Washington May 30, 2019
The Oldest River In Washington Is A Beautiful Piece Of Living History
The Columbia River is the fourth largest (by volume) in North America — and to Washingtonians, it’s a beloved part of history (and the present). This majestic body of water provides us with power, fish, recreation, and endless beauty, and we’re truly lucky to have it.
The Columbia River flows from the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia, northeast and then south into Washington, then turns west to form quite a bit of our border with Oregon.
Eventually, it empties into the Pacific Ocean.
The Columbia and its tributaries have been important to our local culture and economy for thousands of years.
They have fed us, helped with transportation, and served as guides for ancient travelers.
Numerous Native American tribes inhabited the Columbia River basin for several thousand years.
The river is millions of years old — in fact, the Columbia River Gorge started forming as far back as 17 million years ago.
The river forms the reservoir behind Grand Coulee Dam, which supports four different power houses containing 33 hydroelectric generators.
The dam was constructed in 1933 and 1934, and even today, it's one of the largest concrete structures in the world. The Bonneville Lock and Dam structures also line the river. In fact, the Columbia has 14 dams in total, although 3 of them are in Canada. This makes it the largest hydroelectric power producing river in North America.
It was American Captain Robert Gray who gave the lake its current name. He named it in 1972 after his ship, the Columbia Rediviva.
In 1941, Woody Guthrie penned a song called Roll On, Columbia, Roll On. Admittedly, it's pretty catchy, so perhaps Robert Gray did us a favor.
Unfortunately, human activity hasn't been entirely good for the river.
A 50-mile stretch passes through the Hanford Site, and in the 1950s, its plutonium production reactors dumped a daily average of 50,000 curies of radioactive material into the water. The nuclear reactors were decommissioned at the end of the Cold War, but studies have found significant levels of toxins in the fish in the basin. The states, tribes, and federal government are all working to restore the water quality.
This is only a small fraction of the history of this magnificent river.
We're lucky to have it flow through our state, and we couldn't ask for a more beautiful border between Washington and Oregon.
The Columbia River is so rich in history, dozens and dozens of books have been written about it. And you can get some incredible views of it simply by visiting the
Columbia River Gorge.