360-degree video interactive: A journey to revitalization on an Ohio River tributary

The Cheat River courses through one of the largest undammed watersheds in the eastern United States. The river forms from tributaries high in the Allegheny Mountains of eastern West Virginia and flows northward to meet with the Monongahela River just before crossing into southwestern Pennsylvania. From there, the Mon joins the Allegheny River to form the Ohio River. The Ohio River is a drinking water source for five million people, and 25 million people in Appalachia and the Midwest live within its watershed. 

The Cheat River has a storied history. Not so long ago, the river ran orange for miles at a time from acid mine drainage, but revitalization efforts have brought the waters back to life, both literally and figuratively.

Marietta, Ohio at the mouth of the Muskingum River as it enters the Ohio. (Photo by Christopher Boswell/Marietta Main Street)

One Ohio River town that’s using outdoor recreation to boost its economy

Every September, tourists flock to historic Marietta, along the banks of the Ohio River, for a celebration that harkens back to the Ohio Valley’s early days. 

The 44th annual Ohio River Sternwheel Festival held this year attracted an estimated 30,000 visitors to the small southeastern Ohio city. The streets buzzed with activity as vendors sold popcorn, french fries and locally made sandwiches. 

More than 100 people sat along the riverbank on lawn chairs and blankets in the grass, looking out at a docked barge, where civic leaders hailed the opening of festivities. “We’re going to have great weather this whole weekend, and we’re so excited,” said Cindy Hall, who volunteered to lead the event. 

Standing at the riverfront plaza, Hall talked with Carrie Ankrom, president of the Marietta Chamber of Commerce about how the festival benefits local businesses. Carrie Ankrom, president of the Marietta Chamber of Commerce, says attracting tourists to events like the Sternwheel Festival is helping to revitalize the city’s downtown. (Photo by Julie Grant/The Allegheny Front)

“It sells out the hotel rooms, the campsites,” Ankrom said.

‘That’s vinegar’: The Ohio River’s history of contamination and progress made

By April Johnston

In 1958, researchers from the University of Louisville and the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission gathered at a lock on the Monongahela River for routine collecting, counting and comparing of fish species. 

At the time, the best way to accomplish this was what’s called lock chamber sampling, or filling a 350-by-56-foot lock with river water, injecting it with cyanide and waiting for the dead fish to float to the top. Archaic, but effective. On this particular day, researchers opened the chamber to find one fish inside. One fish. It shouldn’t have been surprising, said Jerry Schulte, a biologist who managed the source water protection and emergency response team for the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission [ORSANCO] for more than two decades.

The water is cleaner but the politics are messier: A look back at the Clean Water Act movement after 50 years

This is first in our Good River: Stories of the Ohio Series

In June 1969, a Time Magazine article garnered national attention when it brought to light the water quality conditions in Ohio: a river had literally caught fire. 

Oil-soaked debris ignited after sparks, likely from a passing train, set the slick ablaze. Local media actually didn’t spend much time reporting on the fire. This was, after all, at least the 13th time a waterway had been set ablaze in Ohio alone, not to mention river fires in Philadelphia, Baltimore and other industrial cities. Time Magazine didn’t even run pictures of this specific fire. Instead, they used stock photos of another fire that happened in the same area in 1957. 

But America in 1969 had had enough with dangerous rivers.

Man pulling off invasive species

Fewer Invasive Species Reach the Great Lakes, but Those Here Continue to Spread

Scientists, Regulators and Industry Representatives Debate if Ballast Water Treatment is an Option

More than $375 billion in cargo — iron ore, coal, cement, stone, grain and more — has flowed between Great Lakes ports and foreign nations since 1959. That’s when Queen Elizabeth and U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower christened the St. Lawrence Seaway, heralding it as an engineering marvel.  

But that series of locks, dams and channels connecting the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean also carved a pathway for foreign plants and animals to wreak billions of dollars in ecological damage to the lakes. At least 80 invasive species have arrived in the ballast water transatlantic ships take in and discharge for balance. 

The round goby, which came from the Black and Caspian seas in the 1990s, gobbles up food some native fish depend upon. So do European zebra and quagga mussels, which also damage docks and boats and clog pipes and machinery, costing the Great Lakes region an estimated $500 million each year.

Q & A: Why is Lake Erie’s algae bloom growing again?

GIBRALTAR ISLAND, Ohio  — Four years ago, Lake Erie algae wreaked havoc on the Toledo water system, affecting 400,000 residents in Ohio and Southeast Michigan. Known as harmful algal blooms, the deep green ooze grows by the mile each year, fed by phosphorus-rich runoff from farm fields. Though not always toxic, the eyesores gunk up beaches, choke marine life, and became far more serious in August 2014. That’s when Toledo’s water system sucked up cyanobacteria (known as blue-green algae, though it’s technically not algae) and contaminated drinking water with microcystin, a toxin that can cause liver and kidney damage. The scare prompted residents to rely on bottled water for three days and cost about $65 million, mostly in lost tax revenue and tourism.

Where did ~$250 million go? Rate hike funds still unaccounted for in FirstEnergy Bankruptcy

Ohio ratepayers have paid FirstEnergy’s utilities roughly a quarter of a billion dollars since January 2017 under a distribution modernization rider. Now, critics say FirstEnergy is stalling on saying just what it’s doing with that money, which regulators approved without any requirements that it pay for specific projects. The mandate for consumers to pay the rider is currently on appeal before the Supreme Court of Ohio. Meanwhile, FirstEnergy’s utilities have been collecting the $168 million per year, and regulators could renew the charge for another two years after 2019. “To date, FirstEnergy has stymied the efforts of the state-designated advocate of its consumers to discover information about its subsidy charges,” Ohio Consumers’ Counsel Bruce Weston and assistant counsel Zachary Woltz said in a July 13 brief.