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States Vote to Dismantle Regional Clean Water Protections for Ohio River, Overturning 60-year Precedent

National Wildlife Federation blasts decision to abandon river-wide standards with regional oversight and allow state actions that could undermine the health of people, fish, wildlife.

Clean water protections for the Ohio River are being dissolved by the entity charged with overseeing the health of the river, after a dramatic vote today that overturns 60 years of cooperative oversight of the 981-mile river that provides drinking water to more than 5 million people. The National Wildlife Federation has staunchly opposed the withdrawal from regional standards that have been the safeguards for ensuring individual states cannot cause harm to downstream stretches of the 981 mile long Ohio River.

“Today’s action is a punch to the gut to the 5 million people who depend on the Ohio River for their drinking water,” said Gail Hesse, water program director for the National Wildlife Federation’s Great Lakes Regional Center. “With many of our cities and towns living with unsafe drinking water, now is not the time to pull back from the regional pollution control standards that have provided the framework for regional cooperation and agreement on pollution limits. This can only lead to a race to the bottom that threatens our environment, economy, and public health.”

During the public comment period on the rule, more than 4,000 people spoke out in opposition to the proposal to dissolve clean water protections. Only 9 supported it.

The Ohio River continues to face serious threats from sewage contamination, toxic pollution, and farm runoff—problems that have led to drinking water restrictions, fish consumption advisories, and restrictions on swimming and other outdoor recreation. New threats such as toxic PFAS are emerging.

The re-interpretation of the 60-year-old compact will make it optional for states to adopt regional clean water protections—which is tantamount to eliminating them.

“States voting to dissolve regional clean water protections are neglecting their responsibility to protect the health of the entire length of the river and the people who call the Ohio River Valley home,” said Hesse. “This is a monumental step in the wrong direction.”

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