Why do floods dump so much trash in Louisville and southern Indiana?

Flooding cleanup includes mounds of trash at Ohio River's edge

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - The water and the mud are only two parts of the problem from flooding. Louisville and surrounding cities seem to see more than their share of debris and trash as the waters recede.

“It's pretty much a constant sight on the Ohio River,” Lower Ohio Waterkeeper Jason Flickner said.

He explained that the racing current can carry debris from as far away as Pennsylvania, but then leave it behind when it hits the public spaces on the waterfronts of Louisville and southern Indiana.

The volume of debris can make for a daunting cleanup. The Ohio River bends dramatically as it passes Louisville and curves toward the Falls of the Ohio, creating a natural resting place.

The most visible debris includes tree limbs, logs and in some cases, entire trees.

Shawn Kenney, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Louisville District Assistant Operations Manager for Locks and Dams, said the Corps does not keeps records on debris.

“The drift and debris in the Ohio River at McAlpine Locks and Dam is relatively light and does not typically cause operational difficulties with the dam gates or the locks’ equipment,” Kenney said. “We do not collect data on debris amounts at our projects or the amount of drift that is left behind on the banks after a flood recedes.”

But Flickner also sees a trend in the amount of floating plastic trash and the unseen impact it has on the ecosystem.

“It’s mainly talked about in the ocean -- microplastics in the Ohio River are a major problem,” Flickner said. “Those plastics are being degraded in the Ohio River just like in the ocean.”

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