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USACE brings together partners to discuss challenges, opportunities within Ohio River Basin

May 23, 2024   Defense Visual Information Distribution Service

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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is spearheading efforts to ensure the Ohio River Basin remains a vibrant source of life and navigation for future generations.

This week, USACE Great Lakes and Ohio River Division hosted the 2024 Ohio River Basin Inspection Tour, also known as ORBIT, May 21-22, 2024, at the Muhammad Ali Center in downtown Louisville, Kentucky. The theme for this year’s event was “Partnering for Results: Shaping the Future of the Ohio River Basin.”

With over 45 organizations represented and more than 90 attendees each day, ORBIT brought Ohio River Basin (ORB) stakeholders together to identify challenges and opportunities within the basin, raise awareness of organizational initiatives, and to strengthen the network of ORB stakeholders. The two-day event also highlighted active USACE and community projects within the Louisville area.

"ORBIT exemplifies the power of collaboration in safeguarding the Ohio River Basin's environmental health, economic vitality, and recreational opportunities,” said USACE Great Lakes and Ohio River Division Commander Maj. Gen. Mark Quander. “Together, we're shaping a sustainable future for generations to come.”

Representatives from the following organizations participated in the event to include a congressional staffer for U.S. Congressman Brett Guthrie; Civilian Aides to the Secretary of the Army (CASA) from Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana; US Coast Guard; US Geological Survey; Miami Conservancy District; America’s Watershed Initiative; Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana (OKI) Regional Council of Governments; American Waterways Operators; American Commercial Barge Line; Ports of Indiana; Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO); Ohio River Basin Alliance (ORBA); Ohio River Way; Kentucky Farm Bureau; River Heritage Conservancy; Laborers International Union of North America; National Waterways Foundation; River Industry Executive Task Force; Kentucky Division of Water, Kentucky Emergency Management, Indiana Department of Natural Resources; Indiana Department of Homeland Security; Tennessee Valley Authority and others.

The event aimed to assess the health of the river and its surrounding ecosystem. From the bustling cities along its banks to the tranquil rural areas, the gathering provided valuable insights into the challenges facing the basin and future opportunities for economic development and recreation.

"The Ohio River is not just a waterway; it's a lifeline. Its diverse ecosystems sustain communities, drive commerce, and offer boundless recreational opportunities. Protecting and nurturing this invaluable resource is paramount for the well-being of millions," Quander said.

Event topics and site tours focused on recreation, flood risk management, navigation and more. Discussions were held on strategies for recreation and sustainable development, highlighting the importance of collaborative efforts in safeguarding the Ohio River as a vital resource.

The Ohio River is home to diverse species and ecosystems, and it's a source of life, providing clean drinking water to over five million people and endless recreational opportunities. On the first day of the event participants discussed the needs of the Ohio River Basin and recreation. Stakeholders received updates from key stakeholders in attendance, toured the Falls of the Ohio State Park and heard from Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg.

“One of the strengths of our city is our abundant supply of clean water. The opportunities or what that means for a city like Louisville compared to so many other parts of our country that are struggling with having access to water gives us a unique opportunity. We are going all in on that and will find other ways we can embrace water and continue to encourage people to enjoy the river. We want people to enjoy the water,” Greenberg said. “So, the bottom line is our city is all in on the Ohio River because we recognize its importance - its value, its beauty - what it means to our city, what it means to our economy, what it means to our ecology, what it means to our environment. The Ohio River is such an important part of Louisville, and we will continue to work with our partners to ensure we have a safe, clean Ohio River, that is so important—not just for our city but for so many other cities and other parts of the county. Thank you so much for all that you do.”

The second day of ORBIT was focused on flood risk management within the basin and the resilience of the Ohio River waterway system for inland navigation.

With seven major tributaries, the Ohio River Basin spans over 204,000 square miles and serves as a vital waterway for commerce, moving over 270 million tons of goods efficiently while supporting over 30 million people. The basin’s network of 88 reservoirs and 50 locks and dams ensures the river remains a thriving route for a third of the nation's waterborne commerce, supporting over half a million jobs and generating billions of dollars in business activity.

After receiving briefings from Louisville/Jefferson County Metropolitan Sewer District and Ports of Indiana, attendees were able to tour McAlpine Locks and Dam on the Ohio River in Louisville, Kentucky, where an average of 58 million tons of commerce pass through each year.

The event concluded with a panel discussion on economic development in the Ohio River Basin.

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Louisville District was honored to host ORBIT this year, right here in Louisville, Kentucky. Our district traces its roots to 1886 with our first mission to construct navigation improvements at the Falls of the Ohio,” said USACE Louisville District Commander Col. Reyn Mann. “This year’s theme of Partnering for Results has never been so relevant. Together, we will shape the future of the Ohio River Basin and make a difference in the lives of people who live and work along the basin.”