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Restoring the Ohio River and its Tributaries

We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to restore and protect the Ohio River—and to stand up for communities and wildlife that depend on the river. Now is the time to act.

Roebling Suspension Bridge

The Roebling Suspension Bridge spans the Ohio River between Cincinnati, Ohio, and Covington, Kentucky.

Restoring and protecting the Ohio River is a top priority for the National Wildlife Federation. 

The iconic river, which runs 981 miles from Pittsburgh, Pa., to Cairo, Ill., supplies drinking water to more than 5 million people. It provides a home for fish and wildlife. And it is the foundation of the region’s cultural and economic identity. 

Unfortunately, the river faces serious threats, including sewage contamination, aquatic invasive species, toxic pollution, harmful algal blooms, acid mine drainage, habitat destruction, and climate change—problems that have made parts of the river and its tributaries unsafe to swim in, fish unsafe to eat, and, in some cases, water that is not safe to drink. These threats – which have led to the Ohio River being named as the most polluted river in the United States – have also taken a toll on fish and wildlife: Some species can no longer be found in the river and others are struggling to survive, with populations so low that they are listed as threatened or endangered.

The good news is that there are solutions that can help nurse the river back to heath, restore fish and wildlife populations, and ensure that every person in the region has access to clean, safe and affordable drinking water in their home. It is vital that we address these threats to the Ohio River now, before the problems get worse and more costly to solve.

Taking Action

Lake Sturgeon

The National Wildlife Federation is working to secure a strong ecosystem restoration plan for the Ohio River and the federal funding to implement it—and we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do just that.

We have been partnering with dozens of other stakeholders in the 15-state Ohio River basin that includes Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia to craft a regional strategy to restore the river and its fish and wildlife, provide safe drinking water to the region’s residents, support world-class recreation, and boost local economies. 

As part of that endeavor, the National Wildlife Federation is leading the charge to craft an ecosystem restoration plan that identifies threats to the river and charts a course forward so that commonsense solutions can be implemented to benefit fish and wildlife, as well as people—especially those that have historically borne the brunt of pollution and degradation, including communities of color, rural and low-income communities, and tribal nations. We see this as an opportunity for investment in ecosystem restoration leading to economic benefit by putting people to work, supporting local businesses, and energizing local economies.

We’ve tackled large-scale habitat restoration initiatives before—and we can do it again. 

The National Wildlife Federation’s experience working to restore and protect iconic aquatic ecosystems around the country—from the Chesapeake Bay to the Delaware River to the Florida Everglades to the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico—puts us in a strong position to work with partners in the region to put forward manageable solutions to heal the Ohio River and the rivers and wetlands that feed it. 

Our collaboration with more than 160 environmental organizations as a part of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition has resulted in a visionary Great Lakes restoration plan, and, over the past 10 years, more than $3.5 billion in federal investment to restore and protect the Great Lakes by cleaning up toxic pollution, restoring fish and wildlife habitat, and confronting invasive species. These federal investments have been producing results, and there’s more work left to do. 

We are excited to roll up our sleeves to get to work to help restore and protect the Ohio River. We believe that, collectively, we can secure a visionary Ohio River restoration plan—and the funding to implement it—so that people can enjoy, and fish and wildlife can thrive in, the Ohio River now and for generations to come.


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Where We Work

More than one-third of U.S. fish and wildlife species are at risk of extinction in the coming decades. We're on the ground in seven regions across the country, collaborating with 52 state and territory affiliates to reverse the crisis and ensure wildlife thrive.

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