Columbia River

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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 boundary. It flows into the Pacific Ocean at Astoria Oregon.


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 has been one factor 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 breeching some of the dams along the river in order to help the salmon runs return. Other benefits the dams provide besides 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 half a million acres 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 apples, potatoes, alfalfa, wheat, corn, barley, hops, beans, and sugar beats.

Hydroelectric Dams on the Columbia River

  • Grand Coulee
  • Chief Joseph
  • Priest Rapids
  • Wanapum
  • Rock Island
  • Rocky Reaches
  • Wells
  • McNary
  • John Day
  • The Dalles
  • Bonneville


Some of the tributaries of the Columbia include the Willamette, Snake, and John Day.


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