Columbia River

Columbia River
Columbia River Basin, showing major dams and tributaries
Columbia River Basin, showing major dams and tributaries
Origin Columbia Lake
Mouth Pacific Ocean
Basin countries United States, Canada
Length 1,232 miles (2,044 km)
Source elevation 810 m (2,657 ft) [1]
Mouth elevation sea level
Avg. discharge 262,000 ft³/s
Basin area 258,000 mi² (415,211 km²)

The Columbia River (French: fleuve Columbia) is a river situated in British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest of the United States. It is the largest river in volume flowing into the Pacific Ocean from the Western Hemisphere, and is the second largest by volume in North America behind the Mississippi. In rare years, the river’s flow may actually exceed that of the Mississippi. The mean total flow is 262,000 ft³/sec (7400 m³/sec). It is the largest hydroelectric power producing river in North America. From its headwaters to the Pacific Ocean it flows 1,232 miles (2,044 km), and drains 258,000 square miles (415,211 km²). Because of its large water volume, it has the nickname “the Mighty Columbia.” The river was named after Captain Robert Gray’s ship Columbia Rediviva, allegedly the first to travel up the river.[2]

Contents

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Geography

Columbia Lake forms the Columbia’s headwaters in the Canadian Rockies of southern British Columbia. The river then flows through Windermere Lake and the town of Invermere, then northwest to Golden and into Kinbasket Lake. The river then turns (the “Big Bend”) south through Revelstoke Lake and the Arrow Lakes to the BC–Washington border.

The river then flows through the east-central portion of Washington State. The last 300 miles (480 km) of the Columbia form the Washington-Oregon boundary. The river goes into the Pacific Ocean at Ilwaco, Washington and Astoria, Oregon forming the Columbia Bar.

For its first 200 miles (320 km) the Columbia flows northwest; it then bends to the south, crossing from Canada into the United States, where the river meets the Clark Fork. The Clark Fork River begins near Butte, Montana and flows through western Montana before entering Pend Oreille Lake. Water draining from the lake forms the Pend Oreille River, which flows across the Idaho panhandle to Washington’s northeastern corner where it meets the northern Canadian fork.

The river then runs south-southwest through the Columbia Plateau, changing to a southeasterly direction near the confluence of the Wenatchee River in central Washington. The river continues southeast, past The Gorge Amphitheatre (a prominent concert venue in the Northwest), and then past the Hanford Nuclear Reservation just before it reaches the confluence with the Snake River. This part of the river is called the Hanford Reach and is the only part of the river in the United States that is free-flowing, unimpeded by dams and not a tidal estuary. The Columbia then makes a sharp bend to the west where it begins to form the Washington-Oregon border. A series of dams on the lower portion of the Columbia have been built to provide hydroelectric power, flood control, and navigational locks.

Near the town of Hood River, Oregon, the river begins cutting through the Cascade Mountains at the entrance to the Columbia River Gorge. The west side of the gorge is marked by Crown Point. Constant winds of 15 to 35 mph (25 to 55 km/h) blow through this wide straight gorge.

The river continues west with one small north-northwesterly-directed stretch near Portland; Vancouver, Washington; and the confluence with the Willamette River. On this sharp bend the river’s flow slows considerably and it drops the sediment that would normally form a delta. The river empties into the Pacific Ocean near Astoria, Oregon; the Columbia River Bar is widely considered one of the most difficult to navigate.

Columbia River Gorge, photographed from Angel's Rest
Columbia River Gorge, photographed from Angel's Rest
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Major tributaries

These are the largest tributaries of the Columbia. For a detailed list of more than forty tributaries, see Tributaries of the Columbia River.

Tributary Discharge*
Snake River 56,900 (1611)
Willamette River 35,660 (1010)
Kootenai River 30,650 (867)
Pend Oreille River 27,820 (788)
Cowlitz River 9,200 (261)
Spokane River 6,700 (190)
Deschutes River 6,000 (170)
Lewis River 4,800 (136)
Yakima River 3,540 (100)
Wenatchee River 3,220 (91)
Okanogan River 3,050 (86)
Kettle River 2,930 (83)
Sandy River 2,260 (64)

* Average discharge, cubic feet per second (cubic meters per second)

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Missoula Floods

The Columbia River and its drainage basin has experienced some of the world’s greatest known floods. Towards the end of the last ice age, the rupturing of ice dams at glacial Lake Missoula resulted in discharge rates ten times the combined flow of all the rivers of the world.[3] Water levels resulting from the Missoula Floods have been estimated to be 1250 feet (381 m) at the Wallula Gap, 830 feet (253 m) at Bonneville Dam, and 400 feet (122 m) over current day Portland, Oregon.[4] In addition to their temporary inundation of the lower Columbia basin, these floods are responsible for many geological features still visible on the Columbia Plateau.

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History

The neutrality and factual accuracy of this section are disputed.
Please see the relevant discussion on the talk page.
Cascade on the Columbia River
Cascade on the Columbia River

In 1775, Bruno de Heceta became the first European to sight the mouth of the Columbia River, naming it Bahía de la Asunción. On May 11, 1792, Captain Robert Gray managed to sail into the Columbia River, becoming the first White to enter it. Gray had traveled to the Pacific Northwest to trade for fur in a privately owned vessel named Columbia Rediviva; he named the river after the ship. Gray spent nine days trading near the mouth of the Columbia, then left without having gone beyond 13 miles upstream. George Vancouver, commander of the British naval expedition that was exploring the region at the same time, soon learned that Gray claimed to have found a navigable river, and went to investigate for himself. In October 1792, Vancouver sent Lieutenant William Robert Broughton, his second-in-command, up the river. Broughton sailed up for some miles, then continued in small boats. He got as far as the Columbia River Gorge, about 100 miles upstream, sighting and naming Mount Hood. He also formally claimed the river, its watershed, and the nearby coast for Britain. Gray's discovery of the Columbia was used by the United States to support their claim to the Oregon Country, which was also claimed by Russia, Great Britain, Spain, and other nations.[5]

French explorers called the Columbia River "the river of storms"[citation needed], ouragan, which is a possible origin of the name "Oregon". Other possibilities have been suggested based on words from French and Spanish (since the region was explored by their nationals)[citation needed], but an official origin of the name is not known. George R. Stewart argued in a 1944 article in American Speech that the name "Oregon" came from an engraver's error in a French map published in the early 1700s, on which the Ouisiconsink (Wisconsin River) was spelled "Ouaricon-sint", broken on two lines with the -sint below, so that there appeared to be a river flowing to the west named "Ouaricon". This theory was endorsed in Oregon Geographic Names as "the most plausible explanation".

Lewis and Clark’s overland expedition explored the vast, unmapped lands west of the Missouri River. On the last stretch of their expedition they traveled down the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean.

David Thompson of the North West Company spent the winter of 1807–08 at Kootenae House near the source of the Columbia at present day Invermere, British Columbia. In 1811 he traveled down the Columbia to the Pacific Ocean, becoming the first European-American to travel the entire length of the river.

In 1825, on behalf of the Hudson's Bay Company, Dr. John McLoughlin established Fort Vancouver (currently Vancouver, Washington) on the banks of the Columbia as a fur trading headquarters in the region. The fort was by far the largest European settlement in the northwest of the time. Every year ships would come from London (via the Pacific) to drop off supplies and trade goods in exchange for the furs. For many settlers the fort became the last stop on the Oregon Trail to buy supplies and land before starting their homestead. Because of its access to the Columbia river, Fort Vancouver’s influence reached from Alaska to California and from the Rocky Mountains to the Hawaiian Islands.

On February 13, 1980, $5,800 (in bundles of $20 bills) was found by a family on a picnic five miles northwest of Vancouver, Washington on the banks of the Columbia River. The money is believed by FBI to be part of the 1971 Hijacker, D. B. Cooper’s ransom money.

On July 1, 2003, Christopher Swain of Portland, Oregon, became the first person to swim the Columbia River's entire length.

'Columbia River, Cascade Mountains, Oregon (1876) by Vincent Colyer (oil on canvas)
'Columbia River, Cascade Mountains, Oregon (1876) by Vincent Colyer (oil on canvas)
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Hydroelectric dams

The mainstream of the Columbia River has 14 dams (3 in Canada, 11 in the United States) and 8 locks. Nearly half of all hydroelectricity in the United States comes from the Columbia and its tributaries.[citation needed] The largest of the 150 hydroelectric projects, the Grand Coulee Dam and the Chief Joseph Dam, are also the largest in the United States. The Grand Coulee Dam is the third largest hydroelectric dam in the world. The dams also provide a secondary benefit in navigation and irrigation.

Grand Coulee Dam provides water for the Columbia Basin Project, one of the most extensive irrigation projects in the western United States. The project provides water to over 500,000 acres (2,000 km²) of fertile but arid lands in central Washington State. Water from the project has transformed the region from a wasteland barely able to produce subsistence levels of dry-land wheat crops to a major agricultural center. Important crops include apples, potatoes, alfalfa, wheat, corn (maize), barley, hops, beans, and sugar beets.

Although the dams provide clean, renewable energy, they drastically alter the landscape and ecosystem of the river. At one time the Columbia was one of the top salmon-producing river systems in the world. Previously active fishing sites, like Celilo Falls in the eastern Columbia River Gorge highlight the relative decline in fishing along the Columbia during the last century. The presence of dams coupled with over-fishing has played a major role in the reduction of salmon populations. Fish ladders have been installed at some dam sites to help the fish journey to spawning waters. Grand Coulee Dam has no fish ladders and completely blocks fish migration to the upper half of the Columbia River system. Downriver of Grand Coulee, each dam’s reservoir is closely regulated by the Bonneville Power Administration to ensure one dam is not hoarding water to the detriment of habitat for salmon and other fish.

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Pollution

The Hanford Site was established in 1940s as part of the Manhattan Project. It is located along the river in southeastern Washington on 586 mile² (1,520 km²) of some of the most fertile land in North America; at the time of its establishment, the area was considered a wasteland. The site served as a plutonium production complex with nine nuclear reactors and related facilities. Most of the facilities were shut down in the 1960s. The site is currently under control of the Department of Energy, and is a Superfund site. The Superfund cleanup is expected to be completed in 2030.

EPA studies and state monitoring programs have found significant levels of toxins in fish and the waters they inhabit within the basin. Accumulation of toxins in fish threatens the survival of fish species, and human consumption of these fish can lead to health problems. Many governments, communities and citizens have rallied to launch a long term and intense recovery effort to restore these remarkable fish.

Water quality is also an important factor in the survival of other wildlife and plants that grow in the Columbia River Basin. The states, Indian tribes, and federal government are all engaged in efforts to restore and improve the water, land, and air quality of the Columbia River Basin and have committed to work together to enhance and accomplish critical ecosystem restoration efforts. A number of important work efforts are currently underway, including Portland Harbor in the Lower Basin, Hanford in the Middle Basin and Lake Roosevelt in the Upper Basin.[6]

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Culture

Kitesurfing on the Columbia River
Kitesurfing on the Columbia River

With the importance of the Columbia to the Pacific Northwest, it has made its way into the culture of the area and the nation. Several Indian tribes have a historical and continuing presence on the Columbia River, most notably the Sinixt or Lakes people.

From the Woody Guthrie song “Roll on, Columbia”:

Roll on, Columbia, roll on, roll on, Columbia, roll on
Your power is turning our darkness to dawn
Roll on, Columbia, roll on.
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In the movies

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References

  1. The Atlas of Canada—Topographic Maps. Retrieved on 2006-09-25.
  2. Loy, Willam G., Stuart Allan, Aileen R. Buckley, James E. Meecham (2001). Atlas of Oregon. University of Oregon Press, 24. ISBN 0-87114-102-7.
  3. Glacial Lake Missoula and the Missoula Floods. U.S. Geological Survey. Retrieved on 2006-11-19.
  4. Houck, Michael C., Cody, M.J. (2000). Wild in the City. Oregon Historical Society. ISBN 0-87595-273-9.
  5. Jacobs, Melvin C. (1938). Winning Oregon: A Study of An Expansionist Movement. The Caxton Printers, Ltd.. 77.
  6. EPA report on the Columbia
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See also

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External links

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