Environmental Groups Petition EPA to Clean Up Nutrient Pollution in the Ohio River

Environmental groups petition U.S. EPA for Numeric Nutrient Standards for the Ohio River – After years of little or no progress, the Trump administration has taken the Clean Water Act in the wrong direction.  The Ohio River Waterkeeper, Sierra Club and nearly a dozen other water quality organizations are filing this petition on the anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act to urge the incoming administration to reverse direction and meet the goals of the Clean Water Act  


Multiple environmental organizations including the Ohio River Waterkeeper, Ohio Environmental Council, PennFuture, Hoosier Environmental Council, the Sierra Club and other Ohio River Basin organizations filed a petition asking the United States Environmental Protection Agency to take long overdue action to reduce the nutrient pollution loading in the Ohio River. This petition comes after the Trump administration worked to erode the fundamental protections in the Clean Water Act following years of slow progress in cleaning up the Ohio River.

Albert Ettinger, one of the attorneys who drafted the petition, stated: “For decades, EPA’s approach to stopping nutrient pollution and harmful algal blooms consisted mainly of pressuring the states to do something. The last four years there has not even been that pressure. It’s time now for the EPA to take action to reduce pollution harming the Ohio River and its tributaries as well as waters downstream.”  

The petition was filed on the anniversary of the enactment of the Safe Drinking Water Act on December 16, 1974 to help call attention to the serious water quality problems caused by excessive nutrients in the Ohio River watershed.  Excessive nutrient loading can cause Harmful Algae Blooms (HABs) that are a threat to human health, including drinking water. Large HABs occurred in the Ohio River in 2019 (300 miles) and 2015 (700 miles).      

Environmental organizations have urged the states, the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) and EPA to act to provide better protection against excessive nutrient pollution for many years, with little positive result. In 2008, a much broader petition was submitted by environmental groups to develop numeric nutrient limits and a total maximum daily load for the Mississippi River.  EPA opposed that petition, stating that it preferred to work regionally and with states.  This petition will seek to hold the EPA to its word.       

Hank Graddy, Chair of the Sierra Club Mississippi River Issue Team and the Kentucky Water Team explained, “Every three years, Kentucky and other states and ORSANCO are supposed to review their water quality standards and make improvements where necessary.  For 20 years, I have been urging Kentucky to adopt numeric nutrient standards. This year, as in past years, I have urged ORSANCO to do the same.  In September, ORSANCO and the Army Corps of Engineers finalized their Five-Year Plan for the Ohio River, and failed to even mention the need for setting numeric nutrient water quality standards.  This failure requires us to file this petition.” 

Additionally, the petition seeks the establishment of a clean-up plan called a total maximum daily load (TMDL) limit for nitrogen and phosphorus for the Ohio River.