Tuesday, February 28, 2006

How clean should the Ohio River be?

In the past thirty years or so tremendous efforts have been made to try and clean up the Ohio River. The Clean Water Act of 1972 was established to set forth regulations regarding the water quality of surface waters in the United States. Essentially, this affects the amount of bacteria legally allowed to be discharged into the Ohio River by residential and commercial citizens. The Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, an eight-state agency, has been established to improve the water quality of the Ohio River specifically. A recent proposal has been made to seek the allowance of higher levels of bacteria into the Ohio River following periods of heavy rain. This would mean an amendment to the Clean Water Act. It is said that these higher levels of bacteria are caused by the overflow of public and private sewer systems upstream. Supposedly the sewer systems do not have the ability to handle the amount of sewage imposed on it during the periods of heavy rain.
So now one must ask what should be done about this problem? Some have stated that the Act should remain at the standard that it is currently at as to not allow any further deterioration of the quality of the river water. However, ORSANCO (Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission), has suggested that the Act should be amended because not many people are using the river water directly following periods of heavy rain anyway. They state that pollution standards are routinely being violated anyway and so that this amendment will bring the area closer to what is deemed to be realistically achievable.
If the standard were to remain the same then the question becomes how much will residential and commercial citizens have to pay in order to meet the standard. Put a different way one could ask... what are citizens willing to give up in order to keep the standards the same and would it be efficient. Proposals for an estimated $2.4 billion has already been delegated to improving the sewer systems in the Hamilton County portion of Ohio and Northern Kentucky over the next 20 to 25 years. Even though these systems will not help the here and now, it is believed by this author that imposing the same pollution standards after periods of heavy rain on the citizens would not encourage more clean up activity in the present, but instead discourage it. Consumers of the water from the Ohio River would probably be much better off if they would allow the money saved by not paying fines for excess pollution during periods of heavy rain, that is said to be unavoidable due to problems with the sewage systems, to be used in a positive way such as working towards figuring out how to better deal with the levels of bacteria present in the water systems today. So, this author would say to amend the Clean Water Act to allow extra bacteria to be introduced into the water system after periods of heavy rain unless it can be proved to be so harmful to the environment that it is just not acceptable.

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