to what we would expect that trout population to be in the rest of the stream," he said.</p><p>Lisa Hollingsworth-Segedy, director of river restoration for the nonprofit American Rivers, said she's also seen this firsthand in Pennsylvania. "Removing a dam provides an almost instant response ecologically," she said. "I've been out at dam removal sites and within 10 minutes of the equipment being turned off, I've seen fish moving up through where they couldn't get through before. It's that fast."</p><p>According to her calculations using the state's dam safety database, about 10% of Pennsylvania's dams have been removed in the past 20 years. That's <a href="https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=11mZOCGI-p1i_qQl5aFSLPda9VHs9Yv7m&ll=47.25876822009996%2C-113.39461834999997&z=4" target="_blank">330 dams removed of more than 3,000 dams total</a>, making Pennsylvania what she calls a national leader in dam removal.</p><p>Dam removals remind U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fish biologist Jessica Collier of the saying, 'If we build it, they will come' — with a twist. "Oftentimes when it comes to aquatic organism passage, we like to say, 'If you unbuild it, they will come.'"</p>
Bring back sturgeon to the Ohio<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYyODQ4My9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMzMzNzQyMn0.GkzusEFWaib9JpbkisVZa9rquIh-hRDH6BW-PiCd8SA/img.jpg?width=980" id="69869" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="39191aaaf4a6e9eecaf718296c307e16" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fish biologist Jessica Collier holds a small lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) found while conducting population surveys on the Detroit River. (Credit: Justin Chiotti/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)<p>As a graduate student at the University of Toledo, Collier worked on assessing the habitat for <a href="http://wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/species-and-habitats/species-guide-index/fish/lake-sturgeon" target="_blank">lake sturgeon</a> in the Maumee River, where the Toledo Zoo & Aquarium and other partners have been attempting to repopulate the ancient species. The Maumee flows into Lake Erie.</p><p>Lake sturgeon have been largely wiped out from the Great Lakes region. But Collier loves these behemoth, long-nosed, long-lived fish, they can grow to 200 pounds, and live 150 years, and she hopes to see them return to the Ohio River basin as well. </p><p><em>"</em>They've been around since the time when dinosaurs walked on the earth," she said. "Their populations have really taken a hit because of human activity." Today, the fish is considered 'endangered' by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and in every other state and Canadian province throughout most of their range, according to Collier.</p><p>At one time, sturgeon were considered valuable in many industries. Their meat could be smoked and eaten; their eggs were coveted as caviar; "their fat was used as oil for lights, lamps, and they were used to power steamships," Collier explained. </p><p>But lake sturgeon were overfished, their habitat destroyed and their long migration paths to spawn, sometimes hundreds of miles long, were blocked off. "We started building a lot of dams on rivers and creating reservoirs," she said. </p><p>In 2018, a large dam was removed in the Sandusky River, another Lake Erie waterway in the Toledo area. <em>"</em>And within a couple months of dam removal, there was a sturgeon that migrated up the river," Collier recalled. "It was the first time a sturgeon had been seen in that river system in maybe a century." </p><p>Collier thinks taking down a string of dams along one river could help the sturgeon's recovery in the Ohio River basin. "Removing those nine dams from the Mahoning River could be incredibly important for increased populations of lake sturgeon," she said.</p><p>The only known breeding population of lake sturgeon in the Ohio River watershed is in Indiana's White River, according to Donovan Henry, fish biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and coordinator of the <a href="http://orbfhp.org/" target="_blank">Ohio River Basin Fish Habitat Partnership</a> and the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/pacific/Fisheries/sphabcon/NationalFishPassage.html" target="_blank">National Fish Passage Program</a>.</p><p>"There is a dam there for hydropower," Henry explained. "It's quite a large river, and [sturgeon] can't ascend it any farther, so they stop right there below that dam to spawn."</p><p>There is a push by <a href="https://freetheriver.com" target="_blank">fishing groups</a> and others to have that dam removed and to restore the natural river flow. "In a natural setting, the habitats that they would spawn in would be more functional," he said.</p>
Addressing climate change<p>Removing dams can also be a tool to mitigate some impacts of climate change, according to Henry, because it helps restore access to a variety of habitats for fish and other aquatic organisms. "That way they have access to different depths and different flows that as temperatures vary, they can actually be mobile and actually move to appropriate habitat for whatever climate condition there is," he said.</p><p>Parts of the Ohio River basin are <a href="https://www.lrh.usace.army.mil/Portals/38/docs/orba/USACE%20Ohio%20River%20Basin%20CC%20Report_MAY%202017.pdf" target="_blank">predicted</a> to have more rainfall in the coming decades. Already, strong storms, when coupled with current land use practices "...are one of the biggest impairments to all of the streams in our Ohio River basin," Henry said, eroding stream banks and washing away organisms in the streambed.</p><p>Dams can play into this problem, as flows increase from intense rain events. Henry said experts are seeing stream and bank alignments move. "That's starting to wash away areas downstream, where it didn't historically wash away," he said. "It's impacting businesses and bridges and things like that. Removing that dam … keeps that stream functioning normally and keeps it in its historic channel."</p> <p>His group is creating wetlands and floodplains in upper watersheds to hold back some of this water. Together with removing dams, this "...mitigate[s] some of the impacts of climate change," he said.</p>
Economic vitality<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjYyODUwNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMTUzMjIwMn0.BHjRm38-yENPo7SmZ51pD5NBRro44KsKwSuPtJKfKzw/img.jpg?width=980" id="f7c26" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="801b903e6b0179adfcb369941a59c0e8" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The dam in Leavittsburg, Ohio, is one of nine in a regional plan to be removed along the Mahoning River, once heavily polluted from steel mills and other industries. (Credit: Julie Grant/The Allegheny Front)<p>Experts like Henry and American Rivers say there is no exact watershed-wide inventory of dams in the Ohio River basin because there is a discrepancy over the definition of a dam, for instance, whether a dam in a pond should be counted.</p> <p>But there are "...thousands and thousands we know in the Ohio River basin by any definition," Henry said.</p> <p>Many communities are like Leavittsburg and have concerns about taking down dams, according to Henry. But as more are removed, not only does aquatic habitat, water quality and safety improve, Henry said, but so does the river-based economy in many places. </p> <p>"Pretty soon you have people kayaking and paddling and canoeing on the rivers," Henry said. "As people who are using the river are making stops along the way to dine and shop, the community and the river start tying together and it does promote economic vitality."</p><p>Standing on the banks of the Mahoning, Lowellville Mayor Jim Iudiciani wants that future for his village. He remembers his childhood here. "When I was a kid, if I went near that river, we'd get smacked," he laughs, "...because it was so dirty and dangerous." </p><p>He expects the water quality to improve once the dam is removed in Lowellville this summer. But looking at the river roll over the dam today, he sees beauty in it. </p><p><em>"</em>And I'm getting this surreal feeling, a sad feeling, too, that now it's coming out, we're never going to see this again," he choked up. </p><p>"But it needs done, you know?" </p>
Anthony Wolkiewicz had his picture taken with Fred Rogers while working at WQED in 1977.
Anthony Wolkiewicz photographed behind his house on Provost Road in the flood-prone Overbrook neighborhood of Pittsburgh. (Credit: Ryan Loew/PublicSource)<p>More rain has fallen in the Pittsburgh area over the last two years than at any other time in recorded history. Two of these storms have resulted in deaths in the past decade, as drivers were caught on roadways that flooded.</p><p>The area where Wolkiewicz lives along Saw Mill Run in the South Hills is one of the worst in the Pittsburgh region for flood risk. But it's not the only area. Flooding has become pervasive, with massive damage to the suburbs of Bethel Park and Upper St. Clair and whole sections of towns like Etna and Millvale.</p><p>Stories like Wolkiewicz's have become common across the region.</p><p>Wolkiewicz could build a wall in his backyard, he said, but that would just push the flooding down into his neighbor's yard. That's the same problem facing local boroughs and agencies like the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority [PWSA]. If you stop flooding in one location, how do you create a permanent fix that doesn't just make rushing water your neighbor's problem?</p><p>And in Saw Mill Run, it's particularly complicated: the houses across the street from Wolkiewicz are located in the borough of Whitehall, with a totally different local government. Saw Mill Run has become one of the region's most important test cases for what the whole region may need to consider: working proactively across political boundaries to address the flooding.</p><p>Experts and local community leaders have been developing plans but still don't have the support to implement them at the scale that is needed. Possible solutions include buying up perpetually flooded houses and businesses, turning sections of the watershed back into natural floodplains instead of concrete lots, and developing flood control projects that cross municipal boundaries. But doing so is easier said than done in a county that's one of the most fragmented in the country.</p><p>Otherwise, residents like Wolkiewicz and his neighbors are left dreading rain that could mean a loss of property, or worse. Last summer, he paid $1,000 to turn his garage door into a brick wall in the hopes it will keep the water out. He won't know if it will work until the next flood comes.</p>
Overbrook<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5NjcxNS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MTQ3Mzc0NX0.-yPiZfWepOGoOmU1E1mZMy51C2lzzVEQQUqk_OA0gU0/img.jpg?width=980" id="5437d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8a7ee6fce37a89ed41a29435aaac45db" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />Saw Mill Run resident Anthony Wolkiewicz holds a photo that was taken of him with Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood while working at WQED in 1977. (Credit: Ryan Loew/PublicSource)<p>In July, about 40 concerned citizens from Overbrook showed up for a community meeting to hear what local leaders plan to do about Saw Mill Run.</p> <p>Residents often interrupted presentations from PWSA to talk about flooding problems on their own streets.</p> <p>Kate Mechler, the deputy director of engineering for PWSA, said the agency would try to respond to each of the specific complaints. "We have started a stormwater investigation team," she said. "This team is hammered. We get a lot of calls."</p> <p>PWSA couldn't quickly fix each of their complaints, Mechler said, without looking at how those fixes would affect their neighbors and others in the watershed. "We don't want to keep pushing water where it can't go," she said.</p> <p>Anthony Coghill, the Pittsburgh city councilman for most of the Saw Mill Run area, sees the problem as nearly beyond repair. As a roofer, he said he understands how water moves across roofs, down gutters and into the streets and sewers. He thinks there is only one answer.</p> <p>"I'm tired of saying, 'We'll get an engineer out here,'" Coghill said. "The bottom line for me, when I see the devastation going on … Buy out."</p> <p>The Saw Mill Run watershed includes more than 14 Pittsburgh neighborhoods and a dozen municipalities. Coghill proposed that the city allocate $2.1 million to buy out the homes of city residents with the most flood-prone properties on Provost Road. Although Coghill pushed for the idea with the city, its 2020 budget did not include this funding. </p> <p>Steve Kaduck, who runs an auto upholstery business in the neighborhood, agreed with Coghill that the best solution was to buy out the Provost Road homes and turn it into a basin to catch floodwater. "Until they find a retaining space or a new pipe going to the river, it ain't going to stop," he said.</p> <p>But he's seen flooding there for 50 years and nothing has been done. He said he feels frustrated that their problems have recently taken a backseat to flooding in suburban communities, like Bethel Park and Mt. Lebanon. "We don't make the news anymore," he said. "We're not news. We're old news."</p>
Saw Mill Run<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5NjcxMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NDM0NzQzOH0.RVmmxX5_nAMOY3OF3u-XRsHzaSp1-1yyoaB1o5os-64/img.jpg?width=980" id="1f0fe" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c14a7f43bb3fe24ea7ef8884cd70de4e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Ana Flores, the Ohio River sewer shed coordinator for the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority. (Credit: Jay Manning/PublicSource)<p>Back in October 2018, Lisa Werder Brown, the executive director of the Watersheds of South Pittsburgh, drove along Saw Mill Run Boulevard and started counting used car lots, which she perceives as a sign that new businesses are wary of flooding risks.</p><p>To really turn Saw Mill Run around, she said, the region needs to turn large chunks of the valley next to the creek back into a natural floodplain. She said it should become natural parkland that would become an amenity people would want to visit rather than avoid.</p><p>But doing so would require a large investment to buy properties already there. According to Brown, the federal government finds more value in buying out property in wealthier neighborhoods, like the agency recently did in Upper St. Clair, an affluent suburb outside of Pittsburgh, she said.</p><p>In October, Ana Flores, the Ohio River sewer shed coordinator for PWSA, visited a small stretch of Saw Mill Run Creek. So much water pours into the stream during storms, moving at such a high speed, she said, that it's ripping soil from the bank and pulling it into the stream. That's exposing tree roots and causing whole trees to fall in.</p><p>She pointed to a tree log that was jammed up against a small bridge. The water in a previous storm was strong enough to carry the trunk downstream, she said. So much soil is eroding that eventually the roadway next to the stream may start to cave in.</p><p>PWSA's plan for this 200 feet of creek is to change the angle of the bank to rise gradually, like a skateboard ramp, rather than like the vertical wall it is now. That will slow the water down and prevent erosion. It's a small project for a creek that has problems all along its 9-mile length.</p><p>Flores hopes to return to build a more ambitious stormwater project. On the other side of the bank, 5 acres of gravel and brush have sat empty for more than two decades. The federal government purchased 20 properties there that flooded repeatedly in the mid-1990s, with the stipulation that the land could only be used for natural purposes.</p>
Ansonia Place is 5 acres of gravel and brush that could be turned into a floodplain off of Saw Mill Run Creek in Pittsburgh. (Credit: Jay Manning/PublicSource)<p>The City of Pittsburgh now owns the property, known as Ansonia Place. If turned into a natural floodplain, the abandoned neighborhood could function like a giant bowl in heavy rain, soaking up and slowing down rainwater before it floods the streets and homes downstream.</p><p>Brown said PWSA's projects so far have been relatively small and even the smaller communities in Saw Mill Run have realized they need to build bigger projects closer to the stream. "Folks have realized that they could dump exorbitant amounts of money into projects within their own communities and still not make a dent," she said.</p><p>PWSA has been meeting with 11 other municipalities upstream of Pittsburgh since 2015, trying to create a single vision for the watershed. The "integrated watershed" group is looking to get regulatory approval for a pollution credit system, so each municipality could get credit for cleaning up the creek with regulators, even if a project is sited outside its own boundaries.</p><p>One hope, Flores said, is that the integrated watershed plan they are developing will allow them to start building stormwater projects upstream. "We're waiting to see how much work we can do up at the top, so we can slowly make our way down and do it in an order that makes sense for the watershed," she said.</p><p>PWSA is also negotiating with the City of Pittsburgh to determine who will be responsible for which aspects of flood control. Right now, PWSA only has authority from the state to take on projects that improve the water quality above ground or stop flooding in basements and its underground pipes.</p><p>Beth Dutton, the senior group manager for stormwater at PWSA, said the current lack of clarity about which agency is in charge of flooding in the region means there isn't a coordinated response.</p><p>"It's kind of the Wild Wild West for flood management," she said.</p>
Individual actions<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5NjcyNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwODU5MDMxOX0.M2D4co6z_NbTQz5nvYR5gORR2jPMd5B6ertYgHB-Rvg/img.jpg?width=980" id="83027" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="100247e889aa9cbf08e468d40dfafe41" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The Saw Mill Run Creek has become a flood risk for the Overbrook neighborhood of Pittsburgh. (Credit: Ryan Loew/PublicSource)<p>Several community watershed groups have formed in the recent past to tackle flooding challenges, but not all communities have one.</p> <p>Back in 2005, after heavy flooding from Hurricane Ivan, residents formed a watershed association for Big Sewickley Creek, about 20 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. The group fizzled quickly.</p> <p>Last summer, about 25 community members showed up to talk again about the future of Big Sewickley Creek after two years of dramatic rainfall. Gary Sherman and Frank Akers, two residents who attended, are not typical environmentalists who live on the creek: they are hunters who hope to get royalties from fracking on their land. </p> <p>They're worried that new housing developments upstream are causing more water and construction material to end up in the stream. The flooding problem keeps getting worse, they said, and they want to protect the land near their homes.</p> <p>In 2018, Donna Pearson and Melissa Mason decided that they needed to do something to protect their community after heavy rains during a July storm flooded Millvale, a town next to Pittsburgh and Etna. They formed Girty's Run Watershed Association.</p> <p>Pearson said she spent whole days working on the watershed association in its initial days and would be interested in working on the issue more if she could get funding. For now, she is focused on educating residents. "We are never going to fix the flooding," she said. So instead she hopes to "improve the response to it, and improve the health of the stream and the communities around it."</p> <p>Although these actions, on their own, may not lead to great change, a report released last year by the Water Center at the University of Pennsylvania and The Heinz Endowments* suggests these individuals may be paving the only path forward for the region. The report recommended investing in an incubator and an activist network. </p> <p>"Within these local laboratories are the next generation of water leaders who, in the absence of political will among large institutions, must be nurtured and equipped to lead in 10, 20 or 30 years when generational changes are likely to change the political calculus," the report said.</p> <p>Some changes are being made regionally. In 2020, the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority [ALCOSAN] is taking over responsibility for the region's largest sewage lines from local governments after years of recommendations and negotiations. It's the beginning of a more centralized sewage system. Increasing pressure from government regulators to clean up polluted water is also spurring between $2 billion to $6 billion in investments over the next two decades by local municipalities and agencies like ALCOSAN and PWSA.</p> <p>Etna Borough Manager Mary Ellen Ramage said she believes local leaders will have to give up some control. Etna's borough offices flooded up to its light switches in 2004. Since, Ramage has learned that stemming the flooding in Etna depends on fixes made by municipalities miles upstream. Etna is at the end of a sieve, she said: with less than 1% of the land in her watershed, most of the floodwater originates upstream.</p> <p>While experts have recommended changes to Allegheny County's fragmentation for decades, there is precedent for regionalization. In 2018, the Wyoming Valley Sanitary Authority in northeastern Pennsylvania brought together 32 small communities to collectively manage their stormwater responsibilities. The agency's leaders noted that they're collectively saving as much as 50% of their costs by working together. </p> <p>The new authority can build stormwater projects "anywhere in the watershed," Adrienne Vicari, a consultant for the authority, said at an October 2018 sewage conference in Monroeville. That freedom allows the authority to tackle the region's biggest water problems at the lowest price. </p> <p>But local leaders aren't so optimistic.</p> <p>Researchers of the 2019 Water Center/Heinz report interviewed more than 40 of the region's key water stakeholders and found little to no interest in moving forward with a regional stormwater agency. </p> <p>Instead, the report said, the region must foster a bottom-up approach that will pave the way. The fragmentation of local government is often thought of "as a source of political inertia and a hindrance to action," the report said. "However, opportunity comes not from obliterating these boundaries … but in leveraging local energies."</p>
Data ahead<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5NjczMC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMjkwODkxNX0.kbX-oR0y83seKVui5ALO6m_kTorHG7Vx2jSUlFiNNGg/img.png?width=980" id="efc69" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a25578b734f7b0dcdd3650f709c2b4db" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A map of the Saw Mill Run Watershed from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.<p>Thomas Batroney attends a lot of public meetings in the Pittsburgh region for his job as a senior project engineer for a global engineering, management and economic development firm. He started noticing that "everyone is talking about the same problem." In August 2019, he began <a href="https://www.arcgis.com/apps/Cascade/index.html?appid=8834fd8de2954613941caa0553c6adfa" target="_blank">cataloguing all of Allegheny County's major flooding events</a> in a blog he calls <a href="https://pghflood.home.blog" target="_blank">The Pittsburgh Urban Flooding Journal</a>.</p> <p>He created detailed illustrations of rainfall patterns and inserted links to news stories and videos. He's in the process of adding a map layer that shows what streets flooding has been reported on.</p> <p>While each of the individual storms can seem like isolated incidents, Batroney's blog organizes them into a larger narrative of a region battered by persistent, unrelenting flooding. "Localized flash flooding in the Pittsburgh region is a serious epidemic and chronic illness," he wrote in his first blog entry.</p> <p>Batroney said he thinks the region needs a flood control or stormwater district, like the ones found in Houston, Phoenix, Denver or Chicago.</p> <p>After a giant flood in Pittsburgh in 1936, Batroney said, the region came together to solve the flooding problems from its three major rivers. The flood killed 62 people, injured 500 and left more than 135,000 homeless in the region. The Flood Commission of Pittsburgh, which originally only covered the city, expanded to include more than 400 groups across the region. Together, they built support for the construction of 13 large-scale flood protection projects upstream of Pittsburgh. </p> <p>Batroney said it's time for the region to come together again before another tragedy.</p> <p>"It's not going to get any better … unless we do something, especially with the way the climate projections are looking," he said. "This isn't going to fix itself. It's only going to get worse."</p>
Just before dawn in January 2018, 27 barges were floating like a net along the banks of the Ohio River, downstream of the city of Pittsburgh.
Map by Blue Raster
More serious marine accidents<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5Njg4OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1OTIwNDg5N30.MP0votAGQvmiXvTTd8FaUJXLcrNL6DLbsTPfJ44puNI/img.jpg?width=980" id="37d7a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7bae359d22cd7a3e3ebc2687ca4cd452" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A towing vessel and barges moving through the area monitored by the Louisville Vessel Traffic Service on Dec. 22, 2017. (Credit: Alexandra Kanik/KyCIR)<p>Inland marine accidents don't attract as much publicity as accidents on the oceans. Generally, inland vessels are much smaller, and fewer deaths result from single incidents.</p><p>But navigating inland waterways can still be a treacherous endeavor, made more hazardous when the river is high. A <a href="https://www.lrh.usace.army.mil/Portals/38/docs/orba/USACE%20Ohio%20River%20Basin%20CC%20Report_MAY%202017.pdf" target="_blank">2017 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' report</a> estimates that up to 50 percent more water could be coursing through the Ohio River watershed within this century due to climate change.</p><p>The river's rise obscures river banks and changes river beds. It creates currents that can pull vessels off course, or throw debris into mariners' paths. </p><p>The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting analyzed <a href="https://cgmix.uscg.mil/IIR/IIRSearch.aspx" target="_blank">federal data</a> from 2010 to 2018 on serious marine accidents, which the U.S. Coast Guard defines as incidents involving death or serious injury, excessive property damage or a discharge of hazardous materials. </p><p>Nearly 3,400 marine incidents occurred in a nine-year period in the Ohio watershed. In 2010, about 8 percent were serious. By 2018, serious incidents accounted for 12 percent. </p><p>Incidents citing high waters as a contributing factor are on the rise, data show.</p>
The Ohio River, during high water level, upstream of downtown Louisville on Feb. 15, 2018. (Credit: Alexandra Kanik/KyCIR)<p>Coast Guard serious incident reports from 2010 to 2015 occasionally cited "high waters" or "fast-moving currents" as contributing factors to the accidents. But these terms began to show up more frequently in accident descriptions starting in 2016, data show.</p><p>In one 2018 incident near Louisville, barges loaded with crude oil condensate got stuck on the river bank. The pilot struggled to avoid being overtaken by strong currents.</p>
Barge arrangement at the fleeting area upstream from the Emsworth Locks and Dam prior to the Jan. 13, 2018 breakaway. (Illustration from NTSB accident report)<p>But inland accidents like the Emsworth barge breakaway outside of Pittsburgh make the list because of the costly property damage they leave in their wake.</p><p>And these accidents are not uncommon in the Ohio watershed, in part because the Ohio River is so difficult to navigate. </p><p>Louisville's section of the Ohio River is one of only 12 places in the country with a <a href="https://www.navcen.uscg.gov/?pageName=vtsMain" target="_blank">Vessel Traffic Service</a> — essentially an escort system to help vessels navigate dangerous or congested stretches of river. It is the only inland traffic service and the only one that operates solely during times of high water.</p><p>Louisville's service was established in 1973 after a series of accidents, such as the February 1972 incident when a barge carrying chlorine gas became lodged in the McAlpine dam, threatening lives and requiring the evacuation of the nearby Portland neighborhood.</p><p>Between 2012 and 2016, Louisville's traffic service was activated for an average of 59 days a year. In the last two years, it was active for 151 days and 130 days, respectively.</p>
More hazardous cargo<p>More than 180 million tons of cargo travel up and down the rivers of the Ohio watershed each year, according to a KyCIR analysis of <a href="https://usace.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p16021coll2/search/searchterm/shipping/field/subjec/mode/exact/conn/and/order/title/ad/asc" target="_blank">commodities data</a> from the U.S. Corps of Engineers. The river carries shipments of food, alcohol, fuel, construction supplies and even rocket parts.</p><p>More and more, those cargo vessels are carrying non-solid fuels.</p>
What's being done?<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjU5Njg5NS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNjMwMTQ5MX0.ZLRuN7ulveMdk1_mqm5o4V5I6XP98YiXA9sfi4O6OWc/img.png?width=980" id="b6637" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="10db01a2f214319035a5155ef5485ff1" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Aerial photo of barges against the Emsworth Locks and Dam after the breakaway on Jan. 13, 2018. (Credit: U.S. Coast Guard)<p>Government agencies and regulatory bodies say they are working together to improve safety and mitigate harm after accidents occur. But change is slow to come.</p><p>For example, Congress passed legislation in 2004 that established mandatory inspections for towing vessels. But <a href="https://www.dco.uscg.mil/Our-Organization/Assistant-Commandant-for-Prevention-Policy-CG-5P/Traveling-Inspector-Staff-CG-5P-TI/Towing-Vessel-National-Center-of-Expertise/SubIRegulations-Copy/" target="_blank">mandatory inspections didn't actually begin</a> until 2018, nearly 14 years later.</p><p>But as each year brings more volatile weather than the year before, the agencies say they're trying to be proactive, rather than reactive.</p><p>Only recently did the NTSB begin documenting its accident investigations with an internal database. LaRue said the effort will help provide a "better idea about trending and things like that, and hopefully spot safety issues."</p><p>Such a database, when implemented, could help NTSB create a recommendation report on how to avoid weather-related incidents in the future, but the NTSB still lacks enforcement power. Even if its investigators identify safety protocols that could help mariners deal with extreme weather, it would be up to the Coast Guard to implement them.</p><p>Currently, the Coast Guard maintains and operates regional plans that help mariners respond to hazards such as high water or inclement weather on specific stretches of river.</p><p>Powell said that during times of high water, the Coast Guard subsectors hold conference calls to discuss river levels, vessel restrictions and weather and river forecasts. </p><p>Those forecasts are available for mariners from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association [NOAA], which uses various data points about rainfall and terrain to predict how waterways will react to extreme weather up to 10 days ahead of time. </p><p>"That gives them the opportunity to make decisions that are going to help them navigate the rivers safely if the water is coming up quickly," said Trent Schade, hydrologist in charge of NOAA's <a href="https://www.weather.gov/ohrfc/" target="_blank">Ohio River Forecast Center</a>. "They have an opportunity to move their boat into a safe harbor."</p><p>But these forecasts give only a short lead on the future of the river. Both the Coast Guard and NOAA say they aren't focused right now on climate change's long-term impacts on river safety. When it comes to next year or the next 10 years, the state of the water is much murkier.</p>
All Tim Guilfoile wants to do is fish. Before his retirement, he had two careers: one in business and one in water quality activism.
Permitting process<p>The Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] works with authorized state regulatory agencies to implement the NPDES permitting program. Though the Clean Water Act governs the process, each state's approach can differ. The EPA sets minimum standards nationally but it is up to each state to establish and manage its own regulations.</p><p><a href="http://www.orsanco.org/about-us/" target="_blank">The Ohio River Valley Sanitation Commission [ORSANO</a>] is an interstate commission in the watershed that sets pollution control standards for states permitting industrial and municipal wastewater discharges into the Ohio River. </p><p>There are two types of permits: general and individual. </p><p>General permits are meant for discharges of wastewater that is considered to have minimal adverse effects on the environment. Individual permits, on the other hand, are for sites with more complex discharges that include toxics dangerous to the environment and humans. The permit process analyzes physical, biological and chemical data of the facility's wastewater and determines what the receiving water can accommodate. </p><p>Permits assess direct dumping or point-source pollution. The permits do not take into account pollutants such as agricultural runoff, which contributes to nutrient overload, known as "nonpoint" pollution.</p><p>Located in New Martinsville, West Virginia, Eagle Natrium, LLC is the second-highest point polluter in the Ohio River watershed. In 2017, it spewed 196,165 toxic-weighted pounds into the Ohio River.</p><p>Mercury from the Eagle Natrium facility have made two species of local fish too poisonous to eat in significant quantities, according to the <a href="http://184.108.40.206/comm/fishconsumption/default.asp" target="_blank">Ohio River Fish Consumption Advisories. </a></p><p>In August 2019, the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and the Sierra Club filed a <a href="https://eyeonohio.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Sierra-Club-Lawsuit-complaintN.D.W.Va_._5_19-cv-00236-JPB_1_0.pdf" target="_blank">lawsuit against the company</a>. The complaint states that Eagle Natrium is the "only remaining chlor-alkali plant in the United States that uses mercury cells." </p><p>"Mercury cells" refers to the process that uses liquid mercury to produce chlorine, sodium hydroxide and potassium hydroxide. This is an old technology that came into use in the late 1800s. Other chlor-alkali plants use "membrane cells" for this process, which has been available since the <a href="http://www.essentialchemicalindustry.org/chemicals/chlorine.html" target="_blank">1960s</a>.</p>
A drain pipe leaks along the Ohio River in Cincinnati, Ohio, near Smale Park. (Credit: Leigh Taylor/Eye on Ohio)<p>Mercury found in moist environments can transform into methylmercury that bioaccumulates in the food chain. According to West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, eating fish is the primary local exposure source for mercury.</p><p>In a 2016 <a href="https://healthybuilding.net/blog/454-still-crazy-after-all-these-years-mercury-cells-in-the-heart-of-america" target="_blank">Healthy Building Network newsletter</a>, Eagle Natrium's parent company at the time Axiall stated that it "has not announced any plans related to its mercury circuit processes" at the Natrium facility. WestLake Chemical acquired Axiall in 2016 and has not responded to several requests for comment.</p><p>The EPA's response was the following: "The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection [WVDEP] is the lead agency for overseeing NPDES permitting and enforcement programs in West Virginia, and is actively involved in addressing compliance issues at Eagle Natrium LLC."</p><p>On Oct. 15, 2019, just two months after the citizen's suit was filed against Eagle Natrium, WVDEP amended their administrative order once again, giving Eagle Natrium until June 30, 2020, to comply.</p><p>The EPA also provided this statement on the facility: "Eagle Natrium (NPDES Permit No. WV0004359) continues to work to achieve compliance pursuant to an existing state formal enforcement action.</p><p>The facility has invested an excess of $1 million in studies and improvements and has paid more than $1 million in penalties for exceeding NPDES permit limits.</p><p>Further, the facility was granted interim permit limits. The interim limits were not updated in the national database, therefore, the compliance summary is not accurate. EPA and WVDEP are working to resolve these data discrepancies."</p>
Out of compliance<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjQ5ODg4My9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MDI1ODcxM30.OVx2zKT3zmcdqQCobmblzXgwOGWDkfaAbc9d2gG-Ges/img.jpg?width=980" id="bc6fd" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1a39c7c0bab496a52eb1cbaec77cef6e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Chuck Keller (left), from Fort Thomas Kentucky, and Jeremy Shannon, from Southgate, Kentucky, walk near the Licking River Greenway and Trails next to the Licking River in Covington, Kentucky. In addition to point pollution sources, non-point pollution like grass fertilizer runs off into the river as well. (Credit: Leigh Taylor/Eye on Ohio)<p>The individual NPDES permit process requires a public notice along with the opportunity for public comment prior to its approval. Permit notices are found on each state's environmental protection department website. But a lengthy process doesn't always ensure better review.</p><p>"There are very few members of the public that can monitor and comment on permits," said Jim Hecker, environmental enforcement director for Public Justice, a national nonprofit legal advocacy organization. "You have to be pretty sophisticated to even know what to say in your permit comments. There's probably a handful of people who are doing that in each state, with a few environmental groups."</p><p>Having a legal limit also doesn't ensure that facilities follow those standards. </p><p>A study from <a href="https://frontiergroup.org/reports/fg/troubled-waters" target="_blank">Frontier Group and Environment America Research and Policy Center</a> examined NPDES permit data from 2011 to 2017 and found that an average of 27,849 facilities were noncompliant each year across the United States. Of those noncompliant facilities, the study found only an average of 13,076 faced EPA or state enforcement action on an annual basis. </p><p>What determines whether or not action is taken against a noncompliant facility? </p><p>According to the EPA: "Enforcement actions are determined on a case-by-case basis. The EPA and its state partners work together to address NPDES permitting and compliance issues."</p><p>Guilfoile is skeptical. "I don't think we have a culture of corporate responsibility associated with public health, I just don't, and it's exhausting," he said.</p><p>The same study examined data to determine how many facilities discharged more than their permit allowed between Jan. 1, 2016, and Sept. 30, 2017. West Virginia topped the list with 54% (26) of its facilities reporting exceedances greater than 100% of their permit limits at least once. Other states in the Ohio River watershed on the top-10 list of those with facilities that exceed their permit limits by greater than 100% at least once included Indiana at 32% (21 facilities), New York at 31% (37 facilities), and Illinois at 29% (19 facilities).</p>
Chuck Keller and Debra Hausrath, both from Fort Thomas, Kentucky, walk along the Licking River Greenway and Trails in Covington, Kentucky, on Dec. 19, 2019. Nearby manufacturer IPSCO Tubulars discharges wastewater containing lead and manganese into the river. (Credit: Leigh Taylor/Eye on Ohio)<p>Facilities with reported discharges greater than 500% of their permit limits also showed West Virginia at the top of the list with 31%(15 facilities).</p><p>Eagle Natrium reported 56 exceedances from 2011 to 2017, according to the study. On 38 occasions, the company allegedly discharged more than 100% their permit limit. On 17 occasions, the discharge allegedly exceeded 500% percent of the limit. The discharged toxics included mercury, copper, chloroform, iron and chloride.</p><p>Eagle Natrium's predecessors, PPG Industries, also had issues with permit compliance and was under a consent order when the company changed ownership in 2014. Eagle Natrium is operating via a permit granted to PPG Industries.</p><p>The permit was extended because ORSANCO's pollution control standards required facilities operating prior to 2003 and discharging bioaccumulative chemicals of concern [BCC] to eliminate their <a href="http://www.orsanco.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Final-Standards-Doc-2019-Revision.pdf" target="_blank">"mixing zones</a>" by 2015. Mixing zones are collection areas where facilities dilute their discharges to meet water quality standards before entering waterways.</p><p>Also in October 2015, ORSANCO updated its pollution control standards to remove the mixing zone deadline and replaced it to say "as soon as is practicable, as determined by the permitting authority." Therefore, WVDEP extended the facility's deadline while implementing interim discharge limits higher than the permit allows.</p><p>"One of the reasons the Ohio is ranked the dirtiest is because these bioaccumulative chemicals of concern are in the sediment and you'll never get rid of them unless you dredged the length Ohio River bottom," Guilfoile said. "Even if we stopped dumping everything today, that's not going to change the BCC contamination in the Ohio River. Continuing to dump will make it worse, but it's already pitiful."</p><p>Prior to his work in water quality, Guilfoile was Cincinnati Children's Hospital senior vice president of operations. In his time there, he loved the fact that he was able to impact the general well-being of children in many ways, but in other ways he knew he couldn't.</p><p>The split of wins and losses when working to protect the environment weighs on him.</p><p>"I'm 70 years old now and I used to be a person with strong optimism and I'm not anymore. I'm just not. I've got a few years left to live and I'm going to fish as much as I possibly can and it's too bad that this may very well be our last century on Earth."</p>
Mercury, which damages young brains, is flowing through industrial wastewater into the Ohio River. But the multi-state agency tasked with keeping the waterway clean hasn't tightened controls on this pollution because it doesn't have the authority to do so.
Mercury takes a complicated path from industrial and natural sources through water and air to humans<p>Environmental groups have looked to ORSANCO to tighten mercury standards on wastewater discharges. Industries arguing against tighter water standards say that atmospheric sources are a bigger problem, and much of the mercury in their wastewater is in a chemical form unlikely to move through the food chain into fish. </p><p>ORSANCO has moved away from regulation, a path the agency said reflects the reality that it doesn't have the same authority as its member states' environmental agencies or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [EPA].</p><p>"ORSANCO doesn't set rules for the states," said Richard Harrison, the agency's executive director. "The states set rules for the states. The states agree to work through ORSANCO as a collaborative body to work globally for the Ohio River basin."</p><p>ORSANCO's strengths, Harrison said, are monitoring and research. In 2016, commission staff launched a broad accounting of atmospheric and wastewater mercury sources across the Ohio River watershed. The report isn't yet published, but a presentation delivered to an ORSANCO committee meeting in October 2019 said 11 percent of the mercury in the Ohio River main stem comes from wastewater discharges throughout the watershed, including tributaries.</p>
The John T. Myers Lock and Dam. ORSANCO lists seven species that shouldn't be eaten more than once a month from the John T. Myers Locks and Dam in southern Indiana to where the river empties into the Mississippi River due to mercury concerns. (Credit: Louisville District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)<p>An environmental scientist who has seen preliminary results said the study has flaws, though it's not clear if those concerns will make it into the final version expected next month.</p><p>While ORSANCO and state authorities are bogged down in disagreements over the relative threat of atmospheric and wastewater sources and whether states should work through ORSANCO to tighten regulations across the watershed, environmental advocates say the public is worse off for having to sort through the mess.</p><p>The <a href="http://220.127.116.11/comm/fishconsumption/unit4.asp" target="_blank">ORSANCO fish advisory website</a> lists seven species — sauger, black bass, freshwater drum, white bass, striped bass, hybrid striped bass and flathead catfish — that shouldn't be eaten more than once a month from one 135-mile section of the Ohio River (from the John T. Myers Locks and Dam in southern Indiana to where the river empties into the Mississippi River) due to mercury concerns. Yet the agency's most recent annual report says the "entire river is impaired for fish consumption due to dioxin and <a href="http://www.idph.state.il.us/envhealth/factsheets/polychlorinatedbiphenyls.htm" target="_blank">PCBs</a>, but fully supports fish consumption for mercury."</p><p>"What is that telling the public?" said Jason Flickner, director of the Indiana-based Lower Ohio River Waterkeeper. "Especially when it comes down to something as important as the ability to eat the fish and remain healthy."</p>
Dangerous for young brains<p>For all that's complicated about regulating mercury, one thing is clear: It's a potent neurotoxin that is particularly dangerous to children. Mercury persists in the environment in a few different chemical forms. One of the less common forms, methylmercury, is the most threatening to people. Industries emit some methylmercury directly; the rest is created from other forms of mercury that are digested by microbes or undergo chemical reactions in soils and sediments.</p> <p>"By now, about 12 different prospective studies have documented that children's brain development is negatively affected by methylmercury," said Phillippe Grandjean, an environmental health scientist and professor at Harvard's School of Public Health. "The more, the worse."</p> <p>"The results also show that EPA's current intake limit is too high to protect the brains of the next generation," he said. The agency has announced plans to update its "reference dose."</p> <p>Studies have also linked mercury exposure to heart disease in adults. Children exposed in the womb or through breast milk can suffer impairments to memory, language and other cognitive functions.</p> <p>People are mostly exposed to mercury through eating contaminated fish. It's one of a group of pollutants that when consumed by animals can build up, or "bioaccumulate," in their tissues.</p> <p>"The larger and higher up in the food chain the fish are, the more mercury," Grandjean said. "That sounds like sports fish, right?"</p> <p>Mercury-contaminated fish are common in waterways across the country, and the Ohio River is no exception. Species including angler favorites like hybrid striped bass have been found in the Ohio River with mercury above the level considered safe by the EPA. </p><p>A <a href="http://www.orsanco.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Mercury-Concentrations-in-Water-and-Hybrid-Striped-Bass-Muscle-Tissue-Sampled-Collected-from-the-Ohio-River.pdf" target="_blank">2010 study</a> found five of 12 hybrid striped bass samples tested higher than the EPA mercury limit. An ORSANCO fish contaminant database shows that 36 of the 307 samples collected since 2009 with a methylmercury record appear higher than the EPA limit. </p>
A ban that lost its teeth<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjQ5ODc4OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMDQ0MzQwNn0.sq7PPDd9mytGieXb5ERTMpipOizdTEf_R3j_qmBjF6c/img.jpg?width=980" id="f3d9f" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8131f946b83c9717e46c8c432ca055af" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Clifty Creek Station, a coal plant in Madison, Indiana, released 12 pounds of mercury into the Ohio River in 2017. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)<p>Each state along the Ohio River issues fish consumption advisories that warn against eating too much fish from the river due to mercury and other chemicals. ORSANCO supports such work by collecting fish contamination data for member states and helping to keep the warnings consistent.</p><p>ORSANCO's work on advisories is an example of the interstate collaboration the agency was designed to support when it was created. Its actions are guided by the votes of a board of 27 commissioners appointed by the eight member states and the federal government. </p><p>Tom FitzGerald, director of the Kentucky Resources Council, is one of the few ORSANCO commissioners from the nonprofit environmental advocacy world. He's a federal commissioner appointed by the Obama administration in 2014. His term lasts until he resigns or is replaced, and he jokes that his days might be numbered under the anti-regulation Trump administration.</p><p>"I kid everybody that I'm an endangered species because one of these days the administration is going to realize that I'm a holdover and they're going to replace me," FitzGerald said. </p><p>FitzGerald lobbied ORSANCO for stronger water quality protections long before he was a commissioner there, including a 2003 ban on "mixing zones" for facilities with mercury and other bioaccumulative chemicals in their wastewater. Some facilities on the Ohio River that couldn't meet mercury standards at the end of their pipes were historically allowed to instead measure pollutants at the end of a downstream mixing zone that diluted their discharges. </p><p>"Relying on dilution ... doesn't seem to be an appropriate pollution control strategy," FitzGerald said. </p><p>ORSANCO commissioners in 2003 agreed to ban any new mixing zones in the Ohio River for mercury and other toxics. Facilities already using mixing zones would have 10 years to find a way to meet standards without them.</p>
This map shows the locations of 34 fish tissue samples collected from the Ohio River from 2010 to 2016 that met or exceeded 0.3 milligram methylmercury per kilogram fish tissue, the level deemed safe for human health by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. From the same data, 274 samples were below 0.3 mg/kg criteria. Data Source: ORSANCO<p>But by 2010, it was clear some industries wouldn't meet the deadline. ORSANCO, despite pleas from environmental groups and the public, exempted some polluters from the ban. In 2013, they delayed the deadline to 2015. In 2015, the commissioners dropped the deadline altogether and set a goal to eliminate mixing zones "as soon as is practicable," which would be left up to the state agencies that issue pollution permits.</p><p>"A recognition of the complexities of implementing a hard ban for existing permitted facilities really came to light," said Harrison, ORSANCO's executive director. "It was a recognition that the states were the best entity to work in that arena."</p><p>According to the most recent data available from EPA's Toxic Release Inventory, Dynegy's Zimmer Station coal plant in Moscow, Ohio, released 100 pounds of mercury compounds into the Ohio River in 2017, the largest discharge that year. The plant is in compliance with its wastewater permit from the Ohio EPA, said Meranda Cohn, director of media relations and corporate affairs with the plant's parent company.</p><p>"This permit includes strict mercury discharge limits," she said.</p><p>Lafarge's Joppa cement plant in Grand Chain, Illinois, released 32 pounds the same year. Clifty Creek Station, a coal plant in Madison, Indiana, released 12 pounds. It's not clear if any of these facilities were using mixing zones. The data are self-reported by industries.</p><p>The ban on new mixing zones on the Ohio River stayed, but leaving the phase-out for existing ones up to the states has played out unevenly in these Ohio watershed states:</p>
Comparing 'apples and oranges'<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjQ5ODc5OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0ODgzMDMwOH0.u89dXxLiCYQRIZ7ce6_bBljbtLtpVXd7OSbuA5cV16w/img.jpg?width=980" id="63a3c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9767cdd973a0ebadc236cf0bbc3daf41" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
An ORSANCO environmental scientist collects an Ohio River water sample for the agency's bimonthly monitoring program, one of the several projects tracking water quality in the river. (Credit: ORSANCO)<p>According to Rob Reash, environmental scientist and principal at his consultancy company Reash Environmental, a mixing zone ban on the Ohio River wouldn't significantly affect fish mercury levels there anyway.</p><p>Reash has studied mercury in water — particularly the Ohio River — for decades. He's a member of the ORSANCO mercury committee. Reash retired last year as an environmental scientist at American Electric Power [AEP], a utility company that runs coal plants in several states along the Ohio River, and set up his own firm this year. As an AEP scientist, he published studies suggesting fish mercury levels <a href="https://setac.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ieam.1618" target="_blank">aren't higher near coal plants</a> and much of the mercury in their wastewater <a href="https://setac.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ieam.4089" target="_blank">is in chemical forms that don't build up in animal tissues </a>like methylmercury.</p><p>Despite consistently publishing results that argue against regulations for the industries that have funded his work, Reash said he hasn't encountered skepticism of his work.</p><p>"One of the primary reasons I've been doing this research for so long is it is a priority for me to have credibility with my peers," Reash said. "So when I say something, I can be trusted."</p><p>FitzGerald, who also sits on the mercury committee and is familiar with Reash's work, agrees. </p><p>"He knows his stuff," he said. "He works for industry, but I think his work has been subject to some pretty significant scrutiny."</p><p>Reash is also familiar with the preliminary results of the ORSANCO study attempting to figure out how much of the mercury in the Ohio River comes from atmospheric sources and industrial wastewater (known as "point sources").</p><p>Referencing the October presentation that said all point sources in the basin — not just those along the main stem — account for about 11% of the instream mercury, Reash said, "That tells me that if you want to reduce mercury in water or in fish, you can't cap up industrial discharges. It's not going to work."</p><p>Others familiar with the draft report say it's a good start, but the final version will have to include important changes to accurately sort out sources of mercury.</p>
A hybrid striped bass from the Wabash River. A 2010 study found five of 12 hybrid striped bass samples from the Ohio River tested higher than the EPA mercury limit. (Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Midwest Region)<p>For example, the October presentation shows an estimate of how much mercury was deposited from the atmosphere on the land area of each of the Ohio's tributary watersheds. Those numbers are compared against industrial discharges for the same portion of the river and estimated to be 20 to 50 times larger than the local point sources.</p><p>Joel Blum, professor of earth and environmental sciences at the University of Michigan, is familiar with a draft of the report and has seen the data presented in October. He said this comparison between atmospheric and point sources is "apples and oranges."</p><p>The study, he said, gives a good estimate of how much mercury is deposited on the land. But not all of that mercury flows into the Ohio River.</p><p>"We know that a large amount of the mercury that is deposited to the land surface accumulates in organic rich soils and vegetation and in sediments throughout the system," Blum said.</p><p>"What they need to do is figure out how much of that is actually making it to the river and how much is staying put on the land," he said. "In all likelihood, it's a very small percentage."</p><p>Reash agreed that some portion of the mercury is sequestered in the land and there is a level of uncertainty about the atmospheric results. But ORSANCO did the best study they could with the funding they had, he said.</p><p>"The big question once this thing gets finalized is what are ORSANCO and the states going to do with this," he said. "Is it going to modify policy whatsoever?"</p>
State to state inconsistency<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjQ5ODgwMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDIyMzQ2N30.s8nS8SHfKnq9ogYnyZ2egi8J1NaAP-KQt1gF7xiUq3k/img.jpg?width=980" id="455c6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2017db89e6e4e4fb40b8505d846d8f9b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A catfishing tournament on the Ohio River in 2017. People are mostly exposed to mercury through eating contaminated fish. (Credit: Louisville District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)<p>Even though the atmospheric sources are the more significant source of mercury to the Ohio River, FitzGerald said policies that address industrial sources are worth looking into.</p> <p>"Do you ratchet down further those dischargers over which you do have regulatory responsibility and regulatory control? I think it's a legitimate question and one to address to the individual states," he said. </p> <p>The question would be whether states should apply additional restrictions under authority granted to states through Clean Water Act policies. Under those programs, states monitor lakes and streams, and those that don't meet certain criteria — chemical concentrations, for example — are added to a list of "impaired" waters. For the most impaired waters, states are required to develop a clean-up plan called a Total Maximum Daily Load, or TMDL. Those plans calculate the total amount of a particular pollutant that is allowed to enter a waterbody. States can then apply additional scrutiny to wastewater permits in an effort to get a lake or river under that amount. </p> <p>But, it's complicated.</p> <p>Indiana has included its section of the Ohio River on its list of "impaired" waters due to high mercury levels. But the state's Department of Environmental Management is not developing a TMDL. </p> <p>The Indiana Department of Environmental Management "has not found TMDLs to be a particularly useful tool since one of the main sources is air deposition from emissions far from Indiana," said Barry Sneed, a department spokesman. </p> <p>The agency's report on impaired waters also says that an Ohio River TMDL would require more than one state because it's a boundary water between states. Across the river from Indiana, Kentucky's state environmental agency also added its stretch of the Ohio River to its list of waters impaired from mercury. But it removed the river from that list when it said new testing methods showed that fish weren't as contaminated with methylmercury as previously thought. </p> <p>Flickner of the Lower Ohio River Waterkeeper said inconsistencies between states like this are exactly what ORSANCO was originally designed to mitigate.</p> <p>"They're giving up the idea that they have any enforcement or can address the states on a regulatory basis at all," Flickner said. "That's the message that everybody is getting and there's really nothing we can do to stop it."</p>
PARKERSBURG, W. Va. – Tommy Joyce is no cinephile. The last movie he saw in a theater was the remake of "True Grit" nearly a decade ago. "I'd rather watch squirrels run in the woods" than sit through most of what appears on the big screen, he said.
An aerial view of Parkersburg, West Virginia, taken from Fort Boreman Park on Nov. 20, 2019. (Credit: Lexi Browning/100 Days in Appalachia)<p>Joyce graduated from Parkersburg High School in 1992, went off and earned three degrees and came home. He now serves as mayor of the city of Parkersburg — population: 30,000.</p><p>Joyce said he's heard more about his community's long struggle with corporate environmental malfeasance in the past few weeks than in his previous two and a half years in office. He attributes this to the release of "Dark Waters."</p><p>Even David-and-Goliath tales often have complicated backstories, and Joyce knows well that such is the case with Parkersburg and DuPont. "DuPont has been in the Ohio Valley for 70-plus years, and has been a tremendous employer," he said. "Without question, DuPont was the place to work in the Mid-Ohio Valley for a lot of years." Many of his classmates grew up in DuPont families.<br><br>Though Chemours, a spinoff company of DuPont, now operates the Washington Works plant, DuPont maintains a presence in the community. A DuPont spokesperson provided an overview of its financial and volunteer support initiatives and wrote that the company supports programs and organizations focused on revitalizing neighborhoods and enhancing quality of life; STEM-related initiatives in local schools; and "initiatives that help protect the environment through clean-up or restoration efforts and allow for DuPont Washington Works to show we are a leader in minimizing our environmental footprint within the community."</p><p>Parkersburg, said Doug Higgs, is the kind of town where everybody knows everybody. Higgs graduated from Parkersburg High a year after Joyce, and Joyce's mother, Barbara, taught him Sunday school.</p><p>"Everybody knows everybody's business," Higgs said, but nobody talked about C8. It was a matter of "not wanting to bite the hand that fed you."</p><p>Well-paying jobs, great benefits, Little League sponsorships, investments in the arts — but at a cost. The hand that fed did clench.</p><p>Higgs, now an emergency room physician living in Richmond, Virginia, recalls returning from road trips with his family asleep in the back seat, awakened as they approached home by the familiar waft of chemicals.</p><p>Two of the Higgs' most immediate neighbors died in their early 50s of renal cell cancer. Higgs' father has ulcerative colitis, and his brother received treatment for polycystic kidney disease in high school.</p><p>"We all have stories of friends and family, neighbors, dying too young or being diagnosed with various medical problems," Higgs said.</p><p>He knows, of course, the distinction between correlation and causation. But the high incidence of a range of diseases has staggered this community. It's unfair, Higgs said, that a community should have to perpetually ask what exactly it has been exposed to, and where and when the consequences will end. </p>
The old ‘hey-look-over-here’<p>DuPont's own documentation specified that C8 was not to be flushed into surface waters, but the company did so for decades. The chemical seeped into the water supplies of the communities of Lubeck and Little Hocking, immediately west of Parkersburg, and the city of Belpre, Ohio, just across the river; and three other water systems.</p> <p>In 2004, DuPont paid $70 million in a class-action lawsuit and agreed to install filtration plants in the affected water districts. In 2005, it reached a $16.5 million settlement with the EPA for violations of the Toxic Substances Control Act.</p> <p>A collective decision was made to use the money won in the class-action suit to conduct an epidemiological study in which <a href="https://www.hpcbd.com/Personal-Injury/DuPont-C8/The-Brookmar-C8-Health-Project-CO.shtml" target="_blank">nearly 70,000 of the 80,000 plaintiffs stopped into one of six clinics</a> set up throughout the community, provided their medical histories and offered their blood. They were each paid $400. </p> <p>A<a href="http://c8sciencepanel.org" target="_blank"> science panel</a>, comprised of public health scientists appointed by DuPont and lawyers representing the community, was convened to examine the immense database. In 2012, after seven years of study, the panel released a report documenting a probable link between C8 and six conditions: testicular cancer, kidney cancer, thyroid disease, ulcerative colitis, pregnancy-induced hypertension and high cholesterol.</p>
A vehicle slows down at the corner of Fourth and Market streets in Parkersburg, West Virginia, on Nov. 20, 2019. (Credit: Lexi Browning/100 Days in Appalachia)<p>In 2015, DuPont spun off its chemical division into a new company called Chemours, which now occupies the Washington Works facility on the Ohio. In 2017, DuPont and Chemours agreed to pay $671 million to settle some 3,500 pending lawsuits.</p><p>"You grew up with the fear of DuPont leaving town," said Ben Hawkins. Hawkins was student body president of the Parkersburg High class of 1993. He remembers DuPont's participation in his school's Partners in Education program and riding in parades on DuPont-sponsored floats.</p><p>Among Hawkins' classmates who have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer was Mike Cox, a local dentist. Cox, Hawkins and Higgs were among a pack of guys who ran together in high school and stayed close after. Cox was a big Ozzy Osbourne fan, and after a grueling regimen of chemo, Hawkins helped arrange backstage passes to a concert, where Osbourne pulled Cox near and shared his own family's experience with cancer. Post-diagnosis, Cox had begun performing stand-up comedy routines that incorporated flute solos. He died Jan. 28, 2017, at the age of 41, a father of three.</p><p>Hawkins, who now lives in the Washington, D.C., area, views his Partners in Education experiences somewhat differently today: "It wasn't a partnership; it was a page from a public relations playbook. It was the old 'hey-look-over-here!' move to keep the Teflon dollars flowing into their bank account."</p><p>His classmate Beth Radmanesh has similar cynical recollections of DuPont's role in her childhood. Radmanesh grew up less than a mile from the Washington Works plant. Today, she has high cholesterol. Her dad suffers from discoid lupus, causing sores the size of 50-cent pieces on his forehead. Her brother has lupus and had colon cancer, and her sister-in-law has also been diagnosed with lupus.</p><p>But Radmanesh said her mom is a proponent of bringing another controversial industry to the valley: fracking for natural gas. "I said to her, 'We've already had our water contaminated once. Do you want your water [to be] flammable? Because that's what will happen.'" Her mom's response was, "'Oh, Beth.' That's it. 'Oh, Beth.'"</p>
A ‘weird mix’<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjQ4NTc3NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NDc1MjU4NH0.ZgmJ6wNgzzJYuTgQBOXe68akLC9-oqWG8mFieBP-yuM/img.jpg?width=980" id="6e56e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2e15ed78060ab6b5400e43f1f6f79d6f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Joe Kiger and his wife Darlene Kiger are photographed at their residence in Washington, West Virginia, on Dec. 4, 2019. The Kigers have spent the last two decades working to uncover the impacts and effects of C8 exposure in the region. (Credit: Lexi Browning/100 Days in Appalachia)<p>Joe and Darlene Kiger live just a few miles from where Radmanesh grew up. Joe, a physical education teacher, is now quite well known in the community for having raised awareness of the dangers of C8 — called "the devil's piss" by some — in local water supplies. He and his wife, Darlene, joined the class-action suit that was settled in 2004.</p> <p>Darlene said that when she and Joe are out around town, "there are a lot of whispers behind your back. They don't know what to say." The experience has taken a toll — "these people all looking at you as bringing this on them," Joe said — but they've never considered leaving. "Why would you leave the fight?" he said. "What would it look like if we packed up?"</p> <p>There's a lot, Joe said, that DuPont hasn't yet been held accountable for. Earlier this year, <a href="https://cen.acs.org/environment/pollution/US-EPA-cites-Chemours-releases/97/web/2019/02" target="_blank">Chemours was cited by the EPA for the unregulated release of new chemical compounds from its West Virginia and North Carolina facilities</a>. "I'm not done yet," Joe said.</p> <p>Harry Deitzler served as a lead attorney, among others, in representing the Kigers and tens of thousands of others in the class-action suit. Deitzler was the architect of the decision to use the $70 million to conduct the study.</p> <p>"Parkersburg adopted me in 1975," Deitzler said of his arrival in town. He'd come for a summer internship in the prosecuting attorney's office. The position didn't pay enough to cover his room and board, so he took a job in a bar called Friar Tuck's.</p> <p>"By the end of the summer, the community was my family," Deitzler said. "I asked the prosecutor if he'd hire me as an assistant the next year, and he said, 'Sure; you'll get $6,000 a year.' And I said, 'That'll be great.'" </p> <p>"Most people thought I was a recovering alcoholic because I never drank a beer, because I couldn't afford to buy one." Three years later, at 27, he was appointed as prosecuting attorney. "Such a wonderful, accepting community."</p> <p>But, some three decades later, there was a price to pay for taking on DuPont.</p><p>"There was a misperception that we were trying to put DuPont out of business, and, of course, that was created intentionally by the people in Wilmington," Deitzler said, referring to DuPont's Delaware headquarters. "When you have a community of that size, and you've got several thousand people employed there, and multiply that by the families and their relatives — it's very upsetting." Some folks were unsure of what to make of Deitzler.</p> <p>Longtime resident Nancy Roettger characterizes the community's reaction to the revelation of what DuPont had done as a "weird mix." </p> <p>"There were women that immediately went out and changed their frying pans," Roettger said. But a lot of those same people decided "that Harry Deitzler is a horrible person" for his role in exposing DuPont. </p> <p>"It's like, they don't want that frying pan anymore," she said, "but they don't want anything negative, and they're very resentful of the people that stirred up the trouble."</p>
Less than idyllic in retrospect<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjQ4NTc3OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NzYwMTE5MH0.Fzkg3NjV4SAddfByRMHJKGJmJpjd72vxJon7LHzO2Go/img.jpg?width=980" id="91130" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="565c0af407169025aa99ceab1b06aa7a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Candace Jones, a native of Vienna, West Virginia, is photographed downtown on Nov. 20, 2019. (Credit: Lexi Browning/100 Days in Appalachia)<p>Candace Jones, a neighbor and longtime friend of Roettger's, said she hates the perception that the community has been divided between the DuPonters and everyone else.</p> <p>"We're a community and we all need each other," Jones said. "I think it's terrible, absolutely horrendous what happened because of decisions made for monetary gain. But I don't believe we can blame the everyday worker." Her father-in-law worked in the Teflon division. "He just went to work every day; he provided for [his family]."</p> <p>Jones' friend Janet Ray's husband passed away 16 years ago from pancreatic cancer. He worked for BorgWarner, a manufacturing company on the river. There are about a dozen houses along Ray's street in Vienna, a Parkersburg suburb, "and I think just about every house during the time I've lived on the street has been affected by cancer." </p> <p>Ray said she sometimes feels guilty, thinking that perhaps the livelihood her family has enjoyed as a result of her husband's employment might have caused health problems for others. "I certainly hope it didn't." </p> <p>Tracy Danzey was raised in the quiet of Vienna, there with the Rays, the Joneses, the Higgs family. She now lives on the other side of the state, in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle. Danzey was a competitive swimmer growing up. When not competing, "we were on the river … we were playing in the creeks. I was always in the water."</p> <p>"It's hard to look back at that time now and see it as idyllic," Danzey said.</p> <p>At age 20, her thyroid began malfunctioning. Five years later, the socket of her hip shattered while running with her husband. She was diagnosed with an atypical form of bone cancer in her right hip. Her hip and leg had to be amputated; she underwent 18 months of high-dose chemotherapy.</p> <p>Six leading pathologists from across the country were unable to identify the specific type of cancer. "They said it's very pathologically unusual." Research has indicated to Danzey, who's a nurse, that pathologically unusual cancers are not uncommonly associated with industrial poisonings.</p> <p>Danzey's stepfather is retired from DuPont and her stepbrother works on the Teflon line. "Yes, it is complicated," her mother, Carolyn Tracewell, said. When her kids were growing up, when someone was hired at DuPont, "there was a celebration" — the good pay, the benefits, "and they did treat their employees well."</p> <p>But "my heart hurts," Tracewell said, to think that her daughter's illnesses might be a consequence of all that. </p> <p>Danzey said her mom "mostly just feels pain for me," worries about her stepson and is anxious about the future. Her stepfather wonders if one day his pension check will no longer arrive as a result of all the financial fallout. </p> <p>None of them argue with Tracy about the source of her illnesses. "They know what happened." They allow her "to sit in this truth regardless of how it affects them." That means a lot. </p> <p>Danzey is among those who believe that in regard to perceptions of DuPont in the Parkersburg community, there's a generational divide: Those in their 40s and younger tend to hold a less charitable view than baby boomers and their parents.</p> <p>There likewise appears to be a generational divide in willingness to drink the water, despite the filtration installed as a result of the settlement. </p> <p>On the September Saturday afternoon of the annual Parkersburg Paddlefest, kayaker Travis Hewitt, 31, stood ashore of the point where the Ohio meets the Little Kanawha and said that few people he knows truly believe the water's safe. Sure, he paddles in it, but "I try not to get it on me" and never swims in it. He has a filter installed in his kitchen.</p>
Home<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjQ4NTc5MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MDM3MjIwMH0.3_CQPjN6ebqQuiR3bSjmwWzphiDa6i7GY3LGgIvfPHc/img.jpg?width=980" id="23ba1" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c9ef0e7e10a5b572e1ab1f0f6bf336ed" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Weathered signage on the Point Park floodwall greets passersby in downtown Parkersburg, West Virginia, on Nov. 20, 2019. (Credit: Lexi Browning/100 Days in Appalachia)<p>Tommy Joyce, the mayor of Parkersburg, is bullish on West Virginia: "We've got enough coal to light the world, gas to heat the world and brains to run the world."</p> <p>Fellow Parkersburg High grad Brian Flinn, an engineer, worked for DuPont for eight and a half years; he worked with the raw materials of Teflon. He's seen both sides. He's heard, "If DuPont leaves, we're done. This area will be like most other towns in West Virginia; it'll collapse." He's also aware of the inherent dangers in living within the shadow of the chemical industry. So the sentiment goes, he said, "You take the good with the bad, right?" </p> <p>But Danzey is unwilling. "I love West Virginia," she said. "I really do. I love this state. I don't want to be anywhere else." But she wants better for West Virginians. Industries come into their communities, do well for a while, "screw up the environment and then leave."</p> <p>"It's time for something new in West Virginia," she said. "It's time for us to expect more."</p> <p>Pondering that future keeps Ben Hawkins up at night. "What's next? What's next for the community, and where does this end? Or does it? What sort of positivity can come to that community? They need it and they deserve it."</p> <p>Hawkins asks this: Think about how loyal the people of the Parkersburg community have been to DuPont. What if they had the opportunity to extend that same loyalty to a company that's equally invested in the economic, physical and emotional health of the community? </p> <p>"That's home and always will be home," Hawkins said of Parkersburg. "We came from that community and that community did a lot to shape us. We all want the best for that community … whatever form that can take."</p>
"Will one of these fit?" Wendell R. Haag asks, holding out a couple pairs of well-worn creeking shoes he's pulled from the back of his pickup, both decidedly larger than a ladies size 8.
U.S. Forest Service Fisheries Research Biologist Wendell R. Haag holds a pimpleback mussel and a purple wartyback mussel to show the differences in the species. (Credit: Carrie Blackmore Smith/PublicSource)<p>Haag has taken me to a specific spot on the Licking River to see an environment that supports more types of mussels than just about anywhere. Roughly 40 species have been recorded here, though several are no longer present. For scope, 16 species have been found in all of Europe.</p><p>"Very few people know any of this," says Haag, standing in shorts, a raincoat and a Mississippi National Forest Stream Team ball cap. He adds that even fewer people understand the vital role mussels play in the environment.</p><p>Mussels are good monitors of stream quality; they purify water, provide a structural habitat and food for other organisms and ease something known as nutrient overload, often caused by farm fertilizer run-off and water treatment practices. Mussels can naturally recycle and store some of these nutrients.</p><p>A lot of people don't realize that humans are responsible for the extinction of at least 11 mussel species that once lived in the watershed and that about 70% are considered "imperiled," meaning their rapid and continuous declines put them at risk of becoming extinct.</p><p>Haag is chasing after some answers behind the diminishing population.</p><p>"When I go out and look for mussels where they should be, they are disappearing," Haag says, "time and time again." </p><p>Haag has a hypothesis as to why and a plan to test it. "Before I retire, I want to prove what is doing this."</p>
American progress hit mussels hard<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjQ4NTg2NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNDQzOTI1Mn0.--RTJGqQ96DKVEzI2iVTtHWCbyK7AdxBy4dGvEIbFnI/img.jpg?width=980" id="892a7" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0deab9843fa2e435bb8189e4e05f53c5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
U.S. Forest Service Fisheries Research Biologist Wendell R. Haag demonstrates how he looks for freshwater mussels with a bucket that he altered to have a clear bottom, perfect for looking at the riverbed. (Credit: Carrie Blackmore Smith/PublicSource)<p>Let's just say <a href="https://www.inhs.illinois.edu/research/pi/jtiemann" target="_blank">Jeremy Tiemann</a> is comfortable in a wetsuit. The aquatic ecologist has spent 22 years exploring freshwater habitats, many in the Ohio River watershed. At his job at the Illinois Natural History Survey, housed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, his work informs how environmental regulations are set in the Prairie State for mussels and other freshwater fauna.</p><p>For all he's seen, Tiemann is fairly confident that no other aquatic organisms have taken a bigger hit from American progress than the freshwater mollusks, mussels and snails.</p><p>"We completely changed the way the river behaves," Tiemann says by phone from his office, and that's not a good thing for these sensitive animals.</p><p>Tiemann did his master's thesis on the impact of low head dams on stream ecosystems. While many species suffered setbacks and death from their construction, it specifically devastated many mussel species. It led to extinctions and substantially reduced population densities.</p><p>Why? First, the Ohio River was not naturally as deep as it is today. During a dry spell, people could walk across a lot of it. Locks and dams began to be constructed on the Ohio River around 1885 to raise the water level and allow for easier navigation, with the final dam in that system completed in 1929. In the 1950s, the dam system was modernized by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to improve flood protection and raise the water level for barges to transport materials like coal and salt.</p>
Mussels are being raised at the Thomas More University Biology Field Station on the Ohio River near Cincinnati. (Credit: Carrie Blackmore Smith/PublicSource)<p>Mussels typically like free-flowing water, Tiemann explains. Dams pool the water up behind them and create more pond- or lake-like qualities. Silt and debris built up, suffocating mussels. It also restricts fish migrations, which affects mussels because some use fish to complete their life cycles.</p><p>People also built dams on smaller tributaries, channelized streams and began discharging mine and industrial waste into the waters.</p><p>So, while the Ohio River watershed has some of the greatest diversity of freshwater mussels anywhere on the planet, they're in a precarious position, Tiemann says.</p><p>Pollution spills happen with some frequency and can kill them. They were harvested in some areas a few decades ago, when mussel shells were commonly used to make buttons. Mussels have also had to fight for their place against invasive species like the Zebra mussel, a fingernail-sized mollusk native to freshwaters in Eurasia. It is believed they arrived in North America in the 1980s on large ships from Europe, and they crowded out some native mussels early on.</p><p>"We are now starting to realize the true effects of the loss of mussels, and some of us want to improve their numbers and mitigate the problems that they face," Tiemann says.</p><p>This includes reintroduction and rescue missions. Tiemann continues to monitor a 13-year project that involved moving populations of two endangered species of mussels away from a spot in the Allegheny River in Pennsylvania. The Hunter Station Bridge replacement was expected to kill the creatures. Tiemann and his team moved them to some streams in Illinois, while colleagues in the field moved them to six other states in the watershed.</p><p>Tiemann says many of the mussels are still living. But his team has yet to see evidence of reproduction, which is ultimately what they want to see. Juvenile mussels are extremely difficult to find so it could be another decade or more before they know if the mussels are reproducing.</p><p>Every day, he says, researchers learn more and more about these creatures.</p><p>"We have more people studying mussels and coming together than ever before," Tiemann says, adding that the Freshwater Mollusk Conservation Society started with a handful of people in 1989. Now they are 500 strong, worldwide, with European and South American contingents. Founders now have students in leadership positions.</p>
Critical to the ecosystem, not your diet<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjQ4NTg3MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxOTkyNDc4Mn0.VK-gv2CdJ6PXPtyN_80osbxlo2Xuxq9vptXJ3OVzvZo/img.jpg?width=980" id="aeac4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="95978c079c3775fd2c944bc4394f0804" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Buttons used to be made out of freshwater mussel shells harvested from the Ohio River. These are on display at the Thomas More University Biology Field Station on the Ohio River near Cincinnati. (Credit: Carrie Blackmore Smith/PublicSource)<p>Back on the Licking River, Haag has his head in a blue Lowe's bucket, which he has modified with plexiglass to create a clear bottom.</p> <p>Nah, you don't want to eat these mussels, Haag says, pushing the bucket down and sweeping the river floor to find a live one. </p> <p>Native Americans sometimes ate them but more often they would ground up the shells to temper pottery, Haag says. He's eaten them and says, "They taste awful." He's used to first question being whether they're edible, but he says there's plenty of other reasons to want to keep mussels around.</p> <p>Haag has found one in the water. The tip of its two shells is all that's visible. It's probably a big one, Haag tells me, carefully wiggling it out of the dirt and lifting the creature out of the water. </p> <p>The common name for this one is a pink heelsplitter, he says, because they have an elongated wing that protrudes from the stream bottom and could split your foot. The nacre on the inside of their shells is a pinkish purple. The mussel ejects a thin stream of water and retracts a large slimy foot, which it uses to maneuver itself short distances in the riverbed to stay submerged in the stream.</p> <p>Like with many trees, each ring on the shell of many native mussels represents one year of growth. Most live 20 to 50 years but some live past 100, Haag says. </p> <p>It's hard to imagine mussels suddenly disappearing from a place like this, but Haag has grown accustomed to seeing it happen. He'll visit a place last documented to have a healthy population of mussels and instead find only dead shells mixed with old mussels past the reproductive stage. It's only a matter of time before it becomes a shell graveyard.</p> <p>In his years of research and considering other peer-reviewed work, Haag says he believes only two things could be the cause of the decline: either a disease that has not yet been identified or the Corbicula (Asian clam), an invasive species that has been thought to be harmless for decades.</p> <p>He hopes an answer will help save these creatures whose benefits are just now being understood and, in some cases, harnessed by humans. </p> <p>There is now a discussion about putting a monetary figure on mussels.</p> <p>A paper on the topic was released in March 2018 in Hydrobiologia, an international journal of aquatic sciences. The authors called for more research on the economic, social and ecological value of mussels as well as "tools that will allow us to value mussel ecosystem services in a way that is understandable to both the public and to policy makers."</p> <p>Haag says it can't hurt to determine a mussel's worth. </p> <p>Suddenly, he lets out a yip of excitement. He can't believe our luck. </p> <p>Haag waves me over. We peer through the bottom of the bucket together. It's a plain pocketbook mussel doing something researchers only confirmed the function of in the 1990s. </p> <p>The mussel pushes two flaps of her mantle out of her shell in a way that looks deceivingly like two minnows. She is trying to lure a fish by mimicking its prey. When a fish approaches and opens wide, the mussel will spray her larvae into the fish's face, hoping to hit the gills. There, the baby mussels will attach themselves as parasites and feed off the blood of the fish. The general consensus, Haag says, is they are a relatively benign parasite. Damage to the fish is relatively rare.</p> <p>It gets wilder. After they attach, they metamorphosize like a caterpillar into a butterfly. They change form — from a glochidia (parasitic microscopic larvae) to a bivalve with a shell.</p> <p>At this stage, they fall off of the fish, land on the bottom of the stream floor and basically stay put. Studies show that pocketbooks only use bass as a host. "So, it's integral that those fish are here, too," Haag says.</p>
‘Fight for these guys’<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjQ4NTg3Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMjc3NjA5N30.MS1w-1ClS7t2xO84mECwr93x9UmTv7p6hauWbAspsiY/img.jpg?width=980" id="54a35" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0f93d911ad7e2ba63c94c57015af0678" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
U.S. Forest Service Fisheries Research Biologist Wendell R. Haag points out a mussel living in the stream. (Credit: Carrie Blackmore Smith/PublicSource)<p>Biologist <a href="https://www.wvpublic.org/post/mussel-woman-biologist-passes-along-pearls-wisdom-about-threatened-mussels#stream/0" target="_blank">Janet Clayton</a> is laying some knowledge on the next generation of mussel experts at the annual meeting of the Ohio River Valley Mollusk Group on a November morning.</p> <p>Clayton has worked with mussels in West Virginia for three decades and has developed mussel surveying methods widely adopted in the field. She's about to retire.</p> <p>Today, gathered at the Thomas More University Biology Field Station on the Ohio River in California, Kentucky, she's passing on specific advice. Her tips include the best brand of glue to adhere tags to a mussel's shell and the way to sweep an area for mussels to count them properly. </p> <p>"Now, it is your turn to fight for these guys," Clayton tells the group, her voice catching. "Stay true to the resource." The room, made up of roughly 40 biologists, ecologists, environmental consultants and scholars from six states, gives her a warm round of applause. </p> <p>The morning talks wrap up and a discussion begins over the difficulty in getting the public to care about these unseen creatures. "How do we reach them?" one woman asks. </p> <p>Professor Christopher Lorentz, director of Thomas More's environmental science program, runs the facility, lab and conference space, which was originally built as a lock house in the Ohio's first system of locks and dams. Lorentz, university staff and students study the river and its inhabitants there. Water is circulated from the river to raise and observe its fish, mussels and more.</p> <p>U.S. Fish and Wildlife, state natural resource departments and nonprofits are working together to review impact of dams and cases where they could be removed. Organizations such as the Ohio River Foundation and The Nature Conservancy have been involved in dam removal and education about mussels. When a permit expires, the state or federal government generally reviews its impact on the environment to decide if it should be replaced or removed, Tiemann says. </p> <p>It's exciting, Lorentz says, to see the synergy between states and experts in the watershed. Scientists are learning more about mussels, "yet, there are some species that aren't doing well in pristine areas." And if we can't figure that out, Lorentz says we can move them around, we can try to preserve them — but what will that do if the mysterious threat is still out there?</p> <p>Haag says he thinks scientists need to look at the larger patterns and characteristics of the population decline and then focus in more closely on what could cause them. He continues to build on experiments he began in 2015 but fears one day he'll arrive at this place — one of his favorite stretches of river — and find only dead mussels. But not today. Today we'll see plenty of mussels, including the fanshell currently listed as endangered. </p> <p>"Can you imagine?" Haag says. "It's like walking into a forest that you know and there are no trees." He walks on ahead with his bucket and talks of changing the outcome.</p>
In Louisville, Kentucky, the Ohio River has something of an image problem.
Louisville’s front lawn<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjIxMzEwNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NDU1NzcyNX0.c-y5i5N0E9B863L2P5JQ0IJt6HVb4XB4he94peCJ8mE/img.jpg?width=980" id="9f81b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="deed9e30646300ec9ebe546e4fb9c9af" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
River Heritage Conservancy Executive Director Scott Martin looks upon the Falls of The Ohio on the Ohio River. (Credit: Ryan Van Velzer/WFPL)<p>More than 25 million people live in the Ohio River Basin and some five million of those get their drinking water from the river. But if you wanted to see the river for yourself in downtown Louisville in 1985, you'd likely have to commit some light trespassing.</p><p>David Karem is a self-proclaimed river rat. He's also a former state senator and the first president of the Waterfront Development Corporation. When development began on Louisville's downtown waterfront in 1986, Karem described it as a tangle of chain-link fences, junk yards, abandoned warehouses and asphalt terminals.</p><p>"Really an impenetrable wasteland as far as getting people back to the river as amenity," Karem said.</p><p>Riding a wave of riverfront revitalization occurring across the country, the Waterfront Development Corporation transformed 86 acres into a riverfront park that now boasts 2.2 million visitors annually. Waterfront Park features a walking bridge, paths, grassy fields, playgrounds and a wharf.</p><p>The park and its lawns serve dual roles. When the river is low, the park hosts more than 150 events a year including music festivals, air shows and riverboat races. When it's high, the grassy lawns serve as floodplain, absorbing water and dissipating the river's energy. In that way, Waterfront Park was ahead of its time as cities begin to reconsider the ecological and economic impacts of developing riverfronts prone to flooding. </p><p>"The flood issues are enormous and so you have to build the park to deal with that," Karem said. "The park was designed extremely carefully to deal with the flooding issues."</p><p>But maintenance on the park isn't cheap, and the park has lost a sizeable chunk of its funding over the last five years. Waterfront Development Corporation formed as a partnership, but the state eliminated its funding for the park in 2014, cutting the budget by about $420,000. Earlier this year, the city reduced its funding by 30%, cutting another $300,000 from the $2.4 million operating budget.</p><p>"We have to react very quickly to replace those funds that we've lost and that's a significant amount of funding," said Deborah Bilitski, current president of the Waterfront Development Corporation.</p><p>Still, Waterfront is working on a 22-acre expansion of the park between 10th and 15th streets along the river. Karem said he believes when people see the river, it deepens their appreciation for the resource. </p><p>"The natural mental occurrence is we've got to protect it, we've got to love it, we have to keep it clean, we have to embrace it," he said. </p>
River Heritage Conservancy<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjIxMzEwOS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNzM2Nzc4OH0.uK1sFt_xiJcdBdv1Cn2VCvXsYOxuXPUCInDzR_t7x0A/img.jpg?width=980" id="8adb6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c28c12e01e1a0a4833ec72626d85450a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A river road in Indiana sloughing into the Ohio River.(Credit: Ryan Van Velzer/WFPL)<p>If Waterfront Park is Louisville's front yard, then the nonprofit River Heritage Conservancy wants to be the forest just over its back fence. Right now, it's 600 acres of shoreline, scrap yards, landfills, fill pits, quarries and river camps sitting idly across the river from Louisville in Indiana.</p><p>"So even within these junk yards we have over 150 different species of birds that will move through here over the years," said Scott Martin, the conservancy executive director. "We have otter. We have mink. We have flying squirrels."</p><p>On a jagged river road near the Falls of the Ohio, Martin describes his vision for the wildest section of land in Kentuckiana's urban core. He envisions a landscape park complete with lawns, hiking trails, forests, wetlands and elevated pathways designed to experience river flooding from a safe distance.</p><p>"So we want to be the park where people come experience the power of nature and really feel a little bit of awe and feel our smallness in the face of it," Martin said.</p><p>The conservancy has already purchased about half the land needed for the park. To date, funding support has come from the Paul Ogle Foundation, the Blue Sky Foundation, the Town of Clarksville and other local and national organizations. </p><p>Martin declined to comment on the amount of funding raised thus far, citing ongoing land acquisition deals. The conservancy is currently working on a master plan to present to the public in spring 2020, Martin said.</p>
Floating on the Ohio River recreation trail<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjIxMzEwNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MDUwMTQ5MH0.Ttvf21xjJQ4fUxl04h3vD7aUlwj4xLu64OoeGbIyX0E/img.jpg?width=980" id="540a6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="517b7f0811a57861de24b331ba9d3413" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Educator and environmentalist David Wicks paddling on the Ohio River near Prospect, Kentucky. Credit: Ryan Van Velzer/WFPL)<p>David Wicks would like to see Ohio River recreation go a step beyond the water's edge. To that end, he is working with the National Park Service on developing a 274-mile water trail along the river from Portsmouth, Ohio, to West Point, Kentucky.</p><p>The Ohio River Recreational Trail would serve as a recreational route along the river with regular public access points for canoes, kayaks, sail and motorboats.</p>
An Ohio River sunset near Prospect, Kentucky. (Credit: Ryan Van Velzer/WFPL)<p>"And one of the bottom-line ideas is to connect Louisville with all the river towns up and down the river," he said.</p><p>On a recent kayak tour along a 14-mile stretch upriver from Louisville, Wicks paddled past forested hills, flocks of migrating birds, barges and small river towns. Halfway through the trip, he paused to walk through the abandoned Rose Island amusement park in Charlestown State Park.</p><p>Strolling under a series of archways set in the middle of a forest, he stopped to brush aside the leaves and read something inscribed in the concrete: Walkway of Roses.</p><p>"This area we're walking through right now used to be a city," Wicks said. "Now it's a floodplain."</p><p>Wicks plans to develop resources in each of the 34 towns along the trail, including additional boat ramps and overnight camping sites every 20 miles or so.</p><p>In November, the National Park Service selected the project to receive planning assistance that will include expert consultation and spur the development of hiking, biking and water trails along the river, though it won't include any funding.</p>
Revitalizing the riverfront<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjIxMzExMi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTkxMjI5NX0.S8RpO36coZqAb7zfcxBUPqgm77hZFiD8tOIXm-29nv8/img.jpg?width=980" id="ff943" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9f84700ef3969f170e74f62c52215161" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The East End Bridge in north Louisville during an Ohio River sunset. (Credit: Ryan Van Velzer/WFPL)<p>Wicks has a dream that one day he might dip a teacup in the Ohio River and drink cool, clean freshwater while paddling downriver. "And so I think the recreational trail is one step toward that. It develops the advocacy group to help our local politicians do what's right."</p><p>Further downriver in Louisville, Karem sits at a picnic bench outside Waterfront Development Corporation's headquarters, which used to house a sand and gravel company. He agrees that providing access to the Ohio River is the most important factor in getting people invested in the resource.</p><p>"People have an innate desire to get to the river's edge. It is almost spiritual how much they want to be by it," Karem said. </p><p>Standing at the Falls of the Ohio, Martin explained his role in the changing nature of the river.</p><p>"In our lifespan, the Ohio is transitioning," he said. "What was previously seen as almost entirely industrial-commercial river is a river that people see for recreational and conservation values."</p>
When 78-year-old Jim Casto looks at the towering floodwalls that line downtown Huntington, West Virginia, he sees a dark history of generations past.
Aging protection<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjE2NjMxOC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MjUxMTE4NX0.JzB3cHjg7gDxSrcB48NGNvh4YrUri4ETyPh-J3dkG8A/img.jpg?width=980" id="26696" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aac330cb5f1d1c76dd2af5391e64437a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Mike Pemberton pictured outside the entrance of Pump Station Number Six in Ironton, Ohio. (Credit: Liam Niemeyer, Ohio Valley ReSource)<p>With the twist of a cold handle, a heavy, metal door creaks open, the sound echoing throughout the cavernous Pump Station Number Six on the west side of Ironton, Ohio, along the Ohio River.</p> <p>"Like going into the Frankenstein laboratory, wasn't it?" said Mike Pemberton, who's managed flood defense for decades in the city of more than 10,000 people, a half-hour downstream from Huntington. Four gigantic red pumps protrude 10 feet from the ground below a raised platform, where large, green electrical switchboards from the 1940s take up most of the space.</p> <p>Pemberton motions to a sensor with a weighted pulley that uses mercury to tell how much water is being pumped during high water; modern equipment, on the other hand, would be computerized. He said it's fairly reliable, but sometimes the mercury container collects a film of carbon material that he shakes off.</p> <p>"Slap the side of it, and sometimes that'll clean the carbon off the mercury," Pemberton said.</p> <p>Ironton's flood defense system of pump stations, levees and floodwalls were also built in the 1940s, much like in Huntington. The sensor is something he can see and more easily maintain. Yet some things remain outside his experienced sight, including the more than half-century-old pipes that run through the station and the sluice gates that seal water from flooding the station itself.</p> <p>"We don't know the condition of the inside of that pipe. We don't know if that gate could have a stress crack in it," Pemberton said. "That's some of the things I kind of worry about."</p> <p>Pemberton's maintenance worries extend far beyond to nine other archaic pump stations, almost 4 miles of earthen levee and over another mile of floodwall. He said a local tax levy that generates about $260,000 a year for his department mostly funds salaries for three employees and daily maintenance on the flood protection system. That includes tasks such as mowing the grass on top of levees and greasing pump motors.</p>
Mike Pemberton shows a dated sensor that uses mercury in Pump Station Number Six in Ironton, Ohio. (Credit: Liam Niemeyer, Ohio Valley ReSource)<p>Ironton voted in 2014 to <a href="https://www.wsaz.com/home/headlines/Flood-Wall-Levy-on-the-Ballot-in-Ironton-279381382.html" target="_blank">double the tax levy</a>. Pemberton campaigned for the measure by hanging signs marking the 1937 flood level throughout the city's historic downtown, reaching the second floor of many buildings.</p><p>Ironton City Council also passed an <a href="https://www.irontontribune.com/2018/12/18/ironton-city-council-increases-fees/" target="_blank">ordinance</a> in 2018 that created a monthly $5 flood protection fee tacked onto utility bills. That revenue goes into a Flood Improvement Fund that had a little more than $200,000 as of late November, according to the city's finance director. Ironton's per capita income is about $20,000 and the city's poverty rate hovers at 20%, but the city didn't have many other options.</p><p>"To nobody's knowledge was there anywhere, any kind of money available to go after that would meet the kind of needs, and there was an immediate need," said Jim Tordiff, the former Ironton councilman who drafted the ordinance. "It had gone on too long and couldn't be ignored."</p><p>But Pemberton said even with the extra local funding, the glaring, long-term problems still pile up.</p><p>Pump Station Five, directly along the banks of the Ohio, is the first station that's turned on when high waters hit Ironton. Pump engines have caught fire over the decades and, a few years ago, Pemberton said, the electrical switchgear controlling the station's pumps also went up in flames. He said his department was only able to afford the $198,000 switchgear repair cost because of a city insurance payment.</p>
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers photo of Fourth Avenue in Huntington, West Virginia, during the 1937 flood. (Credit: Huntington District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)<p>If there were a flood that damaged Huntington's downtown floodwall, the Corps of Engineers would not help the city pay for repairs.</p><p>The federal government fully funds repairs to a system after a disaster through the <a href="https://www.mvp.usace.army.mil/Missions/Emergency-Management/Rehabilitation-Inspection/" target="_blank">Rehabilitation and Inspection Program, but only if the system meets basic inspection requirements.</a> The Corps of Engineers inspects flood defense systems annually on physical flaws and administrative practices, such as whether cities practice routine floodwall gate closures.</p><p>If the inspection is considered at least "minimally acceptable," the Corps will cover damage from a disaster.</p><p>The reason Huntington's downtown floodwall does not qualify? A sinkhole, almost the size of a car, threatens to swallow up ground near the city's 11th Street Pump Station.</p><p>"It's not just Huntington, it's every single floodwall that was built in the 1930s, 1940s. It is not a luxury. It is a necessity," Wilkins said. "It's a problem nationwide."</p><p>With scientists predicting warmer temperatures and more frequent flooding due to climate change, the urgency is growing to address aging infrastructure. </p>
Warmer, wetter future<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjE2NjM3MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwMjYyMTY4Mn0.q5J2djIz9mGTSg3VuJN80e5MieCLk7P-gSay8adUXbs/img.jpg?width=980" id="69b89" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="984a4fa245561c37a3cdff9242a07d76" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A sinkhole looms underneath the 11th Street Pump Station along the floodwall in Huntington, West Virginia. (Credit: Liam Niemeyer, Ohio Valley ReSource)<p>Huntington as warm as Los Angeles. Cincinnati as hot as Atlanta: Those are just some of the predicted temperature rises in the Ohio River basin in the coming century, according to a 2017 <a href="https://www.lrh.usace.army.mil/Portals/38/docs/orba/USACE%20Ohio%20River%20Basin%20CC%20Report_MAY%202017.pdf" target="_blank">report</a> studying the effects of climate change. The Army Corps, the National Weather Service, regional universities and other federal and state partners worked on the study. </p><p>Jim Noel is a service coordination hydrologist with the National Weather Service <a href="https://www.weather.gov/ohrfc/" target="_blank">Ohio River Forecast Center</a> and one of the authors of the study. He said the higher temperatures predicted in the study tend to increase the amount of water evaporation, which not only could mean more rainfall but also increase the frequency and severity of floods and droughts throughout the basin.</p><p>Already, several cities in the region saw record rainfall in 2018. Cincinnati saw its third wettest year, and Charleston, Pittsburgh, Columbus and Louisville all saw their wettest year ever.</p><p>Some levee systems in parts of the Ohio River basin — including Huntington and Ironton — could see an average annual river streamflow increase of 25% to 35% by 2099. That increases the chance of another flood on the scale of the historic one in 1937.</p><p>Noel said the Ohio River basin today has several extra protections beyond the floodwalls and levees, such as <a href="https://nid.sec.usace.army.mil/ords/f?p=105:1::::::" target="_blank">dams</a> and reservoirs along tributary rivers, that help control water levels before they reach levee systems.</p><p>"The 1937 flood happened before most of the flood control projects in the Ohio basin," Noel said. "Therefore, for example, like if you look at Cincinnati, Ohio, or Louisville, Kentucky, those kind of cities, if 1937 were to exactly repeat itself, the crest on the Ohio River would be some 8 to 10 feet lower in many locations because of the great ability of the Army Corps of Engineers to regulate that flow in that water through their flood control projects."</p><p>And the height of some older floodwalls and levees could already be capable of handling higher waters, according to Kate White who led the 2017 Corps study. </p><p>White said levee projects created in the 1940s often estimated how high to build their levees using what's called the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/freeboard" target="_blank">freeboard</a> method. Past engineers would calculate how high potential floods could be from historical records and then add a few feet on top of that height as a buffer. While newer levees have a more modern analysis for calculating the right flood protection height, she said the old method still offers relatively robust protection.</p><p>"I just think there are older things that are still perfectly fine if they've been maintained and looked after," White said.</p><p>Flood protection managers including Pemberton, Wilkins and others along the Ohio River generally agree that stationary floodwalls and earthen levees are relatively solid compared to the moving parts of pump station equipment.</p>
Signs marking the 1937 flood height in Ironton, Ohio, helped to support passage of a 2014 flood protection tax levy. (Credit: Liam Niemeyer, Ohio Valley ReSource)<p>Army Corps Huntington District Levee Safety Program Manager John Ferguson said he expects all the levee systems in the upper Ohio Valley to perform as expected. But the increasing age is still a question.</p><p>"Maybe the general consensus on most of these projects is a 50-year design life, but again, that's not a hard or fast rule that really means anything," Ferguson said. "And yes, that just proves that it's aging infrastructure like everything else in the country. We just got to take care of it and make sure we maintain it."</p><p>Army Corps officials like Ferguson are relying on a system called <a href="https://www.mvn.usace.army.mil/LSAC/" target="_blank">Levee Safety Action Classification</a> to help prioritize which aging levee systems carry more risk. A levee gets a risk classification based on its condition and the people and property it protects.</p><p>Twelve levee systems in the Ohio River basin have a <a href="https://www.mvn.usace.army.mil/Portals/56/docs/PAO/LSACs/LSAC%20Table.pdf" target="_blank">"high" risk</a> classification, including in Huntington, Louisville and systems protecting cities as small as Brookport, Illinois. This classification calls on officials to increase the "frequency of levee monitoring" and ensure the "community is aware of flood warning and evacuation procedures."</p><p>The risk surrounding aging levees was a prominent topic at a Huntington meeting in November among several local levee project managers. Corps officials, including Ferguson, recommended that managers join forces to be a louder voice for federal funding.</p><p>"It's a completely different story if you have every project, from Parkersburg to Maysville, that raises their hand and says, 'Hey, we've got aging infrastructure,'" Ferguson said. "If there's a lot of 'squeaky wheels,' it gets a lot of grease."</p><p>Pemberton in Ironton said there was once an association of regional floodwall managers who advocated for infrastructure improvements, but that group dissolved in the early 2000s. He isn't sure what future flooding from climate change will look like, but he said he believes banding flood defense managers together will help alleviate some of the uncertainty.</p><p>And when Pemberton hears about climate change from local meteorologists, the nagging worries he has for the future only continue to dog him.</p><p>"'What if' I guess [are] the two big words. 'What if?'"</p>
The city of Newport, Kentucky, is shaped on its north and west borders by the Ohio and Licking rivers. And while Newport hosts entertainment venues and a bourbon distillery bolstered by views of Cincinnati's skyline, its geography and history also create challenges.
The problem: Sewer overages<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjE2NjIyNS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzAxMTMzNX0.9n_KiHentMdKITRZCeDknaO3L5KyOZ7S8zMXSpURmu4/img.jpg?width=980" id="5e3a4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="807875b49376314b8e575a58b539047d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A pile of concrete sits in Newport, Kentucky, on Dec. 8, 2019. A coalition is building more parks to increase greenspace and grass to absorb rainwater and reduce strain on outdated stormwater infrastructure. (Credit: Leigh Taylor/Eye on Ohio)<p>With an outdated stormwater system, Northern Kentucky's Sanitation District [SD1] sees more than 1 billion gallons annually of combined sewer overflows (storm and sanitary).</p><p>When more than a quarter inch of rain is predicted, SD1 notifies residents in its service area via their <a href="http://sd1.org/ProjectsandPrograms/WetWeatherOverflowNotificationProgram.aspx" target="_blank">Wet Weather Notification Program</a> to avoid direct contact with local waterways and the pathogens flowing through them.</p><p>In 2005, SD1 entered into a <a href="http://www.sd1.org/NewsArticle.aspx?id=20129" target="_blank">consent decree</a> with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet with the intention of mitigating overflows by 2025. In February 2019, SD1 requested an extension to the year 2040. </p><p>The infrastructure upgrades needed to meet their goals is estimated to cost $1.3 billion.</p> <p>"The extension will allow us to spread infrastructure capital costs over a longer period, reducing the financial impact to our customers while ensuring progress on overflow mitigation," said SD1 Executive Director Adam Chaney.</p>
Residents look to make a difference<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjE2NjIyOS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMTgxNzIyMn0.wzoa69aKWvN97WzwkbJOvAwPK6nu7fr9EYi9u3qOCEM/img.jpg?width=980" id="35627" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="55715193447b8cc496097e58f1da93a5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A man walks along a grassy berm near the Ohio River across from Cincinnati, Ohio. (Credit: Leigh Taylor/Eye on Ohio)<p>While SD1 is hoping for a new 2040 deadline to make its upgrades, Newport community members are seeking solutions now.</p><p>The university Ecological Stewardship Institute "wanted to work in the neighborhood on a project developed around community needs," said Schwarz, the institute's director.</p><p>Together with community partners ReNewport and Westside Citizens' Coalition, they conducted a survey and found the two main things Newport community members asked for was access to greenspace and better water quality. </p><p>With that input, the coalition pitched to Newport the concept of strategic depaving.</p><p>Then, they asked at community meetings: "Where would you like to see greenspace and how would you use it?"</p><p>About six months into the community engagement that began in July 2018, the City of Newport learned of the efforts and reached out to Schwarz with an idea.</p><p>In 2015, the city built <a href="http://www.kyhousing.org/Specialized-Housing/Pages/Scholar-House.aspx" target="_blank">The Scholar House</a> — a building for housing and education — on the site of the original Bernadette Watkins Park.</p><p>"They owed the neighborhood a park," Schwarz said. The city had an open field directly across the street from the original park location because it demolished a housing complex there to accommodate road expansion. The city hoped it could develop a new Bernadette Watkins Park in that space and align it with the efforts of the coalition. </p><p>Thanks to a grant from Perfetti van Melle, an Italian manufacturer of confectionery and gum, the city installed playground equipment on Sept. 27. The next phase of the new Bernadette Watkins Park includes plans for rain and pollinator gardens.</p><p>"We were excited to see the results of their community input process, as it validated the city's efforts in the park as well," said Larisa Sims, assistant city manager of Newport and the city's project manager for the park.</p>
Containing stormwater<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjE2NjIzMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNzA5NDkzMH0.J6h55ek0Oavc615lHRpq5dOMghNtRZrGUWMhYy-IVpg/img.jpg?width=980" id="cf270" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="a9c36307592145e491fdbdc1ecf4bad8" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A view just west of the Taylor Southgate Bridge across the river from Cincinnati, Ohio. (Credit: Leigh Taylor/Eye on Ohio)<p>The ultimate goal of green infrastructure is to keep rainwater as close to where it falls as possible. When an urban area lacks greenspace, water can't get absorbed and it overwhelms the wastewater collection system. Many older river cities have outdated infrastructure.</p><p>ReNewport approaches stormwater challenges in its community by assessing vacant lots for greenspace opportunities.</p><p>"We're really trying to make as many tiny sponges around the neighborhood as possible," said Steve Mathison, vice president for ReNewport. </p><p>They're doing this in three ways: depaving, installing rain barrels and rain gardens, and planting trees.</p><ol><li><strong>Depaving</strong> isn't as simple as getting rid of pavement and replacing it with greenery. Schwarz, who also studies contaminated soil, cautioned that while the vacant lands left behind by shrinking cities can support sustainability initiatives, "many are the same aging cities that have experienced the highest soil lead burdens from their industrial past as well as the historic use of lead-based paint and leaded gasoline." It's important when taking on a depaving project that part of the strategy is understanding the history of the property and testing for contaminants, she said. It doesn't have to stop the project, but "it can inform how you're going to use the space," she said. A 2010 study conducted in the European Union took a comprehensive look at the most commonly used pavements and showed that where a sealed asphalt surface provides zero stormwater absorption, an unpaved surface provides 90% absorption. Depaving doesn't have to mean pulling up concrete in an abandoned lot. Switching from conventional asphalt to porous asphalt on a driveway <a href="https://ec.europa.eu/environment/archives/soil/pdf/sealing/6.%20Technical%20Measures%20to%20Mitigate%20soil%20sealing.pdf" target="_blank">can reduce imperviousness by as much as 50%</a>.</li><li><span></span><strong>Rain barrels </strong>collect water from rooftops and store it for later use in gardens, lawns or even indoor plants. A drip line on a rain barrel also helps slowly release the collected water for better absorption. This not only reduces stormwater overload but also reduces water costs during dry spells. </li><li><strong>Rain gardens</strong> can be helpful if the property has a low spot that tends to pool or sludge during rain events. A rain garden is designed to intercept rainwater and slow it down. <a href="https://campbellkyconservation.org/tech-and-financial-assis" target="_blank">Campbell County, Kentucky</a>, (where Newport is located) offers residents financial assistance when implementing conservation practices in their own backyards.</li><li><span></span><strong>Planting trees</strong> is vital to the urban landscape. Water is intercepted on tree leaves and bark surfaces, and trees suck it up from the soil. Trees also improve infiltration of water into the soil and clean the air. Adam Berland is an assistant professor of geography for Ball State University and researches urban forestry. "A newly planted tree, one you can carry around, won't do much in the beginning but, by the time it's 20 years old, it will be doing a good amount of stormwater management," he said, adding that existing trees should be taken care of before planting new ones. Most cities have an arborist or a county extension office with a list of recommended trees for the area, as well as ones to avoid. Online tools such as <a href="https://mytree.itreetools.org/#/" target="_blank">Mytree.itreetools.org</a> can provide data, such as how much water has been intercepted and how much runoff has been avoided. For example, an oak tree about 17 inches in diameter can intercept 1,800 gallons of water per year.</li></ol>
Newport's green future<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjE2NjIzMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzY4ODk1N30.Gg0QWAOy9_uwsQNFl0CL91Q0x-gR89I246DTvt9AqcY/img.jpg?width=980" id="8b63c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ef41bfa37b765313de68bd7d29e77990" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A small shelter with benches at Bernadette Watkins Park in Newport, Kentucky. (Credit: Leigh Taylor/Eye on Ohio)<p>While the Bernadette Watkins Park was being reestablished on the west side of Newport, ReNewport had another depaving project planned for the east side. They acquired a lot that was once a gas station. They pulled concrete, tested and leveled the soil, and planted trees along its perimeter. More community engagement forums will help decide the future of the space. </p><p>ReNewport has decided to take what Northern Kentucky University began and formally adopt a strategic depaving project for Newport. The organization has identified more than 100 lots within the city with future greenspace potential. </p><p>"ReNewport has been involved since the very beginning," Schwarz said, "and we're so excited they want to take it over." </p><p>Strategic depaving wasn't something that was necessarily in ReNewport's plan aside from beautifying lots, Mathison said. </p><p>But "it captures the spirit of multiple small organizations coming together to create a bigger project and have a positive impact on stormwater issues. We're looking forward to seeing positive results in the neighborhood within the next year."</p><p> <em><br></em></p>
Dave Watkins lives on Wheeling Island, the most populated island along the Ohio River.
When the petrochemical plant being built by Shell Chemical Appalachia in Beaver County is complete, it's anticipated to bring 600 jobs as well as spinoff industries. But some researchers and activists warn that it could also bring a new type of pollution to the Ohio River Valley — nurdles.
First sightings of nurdles<p> Nurdles are tiny plastic pellets similar in size to a lentil and produced at petrochemical plants. They're the raw material of the plastics industry, the building blocks of everything from car parts to keyboards to grocery store bags. Jace Tunnell is the reserve director at the <a href="https://utmsi.utexas.edu/component/cobalt/item/9-marine-science/2603-tunnell-jace?Itemid=550" target="_blank">Marine Science Institute</a> at the University of Texas at Austin. Before last year, he had only <em>heard</em> of nurdles. </p><iframe width="100%" height="300" scrolling="no" frameborder="no" allow="autoplay" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/725427166&color=%23ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=true"></iframe><p> But walking along the beach at Corpus Christi, Texas, in 2018, he saw nurdles littering the high tide line. </p><p> "And at first, I wasn't sure, you know, are they fish eggs?" Tunnell said. "...When I picked one up and squeezed it, it was really hard. I knew exactly what that was. It was a nurdle." </p><p> Tunnell described it as unbelievable how many opaque pellets he saw on the beach. There were thousands, likely more. "I was kind of in shock," he said. </p>
Creating nurdle patrol<p> Tunnell sought to better understand nurdle pollution: How many of these were really washing up on the Texas Gulf Coast? So, he started surveying the beaches. He also created <a href="https://nurdlepatrol.org/Forms/Home/" target="_blank">Nurdle Patrol</a>, a citizen science project that teaches people how to find nurdles and document their presence. </p><iframe width="560" height="315" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/uk3fM92W5SA" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen=""></iframe><p> The protocol: If a nurdle is found, start the clock and search for 10 minutes. Then input the total number collected into Nurdle Patrol's <a href="https://nurdlepatrol.org/Forms/Map/" target="_blank">database</a>. Boy Scout troops, families and others have done surveys along the Gulf Coast. One thing Tunnell has learned from this: "Almost every single beach that you go to has pellets on it," he said. </p><p> "These pellets don't break down over time," he said, adding that it can take hundreds of years for nurdles to break into smaller pieces. </p><p> When <a href="https://www.fauna-flora.org/news/scottish-puffins-found-with-plastic-pellets-in-their-stomachs" target="_blank">birds</a>, fish and other species eat bits of plastic, it can make them think they're full and die of malnutrition. Microplastics, including nurdles, are also <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0025326X18300523#bb0200" target="_blank">known to attract toxins</a> that <a href="https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2016-12/documents/plastics-aquatic-life-report.pdf" target="_blank">can accumulate in wildlife</a>. </p><p> One study <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/srep14340" target="_blank">found some fish</a> sold for human consumption in the United States contained plastic debris. The <a href="https://www.who.int/news-room/detail/22-08-2019-who-calls-for-more-research-into-microplastics-and-a-crackdown-on-plastic-pollution" target="_blank">World Health Organization</a> says more research is needed on the health impacts to humans. </p>
More plastics on the way<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjE0ODQ1NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMDM4NTgwOH0.mqQjVC8nW3xTUdjorIEQ97EqjvfANwlRI3lUa6tdDfY/img.jpg?width=980" id="c9a01" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ed93b0d8016fa654bf3096e072970b9a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
These tanks, shown here in June 2019, will hold the plastic pellets produced by Shell's ethane cracker. According to Shell, 1.6 million metric tons of plastic will be produced there annually. (Credit: Reid Frazier/The Allegheny Front)<p>Plastic production is ramping up nationally. Fueled by the boom of shale gas production, <a href="https://www.americanchemistry.com/Policy/Energy/Shale-Gas/Fact-Sheet-US-Chemical-Investment-Linked-to-Shale-Gas.pdf" target="_blank">334 projects</a> related to plastics have been announced since 2010, according to the American Chemistry Council [ACC], a trade group that includes the plastics industry.</p><p>One of those projects is the ethane cracker Shell is building along the Ohio River in Beaver County, north of Pittsburgh. It will take ethane from the region's natural gas to <a href="https://www.shell.com/about-us/major-projects/pennsylvania-petrochemicals-complex.html" target="_blank">produce nearly 1.6 million metric tons of plastic pellets a year.</a> That equals an estimated trillions of nurdles annually. </p><p>In an email, Shell says it has pledged to prevent accidental loss of plastic pellets from its manufacturing facility into the environment, using industry safety and production measures. </p><p>The ACC along with the Plastics Industry Association run a program called <a href="https://www.opcleansweep.org" target="_blank">Operation Clean Sweep</a>, developed by the plastics industry. Shell is a member of Operation Clean Sweep.</p><p>"Our goal is to move towards zero pellet loss to the environment," said Keith Christman, the ACC's managing director of plastics markets. </p><p>But environmental groups have doubts.</p><p><em>"</em>I think that once this facility is up and running, people will start to see tiny little bits of plastic, these nurdles that are lining the waterways where the stormwater drains into," said Emily Jeffers, attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. "Once you see them, you're going to see millions of them."</p><p>It's easy for these tiny, lightweight pellets to escape into the environment. When millions of pellets are being loaded into trucks, train cars or ships for transport, they easily spill. When it rains, these spilled pellets can wash into waterways.</p><p>The Center for Biological Diversity submitted a <a href="https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/ocean_plastics/pdfs/CWA-Petro-Plastics-Petition-to-EPA-6-23-19.pdf" target="_blank">legal petition</a> supported by 280 environmental, public health, Indigenous and community groups around the country to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] in July. Among other things, Jeffers said they want regulations revised to specifically prohibit discharge of nurdles into waterways.</p><p>"And so we've petitioned the EPA to upgrade the standards, which are 40 years old," Jeffers said, "...because this industry has been ignored for decades. And the standards in place now don't protect humans or the environment." </p><p>To bolster her point, Jeffers pointed to Lavaca Bay, Texas, a couple hours drive north of Corpus Christi, where Tunnell first found nurdles on the beach. </p><p>In October, Formosa Plastics settled a lawsuit with Lavaca Bay residents and environmental activists for <a href="https://www.texastribune.org/2019/10/15/formosa-plastics-pay-50-million-texas-clean-water-act-lawsuit/" target="_blank">$50 million</a> after a judge ruled the company illegally discharged billions of plastic pellets. Residents there had urged state and federal regulators to hold Formosa accountable for a decade. </p><p>"Yes, there are standards right now," Jeffers said. "They're just woefully out of date."</p><p>According to an EPA spokesperson, the agency is considering the petition. </p>
A 'valuable' product<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjE0ODQ1Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNjkwOTgwOH0.5m-hX54AozYVWSUGBSYxAUj-ff85TSkcWCBu8kdC9mU/img.jpg?width=980" id="dc5ab" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e6faa9a9b318e84016753999ef68d244" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Nurdles break down into smaller particles of plastic and can be harmful to wildlife that mistake them for food. (Credit: Jace Tunnell)<p>Manufacturers don't want their product to escape, Christman said.</p><p>"Let's remember that this material is very valuable. It's something that our members want to keep control over," he said.</p><p>Operation Clean Sweep has developed best practices for plastic makers, like how to design a facility and train employees to avoid pellet spills and how to clean up if spills do happen. </p><p>Christman said there's no need for the EPA to create new rules prohibiting nurdle loss.</p><p>"It is already regulated through the <a href="https://www.ohiowatershed.org/a-look-back-at-the-clean-water-act-movement-after-50-years.html" target="_blank">Clean Water Act</a> and stormwater permits, so this material and loss of it at a facility is regulated already," he said.</p><p>In Texas, Tunnell wants water permits for plastic manufacturers to be clear that the goal is no pellet loss. Despite the efforts of Operation Clean Sweep, nurdles continue to accumulate in waterways in Europe, Australia and the United States.</p><p>"That tells me that the voluntary program is not working," he said. "And so what happens when education doesn't work anymore and voluntary programs don't work any more? Then you need to go to stricter regulations." </p><p>Tunnell said the voluntary best management practices laid out by Operation Clean Sweep should be enforced as regulations. California is the only state to specifically regulate nurdles. </p>
Is the Ohio Valley protected from nurdle pollution?<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjE0ODQ2Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMDkxMjgzMH0.K2u5eSSm6iYU6vWMpVwidMIrGN59dmYqCFj3y12jmRk/img.jpg?width=980" id="5599e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5f9627789a5b2fc0ed4dad9c63cc6273" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Jace Tunnell (left) and Sam Sugarek scour a beach in Texas in search of nurdles. The Nurdle Patrol protocol calls for documenting the number of nurdles found in 10 minutes of searching. (Photo: Jace Tunnell)<p>As the plastics industry gears up in the Ohio Valley, regulators say water permits for the crackers in Beaver County and Belmont County, Ohio, already address nurdle pollution.</p><p>Elizabeth Rementer, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection [DEP], wrote in an email that the state is not considering adding a zero pellet requirement to permits. She pointed to the state's regulations that limit floating material, like nurdles, from entering waterways in amounts that could be harmful to humans or wildlife.</p><p>"If nurdles were being discharged in an industrial effluent to surface water, the Department would restrict or eliminate the discharge," according to Rementer's email. The agency did not respond to a request for an interview. </p><p>DEP's water <a href="http://files.dep.state.pa.us/RegionalResources/SWRO/SWROPortalFiles/Shell/06.23.17/FINAL%20-%20NPDES%20Permit%20PA0002208%20A-1.pdf" target="_blank">discharge permit </a>for the Shell cracker outlines best management practices for stormwater, but does not list nurdles or plastic pellets specifically. </p><p>"The facility's plans include a stormwater collection system that would capture any spilled plastics prior to their entry into their stormwater system," according to Rementer's email. "In addition, stormwater flowing from potentially contaminated areas on the site are treated prior to their discharge under Shell's NPDES permit, further minimizing the risk of nurdle discharges."</p><p>In Ohio, the state EPA last year approved water permits for another ethane cracker in Belmont County, southwest of Pittsburgh, near Wheeling, West Virginia. In an email, the Ohio EPA said the plant will include secondary containment and catch basins with screens to prevent nurdles from being discharged into the Ohio River. </p><p>Christman with Operation Clean Sweep said it is rolling out a new program next year to its members, including Shell, to better track pellet loss. "Members … will submit data [to] state regulatory agencies on the amount of pellets lost to the environment due to an accidental release and the amount of material recovered within a facility handling resin pellets that's recycled." </p><p>More than 15 organizations in the Ohio River watershed have signed the Center for Biological Diversity's petition demanding more regulation of nurdles from petrochemical plants.</p><p>"I am extremely concerned about plastics and especially microplastics and nurdles," said Randi Pokladnik, a representative of the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, one of the groups that signed the petition. "We do need to get some baseline data on the Ohio."</p><p>Tunnell recommended that people in Pennsylvania and Ohio use his Nurdle Patrol protocol to gather data before petrochemical plants start operating. Showing that there are no nurdles on the banks of the Ohio River now can be a powerful tool to hold industry accountable later, he said.</p><p>"Even zeros are data."</p>
Environmental Health News has teamed up with six other news organizations to cover what often seems to be the most underappreciated water asset in the country: the Ohio River.
NEW ALBANY, Ind. — When Jason Flickner was a kid, he built a dam on the creek behind his grandparents' house causing it to flood a neighbor's basement.
Jason Flickner points out features of the Ohio River from the fossil beds at the Falls of the Ohio State Park. (Credit: Jeff Brooks-Gillies/Environmental Health News)<p>"As far as people that are really slugging it out for the conservation movement in southern Indiana, he really is at the top of the pyramid," Canon said. "He would know more than probably anybody from here to Indianapolis about what that effort looks like."</p><p>And he's at home here. After saying goodbye to the dogs, Flickner drove through New Albany, smoke from his Winston cigarette rolling out the open window, giving a nonstop history lesson of the area: The glaciers that formed the hills (called "knobs") folded up against the city's west side, the exposed fossil beds at the Falls of the Ohio, the buffalo trace where millions of American bison once passed through while migrating between Kentucky and Illinois. This is the land that he knows.</p><p>But he's broke.</p><p>He started that day with an overdraft notice on his personal checking account. The organization hasn't raised enough to pay him a salary. He's paying bills through side work and an inheritance. He said the organization had around $1,000 in mid-September, which had dwindled to $50 by late October. The way he sees it, he may need to head to the coast where environmental work is more plentiful unless his board agrees to help make a $100,000 fundraising push over the next year.</p><p>"We're to that 'do or die' moment," he said.</p><p>He's not alone. Other red state Waterkeeper leaders — whose groups are all members of the national Waterkeeper Alliance — say they're also struggling to grow. Progressive grassroots organizing isn't impossible, but getting local buy-in can be tough. Waterkeeper's mission of "holding polluters accountable" can mean suing companies in a state where "Indiana is open for business" is a catchphrase for elected officials. And in Flickner's case, the Ohio River is so big and has been so polluted for so long, even like-minded people aren't convinced they can make a difference, he said.</p><p>But they can, Flickner said, by paying him to pull the levers built into the Clean Water Act.</p>
From the outdoors to door to door<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjExNzkyNC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MTQ0NjI5Nn0.R9wAKeZg9K7q9J56SsZ5aWWAHgCRoEF8ZQWKIXUosUE/img.jpg?width=980" id="b4744" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2a2870599a8eda497c4469f57fecbffe" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The house Jason Flickner's grandparents built in the 1970s sits in the hills on the west side of New Albany, Indiana. (Credit: Jeff Brooks-Gillies/Environmental Health News)<p>Flickner was born in West Lafayette in north central Indiana and has had a bedroom in his grandparents' house since fourth grade. His grandfather was an outdoorsman who raised beagle hounds, ran rabbits on horseback, hunted mushrooms and fished. He'd wake Flickner up on Saturdays at 4 a.m. to net minnows for the day's fishing trip.</p> <p>Flickner absorbed his grandfather's outdoor ethos, preferring time in nature as long as he can remember. He'd go on to earn a bachelor's degree from Indiana University with a specialization from its School of Public and Environmental Affairs, a well-ranked program in environmental policy.</p> <p>His first advocacy job was canvassing, where he learned to talk quickly and connect with people. </p> <p>It also gave him an early lesson in what it means to be a progressive activist in a conservative region. In 1998 in rural Indiana, a local sheriff who received complaints picked up Flickner and his canvassing partner and drove them to the county line. They nearly missed their van ride home.</p> <p>"He actually took us to the jail before he took us to the county line" even though they weren't breaking any laws, Flickner said. "He was big and he was mean and he had his hand on his gun the whole time."</p> <p>The canvasser in him still comes out. One mid-October afternoon, Flickner accepted a free bottle of water from a small group of young Christians spreading the word of God on the Big Four Bridge that connects the neighboring city of Jeffersonville with Louisville across the river. He delivered a five-minute spiel on Lower Ohio River Waterkeeper, handed out his business card and invited the missionaries to volunteer all before they could ask if he knew Jesus. ("I know Jesus very well," he said.)</p> <p>He had been part of on-and-off talks with Waterkeeper Alliance, the national nonprofit that licenses local groups like Fickner's, for years to start a Lower Ohio River Waterkeeper group, but the timing was never right. In 2017, having just left a full-time job based in Indianapolis and looking for a way to stay in New Albany with his aging mother in their family home, he said it was a necessity.</p>
'A conservation warrior'<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjExNzk2MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwMjQ0MTA3M30.0kT7a4PyqP2ozIi-qU-c09XC7dPjwSHLHS1UqzKY5jw/img.jpg?width=980" id="e497c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="4fbddc855e63f5160d4acd38b7d90c81" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Jason Flickner talks with a group of youth missionaries on the Big Four Bridge over the Ohio River. (Credit: Jeff Brooks-Gillies/Environmental Health News)<p>This isn't just a job for the sake of a job: The Ohio River is in trouble. Flickner often points out it is the most polluted river in the United States, a distinction the Ohio earned from reports of industrial discharge data that show it taking in, pound for pound, more commercial waste than the Mississippi River.</p> <p>The waste includes nutrients and toxic heavy metals from coal plants and steel and chemical industries. Nutrients from agricultural runoff and sewer overflows are increasingly fueling harmful algal blooms. A toxic bloom <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/01/us/toxic-algae-outbreak-overwhelms-a-polluted-ohio-river.html" target="_blank">covered 636 miles of the 981-mile river</a> in 2015. Another bloom this year led Louisville Ironman organizers to <a href="https://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/local/2019/10/11/2019-ironman-louisville-swim-canceled-due-ohio-river-toxic-algae/3941580002/" target="_blank">cancel the Ohio River swim portion of the event</a>. Environmental groups have also criticized the Ohio River Valley Water and Sanitation Commission, an interstate water quality agency known as ORSANCO, for <a href="http://elpc.org/tag/ohio-river-mercury/" target="_blank">not being tougher on mercury pollution</a> from power plants and other sources.</p> <p>Flickner's resumé looks tailor-made for this work. After canvassing, he learned the ins and outs of the Clean Water Act while challenging mountaintop removal mine permits with the Kentucky Waterways Alliance. He also fought ORSANCO for stronger pollution standards.</p> <p>"I know him as a conservation warrior," said Canon, the civil rights attorney. "If you start talking about conservation around here, his name's gonna come up." </p> <p>And Flickner has already notched a win. In 2018, <a href="https://www.courierpress.com/story/news/local/2018/07/19/ohio-river-pollution-standards-commission/792678002/" target="_blank">ORSANCO proposed eliminating its water quality standards</a> for the river. Despite having nonprofit status for less than a year, Flickner appeared in <a href="https://www.wkyt.com/content/news/Ohio-River-commission-debates-dropping-pollution-standards-489419921.html" target="_blank">multiple</a> <a href="https://indianaeconomicdigest.com/MobileContent/Most-Recent/Most-Recent/Article/Evansville-mayor-Keep-Ohio-River-pollution-standards-as-they-are-now/31/135/93249" target="_blank">media</a> <a href="https://www.courierpress.com/story/news/local/2018/07/19/ohio-river-pollution-standards-commission/792678002/" target="_blank">reports</a> criticizing the proposal, helped rally thousands of public comments and lobbied commissioners. The proposal <a href="https://www.wfyi.org/news/articles/ohio-river-watchdog-wont-give-up-pollution-standards-for-states" target="_blank">was withdrawn</a>, and the commission <a href="https://www.wbaa.org/post/ohio-river-watchdog-finalizes-controversial-pollution-standards#stream/0" target="_blank">passed a weaker version</a> months later.</p>
Red state struggles<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjExNzk5Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjY4MzIxMX0.mMaTq4vY6s8dJdLPmxZskRObIiDImNSzCl0fsX8nqP8/img.jpg?width=980" id="230f6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8bbd977fa632b224f1f14d41bdf3785d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The New Albany Riverfront Amphitheater hosts events near downtown set against the Ohio River and the Sherman Minton Bridge. (Credit: Jeff Brooks-Gillies/Environmental Health News)<p>Still, he wasn't able to translate that publicity into a fundraising bump, he said. He hasn't raised much money at all.</p> <p>Part of the problem is his skillset: He's always worked on the policy side and much less on development and isn't sure how to cultivate large donors, which is work he says should be part of his board's job. He's also not entirely confident in his interpersonal skills.</p> <p>"The way that I talk to people about this stuff, it turns people off because it's just so despairing or it's so overwhelming or it's so complex," he said.</p> <p>He also said this kind of work is more difficult in historically red states like Indiana, and he's not the only one who thinks that.</p> <p>Since 2003, Rae Schnapp has been the <a href="https://www.banksofthewabash.net/wabash-riverkeeper" target="_blank">Wabash Riverkeeper</a>, which covers the watershed to the north of Flickner's as part of the Waterkeeper Alliance. She said it's still a struggle to grow, to recruit board members and volunteers. She said the national Waterkeeper group is getting better at supporting its individual member organizations, but they don't provide funding. Member groups also pay a fee for the Waterkeeper name, which Schnapp said "might mean different things to different people."</p> <p>Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an environmental attorney carrying a name intrinsically tied to the Democratic Party, functions as the group's figurehead, she said.</p> <p>"That sets the tone for the whole organization, which does sometimes make it difficult in red states," she said. "But hey, Indiana is a swing state now, so maybe it will be getting a little easier."</p> <p>Jessie Green, of the <a href="https://www.whiteriverwaterkeeper.org/" target="_blank">White River Waterkeeper</a> in Arkansas, started her organization around the same time as Flickner, and they often commiserate about their struggles. She said she's doing better than she was two years ago, having recruited around 200 members who give an annual donation. She's even being paid some, though it's less than she made in graduate school. She said she's mostly working as a volunteer, which works for now because her husband makes enough to keep them afloat. But it's not sustainable, she said.</p> <p>"We're in a red state. Environmentalist is almost a four-letter word in our area," she said. "That's definitely part of the struggle."</p> <p>But the problem for Flickner isn't all party-line opposition to environmental causes. A person looking upstream from the pedestrian bridge where Flickner met the missionaries sees a 2,000-foot-wide river that winds back 600 miles to Pittsburgh through a century of industrial pollution and development. It's easy to wonder: What could anyone possibly do about it?</p> <p>"People know that it's problematic," Canon said. "People know that we should be doing more to keep the water clean. But the problem is so big for most of us that we don't really stop to think about it in terms of what are the mechanics of actually making it happen."</p> <p>Flickner sees it similarly, often saying that people, regardless of their political affiliation, "wear blinders" to the problem because it feels too big. But the mechanics are clear to him: You sue. </p> <p>"We're not talking about population growth," Flickner said, giving a common example of an intractable environmental problem. "We're talking about a river where there are actual permits" issued by the state that can be challenged in court.</p> <p>But to do that, he needs money (because litigation isn't cheap) and members (to convince a judge his group has legal standing).</p>
'Something will come through"<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjExODAyNi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MDEzNzY5MH0.jhJCeaGlcBFiVKzHP0Q-v1EeZ1AnB2Bdvqu5k73RKjk/img.jpg?width=980" id="7c004" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="28ec538dbcfa0805bd2c596ef81cc64e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Jason Flickner watches his dogs run in the yard of his home in New Albany, Indiana. (Credit: Jeff Brooks-Gillies/Environmental Health News)<p>Flickner is just as frustrated with the people who he knows agree with him on environmental issues. They tell him the work he's doing is important, but they don't donate. They complain about the Trump administration's environmental rollbacks, but they don't give to causes that are fighting the effects. </p><p>The day he woke up to a checking overdraft, he said he blew up at two old friends who "commented in ignorance" in text messages about the Environmental Protection Agency's recent weakening of the Waters of the United States rule, which defines the bodies of water that fall under federal jurisdiction. The next morning, he woke up to an email notice that one of the friends had set up a recurring annual $500 donation to Lower Ohio River Waterkeeper. He was grateful.</p><p>In the meantime, in the sitting room with the dog-licked windows, there's a table with stuff from his grandparents' house to sort through to see what he might be able to sell. There are also remnants of his grandparents' turn as antique dealers — chairs, baskets — that aren't family heirlooms and might get a good price from a local shop.</p><p>"I've been broke on and off like this my entire life," he said. "Something will come through. Something always does."</p>
The R.E. Burger coal-fired power plant's final day ended, appropriately enough, in a cloud of black smoke and dust.
Illustration of a firefighter (circa 1940s) by David Wilson/Belt Magazine.<p>About an hour east, Donora, Pa., is home to a historical society and museum emblazoned with the words: "Clean Air Started Here." There is also a striking number of empty buildings. About 4,600 people call Donora home, according to census data, roughly a third as many as a century ago. More than 8,000 people used to work at the steelworks here, owned by American Steel and Wire Co., a U.S. Steel subsidiary. Roughly half worked at the plant's zinc works, used to galvanize wire, nails and other steel products.</p><p>The air pollution was anything but invisible back then — and it was never darker than a series of fall days in 1948. Just before Halloween, a thick cloud of smog, known as the "Donora death fog," settled over the town. More than 20 people died within days of respiratory and other problems and more than 6,000 people became ill.</p><p>Today, most of the survivors of the smog have passed away, according to Brian Charlton, curator of the Donora Historical Society, but in 2009, filmmakers interviewed 25 people who'd been there. The survivors described how grit and ash from the plant routinely darkened the skies over the town but then, for several days straight, the smoke all seemed to stay trapped in the town. "I worked at the telephone office," Alice Uhriniak told the filmmakers. "We always had smoke in Donora, from the mills and everything, and it was dark. But when I got into the office, and the girls that had worked nighttime, they said, 'Hurry up, get your set on, everybody's dying.'"</p><p>Firefighters went through town with oxygen tanks and the town's pharmacy scrambled to supply cough medications, while a community center became an improvised morgue. "I told 'em the best thing they could do at that particular time was to get out of town," Dr. William Rongaus, a Donora physician, told the documentarians. "I had a good idea that just the poisonous gases were coming out of the Donora Zinc Works."</p><p>Workers inside the plant who spent too much time breathing high levels of smoke dubbed their symptoms the "zinc shakes," Charlton explained. "They would say, well you couldn't take that environment for more than two or three hours, but their attitude was such that, 'But we could defeat that'…It is this very tough attitude; we can take anything." According to later investigations, the smoke, which carried hydrogen fluoride, sulfur compounds and carbon monoxide, could cause health problems if you inhaled too much at a time.</p><p>The week of the "Donora death fog," an unusually prolonged weather pattern left the fumes trapped in the Monongahela River Valley. There was a temperature inversion, Charlton said. "That's the thing that really cause[d] the deaths."</p><p>It's an incident that seems burned in the memories of environmentalists. Because the Ohio River Valley is also prone to inversion events, they say, there's a risk that the less visible pollution from ethane crackers could accumulate in the air. Residents often ask about inversions, too, "because that is their daily experience, they're aware of what it feels like to be in that situation," said Megan Hunter, an attorney with Fair Shake Environmental Legal Services.</p><p>In January, Fair Shake challenged a state air permit for the cracker proposed at the old R.E. Burger site, arguing that the state failed to properly account for the risks of air inversions. "It's right there in the valley," she added, referring to the proposed cracker plant and to the town of Moundsville, West Virginia, which is directly across the Ohio River. "They're both low and on the river itself."</p>
Illustration of Shell's ethane cracker plant by David Wilson/Belt Magazine.<p>Driving Route 7 along the Ohio River near Bev Reed's hometown brings you past power plants and a coal stockpile so tall that locals call it Murray's mountain, after Murray Energy's founder Bob Murray. Head north, and Route 7 will bring you just shy of Little Blue Run, the <a href="https://www.alleghenyfront.org/the-cautionary-tale-of-the-largest-coal-ash-waste-site-in-the-u-s/" target="_blank">largest coal ash impoundment</a> in the country, which spans the West Virginia/Pennsylvania border. Drive south, and you'll pass the old R.E. Burger site, where land is being cleared to pave the way for the cracker, and past the expanding Blue Racer Natrium complex, where shale gas is separated from the liquids prized by the plastics industry.</p><p>In June, Pittsburgh's mayor announced that the Steel City would commit to getting 100% of its power from renewable energy within 16 years. Environmental groups warn that pursuing a petrochemical buildout in the surrounding region would undo the climate benefits from that shift.</p><p>Some of those born and raised in the Ohio River Valley, like Reed, have begun organizing to fight the arrival of the petrochemical industry.</p><p>Grassroots organizations, like the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and the recently formed People Over Petro coalition, say they're working to prevent a "cancer valley" in Appalachia (in a reference to the notorious "cancer alley" in Louisiana). They've held protests outside of industry conferences, <a href="https://breatheproject.org/news-and-events/" target="_blank">organized meetings</a> at public libraries and spoken on a bus tour of the valley organized by environmental groups earlier this year for reporters and policy-makers.</p><p>Reed's family owns a bicycle shop in Bridgeport, Ohio, which opened in 1973. Up the hill from the shop, water flows from the ground around the clock, staining the concrete pavement an orange-red. "My whole life, it's been like this," said Reed, 27, who also works at the shop. She described it as acid mine discharge from coal mining. "It keeps flowing down, and the river is right over there."</p><p>Plastic itself has climate impacts at each step from the gas well to disposal, whether it is incinerated, sent to a dump (where it can "off-gas" greenhouse gases if exposed to sunlight) or may even disrupt ocean food chains, vital to the ocean's absorption of carbon, according to a report published in May by the Center for International Environmental Law. </p><p>"We can't deal with the plastic as it is," said Reed, who started interning for Sierra Club after hearing about the industry's plans for the valley, "so why would you want to make more rather than use what we already have or create more jobs in the recycling industry?"</p><p>The Ohio River Valley, like the rest of the United States, stands at a crossroads of energy and industry, facing decisions about whether to turn toward a future of renewable energy and a green jobs revolution or one of shale gas and plastics. </p><p>Some might say there are clear skies ahead, regardless of direction, as the valley turns its back on coal and steel. But a question hangs in the air, thick as smog: Can the public here in the hills and valleys along the Ohio count on decision-makers to steer around the less-visible hazards as they chart a course forward?</p>
I live right above the Ohio River, off of a thoroughfare called the Ohio River Boulevard.
View of Route 65 from Ambridge, Pa.<p>My work focuses on how history shapes the contemporary experiences of Black people in the industrial Midwest, and I've been thinking about water as a gateway to explore the deeper forces that shape the lives (and livelihoods) of Black people in this region.</p><p> Black residents have traditionally lived close to the waterways — sometimes by choice, but often because of racist housing and land-use policies. </p><p> Over the years, the proximity to water allowed access to transit, jobs, bathing, washing, fishing and leisure, but it also placed these communities at a disproportionate risk for flooding, pollution, disease and other issues caused by water. </p><p> This history is encapsulated in the area that Route 65 spans. Like the rivers, it is a sort of connective tissue, linking people and places across the region. </p><p> I set out to talk to Black residents living in communities along and near Route 65 about where they live and their experiences in these places, in the context of their connections to water. </p><p> What you'll read and see isn't a definitive account of Black life in this area. Instead, it will present the stories of a few people, in a few places, and uses water as an entry point to the complex social, political and economic context of the region. </p>
Olivia Bennett – Northview Heights, Pittsburgh<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjA5MDc0MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NDgzNDI0M30.o4CJwtzFLwRwpOUS_WIgdawk06tlGmeCZU2on0Q0z5Q/img.jpg?width=980" id="491de" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="77c0cf5a65cd978cd514828cf76a58b0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Olivia Bennett on Mt. Pleasant Road in Pittsburgh's Northview Heights neighborhood. Bennett won the Nov. 5 election for the District 13 seat on the Allegheny County Council.
Beaver Avenue in the Woods Run area of Pittsburgh, located in Allegheny County District 13.<p>"I describe [environmental justice] as being very mindful of what our actions each day, in our livelihoods, how that impacts our environment… But, I also look at it as how it impacts different communities in different ways. A lot of these pollut[ing] plants … they typically go into areas that are predominantly poor and predominantly communities of color. They try to build pipelines on sacred land. If you want the benefits from these plants to benefit the whole, then why are we not putting these plants in other places? Why are they specifically targeted to go to places that can't typically advocate for themselves?</p><p>"One of the things I've been fighting [in Northview Heights] is slow repairs. I mean, my courtyard always floods every time it rains. They're supposed to be redoing it. They were supposed to be doing it for the last five years. So that type of thing, those types of fights. Just because we are living in public housing does not make us any less human. …How can we make sure that everybody's coming along at the same rate to be able to fight against this? What creativity can we come along with to allow people to take ownership and be given the tools?"</p>
Jamie Younger – Woods Run/Brighton Heights, Pittsburgh<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjA5MDc0OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMjEyMjE5NH0.avx9A30vGLDYvxLdBXpIT73meu-ILNpXD2iUiymZmB8/img.jpg?width=980" id="65427" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3f03e345fe15f0b30f25bdc03bb3a39e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Jamie Younger owns and operates Young Brothers Bar, pictured on the corner of Woods Run and McClure avenues, on the border of the Woods Run and Brighton Heights neighborhoods of Pittsburgh.
Jamie Younger working inside Young Brothers Bar.<p>"Historically, Black people didn't cross over Woods Run Avenue in my father's time. At the time I went to [high school], when we came out of school at the end of the day, it seemed like the Black people walked right, and the white people walked left down this way. I never made that left, even to explore or venture. I bought a house up here after getting outta college and been here ever since.</p><p>"When I first moved up here, when the wind blew, the smell was vicious. It would stop you in your tracks, and you'd be like, 'Oh that ALCOSAN stinks.' I don't know what they've done over the years to mitigate that because it's not as bad … except maybe after a lot of rain and then the wind blows. But I haven't said that in a while.</p><p>"...It definitely keeps evolving geographically where Black folks are at. Black folks are finding it hard to live in the city. They're finding it hard to find affordable housing within the city, and they're going out to places like McKees Rocks … out into Beaver County, Ambridge. So it's like, I don't know — unless you own a home, I don't know where you're gonna go soon in the city, especially within the North Side of the city. It's definitely becoming a challenge to find affordable, quality spaces to live within the city boundaries. It's forever changing."</p>
Terry Stenhouse – Ambridge, Pa.<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjA5MDc1My9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwMjA3MjUzN30.1d_dIu2-JFu_i5T0f6UJ75tKeZXpwTLvKXuuteB0CoE/img.jpg?width=980" id="6b592" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="457d0fd024e536d3f85aa01ca07adfd3" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Terry Stenhouse (left) works with Lethera Harrison behind the counter of Annie Lee's Southern Kitchen.
Annie Lee's Southern Kitchen, owned by Terry Stenhouse, is pictured on the left side of Duss Avenue facing 16th Street in Ambridge, Pa.<p>"I've always been kinda leery about the quality of the drinking water. I went to school, I took my apprenticeship. I've been doing plumbing off and on since I was like 19. You know, working on the pipes and seeing cross sections of different pipes, and even when I was in the military and I purified water, I've always been kinda skeptical about the testing and the quality of the water. I really don't have too much faith in the purification process, but once the water is purified and they run it through the piping system, in my eyes, it's re-contaminated.</p><p>"You know, we all need water. It's essential for life, so everyone's connected to it … but at the same time, lately [for] something that's supposed to be essential to life, [it] has been causing a lot of health problems. I mean we deal with water every day here at the restaurant. We cook with water, we have a filter on it. I just think we need to get better with the water all around. I don't really think that it's anyone's fault to blame, because when these systems were put in, the information we have now wasn't available. I don't think it was done on purpose … it's just being swept under the rug in terms of correcting the problem. So that's what I think."</p>
Elizabeth “Betty” Asche Douglas – Rochester/Beaver Falls, Pa.<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjA5MDc2Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMDMzNjM3Nn0.JZpUEN1CZbPVXRt6mqAPgEwudJfbRDzGV_jg9IIyAss/img.jpg?width=980" id="5ae3f" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="99264d4fe2def128ef3103cd5847c417" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Elizabeth "Betty" Asche Douglas is an art-culture historian, retired professor, artist and jazz performer. Here she is pictured in her studio in Rochester, Pa.
View of Route 65 and the Ohio River from Rochester, Pa.<p><em>"</em>I was born in Rochester, Pa., not too far from where we're sitting right now. I was born in 1930. Rochester, in the 19th century, was one of the most important towns around because it's at the point where the Ohio River turns to go southwest. It gets to Rochester and the Beaver River runs into the Ohio at that point. And that's why today Rochester has five major highways that go through it because of that juncture. It was also because the trains.</p><p><em>"</em>My father was an electronic technician. He started out as a radio man, repairing and making radios and so forth. How we got to Beaver Falls, I don't know, but my first memories of life were in the first house we lived in in Beaver Falls, because it was on First Avenue. Across the street from First Avenue were the railroad tracks, and across from the railroad tracks was the river. So one of my earliest memories is of my father taking me by the hand and walking me down First Avenue, towards the train station there, and it was during the spring of the year of the great floods in Western Pennsylvania — '37, I think. He said, 'When the water gets up to there [she indicated the high-water level with her hand] we will have to leave.' So my first childhood memory is watching the river in the springtime to see how high the water was getting because the houses on First Avenue would be the first ones to go over.</p><p>"The river was very important to Black boys especially because there were no swimming pools in Beaver Valley that would allow Black boys to swim in them. So every year there would be a Black kid that drowned in the river because they went down to the river to swim. I don't think the people thought about pollution in those days. And I don't know how garbage or waste or sewage was treated. When you're a kid, you don't think about that. The only thing you knew is you flushed the toilet and it goes away. Where it goes, you don't think about."</p>
Tyrone Ziegler – Beaver Falls, Pa.<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjA5MDc3NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MzcyNzM0Nn0.Xwng2HJNhsK1B2jLTbrzUD2u632MmfJ3PstM-hVJJrE/img.jpg?width=980" id="16181" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5052529129115d54e3160777e6000ce9" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Tyrone Ziegler outside of the Beaver Falls wave pool. Ziegler is project manager of the Tigerland Wave Pool initiative, through the Beaver County Community Development Corporation.
Rev. William Hogans – New Castle, Pa.<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjA5MDc4MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMDE2MDQ0MH0.XAY49fDOfgvxf_RQzt_DFL54SWVaIo0wYzxNZGDxcBg/img.jpg?width=980" id="4b407" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="84deefe36e36e49c0637d27217879b0a" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Rev. William Hogans is pictured addressing the congregation at St. Luke during the kickoff gospel event for the church's 175th anniversary weekend celebration in September 2019.<p><br></p>
Rev. William Hogans is the pastor of St. Luke A.M.E. Zion Church. The entrance to St. Luke is pictured, overlooking the West Side of New Castle with a view of the Resco Products New Castle plant in the background.<p>"My father worked in the steel mills. So did my grandfather and so did my uncle. …[The Shenango] is the river that goes down through the middle of New Castle. So, because of the way that the [mills] would use the water, the river was extremely polluted. It was something you ignored. We just know that oftentimes we did not use the water. We never drank from the water. There was a place that we could swim. It was called El Rio Beach, which is funny, 'cause it's … still considered to be in the middle of New Castle.</p><p>"People — Black people especially — would go in the summertime, and we would run across and splash across. If the water was high enough, we'd ride the rapids down across the rocks in the creek. When the rain would come, the sewers would wash out and we'd play in the open sewers they were developing 'cause the water was clean, and it was flowing. Very dangerous. We didn't realize it, but that's what we did to keep cool in the summer.</p><p>"When I was 17, 18 years old, I left here because the economic plight was so bad. It was so hard to get a job. You know the steel mills, they fluctuated like the tide. Some days you could not <em>not</em> get a job. And then there were other times where they would do layoffs and shutdowns and cut back on production. By the time 1975 came around, when I was getting ready to graduate, there was nothing for me to do as a Black person that I knew of except for work in the grocery store or flip burgers.</p><p>"[Now] I'm assigned here, by our Bishop and my vision of God. I wanna do things that make health happen. I want to create a garden — two of them. There are natural springs in New Castle. I want to create a water treatment plant where we create our own bottled water. My hope for the role of the church is that we awaken people to the need for economic and spiritual and social empowerment. New Castle has declined. It's shrunk in population base. The population is much older. That's the challenge for the church: how to be a relevant agent of change for the better, where harmony and a healthy existence can occur. And my vision and hope is to create that."</p>
Payne-Booker-Burley families – New Castle, Pa.<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjA5MDc4Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMDEzNTc2OH0.WrTSU_JnK1R67TA8zu0Km-JnOm_zkx3Qc7w3W39Yr9E/img.jpg?width=980" id="eff5c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="86559b5aa38e07e05a5b04ab061e823f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Pictured left to right: Paulette Booker, Octavia Payne, Ursula Payne, Carl Booker and James Burley, Jr., in Ursula Payne's New Castle home. Octavia Payne is a retired educator and co-founder of the Diamond Girls youth program in New Castle. Her daughter Ursula is the chairperson of the Department of Dance and director of the Frederick Douglass Institute at Slippery Rock University. Paulette and Carl Booker are close relatives of the Paynes, and James Burley Jr. is a friend and former classmate of Ursula Payne.<p>Octavia Payne: "I'm from North Carolina and I met my husband at Knoxville College. We were married and we came here to New Castle in 1970. New Castle was my husband's home. I had my baby with me, and that was Ursula. And we came here, we taught school here for 35 years. We had an uncle, Big Jim, who, when we first moved here, we stayed with him. And I remember how rusty the water was because he had well water. We drank it; it was good water! He had big picnics out there, a garden — he had a green thumb. He had a lot of property out there, he liked to cook, and his water was good."</p> <p>Paulette Booker: "Back then, all our family outings was at his house. I came from Pensacola, Fla. I came up here in January of 1963. This is my father's home, and I've been here ever since. When we were in Florida, we were always surrounded by family and having family get-togethers and family fun, and then when we came here, it was the same thing, so the transition wasn't as bad. And we grew up fishing, too."</p> <p>Ursula Payne: "My stories about water are kind of folkloric tales. I don't want to say folklore because [my stories] are true, but I always remember the story of my grandfather's brother … who drowned in the Shenango River. I remember family telling stories about that. It was always, 'That's why you don't go by the river or go swimming in the Shenango River because you can get caught up in the currents.' So I remember some of those tragic stories. And the other thing about water I remember is my father, he used to fish all the time. My father and my Uncle Lenny." </p><p>James Burley Jr.: "[I was] born and raised in New Castle, my whole life. I started going fishing, and that's the main thing I do with water. I'd walk the whole Neshannock Creek. ...We were pulling in all kinds of fish at the time and then all of a sudden they made some regulations and they blocked it off, so we weren't allowed to go for a while. So then we started going to the Shenango River and started doing really good in the Shenango River, then all of a sudden they started blocking, fencing that off, so we couldn't go. There were warnings: Don't eat the fish because of all the mercury. We did it for the fun anyway; we didn't really care about eating them.</p> <p>Carl Booker: "The water wasn't safe. Most of [the pollution] came from [the factories] up in the Sharon area, but they never update nothing. They put [the warnings] out what, four years ago? They haven't updated it. They say it's still not good, though. I was born and raised here. I don't do nothing 'round the water 'round here [now], but when I was younger we used to swim in it. I lived on the tracks. The West Side, that's what we called it … where the bypass is now."</p> <p>Octavia Payne: "There was a whole development down there. Not one house down there now. It's highway. They wiped out a whole community down there — but the river's still there."</p>
How To: This 360-degree video is interactive. Click and drag your mouse, move your device or drag with your finger to explore the Cheat River views, both above and below the water's surface.
Every September, tourists flock to historic Marietta, along the banks of the Ohio River, for a celebration that harkens back to the Ohio Valley's early days.
Tourists on the Valley Gem Sternwheeler, facing the city of Marietta during the Ohio RiverSternwheel Festival. (Credit: Julie Grant/The Allegheny Front)<p>Marietta has gotten more national attention as the focus of the best-selling book, "The Pioneers," by famed historian, David McCullough, as the first settlement of the Northwest Territory at the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingum rivers.</p><p>Those rivers still define the city.</p><p>"From our perspective, having the rivers here is really vital to our local economy," said Cristie Thomas, of the nonprofit <a href="https://www.mariettamainstreet.org/" target="_blank">Marietta Main Street</a>. "It's beautiful to look at, and folks adore it."</p><p>But Thomas noted there's also a downside to living on the confluence of two rivers: "...That's flooding obviously."</p><p>Nearby cities, like Parkersburg, West Virginia, have floodwalls, to help prevent the Ohio River from overflowing into its downtown. But Ankrom, of the Chamber of Commerce, said Marietta has resisted that.</p><p>"I think if towns are not using the river to help their economic state, they're not thinking outside of the box," she said.</p><p>Ankrom said encouraging river access is not just for tourists. A community leadership group has been gathering <a href="https://enrichmarietta.com/" target="_blank">data on how residents want the area to develop</a>.</p><p>"We have surveyed so many people in Marietta and in this area … they want to be outside," she said. "People are more active, they want to enjoy the outdoors, they want to enjoy the scenery. They don't want to be stuck inside anymore."</p>
Outdoor adventure in Marietta<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjA5MTU4MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyODU0NTgxMH0.Dj3QQCLQ4dJYrYVmeisqoCqFIobA_E1dqpjUB1x-TfY/img.jpg?width=980" id="8ac94" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="603f9a63f7cac55123f4244512aeacb8" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Carrie Ankrom of the Marietta Chamber of Commerce and other officials kick off the SternwheelFestival. (Credit: Julie Grant/The Allegheny Front)<p>On a late summer afternoon, Hallie Taylor, co-owner of <a href="https://www.mariettaadventurecompany.com" target="_blank">Marietta Adventure Company</a>, a kayak and bike shop, showed one customer how to attach a cell phone holder to her bike handles and greeted another family returning their rental kayaks after their first time on the river.</p><p>Taylor and co-owner Ryan Smith both grew up in Marietta and moved away. He went to California, while she lived in cities from <a href="https://www.mariettaadventurecompany.com/meet-us" target="_blank">Beijing to Brooklyn.</a> But they say they came back to Marietta with "fresh eyes," of how they could make careers by helping people to get outside. </p><p>Smith said 14 years ago, when he started renting kayaks here, it was a foreign idea to many in the area. </p><p>"People came up to me and said, 'Are you even allowed to kayak on the Ohio River?'" he said. As an outdoor ambassador, he lets them know, "Of course you are. It's a public waterway."</p><p>Since then, <a href="https://www.bea.gov/data/special-topics/outdoor-recreation" target="_blank">outdoor recreation has been growing in popularity</a> around the country. In 2017, outdoor recreation, including activities like boating, biking, festivals and associated lodging, accounted for more than $10 billion of Ohio's economy, a growth of 10% from five years earlier. And in Washington County, home to Marietta, overall tourism brought in nearly <a href="https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BwGsbdSC4rRvZE5tbWk0Mk5ZeWgxZU1qb2x4TlZvZURhVU5J/view?usp=sharing" target="_blank">$230 million in total sales</a> in 2017, more than any other in the 18-county southeastern Ohio region.</p><p>Taylor said in 2012, the shop in Marietta started with three employees. Today, 15 people work there, some seasonally or part time.</p>
Carrie Ankrom, president of the Marietta Chamber of Commerce, says attracting tourists toevents like the Sternwheel Festival is helping to revitalize the city's downtown. (Credit: Julie Grant/The Allegheny Front)<p>"What is so much fun for us [is] to be able to see people get out there and try something for the first time and to just be glowing from the experience," she said.</p><p>But Marietta still exists in a region considered to be in decline. Population is down in <a href="https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/mariettacityohio" target="_blank">the city</a> and most counties in <a href="https://www.arc.gov/assets/research_reports/DataOverviewfrom2013to2017ACS.pdf" target="_blank">the Appalachian Ohio region</a>, including Washington County.</p><p>John Carey, director of the <a href="https://development.ohio.gov/cs/cs_goa.htm" target="_blank">Ohio Governor's Office of Appalachia</a>, said residents often leave the area, and it's especially difficult to attract new talent.</p><p>"Unfortunately, too many times all they hear is the negative stories about the opioid epidemic or lack of access for certain things," he said.</p><p>Those certain things include the lack of high speed <a href="https://woub.org/2019/10/08/arc-awards-nearly-7-million-for-projects-in-appalachian-ohio/" target="_blank">internet access</a> in parts of the region and the lack of sidewalks and even street lights in nearby towns.</p>
Marietta, Ohio at the mouth of the Muskingum River as it enters the Ohio. (Credit: Christopher Boswell/Marietta Main Street)<p>While the region has lost jobs in <a href="https://www.toledoblade.com/Politics/2016/07/19/Coal-industry-losses-plague-Marietta.html" target="_blank">coal</a> and <a href="https://data.bls.gov/timeseries/SMU54376203000000001?amp%253bdata_tool=XGtable&output_view=data&include_graphs=true" target="_blank">manufacturing</a> over the years, Washington and other counties along the Ohio River hope the coming petrochemical industry will benefit their local economies in the coming years. For Marietta, leaders see this growth as an opportunity to bring in new visitors and residents.</p><p>Carey said Appalachian communities in this region need professionals — <a href="https://www.dispatch.com/news/20170317/program-improves-access-to-health-care-in-appalachian-ohio" target="_blank">like new nurses</a> and engineers.</p><p>"So having a nice downtown that people feel comfortable with and that has some momentum like Marietta is really important," he said, "...because we can bring the jobs into the area. But if we don't have people that are willing to stay, especially the millennials, or if we can't attract the talent to the community … that puts a damper on our efforts."</p><p>At the Marietta Adventure Company, Taylor said she likes the direction Marietta is headed — supporting downtown businesses, building <a href="https://www.rvmba.com/" target="_blank">new miles of mountain bike trails</a> and providing access to the rivers. She hopes this will attract younger, outdoor-minded residents to the area.</p><p>"I want more people like me to want to live here, so I have a personal, vested interest in that growth, too," she said.</p>
In June 1969, a Time Magazine article garnered national attention when it brought to light the water quality conditions in Ohio: a river had literally caught fire.
Limiting pollution, raising awareness<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjA3NDEzMi9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MTA0MzU2NH0.T3hl4uODkj-R4c1jPWyHebFFVRsjHe4BaXQHW54VMFk/img.png?width=980" id="dac02" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91fd4ff83f3b8db171ecb9bf251c320b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Map by Blue Raster. (Source: US Environmental Protection Agency)<p>Though a Cuyahoga River fire near Cleveland helped to spark the Clean Water Act movement, arguably the law had an even greater effect on the Ohio River.</p> <p>The Ohio drains the southern three-quarters of Ohio, as well as parts of 14 other states. A history of early industrialization, combined with legacy stormwater systems and heavy agricultural use, led to the Ohio River being named the <a href="https://www.wlwt.com/article/report-ohio-river-most-polluted-body-of-water-in-u-s-for-7th-year-in-row/3551807" target="_blank">"most polluted" river in the United States</a> as recently as 2015.</p> <p>Still, today the river is much cleaner than it was. Residents also have more access to water quality information: They can <a href="https://www.ewg.org/tapwater/" target="_blank">look up what contaminants their drinking water</a> contains or if<a href="http://www.orsanco.org/river-facts/is-it-safe-to-swim-in-the-ohio-river/" target="_blank"> the Ohio River has tested positive</a> for harmful bacteria. </p> <p>The Clean Water Act [CWA] requires a permit for any regulated pollutants dumped into large bodies of water. Congress authorized the general framework to protect the quality of local waters and delegated its administration to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] and the states. For example, the EPA publishes scientifically justified limits for various pollutants under the CWA. States can write standards for those pollutants that are at least as protective as federally recommended criteria or more strict. </p> <p>For example,<a href="https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-10/documents/rwqc2012.pdf" target="_blank"> E. coli bacteria can't exceed</a> 126 colony-forming units of bacteria per 100 milliliters. The EPA recommended the standard first in 1986, based in part on studies of a <a href="https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=EPA-HQ-OW-2007-0808-0001" target="_blank">sewage-contaminated Ohio River beach</a> near Cincinnati where swimmers got sick. In that particular case, the median coliform density of the water registered 2,300 units of bacteria per 100 milliliters. </p> <p>The CWA significantly reduced the amount of contaminants found in local streams, though even in 2019, the United States still has not complied with the pollution and quality goals it set for 1983. </p> <p>Notably, the CWA exempted most agricultural uses from permit applications, so that farmers spraying fertilizer would not need to seek a permit to do so. Nutrient overload, however, is a "widespread and worsening problem," according to EPA reports.</p> <p>Since its inception, the CWA has instituted water quality standards for 150 different pollutants, such as toxic chemicals, nitrogen and pathogens. Altogether, the United States has spent about<a href="https://www.everycrsreport.com/files/20190306_R43871_62cff5283cf02a4b20e31b7b848d48bb65b8f467.pdf" target="_blank"> $129 billion on water infrastructure</a>, including Clean Water Appropriations and water treatment plant financing. </p>
Recent rollbacks<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjA3NDE1OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMjExODcyNn0.6cX_c9gRVrgkAWrEAMQcrq0fE5H0ljYIU_EJ67vDIL8/img.jpg?width=980" id="cc4c2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="76a550393a809ac7d30d43d80b181c44" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
(Photo by Lucia Walinchus/Eye on Ohio, the Ohio Center for Investigative Journalism)<p><a href="https://www3.epa.gov/npdes/pubs/cwatxt.txt" target="_blank">The Clean Water Act </a>says it is a comprehensive program "for preventing, reducing, or eliminating the pollution of the navigable waters and ground waters and improving the sanitary condition of surface and underground waters."</p><p>But what exactly are "navigable waters and ground waters?"</p><p>This question went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court <a href="https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/547/715/" target="_blank">in 2006, in Rapanos v. United States,</a> when the Supreme Court had to decide whether four former Michigan wetlands counted as regulated bodies. They each laid near ditches or man-made drains that eventually emptied into navigable waters, though they weren't directly adjacent to those rivers. </p><p>The court noted that the CWA made it illegal to dump without a permit into "navigable waters," and the statute defines "navigable waters" as "the waters of the United States, including the territorial seas." </p><p>Four justices decided that "waters of the United States" could only include continuously flowing bodies of water. Another four justices disagreed, noting that the Supreme Court had <a href="https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/313/508/" target="_blank">previously ruled </a>that the entire watershed is key to each navigable water. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote a concurring opinion, saying a wetland must possess a significant nexus to a navigable water. <br></p><p>But what exactly is a "significant nexus?"</p><p>Over the next several years, the term sparked a plethora of lawsuits. The Obama administration solicited a 25-member review panel to look at the results of 1,200 studies and to solicit the advice of 49 experts for <a href="https://cfpub.epa.gov/ncea/risk/recordisplay.cfm?deid=296414" target="_blank">an opinion</a> on exactly which wetlands should be covered. </p><p>The EPA then came up with the 2015 "Waters of the United States" rule based off of that opinion. However, due to litigation, the WOTUS rule currently only applies in 22 states and federal territories. Then, in September 2019, the Trump Administration <a href="https://www.epa.gov/wotus-rule/definition-waters-united-states-recodification-pre-existing-rules-pre-publication-version" target="_blank">repealed the rule</a>. </p><p>As a result, at least 16 million acres across the United States lost protections, with the possibility of more losses to come.</p><p>"We already have lost in Ohio, historically, around 90 percent of our wetlands," said Mažeika Sulliván, director of the Wilma H. Schiermeier Olentangy River Wetland Research Park at Ohio State University. "And these wetlands are what helps flood control. These wetlands sequester nutrients, so that nutrients coming off of [agricultural] fields or other types of things, wetlands pick these up and transform them before they get in the streams and rivers downstream and end up in the Gulf of Mexico."</p><p>Sulliván was on the panel that reviewed the changes and suggested the broader definition of water bodies to be covered by the CWA. Sulliván said Ohio was an excellent case study because it has had water crisis after water crisis: oil spills, algal blooms and mussel die-offs. "We have all these problems that we're dealing with, we have climate change that's exacerbating it, and then to take away the few wetlands that we do have, the remaining wetlands, from a scientific standpoint is fully unsupported," he said. </p><p>Sulliván said seasonal rivers need to be included, too, because anything dumped into a dry river bed will still pollute the river farther down when the rain comes. </p><p>Tony Francois, senior attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation, disagreed with regulating "intermittent and ephemeral" streams. Francois said the CWA has done a "great job" at cleaning up local rivers, but Congress simply didn't intend to broaden the scope past navigable waters. Ranchers and farmers are often caught in the crosshairs because they don't know which regulations apply to them. </p><p>"Everybody struggles with whether or not a given aquatic feature on private property is covered or not. There's a very expensive consulting process that you have to go through to get the government to tell you 'yay' or 'nay,' one way or another," he said. </p><p>For example, his client <a href="https://mtstandard.com/natural-resources/a-drop-in-the-pond-joseph-robertson-shrugs-off-federal/article_cc763370-d510-5d3f-abb2-93cbf9d1fc16.html" target="_blank">Joseph Robertson</a> was criminally convicted after digging drainage ponds. The case went to the Supreme Court, though it was <a href="https://tinyurl.com/y4mf9rox" target="_blank">dismissed</a> after Robertson passed away this year. </p><p>"Right now, what's developed is this partisan back and forth between administrations of different political parties of how broadly or narrowly to define this term," Francois said. "That's not good for the regulated public, and that's not good for the environment either." </p><p>In April, the Trump Administration issued an executive order directing the EPA to update its <a href="https://www.regulations.gov/docketBrowser?rpp=25&so=DESC&sb=commentDueDate&po=0&D=EPA-HQ-OW-2019-0405" target="_blank">regulations on the Water Quality Certification</a> process under the CWA as well. The proposed changes would, among other things, waive the required permit to dump regulated pollutants into large bodies of water if a state or tribe didn't issue one in the legally required period. It would also limit environmental aquatic impact statements — for example, by not noting air quality or transportation effects. </p><p>The <a href="https://www.regulations.gov/comment?D=EPA-HQ-OW-2019-0405-0025" target="_blank">public comment period</a> on the measure lasted from Aug. 22 to Oct. 21, with nearly 4,000 comments registered. A new regulation is expected later in the winter. </p><p>"That's a really interesting one because it's probably the most important lever for states to weigh in on federal permitting … including [for] some of the natural gas infrastructure that's going on in Ohio," said Madeline Fleisher, an environmental lawyer at Dickinson Wright in Columbus and a former associate in the Environment and Natural Resources Division at the Department of Justice. "So I think that will be really important for folks in Ohio to keep an eye on."</p>
Looking to the future<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjA3NDE0Mi9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMTYyOTc0OH0.gWFQSZXFuXzAp1D83_z7QPUMJ0USgJoqmgRsuhMg8DI/img.png?width=980" id="d2711" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="cde8a104b073d170d00167c9d7032b0d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
(Source: Congressional Research Service report)<p>The biggest difference between now and before the Clean Water Act is that citizens who have grown up with it have come to expect clean water, and they aren't happy when the river gets polluted, said Howard Learner, president of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, the largest Midwest public-interest environmental legal advocacy group.</p><p>"I think we're at a transition point now where there is an overwhelming public consensus on the need for businesses to reduce pollution in community waterways and for our state and federal governments to step up by implementing enforceable regulatory standards leading to cleaner, safe drinking water, robust fisheries and enjoyable outdoor recreation," he said. </p><p>The Environmental Law and Policy Center <a href="https://www.courtlistener.com/docket/6121783/environmental-law-and-policy-center-v-environmental-protection-agency/" target="_blank">sued the U.S. EPA</a> for failing to enforce the CWA after toxic algal blooms near Toledo in 2017. The Ohio EPA later acknowledged that western Lake Erie waters were impaired. The parties involved are <a href="https://www.toledoblade.com/local/environment/2019/09/24/Judge-Carr-says-he-puzzled-over-what-Ohio-actually-is-doing-to-help-reduce-Lake-Erie-s-algae-burden/stories/20190924137" target="_blank">still sorting out</a> exactly how to prevent more algae. </p><p>So far, the EPA has finalized 46 deregulatory actions under the Trump administration, and EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler has publicly stated that his goal is to continue pursuing a similar policy. </p><p>For this article, an EPA spokesman issued a statement, saying that, "The EPA's existing certification rules have not been updated in nearly 50 years, were promulgated before Section 401 [the CWA permitting process] was enacted, and are inconsistent with the text of CWA Section 401. The EPA is proposing to modernize and clarify the timeline and scope of CWA Section 401 certification review and action to be consistent with the plain language of the CWA."</p><p>At the state level, water quality issues are a perennial concern. The CWA so far does not regulate PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) used in firefighting foam, food packaging and industrial processes. In the last week of September, Gov. Mike DeWine <a href="https://governor.ohio.gov/wps/portal/gov/governor/media/news-and-media/analysis-of-pfas-in-drinking-water" target="_blank">ordered the Ohio EPA</a> and Department of Health to develop a plan for testing drinking water for PFAS, due Dec. 1. Neighboring Pennsylvania is in the process of testing more than 300 drinking water sources across the state to try to determine the scope of the contamination problem.</p><p>Dustin Herrmann, assistant professor of environmental studies at the University of Cincinnati, said environmental change will have to come from not only regulatory forces, but also market pressures. Herrmann got his Ph.D. in ecology, researching how urban landscapes affect the water and nitrogen cycles and focusing on how cities can use green infrastructure to meet CWA standards. </p><p>The Ohio River, he said, is a "defining feature of a large region."</p><p>"It's a shared identity. Wetland 732 in County E doesn't really have a shared identity. But the power we all see with the Ohio River — we have this shared care for it. Its restoration would be symbolic of something bigger."</p>
For degawëno:da's, paddling the length of the Allegheny River over the course of four months this year was to be a "witness to the raw element of the natural world."
In 1958, researchers from the University of Louisville and the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission gathered at a lock on the Monongahela River for routine collecting, counting and comparing of fish species.
It started with a slurry<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjA3NDIzNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNzk0MzM5MH0.wKSYBjAiCDdFJa_6F39J-LbV19CLJceP8JGb9aBGLKY/img.jpg?width=980" id="e9e2e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b507364e17eef20cfaba764119c57f35" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
For the past 19 years, BarbiAnn Maynard has been fighting to fix contaminated water in Martin County, Kentucky. The issues began in 2000 when a coal slurry broke through an abandoned mine shaft and dumped sludge into tributaries of the Tug Fork River. (Credit: Curren Sheldon/100 Days in Appalachia)<p>BarbiAnn Maynard stands on the porch of her home in Huntleyville, Kentucky, (population 188) and points across the two-lane road, where three houses perch on a tree-speckled mountainside.</p><p>"That one — dementia. This one — dementia. That one over there — dementia. My dad — dementia," she said. "You can't tell me that's not because of the water."</p><p>On Oct. 11, 2000, 300 million gallons of coal slurry broke through a reservoir in Martin County, Kentucky, flooding the abandoned mine shafts below and rushing out into the waters of Wolf Creek and Coldwater Fork.</p><p>The black custard coated and killed everything in its path as it slithered for hundreds of miles and shifted into adjoining waterways, including the Tug Fork, Big Sandy and Ohio rivers. In Martin County, sludge crept into yards and across roads, creating pools 5 feet deep.</p><p>"It was like mud pie," Maynard said, "only instead of mud and water, it was mud and oil."</p><p>The slurry was an unprecedented disaster — 30 times larger than the Exxon Valdez oil spill more than a decade earlier. It wiped out aquatic life in the creeks and cut off drinking water to nearly 30,000 people.</p><p>When water service resumed later that year, bills came stamped with a warning: <em>If you have a severely compromised immune system, have an infant, are pregnant, or are elderly, you may be at increased risk and should seek advice from your health care providers about drinking this water.</em></p>
The acidic water bubbling up from an abandoned mine in Carbondale, Ohio, gets a dose of alkaline calcium oxide, which neutralizes the water as it makes its way through this concrete channel before dropping into Hewett Fork. (Credit: Curren Sheldon/100 Days in Appalachia)<p>The first time Maynard received that warning, she was 24 years old and pregnant with her daughter. Nineteen years later, the water in Martin County still comes with warnings.</p><p>But the roots of the county's water issues and the fixes are complicated.</p><p>The water issues start at the treatment plant, where water pulled from the Tug Fork River is disinfected. Multiple municipal tests over the years show water in Martin County exceeds the maximum contaminant level for trihalomethane and haloacetic acid, both byproducts of the water's treatment and both carcinogenic. Maynard believes her late mother's multiple bouts with cancer are a direct result. But without such treatment to the water, customers could be exposed to harmful bacteria and whatever residual effects of the coal slurry are still present in the waterway. <br><br>It's not a good choice, said Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute at West Virginia University. Water authorities need to use limited amounts of chemicals to avoid bacteria-causing illness, but too much of those chemicals could put their residents at risk for cancer.</p><p>The other problem occurs when water leaves the plant and heads toward homes. Like much of eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia, Martin County has an aging infrastructure problem and little money to fix it. In West Virginia, underfunded treatment plants and straight-line pipes that combine sewage and stormwater have allowed raw sewage to collect in creeks, creating a public health crisis by serving as a breeding ground for bacteria.</p><p>In Martin County, the problem is broken pipes. Experts estimate nearly 70% of drinking water is lost while contaminants in the soil and groundwater are allowed to leach into the system. In coal country, Maynard said, who knows what gets in.</p><p>Representatives from the Martin County Water District did not return a phone call seeking comment but have said in the past that they are changing the chlorination process to avoid contamination issues and are looking for funds to fix broken water lines.</p><p>For residents in Martin County, turning on the tap is always a surprise. Some days, it's cloudy and smells so strongly of chlorine that it burns the eyes. Other days, water is the color of weak tea and sediment settles in toilet bowls and shower drains.</p><p>The result, Maynard claims, is that no one in Martin County trusts or drinks the water. Maynard drives 45 minutes to a spring at the Mingo-Logan county line in West Virginia to fill containers with fresh water to drink. She uses antibacterial hand soap as body wash in the shower and cleans her hands with disinfectant wipes rather than running them under the tap.</p><p>She'd like nothing more than to follow her now-grown daughters out of the county and leave the water issues behind, but her land along the Tug Fork in Huntleyville has been in the family for five generations and she is her ill father's caretaker. So she came up with another option.</p><p>"I figured I could lay down and die or I could fight," Maynard said. "And I'm a fighter."</p><p>She's become the face of the Martin County water crisis, both locally and in media outlets as far away as France and Japan. She has a vast and growing collection of water-related public documents, religiously attends municipal meetings and writes letters to the public service commission. Every few months, she drives across the state line to a Tennessee grocery store to pick up pallets of bottled water, which she then distributes to county residents.</p><p>But no amount of anger or advocacy can fix the underlying issue plaguing Martin County and others like it: inadequate funds. According to Martin County officials, it will take at least $10 million to address the water issues there.</p><p>As of Sept. 5, the county had received two grants — one from an abandoned mine fund and another from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — to improve water supply infrastructure and service. Together, the grants totaled $4 million.</p><p>Even with the money, Maynard doesn't trust that the most pressing problems will be addressed. In 2018, several members of the county's water board quit after the state attorney general opened an investigation into mismanagement. After an 11-month investigation, the grand jury returned no charges.</p><p>"There's a lot of greed and corruption," Maynard maintained. "And they haven't used common sense."</p><p>But even in areas of the river basin where sensical solutions to water pollution have been developed and instituted, the results are still subject to imminent financial threat.</p>
The great irony<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjA3NDIyMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MTI4NDI4M30.d9K5FPfc4pGWo_6CV74madZn-cD0YL6PmL824LfkmXU/img.jpg?width=980" id="8c8fc" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0d19b0d37df66915864e71e180f1dc77" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Jen Bowman, the director of environmental programs for Ohio University's Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, has been working on acid mine drainage abatement since her days as a graduate student. (Credit: Curren Sheldon/100 Days in Appalachia)<p>Just off Township Road 1 in the unincorporated community of Carbondale, Ohio, a constant stream of acidic water seeps and sputters out of the abandoned AS-14 mine complex.</p> <p>Before 2004, that water washed across a field and the road before dumping into Hewett Fork, turning it tangerine. It was so laden with acidity that snow plows had to be called in to scrape the resulting iron off the asphalt, and fish kills became a regular occurrence where Hewett Fork flows into Raccoon Creek.</p> <p>Today, the water from AS-14 instead flows into a tall green structure — known as the Carbondale doser — and turns a wheel, releasing pinches of powdery calcium oxide from the cylindrical tower above. The calcium oxide neutralizes the acid in the water as it makes its way through a concrete channel and into Hewett Fork. </p> <p>The upshot of the doser is a rehabilitated waterway. Hewett Fork no longer causes fish kills, and 90 miles of Raccoon Creek, which flows through southeastern Ohio, are now safe for recreation.</p> <p>This process for remediating acid mine drainage in creeks isn't a perfect one, said Jen Bowman, the director of environmental programs for Ohio University's Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, which worked with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources [ODNR] on the doser project. It takes time for the calcium oxide to dissolve, so a section of Hewett Fork near the doser still runs rusty and lifeless before giving way to clean water.</p> <p>And the doser is expensive. It cost ODNR nearly $400,000 to install, and the tower must be refilled with calcium oxide every six to eight weeks at a rate of about $40,000 per year, according to Bowman. The money comes from the Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation program.</p> <p>There are other, cheaper ways to prevent abandoned coal mines from harming waterways, and in southeastern Ohio — where a loose loop of 11 villages and unincorporated communities is collectively known as the "Little Cities of Black Diamonds" — they've tried many of them.</p>
Guy Riefler, chair of Ohio University's Russ College of Civil Engineering, shows the color of the paint pigment created by oxidized iron from acid mine drainage. (Credit: Curren Sheldon/100 Days in Appalachia)<p>A mine near Lake Hope State Park, fewer than 20 miles west of Athens, was sealed off nearly 20 years ago. Doing so prevents pollution from entering the water and creates a prime area for camping and water recreation. Closer to Athens, Bowman and her team at Ohio University [OU] have created a steel slag leach bed system, which uses an alkaline byproduct of steel production to neutralize acidic water.</p><p>However, the funding for all of these projects could be in jeopardy.</p><p>Since 1977, the federal Abandoned Mine Land Reclamation Program has doled out money to states in order to soothe the scars of coal mining. But the money for that program is collected from a fee on coal companies that is set to expire in 2021.</p><p>This is the great irony of coal: the restoration of abandoned mines hinges on the perpetuation of coal mining.</p><p>With the abandoned mine land fund and its resulting projects in peril, university research institutes like Bowman's have been joining environmental nonprofits in entrepreneurial efforts to ensure that remediation continues.</p><p>In Ohio, researchers at OU's Russ College Department of Civil Engineering and experts at the nonprofit Rural Action have launched a pilot program that uses acid mine drainage pollution to create paint pigments.</p><p>In West Virginia, Ziemkiewicz and his team at the West Virginia Water Research Institute are extracting rare earth elements from acid mine drainage. These elements, which until now have largely been imported from China, are used in dozens of technological products, including cell phones, computers and televisions.</p><p>The hope is that these initiatives will eventually generate enough money to cover the remediation and abatement projects that have restored waterways.</p><p>"Maybe it gets us out of that vicious cycle of mining coal to fix the legacy of coal mining," Bowman said.</p><p>But even if that cycle can be broken, even if paint pigments and rare earth elements turn a profit and remediation projects are funded in perpetuity, that doesn't fix the Ohio River drainage basin.</p><p>Because while coal is a dire problem, it is just one of many problems.</p>
Common sense and a willingness to do the right thing<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjA3NDIwMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNTA1MTc1OX0.qp_AogJNOlHn9HFdgEwJy_KTAUJtAdEcp3y1DgmzGiU/img.jpg?width=980" id="31fa9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="13b8a75dbb8405120848b5f4ec37e653" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Algae on the Ohio River near California, Kentucky, on Oct. 7. It was later identified as Microcystis, the genus of cyanobacteria that causes harmful algal blooms. (Credit: Christopher N. Lorentz)<p>Every September since 2007, open-water swimmers have leapt off the Serpentine Wall at Cincinnati's Sawyer Point and into the Ohio River. Their goal is to swim the 450 meters to the Kentucky shore and back again.</p><p>This year, it didn't happen. Days before the race was to commence, ORSANCO received reports of algae in the water, and the Kentucky Department for Public Health issued a harmful algae bloom advisory, effectively shutting down river recreation.</p><p>It was the second bloom in the month of September. The first erupted near Huntington, West Virginia, and grew 50 miles long before dissipating, according to Youngstrom. </p><p>The blooms are a result of rains that wash fertilizer off farmland and into nearby creeks. Those nutrients eventually make their way to the Ohio River, where algae feed on them. That, by itself, wouldn't be such a problem. But long periods without rain cause river flow to slow, allowing sediment to drop out of the water and sunlight to come in, creating the perfect conditions for rapid algae growth.</p><p>"Prior to 2015, everyone thought algae blooms were a lake problem," said Greg Youngstrom, an environmental scientist and harmful algae bloom expert at ORSANCO. </p><p>That summer, more than 700 square miles of toxic algae grew on the Ohio River in West Virginia and Ohio. River recreation ceased and, as blooms made their way into drinking water intakes, several companies had to switch to alternate water sources. </p><p>According to Youngstrom, the increasing frequency of algae blooms is related to the extreme weather conditions brought about by climate change. More intense rainfall followed by long, drought-like stretches are just what algae need to thrive. </p><p>There are simple ways to help curb the problem. In Ohio, Bowman is on a mission to create a 50-foot buffer at the edge of area waterways — basically a barrier of untamed grasses, shrubs and trees that would prevent erosion and provide shade from sunlight. </p><p>It's a slow process. In rural areas, farmers aren't particularly interested in giving 50 feet of land that could be used for planting. Around Athens, residents have become accustomed to neatly manicured riverfront property and aren't keen to let it go uncut.</p><p>"A lot of it is just behavioral change," Bowman said.</p>
The acidic water bubbling up from an abandoned mine in Carbondale, Ohio, gets a dose of alkaline calcium oxide, which neutralizes the water as it makes its way through this concrete channel before dropping into Hewett Fork. (Credit: Curren Sheldon/100 Days in Appalachia)<p>Ziemkiewicz found that behavioral change was also the solution to a 2008 crisis in the Morgantown, West Virginia, area. That fall, salinity in the Monongahela River spiked, causing problems for public water supplies and eventually leading to a fish kill on Dunkard Creek.</p><p>Government and industry argued over responsibility — "Pennsylvania blamed West Virginia, West Virginia blamed Pennsylvania; coal companies blamed oil and gas, oil and gas blamed coal companies," Ziemkiewicz said. He and West Virginia Water Research Institute Assistant Director Melissa O'Neal developed a network of watershed groups willing to monitor the total dissolved solids that were causing the rising salinity.</p><p>Their findings showed that while the source of total dissolved solids was mine water, the salinity wasn't actually the mine's fault. The weather was especially dry that season, resulting in low flows. They developed a model that showed coal companies how many total dissolved solids could be safely released based on river flow.</p><p>"With Melissa's data, a spreadsheet model, some common sense and the willingness of industry to do the right thing, we solved it," Ziemkiewicz said.</p><p>It's a lesson he tries to impress upon fellow researchers and scientists because he believes if true progress is to be made in the fight for clean water, it will require an abundance of data and a lack of political agenda, especially as burgeoning industries bring about new water challenges.</p><p>"We need to be fair arbiters," Ziemkiewicz said. "If we just sit in our ivory towers and write journal articles and discuss whether the world is moving in the direction we think it should, we aren't fixing the problem."</p>