Threats to Clean Water and Healthy Communities

Gaze at the Columbia River, and the scenic beauty masks the reality.
Scientific evidence from the Columbia tells the real story: generations of abuse as a pollution dumping ground. 

Toxic Pollution

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

The Columbia River Basin receives pollution from factories, wastewater treatment plants, runoff from agricultural lands, logging, industrial sites, and city streets. As if this weren’t enough, the Columbia Basin is home to hundreds of contaminated waste sites, including the most polluted place in the Western Hemisphere: the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. 

Studies on Columbia River resident fish, otters, bald eagles, and other species reveal the heavy toll of toxic pollution.

Kent Compressor Station in Feb. 2024

Climate Change

The threats from climate change are real and daunting. From wildfires to extreme heat waves to reduced river flows, the impacts on the Columbia and the people who rely on it abound. 

Climate change also poses serious threats to salmon and steelhead. From ocean acidification to rising water temperatures to invasive warm-water species, the impacts of climate change threaten every population of Columbia Basin salmon and steelhead.

Bradford Island - photo by Ubaldo Hernandez


There are 14 dams on the mainstem of the Columbia River and over 450 dams throughout the entire Columbia Basin. The dams on the Columbia River and its tributaries produce half of the electricity consumed in the Pacific Northwest. 

These dams significantly impact the river’s flow, water quality, and salmon runs.


Hot Water

As our climate warms, so do our rivers. On the Columbia and Snake rivers, hydroelectric dams make the heat pollution even worse. Large, shallow reservoirs absorb solar radiation and retain heat. 

Salmon need cool water. Warm water encourages disease-causing bacteria and fungi, delays salmon migration, and depletes salmon’s energy reserves. 

How warm is too warm? Adult salmon have difficulty swimming upstream when water temperatures approach 68° Fahrenheit. Salmon that stop or slow their migration, and languish for days or weeks in warm water, begin dying from stress and disease before they can return to their home streams to spawn.

underwater photo of salmon in the Columbia River, photo by Lance Koudele
Canada geese on the Columbia River take flight from the Hanford Reach.

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