Columbia River

The Columbia River (Upper Chinook: Wimahl or Wimal; Sahaptin: Nch’i-Wàna or Nchi wana; Sinixt dialect swah'netk'qhu) is the largest river in the Pacific Northwest region of North America.[10] The river rises in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia, Canada. It flows northwest and then south into the U.S. state of Washington, then turns west to form most of the border between Washington and the state of Oregon before emptying into the Pacific Ocean. The river is 1,243 miles (2,000 km) long, and its largest tributary is the Snake River. Its drainage basin is roughly the size of France and extends into seven US states and a Canadian province. The fourth-largest river in the United States by volume,[note 1] the Columbia has the greatest flow of any North American river entering the Pacific. The Columbia has the 37th greatest discharge of any river in the world.

Columbia River
Columbia River from Rowena Crest Viewpoint with Interstate 84 along the right
Columbia River drainage basin
EtymologyCaptain Robert Gray's ship, Columbia Rediviva
Nickname(s)Big River, the River of the West, River Oregon[1]
Location
CountryUnited States, Canada
StateWashington, Oregon
ProvinceBritish Columbia
CitiesRevelstoke, BC, Castlegar, BC, Wenatchee, WA, East Wenatchee, WA, Tri-Cities, WA, The Dalles, OR, Hood River, OR, Portland, OR, Vancouver, WA, Longview, WA, Astoria, OR
Physical characteristics
SourceColumbia Lake
  locationBritish Columbia, Canada
  coordinates50°13′35″N 115°51′05″W[2]
  elevation2,690 ft (820 m)[3]
MouthPacific Ocean, at Clatsop County, Oregon / Pacific County, Washington
  coordinates
46°14′39″N 124°3′29″W[4]
  elevation
0 ft (0 m)
Length1,243 mi (2,000 km)[5]
Basin size258,000 sq mi (670,000 km2)
Discharge 
  locationmouth (average); max and min at The Dalles, Oregon, 188.9 miles (304.0 km) from the mouth[6][7][8]
  average265,000 cu ft/s (7,500 m3/s)[6][9][8]
  minimum12,100 cu ft/s (340 m3/s)
  maximum1,240,000 cu ft/s (35,000 m3/s)
Basin features
Tributaries 
  leftSpillimacheen River, Beaver River, Illecillewaet River, Incomappleux River, Kootenay River, Pend Oreille River, Spokane River, Crab Creek, Snake River, John Day River, Deschutes River, Willamette River
  rightKicking Horse River, Blaeberry River, Canoe River, Kettle River, Sanpoil River, Okanogan River, Entiat River, Wenatchee River, Yakima River, Lewis River, Cowlitz River

The Columbia and its tributaries have been central to the region's culture and economy for thousands of years. They have been used for transportation since ancient times, linking the region's many cultural groups. The river system hosts many species of anadromous fish, which migrate between freshwater habitats and the saline waters of the Pacific Ocean. These fish—especially the salmon species—provided the core subsistence for native peoples.

The first documented European discovery of the Columbia River occurred when Bruno de Heceta sighted the river's mouth in 1775. In the late 18th century, a private American ship became the first non-indigenous vessel to enter the river; in 1792 William Robert Broughton of the British Royal Navy navigated past the Oregon Coast Range into the Willamette Valley. In the following decades, fur-trading companies used the Columbia as a key transportation route. Overland explorers entered the Willamette Valley through the scenic but treacherous Columbia River Gorge, and pioneers began to settle the valley in increasing numbers. Steamships along the river linked communities and facilitated trade; the arrival of railroads in the late 19th century, many running along the river, supplemented these links.

Since the late 19th century, public and private sectors have extensively developed the river. To aid ship and barge navigation, locks have been built along the lower Columbia and its tributaries, and dredging has opened, maintained, and enlarged shipping channels. Since the early 20th century, dams have been built across the river for power generation, navigation, irrigation, and flood control. The 14 hydroelectric dams on the Columbia's main stem and many more on its tributaries produce more than 44 percent of total U.S. hydroelectric generation. Production of nuclear power has taken place at two sites along the river. Plutonium for nuclear weapons was produced for decades at the Hanford Site, which is now the most contaminated nuclear site in the United States. These developments have greatly altered river environments in the watershed, mainly through industrial pollution and barriers to fish migration.


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