Update on Ohio River spill

Update on Ohio River spill
December 28, 2017

Thursday, December 28 update

Keen skills, the Ohio River and a Christmas gift helped Louisville Water successfully navigate a spill on the Ohio River and maintain the same, great water quality our customers enjoy every day. On December 19, an unknown amount of liquid fertilizer called urea ammonium nitrate leaked into the Ohio River from a damaged barge near Cincinnati. Louisville Water scientists, working with ORSANCO (Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission), monitored the river conditions daily - and then hourly as the spill flowed to Louisville. 

On Christmas Eve, our scientists set up a mobile lab where they analyzed the river hourly, checking ammonia levels. The spill passed through our system Christmas afternoon and that lasted 20 hours. We avoided the peak levels of the spill in our system by reducing how the plant operated and keeping the spill out. We were able to do this since Christmas Day is typically our lowest pumping day of the year.

On Christmas Day and the next two days, our scientists and plant operators continually analyzed and monitored our treatment process and made just a minor adjustment to our water treatment strategy. The result was the same, great quality water with no customer issues.  

The river’s flow coupled with river’s dilution of the spill helped to reduce the peak levels of the ammonia that could have been a challenge for our scientists.  

Currently the spill is past Louisville, and making its way downstream to Evansville. We are working with Evansville’s water quality team to assist them in dealing with the spill.

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Thursday, December 21 update

Louisville Water continues to monitor a chemical spill that occurred Tuesday on the Ohio River near Cincinnati. An unknown amount of liquid fertilizer called urea ammonium nitrate leaked into the river from a damaged barge.

Louisville Water is being cautious in its approach. Currently, our scientists feel good about our ability to manage the spill through our treatment process.  We’re sampling the Ohio River downstream from where the spill occurred and working with other water quality agencies.  Right now, we’re letting the Ohio River do the work.  Because the flow in the river is slow (less than one mile per hour) and the volume of the water in the river can dilute the spill, the levels of the chemical in the river may decrease the closer the spill gets to the Louisville area.

Based on our scientists’ monitoring and analysis, we believe the spill would pass through Louisville later next week, most likely on Thursday. We’ll continue to monitor the Ohio River upstream from Louisville through the weekend and then determine if we need to adjust our treatment strategy. 

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Wednesday, December 20 

Yesterday morning Louisville Water learned of a spill on the Ohio River near Cincinnati. We understand a barge was unloading a liquid fertilizer called urea ammonium nitrate (UAN) when the incident occurred. Based on current information, Louisville Water scientists feel good about the treatment strategy and maintaining water quality. 

UAN is a combination of ammonium nitrate and urea, which is a raw material used in the manufacture of chemicals. Although many water utilities, including ours, use ammonia to convert chlorine to chloramine (which helps maintain water quality as the water flows from the plant to the tap) an overabundance of ammonia can pose a treatment challenge.

One of our water quality scientists, Mark Campbell, visited the scene to collect and analyze samples. From those samples, we are creating a treatment strategy. A plan is also in place that includes calculating the spills arrival based on the flow of the river. We anticipate the bulk of the spill passing Louisville next week. 

Again, based on current information, Louisville Water scientists feel good about the treatment strategy and maintaining water quality.