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Columbia River
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Columbia River

Columbia River Gorge

The Columbia River is the largest river in volume flowing into the Pacific Ocean from North America. Its headwaters are located in the Canadian Rockies of British Columbia, and it flows through the east-central portion of Washington. The last 300 miles (480 km) form the Washington-Oregon state line. It flows into the Pacific Ocean at Astoria, Oregon.

Roll on, Columbia, roll on, roll on, Columbia, roll on
Your power is turning our darkness to dawn
Roll on, Columbia, roll on.
-- Woody Guthrie

The Columbia is a great source of hydroelectric power, hosting the Bonneville and Grand Coulee dams, among others. These dams, like so many others in the world, came with a price: at one time the river was thick with salmon, and the presence of the dams together with overfishing have been major factors in the reduction of populations of this fish. Fish ladders have been installed to help mitigate the harm to this fish, but there is still much discussion of breaching some of the smaller dams along the river in order to help the salmon runs return. Other benefits the dams provide, besides hydroelectric power, include navigation and flood control, two areas that the first settlers to the Northwest were forced to grapple with many times.

In addition, the dams provide water for the Columbia Basin Irrigation 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 subsistance levels of dry-land wheat crops to a major agricultural center. Important crops include appless, potatoes, alfalfa, wheat, corn (maize), barley, hops, beans, and sugar beets.

There are also contaminants that have seeped into the Columbia River from the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. This Reservation was established in 1940s as part of the Manhattan Project, located along the river in south eastern Washington on 586 mile² (1,520 km²) of some of the most fertile land in North America, but at the time of 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 shutdown in the 1960s. The site is currently under control of the Department of Energy, and is currently a CERCLA, or superfund site. The superfund cleanup is expected to be completed in 2030.

In addition to irrigation and electricity, the river also provides entertainment to thousands in the region. The Columbia River Gorge is considered by many windsurfers as the best windsurfing place in the world. Water skiers also enjoy this wide river throughout the summer.

There are also many more major problems that the Columbia River has, from raw sweage dumpage, to hundreds of tons of slag dumped daily. The outlook of the Columbia River does not look good.

Map of the Columbia River basin with dams highlighted.

On May 11, 1792, Captain Robert Gray became the first white man to see the Columbia River. Gray traveled to the Pacific Northwest to trade for fur in a privately-owned vessel named Columbia, and he named the river after the ship. Lewis and Clark's expedition travelled the river to the Pacific.

See also

External links and references