Columbia River

Catchment area of the Columbia River with major tributaries and dams.

The Columbia River dammed to Lake Bonneville

The Columbia River is a 1953 km long river in western North America. He is the most water of all North American rivers that flow into the Pacific Ocean.

With its left tributary, the Snake River, he has put together a length of 2240 km. Its catchment area covers 668,217 km ², of which about 15 % are located within Canada.

The river is named after the ship Columbia Rediviva the American captain Robert Gray, who sailed up the Columbia River on May 11, 1792 the first white man. Gray traveled to the Pacific Northwest to trade in furs.

The Lewis and Clark expedition reached in 1805 from the East by land the mouth of the river. The Columbia River was first fully mapped in 1814 by David Thompson.

  • 5.1 Passage to Lewiston
  • 5.2 deepening of the channel


The source of the Columbia River is located in the Canadian province of British Columbia; it flows through the central eastern part of the U.S. state of Washington. In the last 480 kilometers before its confluence with the river forms the border between the U.S. states of Washington and Oregon. The extended catchment area extends over the states of Montana and Idaho. In Astoria Columbia empties into the Pacific Ocean. The Columbia is the largest river in the Pacific Northwest region.

He is one of three rivers that break through the system of coastal mountains along the North American Pacific coast, and so establishes a connection from the interior of the continent to the coast. The 80 km long section of the river through the Cascade mountain range is called the Columbia River Gorge. At this narrow point is also the Bonneville Dam.

Running and catchment area

With a discharge rate of about 7,500 m³ / s annual average of the Columbia River is the largest river in North America, which empties into the Pacific Ocean and the fourth most powerful river in the United States; terms of the size of the catchment area of the river is the sixth and in the length in twelfth position. The highest ever recorded runoff at The Dalles, Oregon, was on June 6, 1894 35.113 m³ / s From its headwaters to the Pacific Ocean, the river has a length of 1,953 km. It drains an area of ​​668,217 km ². This includes almost the entire state of Idaho, and large parts of British Columbia, Oregon and Washington, but also smaller areas of surrounding states.

About 85 % of the pelvis and 1199 km of its length located within the United States.

The Columbia Lake in 820 m height and the adjoining Columbia Wetlands form the headwaters of the southern Rocky Mountain Trench, a broad, deep and very long glacial valley between the Canadian Rockies and the Columbia Mountains in British Columbia. In the first 320 km of the river flowing along the trench to the northwest and flows so Windermere Lake and the city of Invermere - the region is known as the Columbia Valley in British Columbia - and then in the Golden Kinbasket Lake. It orbits the northern end of the Selkirk Mountains and then turns abruptly southward through a region that is known as the Big Bend Country. It flows through the Lake Revelstoke and Arrow Lakes; Revelstoke Lake, the Big Bend Country, and the Columbia Valley are referred to in Canada as Columbia Country. Below the Arrow Lakes passed the Columbia River Castlegar - situated at the mouth of the Kootenay River - and trail, the two centers of the West Kootenay region. The Pend Oreille River have located about 3 km north of the border between Canada and the United States with the Columbia River. To the east of the state of Washington, first the Columbia River follows a south-western direction, forming the southern and eastern boundary of the Colville Indian Reservation and the western boundary of the Spokane Indian Reservation, before settling to the south, and finally near the mouth of the Wenatchee River turns to the southeast. This C-shaped section of the river is also known as Big Bend - called - the great bend. During the Missoula floods, the water took a more direct route to the south and formed by the Grand Coulee. Later, the river took its present course and the Grand Coulee was dry. The construction of the Grand Coulee Dam in the mid-20th century dammed the river and back in the earlier bed Banks Lake was formed.

The river flows at The Gorge Amphitheatre over, a well- used concert building in the Pacific Northwest, and passes through the Hanford Reach National Monument protected area and the historical and present-day nuclear power plants of Hanford Site. The Hanford Reach, Priest Rapids Dam and between the Tri-Cities is - is not the only section jammed in the United States, in which the river - with the exception of its estuary. In the Tri -Cities of the Snake River opens out. Finally, the river makes a sharp bend to the west, making for the rest of its course the border between Washington and Oregon.

Between The Dalles and Portland, the river cuts through the Cascade Range. Only three rivers - the other two are the Klamath River in Southern Oregon and the Pit River in Northern California - break through this mountain range. The Columbia River Gorge is characterized by its strong and steady winds, its beauty and its importance as a transportation route.

The river changes between Portland and Vancouver his direction again. Directed from the mouth of the Willamette River in North - northwest decreases its flow speed, which he dumps sediments. The Columbia River empties below Astoria in the Pacific Ocean. The Columbia Bar, a migrating sandbar at the transition to the open sea, makes the river mouth to one of the most difficult -to-navigate maritime routes in the world.

Important tributaries

The most powerful tributaries of the Columbia:

* Runoff on an annual average, m³ / s


The volcanic activity in the region can be traced back up to 40 million years. The landscape-shaping event in time 17 to 14 million years ago today was the outflow of large Lavamengen who created the Columbia Plateau basalt, a more than a mile thick layer of basalt. She has shaped the flow-through from the river landscape in many parts. During the Pleistocene ( the period before the last ice age, two million to 700,000 years ago ) broke through the river, the Cascade Range and formed the Columbia River Gorge.

The catchment area of the river experienced one of the largest known floods at the end of the last ice age. The periodic breaking of ice barriers of glacial Lake Missoula resulted in runoff, some of which were ten times as high as those of all currently existing along rivers in the world. These events occurred over a period of more than a thousand years, about forty times.

The water levels ranged estimates during this Missoula Floods at the Wallula Gap 380 m, at the Bonneville Dam and 250 m above the present-day Portland, Oregon 120 m above the present level. The periodic flooding of the lower Columbia River Plateau encamped there from large amounts of sediments and contributed to the fertility of the soil in which is the basis for today's agriculture. These floods were also some unusual geological formations, such as the Channeled Scablands in eastern Washington.

In geologically recent past, the river was dammed by a landslide at the north end of the Columbia River Gorge, probably in 1700 following an earthquake. This event is called the " Bridge of the Gods ". The river bed of the Columbia River was thereby completely buried and blocked the drain, until after some time the rising water made ​​her way and finally washed away the lock. 1980 outsourced the eruption of Mount St. Helens large amounts of sediment in the lower reaches from, making the fairway forfeited up to 8 m depth.


At the beginning of the 20th century the difficulty of navigation on the river as an obstacle to the economic development of the region east of the Cascade Range were considered. The following construction of dams and dredging of a navigation channel have changed the river forever.

The once wild and rich in salmon river is now dammed dams for power generation and flood control. In the east, the water is used for irrigation. The natural salmon run is thus largely limited, and will soon be partially restored. The part of the New Deal electrification and realized dam project (especially the Grand Coulee Dam ) was set to music, inter alia, by Woody Guthrie; the song " Roll On Columbia " is dedicated to the Columbia River.

One of the dams on the Columbia include:

  • In Canada:
  • In the United States:

The longest undeveloped section are the 80 km of the Hanford Reach in Hanford Reach National Monument, in Benton County, Washington. Here spawn around 80 % of all Chinook salmon of the upper Columbia River system.

1902, the United States Bureau of Reclamation was established to promote the economic development of the arid states in the western United States. One of his most important undertakings was the construction of Grand Coulee Dam for irrigation an area of ​​600,000 acres of the Columbia Basin Project in central Washington state. With the onset of World War II, the gravity point of the dam construction of the irrigation changed to the generation of hydroelectric power, irrigation won only in the postwar period in importance again.

The expansion of the flow takes place in the framework of the International Boundary Waters Treaty between the United States and Canada by 1909. During the 1960s, both countries signed the Columbia River Treaty. Canada consented to the construction of three dams in British Columbia and the storage of water, and the United States faced in return half of the overgrowth achieved as a result of energy production on the Columbia River are available. Canada's obligation includes two dams on the Columbia River and one on the Duncan River; the last of which was completed in 1973.

" This river may have been created by the gods, perhaps by glaciers or the remnants of an inland sea or the pull of gravity or by a combination of it all, but the Army Corps of Engineers checked it today. The Columbia River rises and falls to the dictates of tidal or rainfall following, but follows a computer-controlled, regulated, federally -established plan that is only changed if there are significant disputes be settled or a Senator of the United States is approaching his re-election. In this sense, it is reliable. "

Today, there are at the main branch of the Columbia River dams 14 ( including three in Canada and eleven in the United States). Four of them, and four on the lower reaches of the Snake River have navigation locks to allow ships and convoys traveling from the Ocean to Lewiston, Idaho. There are more than 400 dams in the river system of the Columbia River. These are used not only to power generation and irrigation, but also for flood protection, navigability, water level control, drinking water supply and the mining of public lands and Indian reservations.

The larger dams in Washington and Oregon belong to the Federal Government of the United States ( in part to the Army Corps of Engineers and partly to the Bureau of Reclamation ), the smaller plants are operated by public utilities and private energy producers. The government-owned facilities is referred to as the Federal Columbia River Power System, including 31 dams are on the river and its tributaries. This system has the seasonal flow of the river changed to take account of the greater demand for electrical energy in the winter months. At the beginning of the 20th century accounted for 75 % of the annual discharge of the river to the months of April to September. By 1980, the proportion of summer months had dropped to around 50%, so the seasonal effect was virtually eliminated.

The construction of dams has landscape and the ecosystem changed dramatically by the river. Once the Columbia River river system was one of the richest fishing grounds of salmon in the world. Previously profitable fishing grounds, best known of these are the Celilo Falls in the eastern part of the Columbia River Gorge, in the last century have experienced a significant drop of the catch of salmon. The populations of fish were threatening reduced, although in some dams fish ladders have been set up to allow fish migration to the spawning grounds. At Chief Joseph Dam there is no such fish ladder and therefore the fish migration to the upper half of the river system there is completely blocked.

In the 2010s conservation organizations have had success with lawsuits in federal courts. The Bonneville Power Administration has been committed to the creation of new habitats, particularly spawning areas to compensate for the intervention by the construction of dams in the catchment area of the river. In collaboration with conservation organizations, the local Indian nations and the United States Army Corps of Engineers were purchased for restoration sites. The largest ever purchase 2012 is a 372 -acre former farm on the lower reaches near St. Helens, Oregon which is located so that the dike can be moved back and so around 200 ha rewetted and can be handed over to the flood regime of the river.

Exploration of the River

There is some evidence that Spanish castaways reached the shore in 1679 and traded with the Clatsop; whether they were actually the first Europeans who saw the Columbia River, is not known.

The first recorded Europeans, whose eye 1775 saw the mouth of the Columbia River, was Bruno de Heceta. On the advice of his officers, he decided not to explore the river, because the current was strong and his team was understaffed. He came to the conclusion that it was a bay, which he called Ensenada de Asunción. Later Spanish maps that were based on his explorations, show a river, the Rio de San Roque or a sea port, the Entrada de Hezeta.

Because of Hecetas reports of fur traders and Captain John Meares searched in 1788 after the river, however, interpreted the wrong tendencies and concluded that the river did not exist. George Vancouver sailed by the British Royal Navy in April 1792 at the mouth over and observed a change in the color of the water, but relied on Meares and continued his journey north continues. In the same month he met in the Juan de Fuca Strait to the U.S. sailor Robert Gray, who told him that he had seen the entrance to an estuary and intend to retract into it.

Gray returned to the south and was on 12 May 1792, the first explorer who sailed the river. Grays fur trade mission was financed by merchants from Boston in Oregon, who provided him with a purchase ship named Columbia Rediviva; the ship was on May 18, 1792, named for the river. Gray spent nine days near the river mouth and then left the area. During this time he had reached the farthest point a point about twenty kilometers from the river mouth. Grays discovery later formed the basis for the claims of the United States to the Oregon Country, to which also Russia, Great Britain, Spain and some other nations hope made ​​.

In October 1792 George Vancouver sent Lieutenant William Robert Broughton, his second officer up the river. Broughton sailed a few miles up the river and continued the exploration then continues in lifeboats. He drove up to the Columbia River Gorge, about 160 km upstream of the estuary. He sighted and named Mount Hood and Point Vancouver near the present city of Vancouver. Broughton took the river formally the Kingdom of Great Britain in possession, including its catchment area and the adjacent coastal strip. Gray had failed to take a similar step on behalf of the United States.

Researchers have long speculated about the existence of a Northwest Passage or if a great river connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific, and some cartographers have such a connection mapped onto their cards. The Columbia River is on the same latitude as the headwaters of the Missouri River and is deduced from, the Gray and Vancouver had discovered the sought Northwest Passage. A British map of 1798 showed a dotted line connecting from the Columbia River to the Missouri River. The American expedition of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark explored the 1803-1805 hitherto unknown land in the American west and found no connection between the two rivers. After Lewis and Clark had crossed the Rocky Mountains, they built canoes from hollowed-out tree trunks, which they drove down the Snake River and the Columbia River reached. They explored the river a few miles upstream to Bateman Iceland before they drove down the Columbia River. At the mouth of which they ended their expedition and founded Fort Clatsop.

The Canadian explorer David Thompson of the North West Company spent the winter of 1807/1808 in present-day Invermere near the source of the Columbia River in British Columbia. In 1811 he traveled the river to the Pacific Ocean down and was thus the first white Americans who traveled the river in its full length. He reached the mouth shortly after John Jacob Astor's fur trading company founded Astoria.

1825 founded the Dr. John McLoughlin Fort Vancouver (present-day Vancouver, Washington) on behalf of the Hudson 's Bay Company on the banks of the river. The fort served as the headquarters of the fur trade in the Columbia District, and was the largest settlement of White in the Pacific Northwest. Every year drove ships from London across the Indian and the Pacific Ocean to Vancouver to deliver equipment and supply means and redeem them for furs. The fort evolved as the last opportunity for the settlers on the Oregon Trail, to procure supplies. Because access to the Columbia River, the influence from Fort Vancouver to the area from Alaska to California and from the Rocky Mountains to Hawaii extended.

The first French-Canadian North West Company called the river Ouragan ( German: " hurricane " ), which is one of several plausible origins for the toponym Oregon.

The United States and British North America in 1818 agreed the joint occupation of the Oregon territory. The Americans remained generally south of the river, while the British colonized the area in the north. The river was during the later Oregonstreits as a possible boundary line; However, the Oregon Compromise of 1846 laid the 49th parallel established as the border between the United States and Canada. However, the river certain later most of the border between the U.S. Territories of Oregon and Washington. Oregon 1857 State of the United States and Washington followed 1889.


The sailor Robert Gray and George Vancouver in 1792 had indeed proved that it was possible to cross the sandbar at the mouth of the river, but the navigational difficulties through this obstacle are even at the present time a current problem. Despite modern water works, which altered the course at the mouth of the river, making the strong current and variability of sand banks in the trade between the river and the open ocean to a challenge.

The use of steamboats on the Columbia River began around the year 1850 and thus contributed to the rapid settlement and economic development of the region. The steamships wrong at various sections of the river: the lower reaches between the Pacific Ocean and the Cascades Rapids, between Celilo Falls and the mouth of the Snake River; on the Wenatchee Reach in eastern Washington, on the Arrow Lakes in British Columbia and on various tributaries such as the Willamette River or the Snake River, and on the Kootenay Lake. Railways connected the individual steamship connections where they were interrupted in the lower reaches by waterfalls.

Passage up to Lewiston

Already in 1881 suggested industrialists, to modify the natural course of the river to improve navigability. This Water Works will include the construction of jetties at the river mouth, the dredging of the river bed and the construction of locks and a canal. Today, ocean-going ships can travel to Portland and navigation is possible via the Snake River to Lewiston, Idaho.

The Columbia Bar is a variable sandbank at the mouth of the river that makes the trip between the river and the open ocean is difficult and dangerous and numerous rapids to impede navigation. In 1886, the first jetties were built to extend the river to the sea.

1891 Columbia River was dredged to improve navigability. The depth of the shipping channel between the estuary and Portland and Vancouver has been increased from 5 m to 8 m. The newspaper The Columbian called for as early as 1905 a depression on 12 m, this depth was not achieved until 1976.

The first lock system at the Cascades Rapids was built in 1895 to allow ships a safe journey through the Columbia River Gorge. The Celilo Canal, which the Celilo Falls are bypassed, was opened to traffic in 1915. In the mid-20th century the rapids drowned in a series of dams along the river. A system of locks allows the ships to move from one reservoir to the next. A ship canal along the Columbia River and the Snake River, which allows the boat ride to Lewiston, Idaho, was completed in 1975. More than 40 % of all wheat exports from the United States to be shipped on the Columbia River.

The eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980 caused numerous landslides, causing the water depth of the Columbia River has been reduced to a 7 km stretch of eight meters and the economy has been hampered in Portland.

Deepening of the channel

The efforts to make the river for navigation only and expand the fairway, take on up to the present. 1990, a new round of investigations for dredging of the lower course has begun. These plans were controversial from the outset in terms of their economic efficiency and environmental compatibility.

1999, the United States Congress authorized the deepening of the riverbed between Portland and Astoria by 40 feet ( = 12.2 m) to 43 feet ( = 13.1 m), so that large container ships and freighters wheat Portland and Vancouver can achieve. The project called for measures to compensate for the resulting damage to the environment; for each acre, which was destroyed by the project, had to create the Army Corps of Engineers 12 acre new wetland. The project encountered yet on defense, because this toxic debris at the base of the riverbed would spread around. A lawsuit against the Army Corps of Engineers was rejected by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in August 2006.

Work on the project began in 2005. The cost was estimated at 150 million U.S. dollars, of which the federal government pay 65 % and the states of Oregon and Washington, 27 million U.S. dollars each. The rest bring to six port companies. The projects cost 178 million U.S. dollars and was completed in October 2010.

More images

Celilo Falls.

Confluence with the Pacific Ocean at Astoria.

Vista House, with Beacon Rock and Hamilton Mountain in the background.