Teck smelter spills chemical solution into Columbia River
CBC News Posted: Feb 01, 2014 10:51 AM PT Last Updated: Feb 01, 2014 10:51 AM PT
A mining and smelting company spilled a large volume of chemical solution into a domestic sewer line near Trail, B.C., on Tuesday.
Teck Resources says an incident at the Trail Smelter caused between 12,000 and 25,000 litres of a sodium hydroxide solution to flow into a sewer line. That line leads to the Regional District sewage plant, which discharges into the Columbia River.
“Our initial information indicates that the sewage treatment plant process would have a limited effect on that solution as it passed through the plant and eventually discharged into the Columbia River,” said Teck spokesperson Richard Deane.
The solution is usually treated on-site. The company is investigating how it could have drained into the sewer, but says it does not expect there to be any long-term impact on the river’s aquatic life or surrounding environment.
“We are going to be having a third-party environmental impact assessment conducted to confirm whether there will be any impact as a result of this incident,” Deane said.
Bonneville Dam, in the Columbia River Gorge
|Name origin: Captain Robert Gray’s ship, Columbia Rediviva|
|Nickname: Big River, the River of the West, River Oregon|
|Countries||United States, Canada|
|– left||Spillimacheen River, Beaver River, Illecillewaet River, Incomappleux River, Kootenay River, Pend Oreille River, Spokane River, Snake River, John Day River, Deschutes River, Willamette River|
|– right||Kicking Horse River, Blaeberry River, Canoe River, Kettle River, Sanpoil River, Okanogan River, Wenatchee River, Yakima River, Lewis River, Kalama River, Cowlitz River|
|Cities||Revelstoke, BC, Tri-Cities, WA, Portland, OR, Vancouver, WA, Longview, WA, Astoria, OR|
|– location||British Columbia, Canada|
|– elevation||2,690 ft (820 m) |
|Mouth||Pacific Ocean, at Clatsop County, Oregon / Pacific County, Washington|
|– elevation||0 ft (0 m)|
|Length||1,243 mi (2,000 km) |
|Basin||258,000 sq mi (668,000 km2)|
|Discharge||for mouth (average); max and min at The Dalles, Oregon, 188.9 miles (304.0 km) from the mouth|
|– average||265,000 cu ft/s (7,500 m3/s) |
|– max||1,240,000 cu ft/s (35,100 m3/s)|
|– min||12,100 cu ft/s (300 m3/s)|
|Wikimedia Commons: Columbia River|
The Columbia River is the largest river in the Pacific Northwest region of North America. The river rises in the Rocky Mountains of British Columbia, Canada. It flows northwest and then south into the US state of Washington, then turns west to form most of the border between Washington and the state of Oregon before emptying into the Pacific Ocean. The river is 1,243 miles (2,000 km) long, and its largest tributary is the Snake River. Its drainage basin is roughly the size of France and extends into seven U.S. states and a Canadian province.
By volume, the Columbia is the fourth-largest river in the United States; it has the greatest flow of any North American river draining into the Pacific. The river’s heavy flow and its relatively steep gradient gives it tremendous potential for the generation of electricity. The 14 hydroelectric dams on the Columbia’s main stem and many more on its tributaries produce more hydroelectric power than those of any other North American river.
The Columbia and its tributaries have been central to the region’s culture and economy for thousands of years. They have been used for transportation since ancient times, linking the many cultural groups of the region. The river system hosts many species of anadromous fish, which migrate between freshwater habitats and the saline Pacific Ocean. These fish—especially the salmon species—provided the core subsistence for natives; in past centuries, traders from across western North America traveled to the Columbia to trade for fish.
In the late 18th century, a private American ship became the first non-indigenous vessel to enter the river; it was followed by a British explorer, who navigated past the Oregon Coast Range into the Willamette Valley. In the following decades, fur trading companies used the Columbia as a key transportation route. Overland explorers entered the Willamette Valley through the scenic but treacherous Columbia River Gorge, and pioneers began to settle the valley in increasing numbers, following both routes to enter it. Steamships along the river linked communities and facilitated trade; the arrival of railroads in the late 19th century, many running along the river, supplemented these links.
Since the late 19th century, public and private sectors have heavily developed the river. The development, commonly referred to as taming or harnessing of the river, has been massive and multi-faceted. To aid ship and barge navigation, locks have been built along the lower Columbia and its tributaries, and dredging has opened, maintained, and enlarged shipping channels. Since the early 20th century, dams have been built across the river for the purposes of power generation, navigation, irrigation, and flood control. Today, a dam-impounded reservoir lies along nearly every U.S. mile of the once free-flowing river, and much of the Canadian stretch has been impounded as well. Production of nuclear power has taken place at two sites along the river. Plutonium for nuclear weapons was produced for decades at the Hanford Site, which is now the most contaminated nuclear site in the U.S. All these developments have had a tremendous impact on river environments, perhaps most notably through industrial pollution and barriers to fish migration.
The Columbia begins its 1,243-mile (2,000 km) journey in the southern Rocky Mountain Trench in British Columbia (BC). Columbia Lake – 2,690 feet (820 m) above sea level – and the adjoining Columbia Wetlands form the river’s headwaters. The trench is a broad, deep, and long glacial valley between the Canadian Rockies and the Columbia Mountains in BC. For its first 200 miles (320 km), the Columbia flows northwest along the trench through Windermere Lake and the town of Invermere, a region known in British Columbia as the Columbia Valley, then northwest to Golden and into Kinbasket Lake. Rounding the northern end of the Selkirk Mountains, the river turns sharply south through a region known as the Big Bend Country, passing through Revelstoke Lake and the Arrow Lakes. Revelstoke, the Big Bend, and the Columbia Valley combined are referred to in BC parlance as the Columbia Country. Below the Arrow Lakes, the Columbia passes the cities of Castlegar, located at the Columbia’s confluence with the Kootenay River, and Trail, two major population centers of the West Kootenay region. The Pend Oreille River joins the Columbia about 2 miles (3 km) north of the U.S.–Canada border.
The Columbia enters eastern Washington flowing south and turning to the west at the Spokane River confluence. It marks the southern and eastern borders of the Colville Indian Reservation and the western border of the Spokane Indian Reservation. The river turns south after the Okanogan River confluence, then southeasterly near the confluence with the Wenatchee River in central Washington. This C‑shaped segment of the river is also known as the “Big Bend”. During the Missoula Floods 10,000 to 15,000 years ago, much of the floodwater took a more direct route south, forming the ancient river bed known as the Grand Coulee. After the floods, the river found its present course, and the Grand Coulee was left dry. The construction of the Grand Coulee Dam in the mid-20th century impounded the river, forming Lake Roosevelt, from which water was pumped into the dry coulee, forming the reservoir of Banks Lake.
The river flows past The Gorge Amphitheatre, a prominent concert venue in the Northwest, then through Priest Rapids Dam, and then through the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. Entirely within the reservation is Hanford Reach, the only U.S. stretch of the river that is completely free-flowing, unimpeded by dams and not a tidal estuary. The Snake River and Yakima River join the Columbia in the Tri‑Cities population center. The Columbia makes a sharp bend to the west at the Washington–Oregon border. The river defines that border for the final 309 miles (497 km) of its journey.
The Deschutes River joins the Columbia near The Dalles. Between The Dalles and Portland, the river cuts through the Cascade Range, forming the dramatic Columbia River Gorge. No other river except for the Klamath completely breaches the Cascades—the other rivers that flow through the range also originate in or very near the mountains. The headwaters and upper course of the Pit River flows through much of the Cascades; in contrast the Columbia cuts through the range nearly a thousand miles from its source in the Rocky Mountains. The gorge is known for its strong and steady winds, scenic beauty, and its role as an important transportation link. The river continues west, bending sharply to the north-northwest near Portland and Vancouver, Washington, at the Willamette River confluence. Here the river slows considerably, dropping sediment that might otherwise form a river delta. Near Longview, Washington and the Cowlitz River confluence, the river turns west again. The Columbia empties into the Pacific Ocean just west of Astoria, Oregon, over the Columbia Bar, a shifting sandbar that makes the river’s mouth one of the most hazardous stretches of water to navigate in the world. Because of the danger and the many shipwrecks near the mouth, it acquired a reputation as the “Graveyard of Ships”.
The Columbia drains an area of about 258,000 square miles (670,000 km2). Its drainage basin covers nearly all of Idaho, large portions of British Columbia, Oregon, and Washington, ultimately all of Montana west of the Continental Divide, and small portions of Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada; the total area is similar to the size of France. Roughly 745 miles (1,200 km) of the river’s length and 85 percent of its drainage basin are in the U.S. The Columbia is the twelfth-longest river and has the sixth-largest drainage basin in the United States. In Canada, where the Columbia flows for 498 miles (801 km) and drains 39,700 square miles (103,000 km2), the river ranks 23rd in length, and its basin ranks 13th in size. The Columbia shares its name with nearby places, such as British Columbia, as well as with landforms and bodies of water.
With an average flow at the mouth of about 265,000 cubic feet per second (7,500 m3/s), the Columbia is the largest river by volume flowing into the Pacific from North America and is the fourth-largest by volume in the U.S. The average flow where the river crosses the international border between Canada and the United States is 99,000 cubic feet per second (2,800 m3/s) from a drainage basin of 39,700 square miles (103,000 km2). This amounts to about 15 percent of the entire Columbia watershed. The Columbia’s highest recorded flow, measured at The Dalles, was 1,240,000 cubic feet per second (35,000 m3/s) in June 1894, before the river was dammed. The lowest flow recorded at The Dalles was 12,100 cubic feet per second (340 m3/s) on April 16, 1968, and was caused by the initial closure of the John Day Dam, 28 miles (45 km) upstream. The Dalles is about 190 miles (310 km) from the mouth; the river at this point drains about 237,000 square miles (610,000 km2) or about 91 percent of the total watershed. Flow rates on the Columbia are affected by many large upstream reservoirs, many diversions for irrigation, and, on the lower stretches, reverse flow from the tides of the Pacific Ocean. The National Weather Service issues tide forecasts for eight places along the river between Astoria and the base of Bonneville Dam.