Tom FitzGerald on Being Nominated to ORSANCO

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Since 1948, ORSANCO and the member states of New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Virginia, and Kentucky, have worked collaboratively to improve water quality and river health along the 981 miles, from the origin of the river at the confluence of the Allegheny and the Monongahela Rivers in Pittsburgh, to Cairo, Illinois, and in those intervening 66 years, have accomplished much in that regard, despite the political, technical, and practical difficulties of restoring and protecting a water resource that flows through or along the boundary of six states. The monitoring, educational, and regulatory functions of ORSANCO are vital to continuing efforts to restore and maintain a healthy river for the wide range of uses for which we rely on the river.

ORSANCO exists to assure implementation of the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Compact, which reflects binding commitments made by the signatory states to assure that pollution from sources in each state do not adversely affect the ability of the interstate waters to supply public and industrial water supply, to support recreational usage, and to maintain fish and other aquatic life. The Compact envisioned that all sewage and industrial wastes be treated in order to protect the public health and to preserve the waters for other legitimate purposes, and that discharges from tributaries be treated to assure that they do not degrade the mainstem, and charged ORSANCO with both a standard-setting and enforcement power as needed to achieve those ends.

Yet while significant progress has been made, there is much more that needs to be done to safeguard a river that is the source of drinking water for more than 5 million people. The need to improve source water protection from accidental spills and releases has been brought home in recent years from chemical spills and slurry impoundment failures. As aquatic and human toxicology advances, we learn of the potential effects of low-dose exposure to a range of chemicals present in wastewater, stormwater, and industrial releases into the mainstem and its tributaries. Nonpoint source pollution from urban runoff, agricultural activities, and abandoned mines remains a major cause of water pollution in the Ohio River. And each of these areas will take collaborative, and in some cases innovative strategies among the states and local communities for the 25 million people who live in the Basin.

I am honored to have been appointed by President Obama to this position, and look forward to working with the other Federal and State Commissioners, with the staff, many of whom I have known for a number of my years as an advocate, and with PIACO and the other ORSANCO committees, in a shared commitment to the as-yet elusive goal of the 1977 Clean Water Act of ending water pollution and safeguarding the health of one of the nation's truly Great Rivers.

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By Tom FitzGerald on 05/22/2014 5:32 PM
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