Columbia River Facts: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Joelle Mumley
The Columbia River flows through the Pacific Northwest region of the United States and Canada. This lesson will focus on why this river is so important and what makes it special.

The Columbia River

If you've ever been to the Pacific Northwest region of the United States or Canada, then you probably know that water is a very important part of that area. From the Pacific Ocean, to waterfalls and massive rivers, this area depends on water for many things, and the Columbia River is no exception! The Columbia River is a 1,243-mile long river that flows from British Columbia, Canada, through Washington, and down to Oregon, where it empties out into the Pacific Ocean.

The Columbia River Basin is the area where the main river flows, as well as all surrounding tributaries, which are the smaller rivers that drain into a larger river. The Columbia River Basin covers about 258,000 square miles in seven states, one Canadian province, and 13 Native American reservations.


Although the Columbia River is a natural wonder, humans have also added their part. There are over 20 dams on the river and over 400 on all of the tributaries. A dam is a barrier built along the river to slow down the water flow.

Now, why would you want to do that? Well, the dams do a few helpful things. First, because the water is controlled, more farms in the area can get the water they need and the land is less likely to flood. Sometimes dams create large lakes that are necessary to the water supply. One of the major reasons why dams are so important is because they create hydroelectric power (power made by water) that supplies the nearby areas with electricity. In fact, the dams on the Columbia River make up a third of the hydropower in the United States!

Problems on the River

Although there are benefits of the hydroelectric power created by the Columbia River, there are also problems. Throughout history, the animal life in and around the Columbia River was booming. For hundreds of years, people lived on the salmon and trout that came from the river, and the area had a huge population of bear, elk, deer, beavers, eagles, hawks, and snakes.

Unfortunately, because of all of the development and pollution in the area, the amount of natural wildlife has gone way down, especially the salmon. Also, with the development around the land hundreds of years ago, many Native American settlements in the area were destroyed. Right now, there are many groups and organizations trying to protect the Columbia River by reducing pollution and increasing the salmon and wildlife populations.

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