Historic Low?

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One barge has been cleared, while efforts to free two other sunken barges continued today at the Belleville locks and dam.

But while the Ohio River continues to drop during that recovery process, Todd Baucher reports such a decline was once a routine part of local river life.

There was a time when the Ohio River was routinely at the stage we've seen at Belleville in the past week. Marietta College Environmental Science professor Eric Fitch says that was before construction on locks and dams on our part of the river began in the mid-20th century.

"You would actually have the river, in parts, get low enough so that the river would actually dry out," Fitch says. "We know here in Marietta, and over in Parkersburg, that, back during colonial times in the fall, there were regular routes people would drive their wagons across from one side to the other, from Ohio to West Virginia and back across a dry river bed."

While we've heard recently that the locks and dam system is for navigation and not flood control, Fitch says it does have an effect of leveling out the river system, especially during the change of seasons.

"Granted, there is some up and down to it," Fitch acknowledges. "But the goal is to maintain a navigable channel throughout the year. We're looking at a minimum of 9 to 12 feet for navigability in the center channel."

Fitch says people, and even river wildlife, have adapted to the evening out of the river stage in the past 50 years. The Belleville situation is one he says is a temporary situation.

"Considering we've, even though it doesn't seem like it, not all that far before the spring thaw," he says, "it won't be all that long before the pool is re-filled to what we have considered the normal maintained levels."

A diver was sent into the river Tuesday to examine the two barges pinned against each other at one of the lock gates.

A barge was cleared from another of the gates Monday.