University Professors Publish Ohio River Paper In Conservation Journal

For more than a decade now, Dr. Lois Wright Morton and Dr. Kenneth Olson have been working together to publish a series of articles on the impact of flooding on agricultural lands and on managing the river landscapes of North America. This month, their paper titled “Securing the Nation’s Infrastructure: The Ohio River” was published in the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation as a way of bringing attention to the importance the river and its infrastructure have for the nation’s economy.

Morton, who is a professor emeritus of sociology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa, said that the Ohio River is a critical transportation artery connecting the East Coast and the Midwest. “An economic driver of the region and nation, this inland waterway carries raw materials, agricultural commodities and finished products used within the United States and exported to countries around the world,” she said.

Olson, who is a professor emeritus of soil science in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois in Urbana, said he hopes the paper reminds readers that the Ohio River was the original “Gateway to the West.”

“Both Lewis and Clark and Charles Dickinson traveled from Pittsburgh, Pa., to the Mississippi River at Cairo, Ill., in the early 1800s,” he said. “Improving navigation on the Ohio River was the first civilian project that Congress funded the Corps to work on in 1824.”

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A portion of the paper focuses on the Olmsted Locks and Dam project, which was completed last fall after decades of on-and-off construction due to government funding hurdles.

Olson, who attended the dedication ceremony for the locks and dam, said that the project had a positive effect on the livelihoods of people living in the region and that it ensures safe and efficient Ohio River navigation between Smithville and Cairo into the future. “It also gives an economic boost to the [Paducah-McCracken County Riverport Authority], the hub of Ohio River traffic,” he added.

“Hundreds of dams and reservoirs have been built on Ohio River tributaries to store flood waters and control the release of waters during high precipitation events to better manage downriver flooding, as well as maintain the 9-foot channel and river ecologies during drought periods,” said Morton.

Olson concluded that the infrastructure of the Mississippi, Ohio and Illinois river locks and dams, as well as port cities, need ongoing repairs and modernization if the inland system is to continue to be a source of economic growth and provide recreational and ecological benefits.

The Ohio River article can be found at