20 Facts About Willamette River


Rich with sediments deposited by flooding and fed by prolific rainfall on the western side of the Cascades, the Willamette River Valley is one of the most fertile agricultural regions in North America, and was thus the destination of many 19th-century pioneers traveling west along the Oregon Trail.

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Part of the Willamette Floodplain was established as a National Natural Landmark in 1987 and the river was named as one of 14 American Heritage Rivers in 1998.

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At Willamette Falls, between West Linn and Oregon City, the river plunges about 40 feet .

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The ancestral Tualatin Valley, part of the Willamette River basin, flooded as well; water depths ranged from 200 feet at Lake Oswego to 100 feet as far upstream as Forest Grove.

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Watersheds bordering the Willamette River basin are those of the Little Deschutes River to the southeast, the Deschutes River to the east, and the Sandy River to the northeast; the North Umpqua and Umpqua rivers to the south; coastal rivers including the Siuslaw, the Alsea, the Yaquina, the Siletz, the Nestucca, the Trask, and the Wilson to the west; the Nehalem and the Clatskanie to the northwest, and the Columbia River to the north.

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Indigenous peoples of the Willamette Valley were further divided into groups including the Kalapuyan-speaking Yamhill and Atfalati, Central Kalapuya like the Santiam, Muddy Creek, Long Tom, Calapooia, Marys River and Luckiamute, and the Yoncalla or Southern Kalapuya, as well other tribes such as the Chuchsney-Tufti, Siuslaw and Molala.

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The name Willamette River is of indigenous origin, deriving from the French pronunciation of the name of a Clackamas Native American village.

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Willamette River first appears in the records of outsiders in 1792, when it was seen by British Lieutenant William Robert Broughton of the Vancouver Expedition, led by George Vancouver.

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The expedition members noted extensive salmon fishing by natives at Willamette Falls, much like that at Celilo Falls on the Columbia River.

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Oregon City prospered because of the paper mills that were run by the water power of Willamette Falls, but the falls formed an impassable barrier to river navigation.

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In 1873, the construction of the Willamette Falls Locks bypassed the falls and allowed easy navigation between the upper and lower river.

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Skirmishes between natives and settlers in the Umpqua and Rogue valleys to the southwest of the Willamette River led the Oregon state government to remove the natives by military force.

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Between 1879 and 1885, the Willamette River was charted by Cleveland S Rockwell, a topographical engineer and cartographer for the U S Coast and Geodetic Survey.

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In 1998, the Willamette became one of 14 rivers designated an American Heritage River by U S President Bill Clinton.

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The other 11 dams are Big Cliff on the North Santiam River; Green Peter and Foster on the Santiam River; Cougar on the South Fork McKenzie River; Blue River on the Blue River; Fern Ridge on the Long Tom River; Hills Creek, Dexter on the Middle Fork Willamette River; Fall Creek on Fall Creek; Cottage Grove on the Coast Fork Willamette River, and Dorena on the Row River.

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Willamette River crested at one town after another—at Corvallis 3½ feet above flood stage, Oregon City 18 feet above, Portland 10.

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Shortly after he was elected in 1966, Governor Tom McCall ordered water quality tests on the Willamette River, conducted his own research on the water quality, and became head of the Oregon State Sanitary Authority.

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Willamette River regulated how much those companies could pollute and closed plants that did not meet state pollution standards.

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The Willamette River is nevertheless clean enough to be used by cities such as Corvallis and Wilsonville for drinking water.

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Fish in the Willamette River basin include 31 native species, among them cutthroat, bull, and rainbow trout, several species of salmon, sucker, minnow, sculpin, and lamprey, as well as sturgeon, stickleback, and others.

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