The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission is slated to vote on loosening water-pollution regulations at its meeting this week in Covington. The proposed changes would give states the ability to opt out of pollution-control standards for the Ohio River, which supplies drinking water to 5 million people.
When it comes to natural resources such as water, said Gail Hesse, Great Lakes water program director for the National Wildlife Federation, state boundaries are arbitrary and regional water standards remain critical for managing the 981 miles of river as a connected system.
"We continue to have new and emerging issues that the river faces, and so now is not the time to be retreating from those standards," she said. "Despite the gains that we've seen over the course of the last 40 years of Clean Water Act program implementation, we still have challenges that we need to address."
Voting commissioners represent the states bordering the Ohio River Valley. Kentucky's commissioners were appointed by Gov. Matt Bevin and include Charles Snavely of the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet, Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton and C. Ronald Lovan, president and chief executive of the Northern Kentucky Water District.
The commission's deliberations on these standards are not open to the public and, while thousands of public comments have been submitted in opposition to the proposed changes, Hesse said the commission has offered no response.
"We really don't know or understand the thinking of the commissioners behind this proposal," she said, "nor how they have discussed or deliberated on the input of the thousands of public comments they've received."
Hesse said the Ohio River is heavily used by industry and power companies, but added that it's important to make sure that their discharges don't pollute waters downstream. She said she thinks cooperation among states is the most effective way to protect the Ohio River for communities and wildlife.