Merkley, Wyden Move Columbia River Restoration Act Forward

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Oregon’s Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden announced that the Columbia River Restoration Act is moving forward as part of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA), which is expected to pass the Senate as soon as this week. The legislation was added to WRDA as part of a broader amendment agreed to by Democratic and Republican leaders on the Environment and Public Works Committee.

“For Oregonians, the Columbia River is not just an iconic landscape—it’s a crucial part of both our environment and economy,” said Merkley. “A clean Columbia River is essential for the health of our communities and for the strength of our fishing and recreation industries, and I’ll keep pushing to get this legislation across the finish line.”

“The Columbia River is a cornerstone of our cultural history, used for commerce, fishing, recreation and agriculture. The Pacific Northwest relies on this vital resource remaining clean and healthy to meet our needs,” Wyden said. “I am proud to work on preserving and protecting the Columbia River as it continues to be the environmental and economic lifeblood of our region.”

The legislation would authorize the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish a voluntary, competitive Columbia Basin grants program for projects that assist in eliminating or reducing pollution, cleaning up contaminated sites, improving water quality, monitoring the basin, and promoting citizen engagement. 

Toxins are present throughout the Columbia Basin, and are harmful to humans, fish, and wildlife. These contaminants make their way into fish tissue and can be dangerous to humans if consumed. Some of these toxins are known to cause cancer and have been linked with neurological, developmental, and reproductive problems, including birth defects and learning disabilities.   

The Columbia River is the largest river in the Pacific Northwest, and the only large aquatic ecosystem in the United States that currently receives no dedicated funding to clean up and monitor toxic chemicals. It is 1,243 miles long and its drainage basin extends into seven states. Approximately eight million people inhabit the Basin, including members of several Tribal nations and angling groups who frequently fish in its waters. Historically, the Columbia and its tributaries have constituted the largest salmon-producing river system in the world, with annual returns peaking at 16 million fish.

The Columbia River Restoration Act is supported by a diverse group of stakeholders including the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership, Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, and Salmon-Safe.