With Advocacy

Ohio River Foundation is a strong voice for protecting and restoring the Ohio River and all waters in its wwatershed. We work at local, state, and federal levels for effective laws and regulations that will reduce pollution, restore vital natural systems like forests and wetlands, and encourage smart growth in our communities.

ORF acts to identify best practices for restoring and protecting our waterways, while being vigilant in opposing projects or proposals that would degrade water quality. We submit comments to governing bodies regarding wetlands mitigation, stormwater issues, construction and development projects and more. ORF is well-respected as a resource on environmental issues that impact the Ohio River and its watershed.

Protect Our Water Campaign

The Ohio River is now the worst toxic water dump in the U.S.  In response, in 2009, ORF launched the Protect Our Water campaign.

Improvements in water quality were achieved in the Ohio River watershed due primarily to passage and enforcement of the Clean Water Act (CWA) in 1972.  However, threats continue from stormwater runoff, agricultural runoff, mercury deposition from coal-fired plants, and millions of gallons of untreated sewage that flow into the river each year from sewer overflows.  Furthermore, Over the last two years, evidence indicates that government pollution prevention and enforcement programs are not working well. Reports by USEPA, Environment America Research & Policy Center, and The New York Times indicate that:

  1. In 2013, polluters dumped 23 million pounds of toxic chemicals into the Ohio River making it the most toxic river in the country
  2. Violations of the Clean Water Act are going unprosecuted
  3. 49% of lakes and reservoirs are contaminated above EPA safe levels

Amazingly, in some cases this is permitted pollution; however, the number of permit violations appears to be growing. Unfortunately, the political will to enforce water pollution laws is not as strong as it needs to be. So, under the auspices of the Protect Our Water campaign ORF conducts independent investigations to identify polluters threatening our waterways and drinking water supplies, and force compliance with the law.   DONATE NOW. SUPPORT THE PROTECT OUR WATER CAMPAIGN.

Clean Water Act Regulations

(2015) Coal Ash Rule - USEPA has finalize a regulation after a 5 year public review and comment process..

(2015) Clean Water Rule - USEPA issued Clean Water Rule to clarify definition of waters to be protected for USEPA and US Army Corps of Engineers


Water Quality Standards

The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) - a quasi-regulatory agency created to control pollution of the Ohio River - sets baseline water quality standards for the Ohio River.  Ohio River states may then elect to adopt those standards or more strict ones.  All must comply with Clean Water Act regulations and are subject to USEPA approval

(2018) ORSANCO proposes to stop setting water quality standards for Ohio River - public comment period ends Feb. 24. More information at http://www.orsanco.org/programs/pollution-control-standards/

(2016) ORSANCO commissioners vote to suspend variance rule and yield any such decision to individual states.

(October 2010) ORSANCO commissioners voted to adopt a variance rule that will allow states to permit more toxic pollution of the Ohio River.  It will be up to the watershed states (Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania) to decide whether they will adopt the ORSANCO rule.  The rule allows polluters to obtain variances (a/k/a waivers) from having to comply with requirements for biological chemicals of concern (i.e., mercury and other toxins).  Thus, polluters could be given a pass and there will no longer be an incentive to seek alternative products or processes.  The Clean Water Act requires use of Best Available Technology.

(2016) ORSANCO votes to rescind variance rule and allow each ORSANCO member state to individually decide on variances for companies under their jurisdiction.  


(2016) ORSANCO approved a provision removing its decisionmaking process regarding allowance of mixing zones by dischargers, instead placing that responsibility in the hands of indivudual states with jurisdiction over companies that discharge to the Ohio River.


The Commission Standards currently include water quality criteria and effluent limits for fecal coliform and e. coli bacteria. There is considerable work being done to identify better bacterial indicators. The current criteria development plan for US EPA calls for new criteria to protect recreational use in 2012. There is also a need for better pathogen criteria to protect drinking water use.

Applicability of New US EPA Human Health Criteria

US EPA has adopted several new human health criteria in recent years. Derivation of those criteria involves certain assumptions about the rate of fish consumption and the exposure to a given pollutant from sources other than drinking water and eating fish. The Commission is seeking information as to whether or not the assumptions used in the derivation of the national criteria are valid for the Ohio River.


ORSANCO convened a work group including representatives of state and federal environmental and fisheries agencies, universities, and the power industry to review its current temperature criteria as well as studies of thermal impacts that have been completed since those criteria were adopted. The work group recommended a methodology for deriving new temperature criteria. The methodology and resulting criteria are under review by state agency staff.

Translators for Metals

ORSANCO has conducted monitoring for dissolved and total recoverable metals at 17 Ohio River sites for over ten years. The data have been used to develop translators for relating dissolved and total recoverable metals concentrations. The translators would allow permit limits, which must be based on total recoverable concentrations, to be developed to meet in stream criteria, which limit the dissolved portion.


USEPA criteria adoption pending.

Wet Weather Standards

ORSANCO has reported that in a given year there are 180 days where wastewater standards are violated.  If adopted these proposals will make it legal to allow sewage into the Ohio River. This will be bad for public health, the economy, and the river.  Sewer overflows are a nagging but persistent problem nationwide.  More


Proposal Documents: Proposal summary  Draft standards-text  Additional issues for comment   Q & A

For more information or to find out how you can help, please contact us!