Water: Our Essential Resource
by Jeff Corney, Executive Director
Ohioans are blessed with an abundance of water. With Ohio’s share of Lake Erie to the north, the Ohio River to the south and east, plus thousands of lakes, streams, rivers, and ponds, about 9% of our state is covered in water.
And that’s just on the surface. Beneath us are huge, sandy-gravelly storehouses of groundwater called aquifers.
Regional Water Resource Organizations
Click on the name of each organization to visit their website and learn more about what they're doing to protect and preserve our water.
Clermont Soil & Water Conservation District
Hamilton County Soil & Water Conservation District
Our Water Today
Because Ohio has both a wealth of water and a vibrant industrial and agricultural economy, our state has often been on the forefront of water policy and protections in the United States.
Ohio drew national attention to water issues with the infamous “burning river” incident on Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River. At the time, the Cuyahoga River was known as the most polluted river in the United States thanks to careless dumping of industrial waste into its waters.
On June 22, 1969, an oil slick on the river’s surface erupted in flames. While this wasn’t the first fire on the Cuyahoga River (it was actually the 13th), it was a pivotal moment for the environmental movement, motivating the American public to pressure elected officials for environment protections.
As a result, officials established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to regulate and manage environmental issues in the U.S.
One of the first significant pieces of legislation to come from the EPA was the Clean Water Act of 1972. Since passage of the Act, water pollution in our country has decreased dramatically.
And while that’s great news, we’re still far from where we need to be.
Things You Can Do To Protect Water
- Avoid using chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides on your lawn and garden.
- Choose non-toxic household cleaning products whenever possible.
- Do not flush unwanted or out-of-date medicines down the toilet or drain.
- Do not pour anything other than water down a storm drain. Especially avoid spilling motor oil, paints, pesticides, or cleaning products.
- Limit your household consumption of water; in particular, reduce watering your lawn.
- If your house is using a private septic system, keep it properly maintained.
- Volunteer in your community for stream, river, and wetland clean-up projects.
Our Water Today
Currently, more than half of our nation’s rivers (and even more of our lakes and reservoirs) do not meet federally mandated water quality standards—including our very own Ohio River.
It remains one of the most polluted major waterways in the country, with an estimated 30 million pounds of chemicals dumped into the Ohio River annually.
Key among chemicals that are potentially damaging to us and wildlife are pesticides, herbicides, and nitrates from industrial and agricultural runoff. Mercury makes its way into surface water as it deposits from coal burning air pollution.
And then there are chemicals like Poly Chlorinated Biphenals (PCBs) that were once used widely in industrial manufacturing and dumped into waterways. Despite being banned for decades, those pollutants still remain in the sediments of our rivers and lakes.
Late in summer, excessive amounts of fertilizer runoff often results in algae bloom that produce toxins that can often reach dangerous levels in our lakes. Add in livestock waste and leakage from faulty septic tanks into many waterways, and there are often elevated bacteria levels infecting waters that people often swim and wade in.
Even with regulations and technological improvements, pollution problems are likely to worsen. As our population grows, so will demand for energy and consumer products—which creates more industrial, agricultural, and solid waste pollution.
Add in threats such as river and stream flow modifications, habitat destruction, and impending climate change, and the future quality and availability of our freshwater is anything but clear.
An Uncertain Future
While we’re fortunate to live in such a water-rich state, there are drawbacks—it’s all too easy to assume that our resources will always be available and clean for us.
But, they are much more fragile than we want to believe.
On average, Ohio uses 12 billion gallons of water daily for industrial, agricultural, and domestic purposes. (That’s enough to fill 18,175 Olympic-sized swimming pools every day!)
Within our own households, each of us uses roughly 75 gallons of water every day.
Our demand for clean water keeps increasing, putting greater strains on water extraction, treatment, and distribution systems. Meanwhile, there is growing concern that a warmer climate will significantly speed up evaporation of rain water, which means less water will make it into our reservoirs and aquifers for future use.
Hope for the Future
While the risks to our water supplies are very real, they’re still just risks—not reality. We’ve seen that with dedicated protections and efforts, we can preserve and clean up our waterways.
It’s thanks to the efforts of so many dedicated professionals and concerned, motivated citizens that we’ve kept our drinking water clean and our rivers from being so polluted that they burn.
Working together, we can make a difference when it comes to preserving and protecting our most essential natural resource; we quite literally cannot live without it. It’s that knowledge that gives me hope for the future of our water.