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Roll Columbia

Jeffrey Syken

In the western United States, four river systems provide flood control, irrigation and/or hydroelectric power generation; the Colorado, Sacramento, San Joaquin and the Columbia River/s. The Colorado River serves seven southwestern states while the Sacramento and San Joaquin River/s serve California’s Central Valley. However, it is the latter – the Columbia River, that is the largest North American River flowing into the Pacific Ocean and of the greatest service.

Considered “America’s greatest power stream,” the Columbia possesses the potential of thirty million horsepower. Starting in the snow fields of the Canadian Rockies, the Columbia winds a curving course south until it meets its largest tributary – the Snake River – and then turns west heading for the sea. At its mouth, the river is five miles wide and navigable by ocean-going vessels for a hundred miles inland, all the way to Portland, Oregon on the Willamette River – a tributary of the Columbia. Overall, it is 1,200 miles in length.

But it is the two great dams on the Columbia; the Grand Coulee (on the upper river) and the Bonneville (on the lower river, near Portland) that are the great success stories of the river. Controlling floods and providing water for irrigation, they made the Pacific Northwest a new frontier for farmers seeking relief from the dust bowl of the depression. During WWII, the cheap, clean and abundant hydroelectric power generated by the dams allowed for production of vital war materials such as Aluminum. Thomas Jefferson’s vision of a great empire in the northwest came true, due in large part to the taming of the Columbia River by man.

This course includes a multiple-choice quiz at the end, which is designed to enhance the understanding of the course materials.

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