Ohio River
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The Ohio River is a long
river A river is a natural flowing watercourse, usually freshwater, flowing towards an ocean, sea, lake or another river. In some cases, a river flows into the ground and becomes dry at the end of its course without reaching another body of wate ...
in the
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. It is located at the boundary of the Midwestern and
Southern United States The Southern United States (sometimes Dixie, also referred to as the Southern States, the American South, the Southland, or simply the South) is a geographic and cultural region of the United States of America. It is between the Atlantic Ocea ...
, flowing southwesterly from western
Pennsylvania Pennsylvania (; ( Pennsylvania Dutch: )), officially the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, is a state spanning the Mid-Atlantic, Northeastern, Appalachian, and Great Lakes regions of the United States The United States of America (U ...
to its
mouth In animal Animals are multicellular, eukaryotic organisms in the biological kingdom Animalia. With few exceptions, animals consume organic material, breathe oxygen, are able to move, can reproduce sexually, and go through an onto ...
on the
Mississippi River The Mississippi River is the second-longest river and chief river of the second-largest drainage system in North America North America is a continent in the Northern Hemisphere and almost entirely within the Western Hemisph ...
at the southern tip of
Illinois Illinois ( ) is a state in the Midwestern United States. Its largest metropolitan areas include the Chicago metropolitan area, and the Metro East section, of Greater St. Louis. Other smaller metropolitan areas include, Peoria and Ro ...
. It is the third largest river by discharge volume in the United States and the largest
tributary A tributary, or affluent, is a stream A stream is a continuous body of surface water flowing within the bed and banks of a channel. Depending on its location or certain characteristics, a stream may be referred to by a variety of l ...
by volume of the north-south flowing Mississippi River that divides the eastern from western United States. It is also the 6th oldest river on the North American continent. The river flows through or along the
border Borders are usually defined as geographical boundaries, imposed either by features such as oceans and terrain, or by political entities such as governments, sovereign state A sovereign state or sovereign country, is a political entity ...
of six states, and its
drainage basin A drainage basin is an area of land where all flowing surface water converges to a single point, such as a river mouth, or flows into another body of water, such as a lake or ocean. A basin is separated from adjacent basins by a perimeter ...
includes parts of 14 states. Through its largest tributary, the
Tennessee River The Tennessee River is the largest tributary of the Ohio River. It is approximately long and is located in the southeastern United States in the Tennessee Valley. The river was once popularly known as the Cherokee River, among other na ...
, the basin includes several states of the southeastern U.S. It is the source of
drinking water Drinking water is water that is used in drink A drink or beverage is a liquid intended for human consumption. In addition to their basic function of satisfying thirst, drinks play important roles in human culture. Common types of drinks ...
for five million people. The lower Ohio River just below Louisville is obstructed by rapids known as the Falls of the Ohio where the elevation falls in restricting larger commercial navigation, although in the 18th and early 19th century its three deepest channels could be traversed by a wide variety of craft then in use. Completion of the Louisville and Portland Canal in 1830 (and later the McAlpine Locks and Dam), bypassing the rapids, allowed even larger commercial and modern navigation from the Forks of the Ohio at
Pittsburgh Pittsburgh ( ) is a city in the Commonwealth (U.S. state), Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, United States, and the county seat of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, Allegheny County. It is the most populous city in both Allegheny County and Wester ...
to the Port of New Orleans at the mouth of the Mississippi on the Gulf of Mexico. The name "Ohio" comes from the Seneca, , lit. "Good River". In his '' Notes on the State of Virginia'' published in 1781–82, Thomas Jefferson stated: "The Ohio is the most beautiful river on earth. Its current gentle, waters clear, and bosom smooth and unbroken by rocks and rapids, a single instance only excepted" (though Jefferson himself had not seen the Ohio) In the late 18th century, the river was the southern boundary of the Northwest Territory. It became a primary transportation route for pioneers during the westward expansion of the early U.S. Today, the Ohio River is one of the most polluted rivers in the United States. The river is sometimes considered as the western extension of the Mason–Dixon Line that divided
Pennsylvania Pennsylvania (; ( Pennsylvania Dutch: )), officially the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, is a state spanning the Mid-Atlantic, Northeastern, Appalachian, and Great Lakes regions of the United States The United States of America (U ...
from
Maryland Maryland ( ) is a state in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. It shares borders with Virginia Virginia, officially the Commonwealth of Virginia, is a state in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern regions of the United S ...
, and thus part of the border between free and
slave Slavery and enslavement are both the state and the condition of being a slave—someone forbidden to quit one's service for an enslaver, and who is treated by the enslaver as property. Slavery typically involves slaves being made to per ...
territory, and between the Northern and
Southern United States The Southern United States (sometimes Dixie, also referred to as the Southern States, the American South, the Southland, or simply the South) is a geographic and cultural region of the United States of America. It is between the Atlantic Ocea ...
or Upper South. Where the river was narrow, it was crossed by thousands of slaves escaping to the North for freedom; many were helped by free blacks and whites of the Underground Railroad resistance movement. The Ohio River is a climatic transition area, as its water runs along the periphery of the humid subtropical and humid continental climate areas. It is inhabited by fauna and flora of both climates. In winter, it regularly freezes over at
Pittsburgh Pittsburgh ( ) is a city in the Commonwealth (U.S. state), Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, United States, and the county seat of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, Allegheny County. It is the most populous city in both Allegheny County and Wester ...
but rarely farther south toward
Cincinnati Cincinnati ( ) is a city in the U.S. state of Ohio Ohio () is a state in the Midwestern region of the United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a ...
and Louisville. Further down the river in places like Paducah and Owensboro, Kentucky, closer to its confluence with the Mississippi, the Ohio is ice-free year-round.


Etymology

The name "Ohio" comes from the Seneca language (an Iroquoian language), (roughly pronounced oh-hee-yoh, with the vowel in "hee" held longer), a proper name derived from ("good river"), therefore literally translating to "Good River". "Great river" and "large creek" have also been given as translations. Native Americans, including the Lenni Lenape and
Iroquois The Iroquois ( or ), officially the Haudenosaunee ( meaning "people of the longhouse"), are an Iroquoian Peoples, Iroquoian-speaking Confederation#Indigenous confederations in North America, confederacy of First Nations in Canada, First Natio ...
, considered the Ohio and Allegheny rivers as the same, as is suggested by a New York State road sign on Interstate 86 that refers to the Allegheny River also as . Similarly, the
Geographic Names Information System The Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) is a database of name and locative information about more than two million physical and cultural features throughout the United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly ...
lists ''O-hee-yo'' and ''O-hi-o'' as variant names for the Allegheny. An earlier Miami-Illinois language name was also applied to the Ohio River, ("river of the Mosopelea" tribe). Shortened in the Shawnee language to , or , the name evolved through variant forms such as "Polesipi", "Peleson", "Pele Sipi" and "Pere Sipi", and eventually stabilized to the variant spellings "Pelisipi", "Pelisippi" and "Pellissippi". Originally applied just to the Ohio River, the "Pelisipi" name later was variously applied back and forth between the Ohio River and the Clinch River in
Virginia Virginia, officially the Commonwealth of Virginia, is a state in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern regions of the United States, between the Atlantic Coast and the Appalachian Mountains. The geography and climate of the Commonwealth ...
and
Tennessee Tennessee ( , ), officially the State of Tennessee, is a landlocked U.S. state, state in the Southeastern United States, Southeastern region of the United States. Tennessee is the List of U.S. states and territories by area, 36th-largest by ...
. In his original draft of the Land Ordinance of 1784, Thomas Jefferson proposed a new state called "Pelisipia", to the south of the Ohio River, which would have included parts of present-day Eastern
Kentucky Kentucky ( , ), officially the Commonwealth of Kentucky, is a U.S. state, state in the Southeastern United States, Southeastern region of the United States and one of the states of the Upper South. It borders Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio to ...
, Virginia and
West Virginia West Virginia is a state in the Appalachian, Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern regions of the United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country prima ...
.


History


Precolumbian

The river had great significance in the history of the Native Americans, as numerous prehistoric and historic civilizations formed along its valley. For thousands of years, Native Americans used the river as a major transportation and trading route. Its waters connected communities. In the five centuries before European colonization, the Mississippian culture built numerous regional
chiefdom A chiefdom is a form of hierarchical political organization in non-industrial societies usually based on kinship In anthropology, kinship is the web of social relationships that form an important part of the lives of all humans in all so ...
s and major earthwork mounds in the Ohio Valley like the Angel Mounds near Evansville, Indiana as well as in the Mississippi Valley and the Southeast. The historic Osage,
Omaha Omaha ( ) is the largest city in the U.S. state of Nebraska Nebraska () is a state in the Midwestern region of the United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) ...
, Ponca, and Kaw peoples lived in the Ohio Valley. Under pressure over the fur trade from the
Iroquois The Iroquois ( or ), officially the Haudenosaunee ( meaning "people of the longhouse"), are an Iroquoian Peoples, Iroquoian-speaking Confederation#Indigenous confederations in North America, confederacy of First Nations in Canada, First Natio ...
nations to the northeast, they migrated west of the Mississippi River in the 17th century to the territory now defined as
Missouri Missouri is a U.S. state, state in the Midwestern United States, Midwestern region of the United States. Ranking List of U.S. states and territories by area, 21st in land area, it is bordered by eight states (tied for the most with Tennessee ...
,
Arkansas Arkansas ( ) is a landlocked state in the South Central United States. It is bordered by Missouri Missouri is a U.S. state, state in the Midwestern United States, Midwestern region of the United States. Ranking List of U.S. state ...
, and
Oklahoma Oklahoma (; Choctaw: ; chr, ᎣᎧᎳᎰᎹ, ''Okalahoma'' ) is a state in the South Central region of the United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, ...
.


European discovery

Several accounts exist of the discovery and traversal of the Ohio River by Europeans in the latter half of the 17th century: Virginian colonist Abraham Wood's trans-Appalachian expeditions between 1654 and 1664; Frenchman Robert de La Salle's putative Ohio expedition of 1669; and two expeditions of Virginians sponsored by Colonel Wood: the Batts and Fallam expedition of 1671, and the Needham and Arthur expedition of 1673-74. The first known European to traverse the length of the river, from the headwaters of the Allegheny to its mouth on the Mississippi, was a Dutchman from New York, Arnout Viele, in 1692.


Exploration and settlement

In 1749, the Ohio Company was established in the Thirteen Colonies to settle and trade in the Ohio River region. Exploration of the territory and trade with the Indians in the region near the Forks brought white colonists from both
Pennsylvania Pennsylvania (; ( Pennsylvania Dutch: )), officially the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, is a state spanning the Mid-Atlantic, Northeastern, Appalachian, and Great Lakes regions of the United States The United States of America (U ...
and Virginia across the mountains, and both colonies claimed the territory. The movement across the Allegheny Mountains of Anglo-American settlers and the claims of the area near modern-day Pittsburgh led to conflict with the French, who had forts in the Ohio River Valley. This conflict was called the
French and Indian War The French and Indian War (1754–1763) was a theater of the Seven Years' War, which pitted the North American colonies of the British Empire against those of the French, each side being supported by various Native American tribes. At the ...
, and would merge into the global Anglo-French struggle, the
Seven Years' War The Seven Years' War (1756–1763) was a global conflict that involved most of the European Great Powers, and was fought primarily in Europe, the Americas The Americas, which are sometimes collectively called America, are a landmass ...
. In 1763, following its defeat in the war, France ceded its area east of the Mississippi River to Britain and its area west of the Mississippi River to
Spain , image_flag = Bandera de España.svg , image_coat = Escudo de España (mazonado).svg , national_motto = ''Plus ultra'' (Latin)(English: "Further Beyond") , national_anthem = (English: "Royal March") , i ...
in the 1763 Treaty of Paris. The 1768 Treaty of Fort Stanwix with several tribes opened Kentucky to colonial settlement and established the Ohio River as a southern boundary for American Indian territory. In 1774 the Quebec Act restored the land east of the Mississippi River and north of the Ohio River to
Quebec Quebec ( ; )According to the Canadian government, ''Québec'' (with the acute accent) is the official name in Canadian French and ''Quebec'' (without the accent) is the province's official name in Canadian English is one of the thirte ...
, in effect making the Ohio the southern boundary of
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. This appeased French Canadians in Quebec but angered the colonists of the Thirteen Colonies. Lord Dunmore's War south of the Ohio river also contributed to cession of land north to Quebec to prevent colonial expansion onto Native American territory. During the Revolutionary War. in 1776 the British military engineer John Montrésor created a map of the river showing the strategic location of Fort Pitt, including specific navigational information about the Ohio River's rapids and tributaries in that area. However, the 1783 Treaty of Paris gave the entire Ohio Valley to the
United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country primarily located in North America. It consists of 50 states, a federal district, five major unincorporated territor ...
, and numerous white settlers entered the region. The economic connection of the Ohio Country to the
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was significantly increased in 1818 when the National Road being built westward from Cumberland, Maryland, reached Wheeling, Virginia, (now
West Virginia West Virginia is a state in the Appalachian, Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern regions of the United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country prima ...
), providing an easier overland connection from the
Potomac River The Potomac River () drains the Mid-Atlantic United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country primarily located in North America. It consists of 50 ...
to the Ohio River. The Wheeling Suspension Bridge was built over the river at Wheeling from 1847 to 1849, making the trip west easier. For a brief time, until 1851, it was the world's largest suspension bridge. The bridge survived the American Civil War, after having been improved in 1859. It was renovated again in 1872, and remains in use as the oldest vehicular suspension bridge in the U.S. Louisville was founded in 1779 at the only major natural navigational barrier on the river, the Falls of the Ohio. The Falls were a series of rapids where the river dropped in a stretch of about . In this area, the river flowed over hard, fossil-rich beds of
limestone Limestone ( calcium carbonate ) is a type of carbonate sedimentary rock which is the main source of the material lime. It is composed mostly of the minerals calcite and aragonite, which are different crystal forms of . Limestone forms w ...
. The first locks on the river the Louisville and Portland Canal were built between 1825 and 1830 to circumnavigate the falls. Fears that Louisville's transshipment industry would collapse proved ill-founded: but the increasing size of steamships and barges on the river meant that the outdated locks could serve only the smallest vessels until well after the Civil War when improvements were made. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers improvements were expanded again in the 1960s, forming the present-day McAlpine Locks and Dam.


Nineteenth century

During the nineteenth century, emigrants from Virginia, North Carolina and Kentucky traveled by the river and settled along its northern bank. Known as butternuts, they formed the dominant culture in the southern portions of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois with a society that was primarily Southern in culture. Largely devoted to agricultural pursuits, they shipped much of their produce along the river to ports such as Cincinnati. Because the Ohio River flowed westward, it became a convenient means of westward movement by pioneers traveling from western Pennsylvania. After reaching the mouth of the Ohio, settlers would travel north on the Mississippi River to St. Louis, Missouri. There, some continued on up the Missouri River, some up the Mississippi, and some farther west over land routes. In the early 19th century, river pirates such as Samuel Mason, operating out of Cave-In-Rock, Illinois, waylaid travelers on their way down the river. They killed travelers, stealing their goods and scuttling their boats. The folktales about Mike Fink recall the keelboats used for commerce in the early days of American settlement. The Ohio River boatmen inspired performer Dan Emmett, who in 1843 wrote the song " The Boatman's Dance". Trading boats and ships traveled south on the Mississippi to
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Merriam-Webster.
; french: La Nouvelle-Orléans , es, Nuev ...
, and sometimes beyond to the
Gulf of Mexico The Gulf of Mexico ( es, Golfo de México) is an ocean basin and a marginal sea of the Atlantic Ocean, largely surrounded by the North American continent. It is bounded on the northeast, north and northwest by the Gulf Coast of the United ...
and other ports in the Americas and Europe. This provided a much-needed export route for goods from the west since the trek east over the
Appalachian Mountains The Appalachian Mountains, often called the Appalachians, (french: Appalaches), are a system of mountains in eastern to northeastern North America North America is a continent in the Northern Hemisphere and almost entirely withi ...
was long and arduous. The need for access to the port of New Orleans by settlers in the Ohio Valley is one of the factors that led to the United States' Louisiana Purchase in 1803.


Free states border

Because the river is the southern border of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, it was part of the border between free states and slave states in the years before the American Civil War. The expression "sold down the river" originated as a lament of Upper South slaves, especially from Kentucky, who were shipped via the Ohio and Mississippi to cotton and sugar plantations in the Deep South. Changes in crops cultivated in the Upper South resulted in slaves available to be sold to the South, where the expansion of cotton plantations was doing very well. Invention of the cotton gin made cultivation of short-staple cotton profitable throughout the Black Belt of this region. Before and during the Civil War, the Ohio River was called the " River Jordan" by slaves crossing it to escape to freedom in the North via the Underground Railroad. More escaping slaves, estimated in the thousands, made their perilous journey north to freedom across the Ohio River than anywhere else across the north-south frontier. Harriet Beecher Stowe's '' Uncle Tom's Cabin'', the bestselling novel that fueled abolitionist work, was the best known of the anti-slavery novels that portrayed such escapes across the Ohio. The times have been expressed by 20th-century novelists as well, such as the
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-winning Toni Morrison, whose novel '' Beloved'' was adapted as a film of the same name. She also composed the libretto for the opera '' Margaret Garner'' (2005), based on the life and trial of an enslaved woman who escaped with her family across the river.


State border dispute

The colonial charter for Virginia defined its territory as extending to the north shore of the Ohio, so that the riverbed was "owned" by Virginia. Where the river serves as a boundary between states today, Congress designated the entire river to belong to the states on the east and south, i.e., West Virginia and Kentucky at the time of admission to the Union, that were divided from Virginia. Thus Wheeling Island, the largest inhabited island in the Ohio River, belongs to West Virginia, although it is closer to the Ohio shore than to the West Virginia shore. Kentucky sued the state of Indiana in the early 1980s because of their construction of the never-completed Marble Hill Nuclear Power Plant in Indiana, which would have discharged its waste water into the river. This would have adversely affected Kentucky's water supplies. The U.S. Supreme Court held that Kentucky's jurisdiction (and, implicitly, that of West Virginia) extended only to the low-water mark of 1793 (important because the river has been extensively dammed for navigation so that the present river bank is north of the old low-water mark.) Similarly, in the 1990s, Kentucky challenged Illinois's right to collect taxes on a riverboat casino docked in
Metropolis A metropolis () is a large city A city is a human settlement of notable size.Goodall, B. (1987) ''The Penguin Dictionary of Human Geography''. London: Penguin.Kuper, A. and Kuper, J., eds (1996) ''The Social Science Encyclopedia''. 2n ...
, citing its own control of the entire river. A private casino riverboat that docked in Evansville, Indiana, on the Ohio River opened about the same time. Although such boats cruised on the Ohio River in an oval pattern up and down, the state of Kentucky soon protested. Other states had to limit their cruises to going forward, then reversing and going backward on the Indiana shore only. Both Illinois and Indiana have long since changed their laws to allow riverboat casinos to be permanently docked, with Illinois changing in 1999 and Indiana in 2002.


Bridge collapse

The Silver Bridge at Point Pleasant, West Virginia collapsed into the river on December 15, 1967. The collapse killed 46 people who had been crossing when the bridge failed. The bridge had been built in 1929, and by 1967 was carrying too heavy a load for its design. The bridge was rebuilt about one mile downstream and in service as the Silver Memorial Bridge in 1969.


Conservation area

In the early 1980s, the Falls of the Ohio National Wildlife Conservation Area was established at Clarksville, Indiana.


Ecology

The Ohio River as a whole is ranked as the most polluted river in the United States, based on 2009 and 2010 data. The more industrial and regional West Virginia/Pennsylvania tributary, the Monongahela River, ranked 17th for
water pollution Water pollution (or aquatic pollution) is the contamination of water bodies, usually as a result of human activities, so that it negatively affects its uses. Water bodies include lakes, rivers, oceans, aquifers, reservoirs and groundwater ...
, behind 16 other American rivers. The Ohio again ranked as the most polluted in 2013, and has been the most polluted river since at least 2001, according to the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO). The Commission found that 92% of toxic discharges were nitrates, including farm runoff and waste water from industrial processes such as steel production. The Commission also noted mercury pollution as an ongoing concern, citing a 500% increase in mercury discharges between 2007 and 2013. For several decades beginning in the 1950s, the Ohio River was polluted with hundreds of thousands of pounds of PFOA, a fluoride-based chemical used in making
teflon Polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) is a synthetic fluoropolymer of tetrafluoroethylene that has numerous applications. It is one of the best-known and widely applied PFAS. The commonly known brand name of PTFE-based composition is Teflon by Che ...
, among other things, by the
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chemical company from an outflow pipe at its Parkersburg, West Virginia, facility.


Economy

The Ohio River is extensively industrialized and populated. Regular barge traffic carries cargoes of oil,
steel Steel is an alloy made up of iron with added carbon Carbon () is a chemical element with the symbol C and atomic number 6. It is nonmetal In chemistry, a nonmetal is a chemical element that generally lacks a predominance of ...
and other industrial goods produced in the region. Major cities located along the northern and southern banks of the river include
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Pittsburgh ( ) is a city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Pennsylvania (; ( Pennsylvania Dutch: )), officially the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, is a state spanning the Mid-Atlantic, Northeastern, Appalachian, and Great Lake ...
;
Louisville, Kentucky Louisville ( , , ) is the largest city in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the 28th most-populous city in the United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America ...
; Evansville, Indiana; and
Cincinnati, Ohio Cincinnati ( ) is a city in the U.S. state of Ohio and the county seat of Hamilton County. Settled in 1788, the city is located at the northern side of the confluence of the Licking and Ohio rivers, the latter of which marks the state lin ...
.


Geography and hydrography

The combined Allegheny-Ohio river is long and carries the largest volume of water of any tributary of the Mississippi. The Indians and early European explorers and settlers of the region often considered the Allegheny to be part of the Ohio. The forks (the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers at what is now Pittsburgh) were considered a strategic military location by colonial French and British, and later independent American military authorities. The Ohio River is formed by the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers at what is now Point State Park in
Pittsburgh Pittsburgh ( ) is a city in the Commonwealth (U.S. state), Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, United States, and the county seat of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, Allegheny County. It is the most populous city in both Allegheny County and Wester ...
,
Pennsylvania Pennsylvania (; ( Pennsylvania Dutch: )), officially the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, is a state spanning the Mid-Atlantic, Northeastern, Appalachian, and Great Lakes regions of the United States The United States of America (U ...
. From there, it flows northwest through Allegheny and
Beaver Beavers are large, semiaquatic rodents in the genus ''Castor'' native to the temperate Northern Hemisphere. There are two extant species: the North American beaver (''Castor canadensis'') and the Eurasian beaver (''C. fiber''). Beavers ...
counties, before making an abrupt turn to the south-southwest at the
West Virginia West Virginia is a state in the Appalachian, Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern regions of the United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country prima ...
–Ohio–Pennsylvania triple-state line (near East Liverpool, Ohio; Chester, West Virginia; and Ohioville, Pennsylvania). From there, it forms the border between West Virginia and Ohio, upstream of Wheeling, West Virginia. The river follows a roughly southwest and then west-northwest course until Cincinnati, before bending to a west-southwest course for most of the remainder of its length. The course forms the northern borders of West Virginia and
Kentucky Kentucky ( , ), officially the Commonwealth of Kentucky, is a U.S. state, state in the Southeastern United States, Southeastern region of the United States and one of the states of the Upper South. It borders Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio to ...
; and the southern borders of
Ohio Ohio () is a state in the Midwestern region of the United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country primarily located in North America. It consists ...
, Indiana and
Illinois Illinois ( ) is a state in the Midwestern United States. Its largest metropolitan areas include the Chicago metropolitan area, and the Metro East section, of Greater St. Louis. Other smaller metropolitan areas include, Peoria and Ro ...
, until it joins the
Mississippi River The Mississippi River is the second-longest river and chief river of the second-largest drainage system in North America North America is a continent in the Northern Hemisphere and almost entirely within the Western Hemisph ...
at the city of Cairo, Illinois. Where the Ohio joins the Mississippi is the lowest elevation in the state of Illinois, at . The Mississippi River flows to the Gulf of Mexico on the
Atlantic Ocean The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's five oceans, with an area of about . It covers approximately 20% of Earth's surface and about 29% of its water surface area. It is known to separate the " Old World" of Africa, Europe ...
. Among rivers wholly or mostly in the United States, the Ohio is the second largest by discharge volume and the tenth longest and has the eighth largest drainage basin. It serves to separate the Midwestern Great Lakes states from the Upper South states, which were historically border states in the Civil War. The Ohio River is a left (east) and the largest
tributary A tributary, or affluent, is a stream A stream is a continuous body of surface water flowing within the bed and banks of a channel. Depending on its location or certain characteristics, a stream may be referred to by a variety of l ...
by volume of the
Mississippi River The Mississippi River is the second-longest river and chief river of the second-largest drainage system in North America North America is a continent in the Northern Hemisphere and almost entirely within the Western Hemisph ...
in the
United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country primarily located in North America. It consists of 50 states, a federal district, five major unincorporated territor ...
. At the
confluence In geography, a confluence (also: ''conflux'') occurs where two or more flowing bodies of water join to form a single channel. A confluence can occur in several configurations: at the point where a tributary joins a larger river ( main stem ...
, the Ohio is considerably bigger than the Mississippi, measured by long-term mean discharge. The Ohio River at Cairo is 281,500 cu ft/s (7,960 m3/s); and the Mississippi River at Thebes, Illinois, which is upstream of the confluence, is 208,200 cu ft/s (5,897 m3/s). The Ohio River flow is greater than that of the Mississippi River, so hydrologically the Ohio River is the main stream of the river system.


River depth

The Ohio River is a naturally shallow river that was artificially deepened by a series of dams. The natural depth of the river varied from about . The dams raise the water level and have turned the river largely into a series of
reservoir A reservoir (; from French ''réservoir'' ) is an enlarged lake behind a dam. Such a dam may be either artificial, built to store fresh water or it may be a natural formation. Reservoirs can be created in a number of ways, including cont ...
s, eliminating shallow stretches and allowing for commercial navigation. From its origin to Cincinnati, the average depth is approximately . The largest immediate drop in water level is below the McAlpine Locks and Dam at the Falls of the Ohio at
Louisville, Kentucky Louisville ( , , ) is the largest city in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the 28th most-populous city in the United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America ...
, where flood stage is reached when the water reaches on the lower gauge. However, the river's deepest point is on the western side of Louisville, Kentucky. From Louisville, the river loses depth very gradually until its confluence with the Mississippi at Cairo, Illinois, where it has an approximate depth of . Water levels for the Ohio River from Smithland Lock and Dam upstream to Pittsburgh are predicted daily by the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (abbreviated as NOAA ) is an United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country primarily located ...
's Ohio River Forecast Center. The water depth predictions are relative to each local flood plain based upon predicted rainfall in the Ohio River basin in five reports as follows: *
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Pittsburgh ( ) is a city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Pennsylvania (; ( Pennsylvania Dutch: )), officially the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, is a state spanning the Mid-Atlantic, Northeastern, Appalachian, and Great Lake ...
, to Hannibal Locks and Dam, Ohio (including the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers) * Willow Island Locks and Dam, Ohio, to Greenup Lock and Dam, Kentucky (including the Kanawha River) * Portsmouth, Ohio, to Markland Locks and Dam, Kentucky * McAlpine Locks and Dam, Kentucky, to Cannelton Locks and Dam, Indiana * Newburgh Lock and Dam, Indiana, to Golconda, Illinois The water levels for the Ohio River from Smithland Lock and Dam to Cairo, Illinois, are predicted by the
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (abbreviated as NOAA ) is an United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country primarily located ...
's Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center. * Smithland Lock and Dam, Illinois, to Cairo, Illinois


List of major tributaries

The largest tributaries of the Ohio by discharge volume are: *Tennessee River /sec *Cumberland River /sec *Wabash River /sec *Allegheny River /sec *Kanawha River /sec *Green River /sec *Monongahela River /sec *Kentucky River /sec *Muskingum River /sec *Scioto River /sec By drainage basin area, the largest tributaries are: *Tennessee River *Wabash River *Cumberland River *Kanawha River *Allegheny River *Green River *Muskingum River *Monongahela River *Kentucky River *Scioto River The largest tributaries by length are: *Cumberland River *Tennessee River *Wabash River *Green River *Allegheny River *Licking River . *Kentucky River *Scioto River *Great Miami River *Little Kanawha River Major tributaries of the river, in order from the head to the mouth of the Ohio, include: * Allegheny River – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania * Monongahela River – Pittsburgh * Saw Mill Run – Pittsburgh * Chartiers Creek – Pittsburgh * Montour Run – Coraopolis, Pennsylvania * Beaver RiverRochester, Pennsylvania * Breezewood Creek – Beaver, Pennsylvania * Raccoon CreekCenter Township, Pennsylvania * Little Beaver CreekEast Liverpool, Ohio * Wheeling CreekWheeling, West Virginia * Middle Island CreekSt. Marys, West Virginia * Little Muskingum River – Ohio * Duck CreekMarietta, Ohio * Muskingum River – Marietta, Ohio * Little Kanawha RiverParkersburg, West Virginia * Hocking RiverHockingport, Ohio * Kanawha RiverPoint Pleasant, West Virginia * Guyandotte RiverHuntington, West Virginia * Big Sandy River – Kentucky-West Virginia border * Little Sandy RiverGreenup, Kentucky * Little Scioto RiverSciotoville, Ohio * Scioto RiverPortsmouth, Ohio * Kinniconick Creek – Vanceburg, Kentucky * Little Miami River
Cincinnati, Ohio Cincinnati ( ) is a city in the U.S. state of Ohio and the county seat of Hamilton County. Settled in 1788, the city is located at the northern side of the confluence of the Licking and Ohio rivers, the latter of which marks the state lin ...
* Licking RiverNewport- Covington, Kentucky * Mill Creek
Cincinnati, Ohio Cincinnati ( ) is a city in the U.S. state of Ohio and the county seat of Hamilton County. Settled in 1788, the city is located at the northern side of the confluence of the Licking and Ohio rivers, the latter of which marks the state lin ...
* Great Miami River – Ohio-Indiana border *
Kentucky River The Kentucky River is a tributary A tributary, or affluent, is a stream A stream is a continuous body of surface water flowing within the bed and banks of a channel. Depending on its location or certain characteristics, a stre ...
Carrollton, Kentucky * Salt RiverWest Point, Kentucky * Green River – near Henderson, Kentucky * Wabash River – Indiana-Illinois-Kentucky border * Saline River – Illinois *
Cumberland River The Cumberland River is a major waterway of the Southern United States The Southern United States (sometimes Dixie, also referred to as the Southern States, the American South, the Southland, or simply the South) is a geographic and cul ...
Smithland, Kentucky *
Tennessee River The Tennessee River is the largest tributary of the Ohio River. It is approximately long and is located in the southeastern United States in the Tennessee Valley. The river was once popularly known as the Cherokee River, among other na ...
Paducah, Kentucky * Cache River – Illinois


Drainage basin

The Ohio's drainage basin covers , encompassing the easternmost regions of the Mississippi Basin. The Ohio drains parts of 14 states in four regions. * Northeast ** New York: a small area of the southern border along the headwaters of the Allegheny. **
Pennsylvania Pennsylvania (; ( Pennsylvania Dutch: )), officially the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, is a state spanning the Mid-Atlantic, Northeastern, Appalachian, and Great Lakes regions of the United States The United States of America (U ...
: a corridor from the southwestern corner to the north-central border. * Mid-Atlantic/Upper South **
Maryland Maryland ( ) is a state in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. It shares borders with Virginia Virginia, officially the Commonwealth of Virginia, is a state in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern regions of the United S ...
: a small corridor along the Youghiogheny River on the western border. **
West Virginia West Virginia is a state in the Appalachian, Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern regions of the United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country prima ...
: all but the Eastern Panhandle. **
Kentucky Kentucky ( , ), officially the Commonwealth of Kentucky, is a U.S. state, state in the Southeastern United States, Southeastern region of the United States and one of the states of the Upper South. It borders Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio to ...
: all but a small part in the extreme west drained directly by the Mississippi. **
Tennessee Tennessee ( , ), officially the State of Tennessee, is a landlocked U.S. state, state in the Southeastern United States, Southeastern region of the United States. Tennessee is the List of U.S. states and territories by area, 36th-largest by ...
: all but a small part in the extreme west drained directly by the Mississippi, and a very small area in the southeastern corner which is drained by the Conasauga River. **
Virginia Virginia, officially the Commonwealth of Virginia, is a state in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern regions of the United States, between the Atlantic Coast and the Appalachian Mountains. The geography and climate of the Commonwealth ...
: most of southwest Virginia. **
North Carolina North Carolina () is a state in the Southeastern region of the United States. The state is the 28th largest and 9th-most populous of the United States. It is bordered by Virginia Virginia, officially the Commonwealth of Virgin ...
: the western quarter. * Midwest **
Ohio Ohio () is a state in the Midwestern region of the United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country primarily located in North America. It consists ...
: 80% (all except a northern strip bordering Lake Erie, and the northwest corner) ** Indiana: all but the northern area. **
Illinois Illinois ( ) is a state in the Midwestern United States. Its largest metropolitan areas include the Chicago metropolitan area, and the Metro East section, of Greater St. Louis. Other smaller metropolitan areas include, Peoria and Ro ...
: the southeast quarter. * Deep South ** Georgia: the far northwest corner. **
Alabama (We dare defend our rights) , anthem = "Alabama (state song), Alabama" , image_map = Alabama in United States.svg , seat = Montgomery, Alabama, Montgomery , LargestCity = Huntsville, Alabama, Huntsville , LargestCounty = Baldwin County, Al ...
: the northern portion. **
Mississippi Mississippi () is a state in the Southeastern region of the United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country primarily located in North America. I ...
: the northeast corner.


Climate transition zone

The Ohio River is a climatic transition area, as its water runs along the periphery of the humid continental and humid subtropical climate areas. It is inhabited by fauna and flora of both climates. In winter, it regularly freezes over at
Pittsburgh Pittsburgh ( ) is a city in the Commonwealth (U.S. state), Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, United States, and the county seat of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, Allegheny County. It is the most populous city in both Allegheny County and Wester ...
but rarely farther south toward
Cincinnati Cincinnati ( ) is a city in the U.S. state of Ohio Ohio () is a state in the Midwestern region of the United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a ...
and Louisville. At Paducah, Kentucky, in the south, at the Ohio's confluence with the Tennessee River, it is ice-free year-round. In the 21st century, with the 2016 update of climate zones, the humid subtropical zone has stretched across the river, into the southern portions of
Ohio Ohio () is a state in the Midwestern region of the United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country primarily located in North America. It consists ...
, Indiana, and
Illinois Illinois ( ) is a state in the Midwestern United States. Its largest metropolitan areas include the Chicago metropolitan area, and the Metro East section, of Greater St. Louis. Other smaller metropolitan areas include, Peoria and Ro ...
.


Geology

From a geological standpoint, the Ohio River is young. Before the river was created, large parts of
North America North America is a continent in the Northern Hemisphere and almost entirely within the Western Hemisphere. It is bordered to the north by the Arctic Ocean, to the east by the Atlantic Ocean The Atlantic Ocean is the second-la ...
were covered by water forming a saltwater lake about 200 miles across and 400 miles in length. The bedrock of the Ohio Valley was mostly set during this time. The river formed on a piecemeal basis beginning between 2.5 and 3 million years ago. The movement of
glacier A glacier (; ) is a persistent body of dense ice that is constantly moving under its own weight. A glacier forms where the accumulation of snow exceeds its ablation over many years, often centuries. It acquires distinguishing features, such a ...
s during the earliest ice ages the contemporary river
drainage Drainage is the natural or artificial removal of a surface's water and sub-surface water from an area with excess of water. The internal drainage of most agricultural Agriculture or farming is the practice of cultivating plants ...
s of the Kanawha, Sandy,
Kentucky Kentucky ( , ), officially the Commonwealth of Kentucky, is a U.S. state, state in the Southeastern United States, Southeastern region of the United States and one of the states of the Upper South. It borders Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio to ...
,
Green Green is the color between cyan Cyan () is the color between green and blue on the visible spectrum of light. It is evoked by light with a predominant wavelength between 490 and 520 nm, between the wavelengths of green and blue. ...
,
Cumberland Cumberland ( ) is a historic county in the far North West England. It covers part of the Lake District as well as the north Pennines and Solway Firth coast. Cumberland had an administrative function from the 12th century until 1974. From 1 ...
and
Tennessee Tennessee ( , ), officially the State of Tennessee, is a landlocked U.S. state, state in the Southeastern United States, Southeastern region of the United States. Tennessee is the List of U.S. states and territories by area, 36th-largest by ...
rivers northward created the Ohio system and the course of early
tributaries A tributary, or affluent, is a stream A stream is a continuous body of surface water flowing within the bed and banks of a channel. Depending on its location or certain characteristics, a stream may be referred to by a variety of l ...
of the Ohio River, including the Monongahela and the Allegheny rivers, were set. The Teays River was the largest of these rivers. The modern Ohio River flows within segments of the ancient Teays. The ancient rivers were rearranged or consumed. The section of the river that runs southwest from Pittsburgh to Cairo, Illinois is around tens of thousands of years old.


Upper Ohio River

The upper Ohio River formed when one of the glacial lakes overflowed into a south-flowing tributary of the Teays River. Prior to that event, the north-flowing Steubenville River (no longer in existence) ended between New Martinsville and Paden City, West Virginia. The south-flowing Marietta River (no longer in existence) ended between the present-day cities. The overflowing lake carved through the separating hill and connected the rivers. The floodwaters enlarged the small Marietta valley to a size more typical of a large river. The new large river subsequently drained glacial lakes and melting glaciers at the end of the ice ages. The valley grew during and following the ice age. Many small rivers were altered or abandoned after the upper Ohio River formed. Valleys of some abandoned rivers can still be seen on satellite and aerial images of the hills of Ohio and West Virginia between Marietta, Ohio, and Huntington, West Virginia.


Middle Ohio River

The middle Ohio River formed in a manner similar to that of the upper Ohio River. A north-flowing river was temporarily dammed by natural forces southwest of present-day Louisville, creating a large lake until the dam burst. A new route was carved to the Mississippi. Eventually, the upper and middle sections combined to form what is essentially the modern Ohio River.


Cities and towns along the river

Along the banks of the Ohio are some of the largest cities in their respective states:
Pittsburgh Pittsburgh ( ) is a city in the Commonwealth (U.S. state), Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, United States, and the county seat of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, Allegheny County. It is the most populous city in both Allegheny County and Wester ...
, the third largest city on the river and second-largest city in Pennsylvania;
Cincinnati Cincinnati ( ) is a city in the U.S. state of Ohio Ohio () is a state in the Midwestern region of the United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a ...
, the third-largest city in Ohio; Louisville, the largest city on the river and in Kentucky; Evansville, the third-largest city in Indiana; Owensboro, the fourth-largest city in Kentucky; and three of the five largest cities in West Virginia— Huntington (second), Parkersburg (fourth), and Wheeling (fifth). Only Illinois, among the border states, has no significant cities on the river. There are hundreds of other cities, towns, villages and unincorporated populated places on the river, most of them very small. Cities along the Ohio are also among the oldest cities in their respective states and among the oldest cities in the United States west of the
Appalachian Mountains The Appalachian Mountains, often called the Appalachians, (french: Appalaches), are a system of mountains in eastern to northeastern North America North America is a continent in the Northern Hemisphere and almost entirely withi ...
(by date of founding): Old Shawneetown, Illinois, 1748;
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Pittsburgh ( ) is a city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Pennsylvania (; ( Pennsylvania Dutch: )), officially the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, is a state spanning the Mid-Atlantic, Northeastern, Appalachian, and Great Lake ...
, 1758; Wheeling, West Virginia, 1769; Huntington, West Virginia, 1775;
Louisville, Kentucky Louisville ( , , ) is the largest city in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the 28th most-populous city in the United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America ...
, 1779; Clarksville, Indiana, 1783; Maysville, Kentucky, 1784; Martin's Ferry, Ohio, 1785; Marietta, Ohio, 1788;
Cincinnati, Ohio Cincinnati ( ) is a city in the U.S. state of Ohio and the county seat of Hamilton County. Settled in 1788, the city is located at the northern side of the confluence of the Licking and Ohio rivers, the latter of which marks the state lin ...
, 1788; Manchester, Ohio, 1790; Beaver, Pennsylvania, 1792; and Golconda, Illinois, 1798. Other cities of interest include Cairo, Illinois, at the confluence of the Ohio with the Mississippi River and the southernmost and westernmost city on the river; and Beaver, Pennsylvania, the site of colonial Fort McIntosh and the northernmost city on the river. It is 548 miles as the crow flies between Cairo and Pittsburgh, but 981 miles by water. Direct water travel over the length of the river is obstructed by the Falls of the Ohio just below Louisville, Kentucky. The Ohio River Scenic Byway follows the Ohio River through Illinois, Indiana and Ohio ending at Steubenville, Ohio, on the river. Before there were cities, there were colonial forts. These forts played a dominant role in the
French and Indian War The French and Indian War (1754–1763) was a theater of the Seven Years' War, which pitted the North American colonies of the British Empire against those of the French, each side being supported by various Native American tribes. At the ...
, Northwest Indian War and pioneering settlement of Ohio Country. Many cities got their start at or adjacent to the forts. Most were abandoned by 1800. Forts along the Ohio river include Fort Pitt (Pennsylvania), Fort McIntosh (Pennsylvania), Fort Randolph (West Virginia), Fort Henry (West Virginia), Fort Harmar (Ohio), Fort Washington (Ohio), and Fort Nelson (Kentucky). Short-lived, special-purpose forts included Fort Steuben (Ohio), Fort Finney (Indiana), Fort Finney (Ohio) and Fort Gower (Ohio).


Gallery

File:Allegheny Monongahela Ohio.jpg, The Allegheny River, left, and Monongahela River join to form the Ohio River at
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Pittsburgh ( ) is a city in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Pennsylvania (; ( Pennsylvania Dutch: )), officially the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, is a state spanning the Mid-Atlantic, Northeastern, Appalachian, and Great Lake ...
, the largest metropolitan area on the river. File:LouisvilleNightSkyline2-small.jpg,
Louisville, Kentucky Louisville ( , , ) is the largest city in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the 28th most-populous city in the United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America ...
, The deepest point of the Ohio River is a scour hole just below Cannelton locks and dam (river mile 720.7). File:Donna York.jpg, A barge hauls
coal Coal is a combustible black or brownish-black sedimentary rock, formed as stratum, rock strata called coal seams. Coal is mostly carbon with variable amounts of other Chemical element, elements, chiefly hydrogen, sulfur, oxygen, and nitrogen ...
in the Louisville and Portland Canal, the only artificial portion of the Ohio River. File:Cincinnati-skyline-from-kentucky-shore-night.jpg, Cincinnati skyline showing the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge to Covington, Kentucky. File:Ohioriver bridge8475.JPG, Carl Perkins Bridge in Portsmouth, Ohio with Ohio River and Scioto River tributary on right. File:MVIMG 20190523 201311-EFFECTS (1).jpg, Ohio river in Huntington, West Virginia with the east Huntington bridge File:Geography of Ohio - DPLA - aaba7b3295ff6973b6fd1e23e33cde14 (page 133) (cropped2).jpg, The Ohio River seen at Sciotoville, from the "Geography of Ohio," 1923


See also

; Lists of dams and bridges * List of crossings of the Ohio River * List of locks and dams of the Ohio River ; Lists of Rivers * List of variant names of the Ohio River * List of longest rivers of the United States (by main stem) * List of rivers of Illinois * List of rivers of Indiana * List of rivers of Kentucky *
List of rivers of Ohio Ohio Ohio () is a state in the Midwestern region of the United States The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country primarily located in North America. It ...
* List of rivers of Pennsylvania * List of rivers of West Virginia ; Ohio Valley, etc. * Appalachian Ohio * Appalachian Pennsylvania * Ohio and Erie Canal * Ohio River flood of 1937 * Watersheds of Illinois * Ohio River Valley AVA * Ohio Valley in Kentucky * Ohio River Trail * Ohio River Water Trail * Falls of the Ohio National Wildlife Conservation Area


Notes


References


Further reading

* *


External links


Ohio River Flows and Forecasts

U.S. Geological Survey: PA stream gauging stations

Ohio River Forecast Center
which issues official river forecasts for the Ohio River and its tributaries from Smithland Lock and Dam upstream
Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center
which issues official river forecasts for the Ohio River and its tributaries downstream of Smithland Lock and Dam * {{Authority control Tributaries of the Mississippi River Rivers of Illinois Rivers of Indiana Rivers of Kentucky Rivers of Ohio Rivers of Pennsylvania Rivers of West Virginia Appalachian Ohio Borders of Illinois Borders of Kentucky Borders of Indiana Borders of Ohio Borders of West Virginia Mississippi River watershed