Into which body of water does the Ohio River discharge?

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By Kristy Tolley

The Ohio River is one of the largest rivers in the United States and holds great economic and ecological significance. It has served as a vital mode of transportation for goods and people, and as a source of water for many communities along its basin. In this article, we will explore the course and basin of the Ohio River and delve into the importance of this body of water. We will also address environmental concerns and efforts to improve water quality.

Overview of the Ohio River

The Ohio River is a 981-mile-long river that flows through six states in the eastern part of the United States, including Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, and Illinois. It is a major tributary of the Mississippi River and is the largest river by volume to feed into the Mississippi. It forms at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and flows southwestward to its mouth at Cairo, Illinois.

Course of the Ohio River

As the Ohio River flows southward from Pittsburgh, it passes through several cities, including Cincinnati, Louisville, and Evansville. It is joined by many tributaries along its route, including the Muskingum, Scioto, Wabash, and Tennessee Rivers. The Ohio River is also dammed at several locations, including the Markland, Meldahl, and Greenup Dams, which create reservoirs that serve various purposes such as hydroelectric power generation, flood control, and recreation.

River Basin of the Ohio River

The Ohio River’s basin covers approximately 205,000 square miles and includes parts of fifteen states, from New York to Mississippi. The river basin is home to over 25 million people and provides water for agricultural, industrial, and municipal purposes. The Ohio River and its tributaries also support a diverse range of aquatic species, including many important commercial and sport fish.

Mouth of the Ohio River

After flowing through the states of Ohio, West Virginia, Indiana, Kentucky, and Illinois, the Ohio River finally discharges into the Mississippi River at Cairo, Illinois. The Ohio River’s inflow contributes around 60 percent of the Mississippi River’s total water volume, making it a crucial tributary for maintaining the Mississippi River’s health and flow.

Discharge of the Ohio River

The Ohio River’s average discharge is about 281,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), which is roughly equivalent to the combined flow of the Colorado and Columbia Rivers. During heavy rainfall events, the Ohio River can discharge up to 3 million cfs, which can result in flooding and property damage.

Importance of the Ohio River

The Ohio River is a critical source of water for many communities, industries, and agricultural operations in the eastern United States. It also serves as a vital transportation artery for goods such as coal, petroleum, grain, and chemicals. The river’s economic impact is significant, with over 300 commercial ports and terminals along its route and thousands of jobs supported by the industries that rely on it.

Environmental Concerns

Despite its importance, the Ohio River has faced environmental challenges, including pollution from industrial and agricultural sources. The river has been affected by excess nutrients, sedimentation, and contamination from heavy metals such as mercury and lead. These pollutants can have severe impacts on aquatic life and human health.

Effects of Pollution on the River

Pollution in the Ohio River has resulted in degraded water quality, which can harm aquatic species and ecosystems. It can also impact human health for those who consume contaminated fish or drink contaminated water. Additionally, pollution in the river can harm industries that rely on it for transportation and water resources.

Efforts to Improve Water Quality

To address the environmental concerns related to the Ohio River, several initiatives and programs have been launched to improve water quality. These include reducing nutrient runoff from agricultural lands, controlling industrial discharges, and improving wastewater treatment. In recent years, these efforts have led to improvements in water quality and a reduction in pollution levels.


The Ohio River is a crucial body of water in the eastern United States, serving as a vital source of water, transportation, and economic activity. It has also faced environmental challenges due to pollution from various sources. However, efforts to improve water quality have led to positive changes, and continued efforts are necessary to protect and preserve this important resource.


  • Ohio River Foundation. (n.d.). Ohio River 101.
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. (n.d.). Ohio River Navigation Charts.
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2019, December 30). About the Ohio River Basin.
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Kristy Tolley

Kristy Tolley, an accomplished editor at TravelAsker, boasts a rich background in travel content creation. Before TravelAsker, she led editorial efforts at Red Ventures Puerto Rico, shaping content for Platea English. Kristy's extensive two-decade career spans writing and editing travel topics, from destinations to road trips. Her passion for travel and storytelling inspire readers to embark on their own journeys.

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