The Willamette River

The city of Portland, Oregon is reflected upon the peaceful waters of the Willamette River.

5. Description

The Willamette River is said to be one of the most important tributaries of the Columbia River, and is one of the most important water bodies to be seen flowing through the state of Oregon in the United States. The river also accounts for some 15% of the flow into the Columbia River, with the Willamette River itself having an approximate length of 190 miles. The Willamette River flows in the southern to northern direction of the Oregon and Cascade Ranges, respectively, and forms the Willamette Valley between them. This basin area is rich in sedimentary deposit, which are mostly found in the area because of the rainfall and flooding in the region. These are said to be part of one the most fertile regions found in all of North America.

4. Historical Role

The Willamette River Valley was habitated by the Chinook, Clackamas and the Kalapuya peoples, who lived in the area for as long as approximately 10,000 years ago. These people were further divided into smaller subgroups, including the Molala, Santiam, Muddy Creek, and Long Tom tribes of Native Americans. The dialect spoken by many of these people were actually from the Kalapuya language. The main occupation of the people who were living in the area was fishing so as to maintain their sustenance and economic stability. However, the Chinooks, who were among the early inhabitants of the area, used to practice slavery, and had a form of social caste system as well. The Willamette River was first made known to Europeans during the Vancouver Expedition, whose leader was English Royal Navy officer George Vancouver.

3. Modern Significance

If we look forward to the significance of the river from then until now, there have been some approximately 20 major dams built on the river and its tributaries, as well as a series of dikes, channels, and levees which were made to control the flow of the water and mitigate flooding. These dams are said to be meant for power generation, flood control, and water storage alike, and serve as one of the most important sources of hydroelectric power in the region. Many bridges worth seeing are also to be found in the area, and these include Van Buren Street Bridge in Corvallis, Oregon, a steel swing Bridge which was built over the Willamette there in 1913.

2. Habitat and Biodiversity

The Willamette River possesses rich habitat features which are actually hundreds of years old, but have undergone a significant change as the region has become economically developed. The forest mainland area accounts for approximately around 37% of the river valley, and covers the area with Oregon ash, Black Cottonwood, and willows. A species of asters known as Willamette Fleabanes can also be seen flowering in the area. The native river is the main source of fishing, and it includes a variety of native species which are approximately 31 in number, and these include the "vulnerable" Bull trout, Rainbow trout, various species of salmon, and lampreys. There are also non-native species which are approximately 29 in number in the waters of the rive, and these include Carp, Bluegill, and Large-mouth basses. The other species included among the list of those found on land in the area are Ospreys, American Dippers, Beavers, and Garter Snakes.

1. Environmental Threats and Territorial Disputes

As the population is on the rise in and around the Willamette River Basin area, it has actually become a ground for increasing human activities which have saw increased disposal of both human and industrial wastes, with some leaching into the area's waters. The river is also being exploited to ever greater extents for commercial uses, and especially in the case of the areas in around such large cities as Salem, Portland, and Albany. Even the industrial plants that have opened near the river area are an important cause of pollution therein, and as a result many local feel it is not fit for drinking water purposes.


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