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Physical Character

The Willamette River is one of the major geographic features in the State of Oregon. Running nearly 200 miles along its mainstem, the Willamette courses from forested foothills to the open bottomlands of the Willamette Valley. Here the river pushes past strongholds of floodplain cottonwood forests, flows through cities large and small, and past grass seed farms that cover the valley floor.

Cities nestle against the river, from Eugene and Springfield in the south, to Corvallis, Albany, and Salem in the mid-valley, to Portland in the north. Counting the myriad tributary rivers that flow into the Willamette, the river’s “watershed” drains from the Cascade Mountains in the east and the Coast Range Mountains in the west. The Willamette watershed extends about 100 miles from south to north, encompassing some 11,500 square miles.

The variation found along the way provides for an abundance of scenery, but also affords an understanding of the issues that affect the health of the Willamette River and tributaries. From the destruction of riparian forests, to dams affecting the flow and fish passage on many tributaries, and to the impact of cities, agriculture and industry—the needs of healthy habitat and water quality are many.

A Few Facts

  • The River is 187 miles in length.

  • Average flow is 32,000 cubic feet per second.

  • 1996 Flood flow was 460,000 cubic feet per second.

  • 13 US Army Corps dams and multiple private dams on tributaries.

  • Most Willamette River watershed residents live within a 20 minute drive of the river.

  • The majority of Oregon’s population (upward of 70%) lives in the Willamette River watershed.



Physical Character