The Columbia River Basin provides ideal habitat for salmon and steelhead

The Columbia River is the fourth-largest river by volume in North America.  It begins at Columbia Lake in the mountains of southeastern British Columbia and enters the United States at river mile 749 in northeastern Washington.  From there, the river travels south and west through Washington, then along the Oregon and Washington state border before entering the ocean 1,214 miles later, at Astoria, Oregon. 


The mountain ranges within the Columbia River Basin typically receive from 100 to 200 inches of snow annually. Fed by snowmelt and streamflow from those mountains, and dropping steadily at a rate of about two feet per mile on its way to the Pacific Ocean, the Columbia is well-suited to hydropower development.  Average runoff volume in the Columbia is 192 million acre-feet per year.  


The river was historically ideal habitat for cold-water fish including salmon and steelhead, lamprey, sturgeon and shad, species  that migrated to the ocean and back. Between 10 million and 16 million salmon and steelhead were believed to have returned to the river from the ocean each year up until the 1840s.  Beginning in the late 1800s, immigration to the Northwest increased impacts on both fish habitat and harvest. 


See a map of the Columbia Basin and ESA-listed fish.

Find out more about the lifecycle of Columbia River salmon.



The  Columbia Gorge at dusk.  Photo by Tony Grover, NPCC.