Columbia River Facts: How It Was Formed, How It Benefits Us And More!

Anusuya Mukherjee
Nov 02, 2023 By Anusuya Mukherjee
Originally Published on Jan 05, 2022
Discharged on the North American continent by the Mackenzie

The Columbia River, the largest river, flows into the Pacific Ocean and is discharged on the North American continent by the Mackenzie, St. Lawrence, and Mississippi Rivers.

One of the world's greatest sources of hydroelectric power, the Columbia River basin, constitutes one-third of the developing hydropower in the United States of America. The Grand Coulee Dam is the largest hydroelectric powerhouse situated in Central Washington.

Coined by Robert Gray from his ship 'The Columbia Rediviva', the river gorge was formed 40-60 years ago. Elevations occurred due to geologic upliftment and led to the creation of waterfalls.

The strength of the waterfall erodes the rock layers which caused the erosion of a river bed and form a gorge. It begins from east of mainly Gresham and ends till Miller Island, having a total length of 93 mi (150 km).

Large ships can reach Vancouver while smaller ships can make up to 16 mi (300 km) from the Pacific Ocean. Today, the Columbia River system is also one of the most beautiful river environments along with its added benefits.

If you like reading about Columbia River facts, also check out these fun facts articles on River Thames and rivers in Colorado.

Ecology And Environment

With 265,000 cubic ft (7,504 cubic m). per second as the average flow at the river's mouth, the Columbia river basin also maintains its natural and cultural resources.

The USGS Western Fisheries Research Center has dealt with the data management procedures, thus being a major part of the Columbia basin project. They have successfully constructed several hydroelectric dams beside Columbia Lake as well as the rise of commercial fisheries and highways. They have also made Salmon, the anadromous fish, a staple food source of the Pacific Northwest.

Along with the research center, the United States Forest Service works hand in hand with the Columbia River Gorge Commission in order to seek coordination with the tribal people. The Nonindigenous Aquatic Services also plays a significant role as it analyzes and monitors the sightings of animals present in the Columbia River basin.

However, there have been certain temporary alterations to the environmental imbalance due to such projects. These projects have come up with a set of advantages plus disadvantages giving the Columbia river a unique identity.

Physiography And Hydrology

The Columbia River channels in around 258,000 sq mi (668,000 sq km) and flows through four ranges including the Cascade mountains and the Rockies. It includes major tributaries such as the Deschutes River, Beaver River, Clark Fork River, Sandy River, Willamette River, Kootenay River, and the Snake River.

The Snake River is regarded as its largest tributary, providing most of the hydroelectric power. In Astoria, the river has a depth of 55 ft (16.7 m) along with a width of 2,640 ft (804.6 m).

The size of this big river varies at a significant level. The North American river rises from the Rocky Mountains and flows through major cities such as Idaho and Oregon along with several areas like Montana, Utah, Wyoming, and Nevada.

The river system, including its tributaries, results in up to 29 gigawatts and has contributed around 44% in the United States in the year 2012.

British Columbia, a renowned Canadian province, provided 92% of electricity all across the country in the same year.

The British Columbia Hydro and Power Authority, a provincial corporation, functions 31 hydroelectric power projects, where three are placed around the Columbia River region. One of them is popular for producing electric power while the two manage flood control for downstream hydroelectric power management.

Plant And Animal Life

An exotic set of plants and animals can be spotted in the Columbia River Watershed. The Columbia Gorge occupies over 44 types of ocean fish and an average count of 200 birds.

Currently, the northern spotted owl is the only threatened species but there are no endangered creatures in the Columbia River. Several animals such as deer, black bears, beavers, bobcats along with amphibians like the Pacific tree frog and the Larch Mountain salamander are present in the region.

Fishes such as Chinook salmon, Coho salmon, Sockeye salmon, and Pacific lamprey mouthsuckers are available at a great range, making them a staple source for food production in the Columbia and Snake Rivers.

The Peregrine falcon, once enlisted in the Endangered Species Act, is now found on the west coast at a huge level. Bald eagles are also spotted from December till March.

Plants take a different shift due to elevation and rainfall, especially near the Willamette Valley. Two-thirds of North America's Pinot noir is produced in the region, hence being Oregon's leading wine region. The Columbia River is mostly surrounded by deciduous forests and the most available vegetation is the oak-pine woodlands.

The famous bald eagle can be seen flying over to catch its prey in this region.

Threats And Opportunities

The dams and the drainage basin systems have changed the natural flows of the Columbia River at a mammoth level. The main reason behind this is due to spring run-off, which reduces and stops the migration of fishes, especially the salmon species.

The deepest part of the river is 40 ft (12 m) near Portland and 27 ft (8.2 m) in between Bonneville Locks and Portland, creates the worst-case scenario for such migratory species.

Such strained flows jeopardize the fresh essence of Columbia Lake as well. It also includes the factories' pollution, logging, wastewater treatment plants, and runoffs which brings about a lack of drinking water.

The ultimate solution to this problem is to release a large amount of water from the dams of Canada plus North America so that the river system functions properly.

Ice dams will have more comfortable slow melts and the springs will support migration naturally. If this is executed in a standard manner, the production of salmon fish will also be at a high level, giving it a rise up in the economic level.

Factories should also try to create renewable waste so that it can be processed easily without dirtying the Columbia River as well as the Pacific Ocean.

Columbia River History Project

The renowned Columbia River Treaty is a pact between the USA and Canada to mandate the construction of dams in the region of British Columbia. Implemented in September 1964, its main purpose is to provide flood control and manage hydropower generation in the river basin.

The treaty had also supported the establishment of the Libby Dam near the Kootenay River.

The next meeting about the treaty will be held in 2024 whose main objectives will be to discuss the assured annual flood control and about the termination or replacement of on-call matters.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for Columbia River facts, then why not take a look at rivers in Mississippi or Puerto Princesa underground river facts?

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Written by Anusuya Mukherjee

Bachelor of Arts and Law specializing in Political Science and Intellectual Property Rights

Anusuya Mukherjee picture

Anusuya MukherjeeBachelor of Arts and Law specializing in Political Science and Intellectual Property Rights

With a wealth of international experience spanning Europe, Africa, North America, and the Middle East, Anusuya brings a unique perspective to her work as a Content Assistant and Content Updating Coordinator. She holds a law degree from India and has practiced law in India and Kuwait. Anusuya is a fan of rap music and enjoys a good cup of coffee in her free time. Currently, she is working on her novel, "Mr. Ivory Merchant".

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