The Columbia River is the largest stream in western United States. Above The Dalles, Oregon, it drains an area of 237,000 square miles, of which 39,000 square miles is in Canada. This area is largely mountainous and lies between the Rocky Mountains and the Cascade Range. The Kootenai, Pend Oreille, and Snake Rivers are the principal tributaries. Precipitation varies from 7 inches near Kennewick, Wash. to over 100 inches in some of the mountainous regions. Most of the runoff occurs in the spring and summer months as a result of melting snow. Precipitation is generally light during the summer months, and irrigation is necessary for sustained crop production.
Historical data indicate that irrigation in the Columbia River basin began prior to 1840 at the site of missions established near Walla Walla, Wash. and Lewiston, Idaho. During the next half century the increase in irrigated area was slow and by 1890 included only 506,000 acres. The period 1890 to 1910 was marked by phenomenal increase to a total of 2,276,000 acres in 1910. Since that time there has been more gradual addition to a total of 4,004,S00 acres of irrigated land in 1946 in the Columbia River basin above The Dalles, Oreg. Of this total 918,000 acres were located in the Columbia Basin above the mouth of the Snake River; 2,830,000 acres in the Snake River basin, and the balance, 256,000 acres below the mouth of the Snake River.
Values of net consumptive use were determined or estimated for various tributary basins of the Columbia River basin and compared to available experimental data. These values were then used to compute the average depletion which could be directly attributed to irrigation. The yield of a drainage basin was considered to be the rum of the ob- served runoff and the estimated depletion. For purposes of comparison, the depletion was expressed both in terms of acre-feet and as a percentage of the yield of the basin. This percentage depletion varied from less than 1 percent for many tributary basins to 53 percent for the portion of the Snake River basin between Heise and King Hill, Idaho. For the Columbia River near The Dalles, Oreg., the average depletion during the period 1921 through 1945, amounted to 4,7 percent of the yield and the depletion represented by the 1946 stage of irrigation development amounted to 5.3 percent of the long-term yield.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Irrigation and streamflow depletion in Columbia River basin above The Dalles, Oregon