Columbia River

About the Columbia River: Above Grand Coulee Dam

Photo of Grand Coulee Dam
Grand Coulee Dam

The free-flowing headwaters of the Columbia River are located in the Canadian Rockies where snowmelt and spring water fill Columbia Lake near British Columbia's border with Alberta. From the headwaters, the river flows 600 miles downstream and swells behind Grand Coulee Dam. Grand Coulee is the first of 14 dams along the Columbia River.

Below are summaries of key EPA projects in the upper part of the Columbia River basin, from the U.S.-Canada border to Grand Coulee Dam.

Upper Columbia River Contamination Investigation

EPA and other studies have found contamination in sediment in the upper Columbia River from past industrial practices, including heavy metals and other pollution like dioxins and furans. A large metal smelter in Trail, British Columbia, is a primary source of metal contamination to the site. Teck Cominco, owner and operator of the smelter, is funding and leading parts of an environmental investigation under EPA's oversight. The investigation extends from the U.S.-Canada border to the Grand Coulee Dam, and includes surrounding upland areas in northeast Washington.

Bunker Hill Superfund Site

The Bunker Hill Mining and Metallurgical Superfund Site, located in northern Idaho and eastern Washington, was listed on the Superfund National Priorities List in 1983. It's one of the most vast and complex Superfund sites in the U.S., within one of the largest historical mining districts in the world. The site includes mining-contaminated areas in the Coeur d'Alene River corridor, adjacent floodplains, downstream water bodies, tributaries, and fill areas. It also encompasses the 21 square mile Bunker Hill "Box", located in the area surrounding the historical smelter operation.

Spokane River Regional Toxics Task Force

The Spokane River Regional Task Force is a cooperative effort between EPA and other government agencies, private industries and environmental organizations to reduce urban sources of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) in the Spokane River. The Task Force is developing a comprehensive plan to bring the Spokane River into compliance with Washington's water quality standards for PCBs.

Even though production of PCBs was banned in the U.S. in 1979, they remain in the environment long after they were first introduced and build up in the food chain. This means people can be exposed to increased levels of PCBs by eating fish that have accumulated PCBs in their tissue.