Water Heroes Make a Difference in our Water Resources

Water Hero Finalist: Harry Stone

The Clean Water Act (CWA) is one of the most impactful pieces of environmental legislation in U.S. history. YSI has celebrated the CWA’s 50th anniversary in 2022 by bringing awareness to what the law has accomplished and to some of the great things water quality advocates have done.

As part of our CWA Water Heroes contest in 2022, we asked for help identifying environmental leaders studying our world, educating others, and driving change. We determined the top four finalists (U.S. only) in the summer, and the general public voted for their favorite Water Hero in October. On October 18th, 2022 - the 50th Anniversary of the Clean Water Act - we announced Brooke Klingbeil as the Grand Prize Winner!

Here, we introduce Water Hero Finalist #2. Meet Harry Stone!

Clean Water Act | Water Hero Finalist | Harry Stone | YSI 

After retiring from Battelle in 2015, Harry Stone has kept himself busy! Most notably, he has held a leadership role with the Ohio River Basin Alliance and has served as a volunteer naturalist with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

About Harry: Dr. Harry Stone is an ESA Certified Senior Ecologist that currently serves as the Chairperson of the Ohio River Basin Alliance (ORBA), a nonprofit that brings together a variety of other organizations that strive for healthy ecosystems, river communities, and water-dependent economies in the Ohio River Basin. ORBA serves as a unifying voice for these organizations, creating a clear set of goals for the Basin.

Harry retired from Battelle in 2015 after a 38-year career in applied research, teaching, economic development, and business management to focus his efforts on growing ORBA. Serving as the first full-time resource for the organization made an immediate impact, as the alliance surged from 30 members in early 2016 to over 500 members today. Thanks to Harry’s leadership in ORBA, the Basin is well-positioned to address various threats (e.g., nutrient pollution).

A member of ORBA nominated him as a Water Hero for his efforts to restore and improve the Ohio River Basin, which covers 15 states. Harry assists ORBA with basin-wide restoration planning in cooperation with hundreds of volunteers. These efforts are expected to result in funds needed to implement the plan, similar to other geographic programs such as the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Harry’s efforts have mobilized many across the Basin to be better informed about water quality and the steps that must be taken to restore the Basin and improve recreational opportunities within it.

Since retirement, Harry has been active in other ways besides his involvement in ORBA. He completed the Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist (OCVN) program at Ohio State and now volunteers with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, supporting programs at Caesar Creek and Cowan Lake state parks.

Learn more about Harry by checking out our interview with him below:

Q: There are nonprofits throughout the Ohio River Basin. What makes the Ohio River Basin Alliance (ORBA) unique?

Harry: In 2009, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. EPA, and the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) held a basin-wide summit. At that time, the Corps had just released a reconnaissance study of the Basin, and they identified the biggest challenges. Among these included the lack of collaboration between all the organizations that shared a common goal of protecting water resources in the area. Without unity of voice around what the priorities were, the Army Corps warned the Ohio River Basin would not get the attention it needed from a water resource perspective—it wouldn’t be a high-priority recipient of any state or federal funding. So, ORBA was formed in 2009 as a collaborative organization to meet that need—bring organizations together to advance a common set of water resource goals for the Basin.

Ohio River Basin

The Ohio River Basin covers 204,000 square miles encompassing parts of 15 states. It is home to over 25 million people, equaling 10% of the population of the United States. More details about the Basin and an improvement plan can be seen in the Plan for the Ohio River Basin: 2020 to 2025.

Q: How—and why—did you become involved in ORBA?

Harry: I began volunteering with ORBA and attending their meetings in 2009. ORBA’s mission was—and still is—something I genuinely believe in. ORBA currently has six working groups, each corresponding to a particular basin-wide goal. In 2010, there were four working groups, and I became the sustainable growth and competitiveness group leader. I continued in that role until 2015, when I had an opportunity for early retirement from Battelle.

Q: How did your role with ORBA change once you retired from Battelle?

Harry: ORBA has a lot of great people, but they are all volunteers. Leading up to my retirement in 2015, the organization struggled to do anything more than hold an annual summit, and we were down to only about 30 members. And so, I thought if I could dedicate more of my time, we could actually make some progress toward addressing the water resource challenges of the Ohio River Basin. So, that’s what I did—I retired and began focusing much of my newly-found free time on ORBA.

Q: Having a full-time resource was probably a big change for ORBA. What impact did that have on the organization?

Harry: Since 2016, I have either been the chair or the vice chair of ORBA. We went from about 30 to over 500 members during that time, with members joining from federal agencies such as the EPA and USGS, state agencies, energy companies, and more. Turns out that having somebody who could spend the time on the organization makes all the difference.

We’ve continued to have our summits, but we’re doing so much more. An important early project was a climate study with the Army Corps of Engineers, for which I was a co-author.

More recently, we collaborated on a report with the Army Corps and ORSANCO to create an Ohio River Basin-wide strategy modeled after similar collaborative efforts in other major river basins, such as the Great Lakes region. This report—called the Plan for the Ohio River Basin: 2020 to 2025—is what we’re now trying to implement. At a high level, this plan is effectively a “blueprint” for general improvements in economic health, ecological well-being, and quality of life for residents throughout the Basin.

Harry spends much of his time bringing awareness to the issues the Ohio River Basin faces. ORBA serves as a unified voice for organizations in the Basin that work to solve these issues.

Q: This plan sounds like it drives ORBA’s actions in the Basin. What are some of the focus areas?

Harry: That’s right! There are six goal areas, each represented by a working group. These cover a range of essential aspects of improving the Basin, including our ability to provide clean water, preserve our ecosystems, and educate the public on the importance of these topics.

Another area of interest that often gets overlooked is the Basin as a transportation and commerce corridor. If you consider a 15-barge tow typical for the Ohio River Basin, it takes 1,054 semi-trucks off the road. And in terms of carbon emissions, greenhouse gas emissions, it is a much cleaner transportation mode than semis or trains, for that matter.

For managing flood risk, we’re working through the Corps of Engineers. They’re trying to get the Basin to be viewed as a system so decisions are based on the entire Basin as a hydrologic unit rather than different decisions for different localities.

Finally, we have incredible recreation opportunities within the Basin, so that’s another focus area for us! Not only do we want to protect current recreation opportunities, but we also want to find new ones. We recognize that the people enjoying water recreation will also be strong advocates for high-quality water in the Basin.

In summary, if we improve the Basin in all of these focus areas, we believe the future of the Basin is bright!

Q: Implementing this plan will require a lot of collaboration between ORBA and other organizations. What are some specific initiatives you’re working on now?

Harry: If you look at the U.S. federal infrastructure bill that passed last year, there were 15 watersheds nationwide that received anywhere from $10 million to $1 billion for ecological restoration. For example, the Great Lakes received $1 billion.

We are currently working on a restoration plan for the Basin that will be the basis of a request to Congress later this year—or early next year—for our own ecological restoration funding comparable to what you see in these other basins in the nation. This is a major focus of what we’re doing right now. This funding would go a long way in ensuring the long-term health of the Basin!

There are a few other projects I’d like to mention. We’ve worked with the Army Corps and the Nature Conservancy to encourage a Sustainable Rivers Project for the Ohio River. With this project, multiple districts of the Corps of Engineers are investigating enhancements to ecosystem health if they change the way they release water from their dams. It’ll probably be about a five-year study to understand how the water impacts the ecology.

Another project—working with the Army Corps again—is a study of access points for 271 miles of the Ohio River. We put together GIS mapping of those access points for canoes and kayaks. We then went further and identified places with no access and sites where access could be possible because they are on state or federal lands.

One of ORBA’s focus areas is recreation opportunities throughout the Ohio River Basin. This is just one of the reasons why Harry is so passionate about working with ORBA, as he likes to get on the water whenever possible.

Q: It seems you have a fantastic understanding of the issues facing the Ohio River Basin. In your opinion, what are some of the biggest threats to water quality in the Basin?

Harry: Related to ORBA’s purpose, I believe a big issue has been the lack of a unified voice to drive awareness of the known threats.

Regarding specific threats, nutrient runoff is such a huge problem, but we’ve got to take care of it in a way that takes care of our farmers. Our farmers are absolutely critical to us, and they need to be able to earn a living. They need those nutrients on their land. So, how do we care for farmers and protect our streams, rivers, and lakes? That one is a huge concern.

Another issue is invasive species. There are so many that threaten our natural ecosystems. We’ve got one of the best, one of the most biodiverse sets of mussels in the world in our watershed. And yet, we’ve got these invasive mussels—the zebra mussels, the quagga mussels—that threaten our diverse, rich ecosystem. Stopping invasive species is just such a challenge.

Zebra Mussels in Ohio River Basin

According to Harry, invasive species such as zebra mussels are one of the biggest threats to the Ohio River Basin. Among many negative impacts, zebra mussels eat the food needed by native species.

Another I’d like to mention is the need for water quality monitoring. There is a need in the Basin to have the right equipment to help identify sources of pollutants, whether that be acid mine drainage, accidental release from a boat, or whatever. And being able to monitor for those pollutants in real-time, so they don’t get into our water supply.

There are others, but those are the issues that immediately come to mind! 

Q: You clearly have a passion for water given the amount of time you spend volunteering for ORBA. How did you develop such a passion for the environment?

Harry: I have always felt very comfortable in the woods and at peace when there’s water. As a person of faith, I think there’s no place I feel closer to the Creator than in that creation. And so, that was something I cared about early on.

When I was running a chemical and microbiological media department early in my career, I dealt with chemicals. I had to figure out the regulations and how to ensure we weren’t polluting. That’s when I started learning about pollution prevention, including finding ways to substitute something non-hazardous for something hazardous.

In 2000 I returned to school to get a multidisciplinary Ph.D. in ecology, political science, and economics—it was very interesting! I got to tie together models of knowledge use and ecology. Around that same time, I started at Battelle, working on some fascinating projects. One was the harmful algal blooms in Grand Lake St. Marys. We looked at about 75 technologies or suggested approaches to reduce the harmful algal blooms there. I also worked on the Lake Erie harmful algal blooms and nutrients. In general, I really enjoyed this kind of work!

Harry has a deep appreciation for the outdoors and has worked throughout his career—and even after he retired—to protect it.

Q: Do you have any other volunteer experiences that connect you with nature?

Harry: When I went back to get my Ph.D., I really thought that meant I would get to be outside more, but it didn’t happen that way. I still sat at a desk and wrote plans and reports. One way I did get outside was through volunteering with organizations such as the Haw River Assembly that do things like stream monitoring and work on water quality issues.

Once I retired, I knew I wanted to be outside more often. So I signed up for the Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist (OCVN) program at Ohio State. Once I got through that, I began volunteering with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. I really enjoy helping kids look at the stream’s critters, the macroinvertebrates, and helping them understand what they’re seeing and why it’s important.

Besides pond and stream monitoring, I help with naturalist-led kayak and canoe programs at Caesar Creek State Park. I also do trail work where we go out and cut trees off the trails, and I got to build a raptor house. Being outside and helping others enjoy the outdoors as much as I do is something I love to do. It’s a passion!

Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist | Harry Stone | YSI

Harry enjoys teaching future generations about nature and why it should be protected. As an Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist, Harry gets to lead programs such as stream studies.

Q: You’ve been busy! What are the next steps you’d like to take in retirement?

Harry: I’ll continue to be involved in ORBA in some capacity, but I do hope to be able to spend a little more time over at Caesar Creek. I’m also hoping to spend a little more time at Gorman Heritage Farm, helping to take out invasive species—such as honeysuckle—and doing some restoration work there. So, I have every intention of being outside and making an impact in my community.

In the coming years, Harry hopes to become even more involved in naturalist programs at Caesar Creek State Park, where he currently gets to help with a variety of projects.

Q: It will take water heroes to overcome many of the water issues we’ve talked about. What does it mean to you to be nominated as a water hero?

Harry: It really is special to be nominated as a water hero because, for me, water has been much of the work of my life, and certainly of the last five years. I’m proud of ORBA’s success in moving the dial in the right direction to address the water quality issues of the Ohio River Basin, and I’m happy to play a part in that. So many people with so many talents have come together through my efforts—and also on their own—to make an impact on the Ohio River Basin.

Check out the other Clean Water Act Water Hero finalists - Matt Norberg, Brooke Klingbeil, and Paul Dombrowski

4 Responses to this article

Harry Stone is an ESA Certified Senior Ecologist that currently serves as the Chairperson of the Ohio River Basin Alliance (ORBA), a nonprofit that brings together a variety of other organizations that strive for healthy ecosystems, river communities, and water-dependent economies in the Ohio River Basin.


CONGRATS, Harry! :)


Congratulations . Cobo/Mexico.


Harry is extremely deserving of this recognition! It has been my honor to collaborate with Harry over the past 6 years as an Ohio River Basin Alliance (ORBA) member. I have not worked with a more dedicated, professional and humble person in my nearly 40 years working in water quality industry. Harry has volunteered thousands of hours of his own time over the past 12 years helping to lead the charge to secure funding to improve the water quality and water resources of our incredible Ohio River Basin. I remain in awe of his enthusiasm and unwavering drive towards improving this great resource. Congratulations Harry!


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