River hospitality and waste water discharges.

It’s been a few days, 120 miles, and several thunderstorms since leaving Cincinnati but the impact of the folks up there has stayed with me.  Several of the places I’ve stayed in the last few days came from interactions in the city–and until late yesterday I was still eating homemade chocolate chip cookies from my send off.

My host in Cincinnati, Brewster Rhoads, kept me busy for the 20 hours I stopped over in town.  Brewster took me to a meeting of Cincinnati’s Green Partnership program.  One project the partnership is working on is the reduction of stormwater runoff.  In an effort to stop the amount of wastewater that flows into the Ohio, from aging combined sewage overflows (CSO‘s), the partnership is looking at ways to retain and use water that would otherwise run into and overwhelm the city’s sewer system.

As someone living on the river, especially during the last few heavy rainstorms, I appreciate any effort to phase out CSO’s.  Since leaving Pittsburgh there have been few stretches of river where the banks have not had outflow pipes, permit # signs, and access ladders–ladders used both to access the outflow pipes for testing and for teenagers to get down to poorly placed rope swings.  All total there are nearly 1,100 CSO’s on the mainstem of the Ohio, more than one per mile.  Projects like Cincinnati’s take enormous investments from the city but are necessary to clean up the river and eliminate pathogens and excess nutrients from the watershed.

Unfortunately discharges from sewage treatment plants during rainstorms are only one source of contamination in the river.  Industrial discharges–both permitted outflows of waste water and those that come from neglected or poorly maintained storage areas (like the coal ash pond associated with this plant north of Louisville)–impact the river and human health.

Brewster is also an avid paddler and  organizes Cincinnati’s annual PaddleFest.  An event that gets nearly 2000 boaters out onto the Ohio.

In Cincinnati I meet Rich Cogan from the Ohio River Foundation, another great organization that works on education and conservation programs on the river.  He’s group organizes a multi day trip on the Ohio to show off some of the river’s recreational potential.

Brewster, Rich, Channel 5 news, some local paddlers, and a pack of cub scouts who were out on a river front clean up gave me a great send off into the Ohio on Saturday morning.  The river’s high flow moved me quickly downstream before a round of thunderstorms forced me to find shelter on the bank.  Once the storms cleared out I paddled down towards Rabbit Hash, Kentucky–just a short way downstream from the the halfway point on the Ohio and a smoky plant at the mouth of the Great Miami River.  The residents of Rabbit Hash treated me to dinner, breakfast, music, great river stories, and conversation.  The town–just a few historic buildings tucked down on the river–has great personality.  I stayed with the owner of the town’s first dog mayor and was by greeted by an older couple visiting from Holland when I first stepped on shore.

I started a bit late onto the water from Rabbit Hash and spent a hot, windy day getting down river to Carrolton, Kentucky and the hospitality and great music of some new friends.  One of whom is a waste water discharge monitor for a steel plant.  His facility sets a good example that industry and pollution don’t have to go hand in hand.

From Carrolton I paddled a long, rainy day down to Louisville.  This part of the river flowed through beautiful hardwood forests colored green and purple by the advance of spring.  The hills on the Kentucky side were only marred by the occasional coal plant–while Indiana’s hills were crowned with the ruins of the Marble Hill Nuclear plant.  This plant–abandoned after the Three Mile island disaster–is a potent reminder of the dangers of nuclear power.

Today I’m relaxing down in Louisville with the Kentucky Waterway Alliance.  Another group of great people working hard to protect our water.    As advocates for Kentucky’s rivers they have stopped the permitting of all kinds of projects that would and have degraded the state’s water ways.  Not to mention they helped find me a place to stay in town, brew good coffee in their office (located inside an old bakery), and bought me lunch down on the river front.


About banksofthebasin

Brett grew up in South Jersey, moved to the coast of Maine to study human ecology, and then spent a year traveling on rivers around the world—from the frozen arctic to the mangroves of south Asia. Before setting out on Banks of the Basin he baked bread in Pittsburgh and kayaked the beautiful rivers of central Appalachia.
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