How Cincy Works: On the Waterfront

How our legendary—and legendarily moody—river makes us more than an economic contender.
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For our June 2015 issue, we explore (and try to explain) the ins and outs of the Queen City.

In May, Cincinnati officially became the nation’s second-largest inland port: the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers re-designated the Ports of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky as a much-expanded, 200-plus-mile stretch. In theory, this rebranding will make our port a powerhouse, but the Ohio River has always been the region’s defining natural resource. It brought surveyors, soldiers, and settlers here and shaped the commerce that made Cincinnati a boomtown in the early 19th century. Today, the phrase “river view” can make a property fly off the market. And even those who can’t see it are using it constantly: 88 percent of the city’s drinking water comes from the Ohio. To make it tap-safe, the Miller Treatment Plant removes bacteria, pollutants, and particles using a kick-ass system of filters and UV disinfection. On rare occasions, when a cloud of sludge heads our way, the intake valves are closed until the noxiousness passes. Though essential, it is by no aesthetic measure the most attractive body of water. In the middle of the last century, a series of locks and dams paved the way for more robust barge traffic, at the same time turning the Ohio into a series of muddy, slow-moving pools, disrupting the ecosystem. And yeah, from time to time, it floods; in March, the river crested at just under 58 feet before finally receding, soaking low-lying areas such as the East End—neighborhoods that, for the most part, are prepared. The East End’s 10-year-old Riverview East Academy, for example, sits on 17-foot “stilts”—a testament to our city’s long-standing relationship with high water.

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