Archive for September, 2009

The Columbia River

Saturday, September 19th, 2009

Columbia Gorge

Columbia Gorge

The Columbia river at 1243 miles is the longest river in the Pacific Northwest. It drains an area roughly the size of France. The Columbia forms much of the border between Oregon and Washington and drains 7 states. It is the 4th largest river in the United States.

The Columbia begins at 2690 feet ( 820 meters) above sea level in the Rocky Mountain trench that forms the border between British Columbia and Alberta in Canada. The river flows northwest for the first 200 miles then turns sharply south at the north end of the Selkirk mountains. The Columbia turns west at the Spokane river then South at the Okanagan river then southeast at the Wenatchee river forming a big C. The river then heads west at the Washington- Oregon border. The River then becomes the Washington -Oregon border for the final 309 miles to the coast.

During the last ice age about 15,000  to 10,000 years ago, the Columbia took a more direct course through the big c area when the ice dams on ancient Lake Missoula would break sending the entire lake down the Columbia river. When the flood was over the direct route formed a dry river bed. This dry river bed was called a Coulee. Grand Coulee dam was built during the depression forming lake Roosevelt and opened in 1942. It is the largest dam on the Columbia at 5223 feet (1586 meters) wide and 550 feet ( 168 meters high). Normal water height is 380 feet ( 115 meters). In 1951 with the addition of Dry Falls dam and North dam, Banks lake was formed in the dry coulee valley above lake Roosevelt. Twelve 14 inch pipes and pumps lift water 280 feet from lake Roosevelt into lake Banks forming a 27 mile long lake for irrigation of the surrounding area. Six of the pumps can be reversed and turned into turbines during peak electric demand times. Total power output of the Grand Coulee dam with 33 Turbines is 6809 megawatts. The biggest problem with the Grand Coulee dam is that salmon can not get by the dam. This keeps the salmon in the last 243 miles of the river instead of 1243 miles like they once roamed.

The Columbia continues through Gorge Amphitheatre, Priest Rapids dam, then the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. The Hanford Reservation is the only untamed part of the Columbia that is left.

The Snake river and the Yakima river join the Columbia and the river turns sharply west at the Washington Oregon border. The Columbia becomes the border for the two states for the final 309 miles of its journey. The Columbia reaches the Dalles. Between The Dalles and Portland, the Columbia cuts through the Cascade mountains forming the breath taking Columbia River gorge.

The gorge is 4000 feet at the deepest part and 77 streams flow into the gorge before the Columbia  reaches the ocean. Many of these 77 streams form spectacular water falls as they deposit their water load into the gorge.

The last dam of the 14 dams on the Columbia before the Pacific is the Bonneville dam. This dam has an island in the middle and 2 hydroelectric dams one on each side of the island. The Bonneville dam also has a lock for river traffic and fish ladders to help the salmon navigate the river.

At Portland a few miles from the Pacific, the Columbia turns to the north and slows dropping a load of silt. It then turns west again and joins the Pacific. The last turn keeps the Columbia from forming a delta at the ocean.

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