Willamette Falls

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Willamette Falls
Willamette Falls from Oregon City.jpg
Location Oregon City / West Linn, Clackamas County, Oregon, U.S.
Coordinates 45°21′09″N 122°37′03″W / 45.35239°N 122.61763°W / 45.35239; -122.61763Coordinates: 45°21′09″N 122°37′03″W / 45.35239°N 122.61763°W / 45.35239; -122.61763
Type block
Total height 40 ft (12 m)
Number of drops 1
Average
flow rate
30,849 cu ft/s (874 m3/s)

The Willamette Falls is a natural waterfall on the Willamette River between Oregon City and West Linn, Oregon, in the United States. It is the largest waterfall in the American Pacific Northwest by volume, and the seventeenth widest in the world.[1] Horseshoe in shape, it is 1,500 feet (460 m) wide and 40 feet (12 m) high with a flow of 30,849 cu ft/s (874 m³/s), located 26 miles (42 km) upriver from the Willamette's mouth.

Until 2011 a canal and set of locks allowed vessels to pass into the main Willamette Valley. Those locks are now closed.

Human history[edit]

Native American legends taught that the falls were placed there by a great god so that their people would have fish to eat all winter.[2] Many local tribes built villages in the area because of the abundance of salmon that could only pass the falls at certain water levels. Native Americans still harvest Pacific Lamprey at the falls each year in the early summer. Willamette Falls is a traditional fishing site for the Warm Springs Indians as well as other tribes.

It was first discovered by European fur traders in 1810. John McLoughlin established a land claim at the falls in the name of the Hudson's Bay Company in 1829.[3] Oregon City was established in 1842 near the east end of the falls. The town of Linn City was founded on the western shore one year later in 1843. The two towns competed economically, vying for the lucrative steamboat traffic and the trade it generated. With the falls representing the end of the line for boat traffic, river boat captains were forced to choose a side of the river on which they would dock to unload their passengers and goods; some of which would continue their upriver journey on winding portage toll roads. Competition between the towns was fierce until the winter of 1861, which saw one of Oregon's worst natural disasters occur in the form of catastrophic flooding. Oregon City was inundated and badly damaged, but the unluckier Linn City was obliterated.

Navigating past the falls was not possible until the completion of the Willamette Falls Locks in 1873. During construction of the locks, channels were blasted from the very rocks that formerly supported the town of Linn City. Along with the locks, the modern city of West Linn sits on a portion of the former town site. The locks were sold by the Willamette Falls Canal and Locks Company to the United States Army Corps of Engineers in 1915.

Modern history[edit]

The falls in 2009 from the east with West Linn in the background

The Willamette Falls Electric Company (later renamed Portland General Electric) was formed in 1888 to build a hydro-electric generation facility at the falls. Four turbine driven dynamos were built on the east end of the falls. A 14-mile (23-kilometre) long transmission line to Portland was built, becoming 1889 the United States' first long distance transmission of electrical energy.[4][5] In 1895 Portland General Electric built a second generation station on the west side of the falls. The newer plant, Station B, is still in operation with a capacity of 14,000 kilowatts. The old plant is currently part of the Blue Heron Paper Company.

The falls have been home to several paper mills beginning with the Oregon City Paper Manufacturing Co. in 1866. The Willamette Pulp and Paper Co. opened on the West Linn side during 1889. The ownership of the mills has changed several times. The last two remaining mills in 2011 were owned by the West Linn Paper Company and the Blue Heron Paper Company, but the latter closed its mill in February 2011. The Blue Heron site is in the process of being auctioned off, for redevelopment. The milling facilities were sold to a Canadian investment firm, NRI Global, Inc., which has begun work removing the old machinery and cleaning the grounds of contamination.[6] An agreement for the sale of the site itself was announced in June 2013,[7] but later fell apart.[8]

The industrialization of the area led to diminishing salmon and steelhead runs, prompting the construction of a fish ladder in 1882. A new fish ladder, built in 1971, is currently operated by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The estimated spring chinook salmon run for 2007 is 52,000.[9] The industrialization has also precluded public access to the base of the waterfall for well over a century.

Details[edit]

The falls is a horseshoe shaped block waterfall caused by a basalt shelf in the river floor. The 40 ft (12 m) high and 1500 ft (457 m) wide falls occur 26 river miles (42 km) upstream from the Willamette's confluence with the Columbia River. Operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the lock is a four lock canal and is the oldest continuous operating, multiple lift navigation canal in the United States.

The public can view the falls from viewpoints on the bluffs of Oregon City, from a signed viewpoint along Highway 99E, from the Oregon City Bridge, from a viewpoint on northbound I-205, or from boats in the river.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "World's Largest Waterfalls". World Waterfall Database. 
  2. ^ "A Legend: Tallapus and the Hyas Tyee Tumwater (Willamette Falls)". Based on "The Reminiscences of Louis Labonte" in the Oregon Historical Quarterly, 1901. Oregon Historical Quarterly. Retrieved 2012. 
  3. ^ "The City on Willamette Falls". End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. 
  4. ^ "Power Generation". Northwest RiverPartners. 
  5. ^ "PGE - 2/5/04 News Release". Portland General Electric. 
  6. ^ Case, Elizabeth (August 4, 2013 (online date August 3)). "Mill runoff gets a cleanup: With a compost wall and rainwater gardens, metals from Blue Heron mill won't contaminate Willamette". The Sunday Oregonian. p. B1. Retrieved August 8, 2013. 
  7. ^ Mayes, Steve (June 25, 2013). "California developer to purchase historic site of Blue Heron Paper mill in Oregon City". The Oregonian. Retrieved August 8, 2013. 
  8. ^ Mayes, Steve (February 3, 2014). "Langley Investment Properties drops bid to buy Blue Heron paper mill site". The Oregonian. Retrieved February 9, 2014. 
  9. ^ "2007 Willamette Spring Chinook Catch and Falls Counts". Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. 

External links[edit]