Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Located between the states of Oregon and Washington, Celilo Falls was a unique natural feature formed by the relentless push of the Columbia River through basalt-laden narrows east of the Cascade Mountains, onward towards the Pacific Ocean—the final leg of the river's 1,152 mile (1,857 km) journey. During periods of high water or flood, it was noted that nearly one million cubic feet of water per second (CFS) would pass over the falls, creating a tremendous roar that could be heard many miles away. For comparison, the flow of Niagara Falls, between New York State and Ontario, Canada averages approximately 200,000 CFS. Celilo falls itself was part of a series of abrupt drops and undulations along what was called Five Mile Rapids, an area stretching from Celilo Village to The Dalles, Oregon.
For millennia native peoples had come to Celilo to fish and trade goods. Artifacts retrieved from the original village site suggest that tribes from as far away as the Great Plains, Southwestern United States, and Alaska gathered here, and that the site had been occupied continuously for at least 10,000 years. When Lewis and Clark passed through in 1805 they were struck by the variety or peoples gathered at Celilo, noting a “great emporium...where all the neighboring nations assemble”. They also wrote of the high population density in this region, which exceeded anything they had seen prior on their journey west. Appropriately, many historians liken the area around Ceilio as once being the “Wall Street of the West”. A mere fifty years after Lewis and Clark wrote of the falls, immigrants on wooden barges loaded with wagons traversed the waters of the Columbia; many lost their lives in the violent currents near Celilo.
The 20th century brought great changes, not only for the falls but those who had come to rely on them as a source of livelihood. The first such change came in 1913 when the Army Corps of Engineers built the Dalles-Celilo canal , a portage circumventing the turbulent falls. As river traffic increased during the 1930’s on the Columbia, so did the push for creation of a faster more navigable route through the Celilo area. After a series of Congressional hearings, it was decided that treaties set forth in 1855 protecting tribal fishing rites would not be impinged upon by a plan to increase water level by constructing a dam below Celilo. Subsequently, a monetary settlement was reached between the U.S. government and the affected tribes. In 1952 the Army Corps of Engineers commenced work on The Dalles Dam, completing it by early 1957. On March 10, 1957 under a placid blue sky, as hundreds of observers looked on, a rising Lake Celilo rapidly silenced the falls, submerged fishing platforms, and consumed the village of Celilo, ending an age-old existence for those who lived there.
The Dalles Dam was often touted as providing much needed power for industry (predominately aluminum plants) and surplus power for an ever growing post-war population of the Northwestern United States. And, indeed, it has reached that end—now an important member of the Bonneville Power Administration’s network of hydroelectric dams, which supply electricity to places as far away as Southern California. However, the original driving force for the placement of a dam above The Dalles was not energy production, but rather the creation of slackwater for barges moving goods from interior regions of Oregon, Washington and Idaho to the Pacific.
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