The Columbia River was once a wild river, full of salmon. The river runs through the U.S. states of Oregon and Washington. It also winds through the Canadian province of British Columbia. 

 

These days, the  1,954-kilometer (1,214-mile) river is much calmer than it used to me. Dams have chopped the once mighty Columbia into a series of peaceful lakes and ponds. As water passes through a dam, blades inside create electricity. This slows the water.

 

The Bonneville Dam was built in 1938. It was the first major manmade change to the Columbia River. The Bonneville Dam is actually a series of several dams. These dams link Oregon and Washington. The dam was built for two reasons. It provides electricity to people who live nearby, and it makes the river easier for boats to navigate.

 

Grand Coulee Holds A Record

 

Other dams were built on the Columbia, including the huge Grand Coulee Dam in Washington. It is the largest concrete structure in the United States. Currently, there are 14 major dams on the main part of the Columbia River.

 

The dams on the Columbia create more than half of the area's electricity. The dams also make it possible for boats to travel 748 kilometers (465 miles) up the Columbia River, from the Pacific Ocean all the way to Idaho.

 

Salmon Runs

 

The dams have caused trouble for the river's ecosystem, especially the Columbia's salmon. Jeff Hickman used to be an organizer for the Sierra Club, which works to protect the environment. He says the area was once very healthy. "It had the largest population of fish on the planet," Hickman says

 

The Columbia was once a fast-moving waterway. The dams broke it into smaller pieces, with slower currents and warmer water. Hickman says the warmer temperature puts more stress on migrating fish. It also means there are more predators that eat those fish.

 

The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission represents the region's Native American population. Bob Heinith is their water program coordinator. Heinith says the dams prevent fish from getting upstream. He says about two-thirds of the area that fish can live in has been cut off by the dams.

 

Fish Ladders

 

Fish ladders were built at many of the dams. These allow salmon to get past the dams and continue upstream to lay eggs. The fish ladders are like steps that water flows down. They create a series of shallow waterfalls. Dams are often impossible for fish to pass. Though the salmon are able to get upstream using these fish ladders. 

 

Once the fish are born, they must head back downstream to the ocean. The Bonneville Power Administration is the group that handles electricity made by the dams. It has tried to help the young fish get back downstream. The dams' blades have been made less dangerous to fish. There is also a path that allows the fish to swim around the blades entirely.

 

During salmon migrations, water is spilled over the top of the dams. This imitates how the river used to flow. The dams create less electricity, but it is better for the fish.

 

Sea Lions

 

Sea lions have learned that they can travel up the Columbia River from the Pacific Ocean. There are many salmon at the base of Bonneville Dam. The sea lions can feast on them there. To deal with the problem, the U.S. Army engineers and the states of Washington and Oregon scare away the sea lions with firecrackers and rubber bullets. 

 

The Sierra Club says that the Bonneville Power Administration's efforts have helped. They wonder if the dams are worth all the extra time and money, though. 

 

"There's no doubt it's helping, but you have to weigh out the costs," Hickman says. 

 

Fish Tale
The Bonneville Dam is part of the border between Oregon and Washington.
angler
Noun

person who fishes.

Army Corps of Engineers
Noun

government organization concerned with construction projects.

barge
Noun

large, flat-bottomed boat used to transport cargo.

base
Noun

bottom layer of a structure.

Bonneville Dam
Noun

series of hydroelectric dams and locks across the Columbia River in the U.S. states of Oregon and Washington.

Bonneville Power Administration
Noun

government agency that distributes electricity produced by dams on the Columbia River.

bypass
Verb

to go around or skip.

clamp down on
Verb

to strictly limit or control.

Noun

dark, solid fossil fuel mined from the earth.

Columbia River
Noun

(1,955 kilometers/1,214 miles) river in western Canada and the U.S., draining into the Pacific Ocean.

comply
Verb

to obey.

concrete
Noun

hard building material made from mixing cement with rock and water.

conflict
Noun

a disagreement or fight, usually over ideas or procedures.

congregate
Verb

to gather.

controversial
Noun

questionable or leading to argument.

dam
Noun

structure built across a river or other waterway to control the flow of water.

determine
Verb

to decide.

dine
Verb

to eat.

domesticate
Verb

to tame or adapt for human use.

downstream
Noun

in the direction of a flow, toward its end.

Noun

community and interactions of living and nonliving things in an area.

electricity
Noun

set of physical phenomena associated with the presence and flow of electric charge.

enhance
Verb

to add to or increase in worth.

erect
Verb

to build or raise.

euthanize
Verb

to put to death.

firecracker
Noun

noisemaking device made of a tube filled with explosive material.

fish ladder
Noun

series of steps overflowing with water, where fish can migrate upstream around a barrier such as a dam.

fish run
Noun

migration pattern for a species of fish, including route and the number of fish.

froth
Verb

to foam or produce many tiny bubbles.

Grand Coulee Dam
Noun

hydroelectric dam on the Columbia River in the U.S. state of Washington.

Noun

environment where an organism lives throughout the year or for shorter periods of time.

havoc
Noun

violent destruction.

hydroelectric power
Noun

usable energy generated by moving water converted to electricity.

imitate
Verb

to copy the style of something.

impassable
Adjective

not possible to pass through.

implement
Verb

to carry out plans.

initially
Adverb

at first.

Noun

type of plant or animal that is not indigenous to a particular area and causes economic or environmental harm.

juvenile
Noun

animal that is no longer a baby but has not reached sexual maturity.

lock
Noun

structure on a waterway where gates at each end allow the water level to raise and lower as they are opened and closed.

maintain
Verb

to continue, keep up, or support.

migrate
Verb

to move from one place or activity to another.

National Marine Fisheries Service
Noun

U.S. agency responsible for marine resources and habitats.

Native American
Noun

person whose ancestors were native inhabitants of North or South America. Native American usually does not include Eskimo or Hawaiian people.

Noun

type of fossil fuel made up mostly of the gas methane.

navigable
Adjective

able for vessels to steer through.

operate
Verb

to control or manage.

placid
Adjective

calm.

predatory
Adjective

killing other animals for food.

Noun

natural or man-made lake.

robust
Adjective

healthy and strong.

rubber bullet
Noun

hard-plastic ammunition fired from a normal or specialized firearm.

salmon
Noun

cold-water fish hunted for food and game.

sea lion
Noun

marine mammal.

Sierra Club
Noun

U.S. organization that promotes the protection of wildlife and wildlife habitat.

significant
Adjective

important or impressive.

sluiceway
Noun

artificial water channel whose flow can be controlled.

spawn
Verb

to give birth to.

spilling
Noun

process of intentionally spilling water over the tops of dams.

Noun

stream that feeds, or flows, into a larger stream.

turbine
Noun

machine that captures the energy of a moving fluid, such as air or water.

upstream
Adjective

toward an elevated part of a flow of fluid, or place where the fluid passed earlier.

Noun

flow of water descending steeply over a cliff. Also called a cascade.

Noun

entire river system or an area drained by a river and its tributaries.

whitewater
Noun

fast-moving parts of a river.

wreak
Verb

to inflict or bring about something painful.

yoke
Noun

device for joining two draft animals, such as oxen, together at their necks.