PennFuture extremely disappointed in ruling that makes regional water quality standards voluntary for Ohio River

HARRISBURG, Pa. (June 6, 2019) - PennFuture is dismayed and disappointed by a decision Thursday by the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission to absolve itself of its charge to protect water quality. It will have far-reaching implications for the five million people who depend on the Ohio River for their drinking water, as well as the river’s ecosystems. 

The commission on Thursday voted to make states’ adoption of its regional water quality standards voluntarily, meaning any of the eight states along the river can abandon those standards moving forward.

For the last six decades, the water quality standards ensured individual states could not pollute the Ohio River at-will and forced states to cooperate and agree on regional water protections. 

“This decision by ORSANCO is mind-boggling, especially when considering more than 4,000 people spoke out against the proposal during a public comment period, and only nine people supported it,” said Matthew Stepp, vice president and chief of staff for PennFuture. “With the federal government already set on dismantling environmental laws and protections, now is not the time to weaken regional water quality standards along the Ohio River.” 

The 981-mile-long Ohio River is already plagued by pollution, sewage contamination and farm runoff—issues that have resulted in restrictions on swimming and drinking, as well as fish consumption warnings. 

Making the regional protection standards voluntary will do nothing to improve the health of the Ohio River, and will very likely exacerbate the problems already inherent in the river, both for the people who depend on it for drinking water and for the species that call it home. 

“This vote represents yet another retreat from protecting our water and it marks a low point for ORSANCO,” said Stepp. “Not only is this a significant step in the wrong direction, history will not look kindly on those that turned a blind eye to clean water and the Ohio River.”


PennFuture is leading the transition to a clean energy economy in Pennsylvania, fighting big polluters with legal muscle, enforcing environmental laws, and supporting legislative policy that protects public health. PennFuture is engaging and educating citizens about the realities of climate change, and giving them the tools needed to influence lawmakers on the issues. Visit www.pennfuture.org for more information. 


Jared Stonesifer

Director of Media Relations