Environment

The same river that Louisville uses as a drinking water source also receives discharges from coal power plants, raw sewage and trash from the cities that line its banks.

That’s the Ohio River, a nearly thousand-mile long waterway that flows along the borders of six states before joining the Mississippi.

For the last 70 years, standards for who can dump what and how much into the Ohio River have been regulated by The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO), but that could change later this year.

This October, ORSANCO is expected to vote on a plan that would strip its own powers to regulate pollution control standards along the Ohio River.

The public has until Monday at midnight to comment on the commission’s plan.

Proponents say state and federal programs already manage water quality under the Clean Water Act so additional oversight is unnecessary.

Critics say it’s inconsistent with ORSANCO’s mission to manage and abate pollution in the Ohio River Basin.

“I think this is the time when we should be increasing scrutiny of what’s dumped in the Ohio River and certainly not decreasing it,” said Louisville Metro Councilman Bill Hollander. “And I’m afraid that’s what elimination of these standards would do.”

In June, commissioners voted 14-6 in favor of moving forward with a public comment period and final vote to remove pollution control standards.

Kentucky’s Division of Water Director Peter Goodmann and Northern Water District CEO C. Ronald Lovan voted in favor of moving forward with the process.

Lovan did not return calls for comment. Kentucky’s Energy and Environment Cabinet declined to comment.

“Our position has been that we will let the public comment period reach an end, and don’t intend to comment until a decision is made,” said John Mura, spokesman for Kentucky’s Energy and Environment Cabinet.

ORSANCO’s pollution control standards include regulating water quality criteria, designated uses and wastewater discharge requirements.

The commission found that in many instances, the eight-member states didn’t need to adopt ORSANCO’s standards because they were already met under state or federal requirements, according to a review of pollution control standards report.

For example, the report says it appears member states do not adopt or apply ORSANCO discharge limits. The report says that is an indication the limits are met or exceeded by other state or federal programs.

“Because all states are mandated by the federal Clean Water Act to adopt and submit for [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] approval a program that addresses designated uses, free from mandates, wastewater discharge requirements, water quality standards, mixing zones, and more, the Commission has concluded that the requirements of the Compact are being satisfied by member state programs implementing the federal Clean Water Act.”

Member states include Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.

Commissioner Tom FitzGerald opposed the measure in a minority report saying the committee hasn’t done the research to learn if each member state’s programs are comparable.

Now is not the time to “signal a retreat from the historic function of the Commission,” because of the uncertainties, delays and possible repeals of protections under the current administration at the Environmental Protection Agency, FitzGerald said.

“There are instances in which there are standards that ORSANCO has adopted that the States have not adopted, and there are instances where ORSANCO’s standards are more rigorous than those that have been adopted by the individual states,” FitzGerald wrote in the report.

The public has until midnight on Monday August 20, to comment on the proposal. Public comments can be emailed to PCS@orsanco.org.

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.