The total length of the Columbia River is about 2,000 kilometers (1,243 miles). The drainage basin covers 670,810 square kilometers, approximately the size of France, and drains through seven states and British Columbia.
In its course to the ocean, the river flows through four mountain ranges and drains more water to the Pacific Ocean than any other river in North or South America. The river also provides drinking water to numerous communities along its course and irrigates more than 600,000 acres of farmland.
The United States and Canada began official process in 2018 of renegotiating the Columbia River Treaty (CRT). The CRT was signed in 1961, ratified in 1964, and is set to expire in 2024. It controls the hydro electric operations of the 14 dams along the river and the storage reservoir levels that control power flow through turbines downstream.
The Columbia River is the largest river in the Pacific Northwest region of North America.
The Columbia River is the seventh longest river in North America. The watershed provides habitat for 609 known fish and wildlife species, including the bull trout, bald eagle, gray wolf, grizzly bear, and Canada lynx.
Humans have inhabited the Columbia River Basin for more than 15,000 years, with a transition to a sedentary lifestyle based mainly on salmon beginning about 3,500 years ago. Many different Native Americans and Indigenous Peoples have a historical and continuing presence on the Columbia. Fish were central to the culture of the region’s Indigenous Peoples, both as sustenance and as part of their religious beliefs.
In Canada, the Upper Columbia Basin flows through the traditional territory of the Ktunaxa Nation, Secwepemc Nation and Syilx Okanagan Nation. In the US, the Columbia Plateau is home to four major tribes that share similar languages, cultures, religions, and diets: the Nez Perce Tribe, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the Confederated Tribes of the Warm Springs Reservation of Oregon, and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation.
The Columbia River supports several species of anadromous fish that migrate between the Pacific Ocean and fresh water tributaries of the river. Sockeye salmon, Coho and Chinook (also known as “king”) salmon, and steelhead, all of the genus Oncorhynchus, are ocean fish that migrate up the rivers at the end of their life cycles to spawn. White sturgeon, which take 15 to 25 years to mature, typically migrate between the ocean and the upstream habitat several times during their lives.
Dams interrupt the migration of anadromous fish. Salmon and steelhead return to the streams in which they were born to spawn; where dams prevent their return, entire populations of salmon die.
The growth of industries and technology has had a profound effect on the quality of the waters of the Columbia River. Exploitation of the river has led to an imbalance in the chemical, physical, biological, and radiological characteristics of its waters.
Today the main stem of the Columbia River has 14 dams, of which three are in Canada and 11 in the US.