The River

The Columbia River is the lifeblood of the Pacific Northwest

Salmon tie together much of the Columbia Basin culturally, economically, and spiritually.
The fish also connect the region physically by moving through our cities, towns, and rural landscapes on great up- and downstream migrations.

About the Columbia River

The Columbia River Basin drains water from a landmass the size of France: habitat from lush rainforests to craggy mountains to high desert. It spans political boundaries, including the ceded lands of multiple tribes, Indian reservations, seven U.S. states, and British Columbia.

For generations, the Columbia River supported the greatest salmon and steelhead runs on Earth.

This has changed. But we can work together to restore the river.

Toxic pollution’s heavy toll

The beauty of the Columbia conceals a toxic crisis. Scientific evidence from the Columbia tells the real story: generations of abuse as a pollution dumping ground.

Rather than clean up the pollution, Oregon and Washington simply warn people not to eat the fish considered the most dangerous.

The Facts

  • Columbia River tribal members who eat fish frequently may have cancer risks up to 50 times higher than people who eat fish once a month
  • Wastewater treatment plants discharge more than 100 toxic substances into the Columbia River
  • Certain species of fish, such as sturgeon and bass, contain high levels of cancer-causing chemicals

Where is the pollution coming from?

Factories, wastewater treatment plants, runoff from agricultural lands, logging, industrial sites, and city streets all send pollution directly into the river.

Every day, thousands of pipes release pollution into the Columbia and its tributaries.

As if this weren’t enough, the Columbia Basin is home to hundreds of contaminated waste sites—including the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, the most polluted place in the Western Hemisphere. Resident fish, otters, bald eagles, and other species reveal the heavy toll of toxic pollution.

Rising water temperatures threaten salmon

Salmon tie together the Columbia Basin economically, socially, and spiritually. The fish also connect the region by moving through our cities and towns on great up- and downstream migrations.

Salmon need cool water to survive. Warm water encourages the growth of disease-causing bacteria and fungi, delays migration, and depletes the energy reserves of migrating fish.

The Lifecycle of Salmon

The Columbia River Basin once produced more salmon and steelhead than any other river in the world. 

Before the 1840s, up to 16 million salmon and steelhead returned to the Columbia River to spawn each year. During the 20th century, that number declined to less than 1 million fish.

Salmon and steelhead:

🌊 Are born in freshwater streams
🌊Grow to finger size in the river and estuary
🌊Pack on the fat in the Pacific Ocean for most of their adult lives
🌊Return to their birth streams to spawn and die

Salmon support people and wildlife such as bears, bald eagles, and critically endangered Southern Resident killer whales

How warm is too warm?

Adult salmon have difficulty migrating upstream when water temperatures approach 68 °F. Salmon that have stopped or slowed their migration, languishing in warm water, begin dying from stress and disease.

Canada geese on the Columbia River take flight from the Hanford Reach.

Join the Movement

Make a difference for everyone who relies on the lifeblood of the Pacific Northwest.