Corps, ORSANCO And ORBA Release Ohio River Basin Strategic Plan

Engineers and its partners released a strategic plan last month addressing goals and strategies for the Ohio River Basin.

The Corps collaborated with the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) and the Ohio River Basin Alliance (ORBA) to create the 53-page Plan For the Ohio River Basin 2020-2025, gathering input at public meetings in multiple states as well as via webinars. The study took more than a year to compile.

“It can be used by any stakeholder within the basin, but all the objectives and strategies were influenced and sometimes written by stakeholders involved in our outreach process,” said Laura Mattingly, community planner for the Corps’ Louisville office, which managed the project.

No such plan had been created for the Ohio River basin previously, although it is modeled after similar plans from other regions, including the federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative put together a few years ago to guide development of the Great Lakes.

Get the latest infrastructure and dredging news in your inbox.Powered by the Waterways Journal and International Dredging Review, our monthly Infrastructure Report newsletter covers dredging, construction and civil engineering.

In part, Mattingly said, the study will help evaluate potential grant projects in the basin. It also attempts to balance goals related to economic development and promoting commerce within the basin with environmental priorities, such as having abundant clean water for drinking, and quality of life issues, such as improving recreational access.

“There are several strategies in this plan that involve further data collection and studies,” Mattingly said. She stressed the importance of research to inform decisions and education “to foster a sense of belonging and stewardship.”

One of the next steps is ORBA’s creation of working groups to advance toward achievement of the goals laid out in the study. The Corps also plans to continue to work with its partners to keep the report updated as benchmarks are met.

“We want to keep moving toward that,” Mattingly said. “We don’t want it to just sit on a shelf.”

The plan notes that the Ohio River basin covers 204,000 square miles encompassing parts of 15 states. The basin is home to more than 25 million people, equaling 10 percent of the population of the United States. The basin includes the Ohio River as well as its tributaries, including the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. The Ohio River has seven navigable tributaries, comprising more than 2,500 miles of waterways upon which more than 270 million tons of coal, aggregates, chemicals, agricultural, industrial and petroleum products are transported annually.

“This waterway transportation provides a less costly means for companies to transport bulk goods, moving 35 percent of the nation’s waterborne commerce,” the plan notes in a section about river transportation and commerce challenges and opportunities. “The Ohio River is home to 38 coal-fired power plants, representing 20 percent of nation’s coal-fired electricity generation capacity. The Ohio River provides more than half a million jobs and generates billions of dollars in business activity.”

One of the plan’s objectives is: “By 2025, the inland waterways infrastructure is efficiently funded to consistently maintain authorized river pools and the economical transportation of goods on the inland waterways.”

Strategic actions recommended toward that objective include advocating for consideration of all national and regional benefits in valuation for Corps projects, including the value of water supply, hydrological impacts, ecosystem services, recreation, national security, system infrastructure and resource resilience as well as cost savings to shippers. The last of those is the primary metric that has been used in calculating value in the past, the study notes.

The plan promotes improving public access to comprehensive data on usage of locks and dams, including all vessels and tonnage from the Institute of Water Resources and data from the Waterborne Commerce Statistics Center. In collaboration with Waterways Council, Inc., another strategy advocates for priorities applying to the Ohio River Basin that were identified in the most recent Inland Waterways Users Board recommendations.

A second objective relating to commerce is: “By 2025, compared to 2019, the five-year growth trend of water-dependent industry, recreation and commerce has increased.”

Strategic actions recommended to be taken to achieve that objective include facilitating and endorsing regional collaboration by governments, industry and nongovernmental groups to improve economic performance and competitiveness by creating an attractive land portfolio that addresses stream-side brownfields; strengthening water-related infrastructure; developing a cooperative approach to attract industries to use water resources, ports and terminals and barge transportation; advocating for the update of the Ohio River Comprehensive Reconnaissance Report drafted in 2009; and advocating for a study on the removal and reuse/repurposing of outdated infrastructure such as abandoned rail lines, to allow for waterfront development.

“Roughly 214 million tons of grain, steel, chemicals, petroleum, construction materials, such as rock or sand, and coal are transported on basin rivers annually,” the plan noted. “A typical 15-barge tow obviates the need for approximately 1,000 tractor-trailers on basin roads. Electricity production from scores of power plants along the river and the businesses and communities that utilize the electricity rely on the efficient barge transport of coal. The historic development of the basin was directly attributable to the rivers and natural resources of the Ohio River basin. With the changing characteristics of the region’s economic drivers, regional approaches to development will be critical for providing jobs and raising incomes throughout the basin.”

The final plan may be viewed in its entirety at: https://go.usa.gov/xGvwF.