Lower Columbia River GRP

  • Open for full update (contact Max Gordon)
  • Last full update: June 2015
  • Interim update: November 2020

Table of Contents


Site Description

This section provides a description of the area’s physical features, hydrology, climate and winds, and includes an overview of oil spill risks in the Lower Columbia River area. The planning area includes a 145-mile section of the Columbia River from the Bonneville Dam to the estuary at the river mouth. Also included is the lower Willamette River, which is a 26-mile reach from the Willamette Falls at West Linn/Oregon City, Oregon to the confluence with the Columbia at Portland’s most northern point. The Columbia River travels 1,243 miles, originating in British Columbia, Canada and running through Washington, serving as the border between Washington and Oregon before eventually entering the Pacific Ocean. The NOAA river mile system used in this GRP begins at the confluence of the river with the Pacific. The Lower Columbia River GRP starts at river mile one and ends at the base of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Bonneville Lock and Dam located at river mile 145. Upstream to downstream, the Columbia River in this planning area passes through the towns and cities of North Bonneville (WA), Skamania (WA), Corbett (OR), Washougal (WA), Troutdale (OR), Camas (WA), Fairview (OR), Gresham (OR), Vancouver (WA), Portland (OR), St. Helens (OR), Ridgefield (WA), Columbia City (OR), Kalama (WA), Prescott (OR), Rainier (OR), Longview (WA), Kelso (WA), Cathlamet (WA), Astoria (OR), Chinook (WA), Warrenton (OR), and Ilwaco (WA). The planning area falls in 5 Washington counties (Skamania, Clark, Cowlitz, Wahkiakum and Pacific) and 4 Oregon counties (Multnomah, Columbia, Clatsop and Clackamas). In Washington, it includes portions of Water Resource Inventory Area (WRIA) 24 (Willapa), WRIA-25 (Grays-Elochoman), WRIA-26 (Cowlitz), WRIA-27 (Lewis), and WRIA-28 (Salmon-Washougal).

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Physical Features

The lower portion of the Columbia River contains an extensive variety of fish, wildlife, and habitat. It is also subject to much industrial use along its shorelines, and accommodates large commercial vessels and significant other vessel traffic. As a result, this area is highly vulnerable to environmental damage by oil or hazardous materials spills.

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Terrain varies from sandy beaches to intermittent rocky areas of rip-rap and intertidal zones with steep cliffs that have limited or no access. The varied stretches of sandy beach generally see significant human use. Portions of the riverbank are steep, with completely inaccessible rocky cliffs. Other areas are rocky intertidal to cobble type beaches. There are many mid-stream rocks and sand islands that provide bird rookeries and marine mammal haulouts. Interspersed along both the Columbia and Willamette rivers are many small freshwater drainages. Many species of wildlife in a variety of stages of development use of the Columbia River and lower Willamette River waterways throughout the year. As a result there are many major wildlife refuges and state parks located between the Portland/Vancouver area and the Pacific Ocean.

The outflow of the Columbia River forms a vast estuary. This estuary is a meeting point between saltwater and fresh water and the surrounding land, and the resulting fragile environment is characterized by highly variable physical, chemical, and biological conditions. These variable conditions allow organisms from saltwater, fresh water and land to proliferate with great abundance and diversity. Components of this estuary include tidelands, salt marshes, sand spits, uplands, and river channels, all of which interact to create a highly productive habitat.

In addition to the miles of sandy beaches and its sensitive estuary, the Columbia River has its flow augmented by confluences with the following creeks and rivers:

  • Hamilton Creek – Approximately 142 miles east of the Columbia River mouth
  • Sandy River – Approximately 121 miles east of the Columbia River mouth
  • Washougal River – Approximately 121 miles east of the Columbia River mouth
  • Willamette River – Approximately 102 miles east of the Columbia River mouth
  • Lake River – Approximately 88 miles east of the Columbia River mouth
  • Lewis River – Approximately 85.5 miles east of the Columbia River mouth
  • Kalama River – Approximately 73 miles east of the Columbia River mouth
  • Cowlitz River – Approximately 68 miles east of the Columbia River mouth
  • Mill/Germany/Abernathy Creeks – Approximately 55 miles east of the Columbia River mouth
  • Clatskanie River – Approximately 50 miles east of the Columbia River mouth
  • Elochoman River – Approximately 41 miles east of the Columbia River mouth
  • Skamokawa Creek – Approximately 33 miles east of the Columbia River mouth
  • Big Creek – Approximately 28 miles east of the Columbia River mouth
  • Crooked Creek – Approximately 23 miles east of the Columbia River mouth in Grays Bay
  • Grays River – Approximately 22.5 miles east of the Columbia River mouth in Grays Bay
  • Deep River – Approximately 21 miles east of the Columbia River mouth in Grays Bay
  • John Day River – Approximately 18 miles east of the Columbia River mouth
  • Youngs River – Approximately 13.5 miles east of the Columbia River mouth in Youngs Bay
  • Lewis and Clark River – Approximately 13 miles east of the Columbia River mouth In Youngs Bay
  • Chinook River – Approximately 5 miles east of the Columbia River mouth in Baker Bay
  • Wallacut River – Approximately 4 miles east of the Columbia River mouth in Baker Bay

Significant tributaries to the Willamette River include:

  • Clackamas River – Approximately 25 miles south of the Willamette River mouth
  • Oswego Creek – Approximately 21 miles south of the Willamette River mouth
  • Johnson Creek – Approximately 19 miles south of the Willamette River mouth
  • Kellogg Creek – Approximately 19 miles south of the Willamette River mouth

This additional water volume, along with the natural water disturbances created by the variances of the riverbank and current flow, create numerous rips, back eddies, and still waters. These cause spilled oil to concentrate at various points along the rivers. Oil will also tend to strand at the high water line on a falling tide and on the outside of bends.

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Columbia River

In contrast to the Middle Columbia River GRP just to the east of the Bonneville Dam, the Lower Columbia River’s planning area hydrology is more dynamic due to the confluence with the ocean and the lack of controls seen in the static pools upstream. The Bonneville Pool rests at an average elevation of 76.5 feet above mean sea level during normal dam operations. The water’s transition from the pool through the spillways of the Bonneville Dam mark the farthest upstream reach of this GRP. In terms of hydrologic flow, the dam is the only manmade control point on the lower section on the Columbia River (not including its tributaries). From the dam, river flow travels down unimpeded to sea level, where it meets the ocean. This flow is made up of drainage for approximately 258,000 sq. miles of the Western United States and British Columbia (USGS). The confluence of the saltwater and freshwater ecosystems in the Columbia River delta mouth creates a dynamic transitory zone that is dictated by tides and current. The implication of this interaction is discussed further in Section 2.5. The average yearly discharge at the mouth of the river is around 244 billion cubic meters.

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Willamette River

For this section of the GRP, the planning area stretches from Willamette Falls to the Columbia River. The junction between the Willamette and Columbia Rivers is located at the northern most point of Portland (Columbia River mile 101) and is at an elevation of 10 feet above sea level. Willamette Falls is at an elevation of 100 feet above sea level, with a 40 foot drop. Of the Columbia’s combined average annual flow, the Willamette contributes 15% to the total (Robbins 2019).

Washington State Water Resource Inventory Areas (WRIAs)

Portions of (WRIA-24, Willapa), WRIA-25 (Grays-Elochoman), WRIA-26 (Cowlitz), WRIA-27 (Lewis), and WRIA-28 (Salmon-Washougal) fall within the planning area. Most of the precipitation within all five WRIAs arrives during the winter months, when water demands are the lowest. During the summer, the snowpack is gone, there is little rain, and naturally low stream flows are dependent on groundwater inflow. This means that groundwater and surface water are least available when water demands are the highest. Only a fraction of the annual precipitation in each area becomes groundwater that’s available for human and economic uses.

WRIA 24 (Willapa): Located on the Washington coast and making up the northern section of the Columbia River mouth, this watershed receives 60 to 140 inches of precipitation a year (ranging from the coastal lowlands to the Willapa Hills). There is a shallow water table and seawater intrusion is an issue.

WRIA 25 (Grays-Elochoman): Located between Highway 401 to the city of Longview. This watershed receives 60 to 100 inches of precipitation a year (ranging from the Columbia River lowlands to the Willapa Hills).

WRIA 26 (Cowlitz): Located around the Cowlitz River mouth on the Columbia River, this watershed encompasses the Cowlitz and its tributaries upstream. It receives 40 to 120 inches of annual precipitation (ranging from the lower Cowlitz Valley to the Cascade Mountains).

WRIA 27 (Lewis): Located along the bank of the Columbia between just north of Kalama and south of Ridgefield. The watershed receives 40 to 150 inches of annual precipitation (ranging from the Columbia River bank to the Cascade Mountains).

WRIA 28 (Salmon-Washougal): Follows the river bank south from Ridgefield, through Vancouver and east to the Bonneville Dam. The watershed received 40 to 80 inches of annual precipitation (ranging from the Portland metropolitan area to the beginning of the Columbia River Gorge).

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Climate and Winds

The entire coast is characterized by a maritime climate with cool summers and mild winters. Air temperatures are in the mid 40s in the winter and the low 60s in the summer. The temperature increases inland, with Portland having an average high in the upper 70s during the summer and upper 40s in the winter. Water temperatures are fairly constant, normally in the low 50’s. Annual rainfall varies between Astoria and Portland. Astoria averages 67.26” per year and Portland averages 36.03” per year (Astoria Regional Airport, OR US; Portland International Airport, OR US).

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The northern coast can be affected by strong winds, at times in excess of 100 miles per hour. These winds typically come from the north to northwest in the summer and the southeast to east in the winter. During the summer, the predominant wind direction is from the northwest with speeds ranging from 10 to 15 knots. However maximum peak wind gusts range from 30 to 40 knots. The mean wave heights are about 4.9 feet with maximum heights of 14.7 feet. In the winter, the winds are primarily from the east to southeast at 10 to 15 knots with maximum peak wind gusts ranging from about 55 to 65 knots. Average wave heights are 4.9 feet with maximum wave heights of 32.8 feet. In particular, the coastal mountain range deflects winds so that they tend to flow parallel to the coastline. In areas with lower mountains, this effect may not be as prominent. Winds in Astoria and Portland have an annual mean velocity of 8 knots with directions varying throughout the year.

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Tides and Currents

Water levels and velocities in the Lower Columbia River are a function of several factors: seasonal runoff, tidal effects, and the volume of water released by upstream dams.

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Risk Assessment

The Lower Columbia River area is plentiful in natural, cultural, and economic resources, all at risk of injury from oil spills. Potential oil spill risks include, but are not limited to, road transportation, rail transportation, marine transportation, oil pipelines, aircraft, recreational boating, and other oil spill risks. This section briefly discusses these risks and how they could impact the Columbia River and the greater GRP planning area.

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Road Transportation: Vehicle traffic on roadways pose an oil spill risk in the area. Commercial trucks can contain hundreds to thousands of gallons of fuel and oil, and almost any kind of hazardous waste or material. Highways 101, 401, 4, 14 and Interstate 5 run along the Washington shore of the Columbia at many points. On the Oregon side, Highway 30/Interstate 84 and Highway 101 border the Columbia, while a vast network of roads border both the Columbia and Willamette in the Portland metropolitan area.

The Lower Columbia River has five road crossings spanning Astoria to Point Ellice (Astoria-Megler Bridge), Puget Island to Cathlamet (Julia Butler Hansen Bridge), Rainier to Longview (Lewis and Clark Bridge) and Portland to Vancouver via I-5 (Interstate Bridge) and I-205 (Glenn L. Jackson Memorial Bridge). On the Willamette, there are 11 vehicle crossings within Portland, in addition to four more upstream of the city towards Willamette Falls. Also located in this planning area, but just outside of the Columbia and Willamette waterways is the Sauvie Island Bridge over the Multnomah Channel.

The road crossings on the Willamette are as follows:

In Portland:

  • John’s Bridge
  • Fremont Bridge (I-405)
  • Broadway Bridge
  • Steel Bridge
  • Burnside Bridge
  • Morrison Bridge
  • Hawthorne Bridge
  • Marquam Bridge (I-5)
  • Tillicum Crossing (Only public transit, emergency vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians)
  • Ross Island Bridge
  • Sellwood Bridge

Upstream of Portland:

  • SE Washington St and SE McLoughlin Blvd Bridges (at confluence with Kellogg Creek)
  • Clackamas Bridge (at confluence with the Clackamas River tributary)
  • Abernathy Bridge (I-205)
  • Oregon City Bridge

Given the high density development and population of the Portland metropolitan area, the propensity for spills greatly increases. An accident involving a fully loaded tank truck on these thoroughfares could result in a substantial oil spill. Smaller vehicle accidents pose a similar risk, commensurate to the volume of fuel and oil they carry. Spills from vehicles onto roadways could cause fuel or oil to flow from ditches or harden surfaces into streams, creeks, wasteways, or storm water systems ultimately impacting the Columbia/Willamette or other tributaries in the area.

Rail Transportation: Similar to the highways systems that run along much of the Columbia River, rail transportation runs closely parallel to the river banks throughout the Lower and Middle Columbia River GRP areas. BNSF Railroad’s Fallbridge and Seattle Subdivisions run along the Columbia River on the Washington side, while Union Pacific’s Portland Subdivision runs along the opposing bank in Oregon. The Portland metropolitan area includes the junction between the BNSF Fallbridge and UP Portland Subdivisions. The Brooklyn Subdivision of the Union Pacific runs south from Portland along the Willamette. Mixed cargo trains can carry hazardous materials on all of these lines, and BNSF’s route is used to bring Bakken crude oil from the east to refineries along the coast.

The majority of the transportation of oil by rail into Washington and Oregon enters Washington at the border with Idaho near Spokane. Once in Washington, oil trains cross the Spokane River, travel to Pasco, and then continue westward along the Columbia River through the Columbia River Gorge to Portland, OR and Vancouver, WA before heading north through Tacoma and Seattle, WA towards refineries in Anacortes and Ferndale, WA near the Canadian border (WA Dept. of Ecology). Also along the Willamette upstream of downtown Portland are tracks for the Willamette Shore Trolley and the Oregon Pacific Railroad. Running both the Willamette and Columbia Rivers are Portland and Western Railroad tracks, which carry crude to Port Westward.

Train locomotives themselves typically hold several thousand gallons of diesel fuel plus large quantities of lube and motor oils. Individual tank cars can contain just over 30,000 gallons of crude oil or other petroleum products. Trains can carry 3,000,000 gallons of oil in a unit train of 100 tank cars; at 42 gallons per barrel that equates to 71,428 barrels.

There are several rail crossings on the Lower Columbia and Willamette Rivers. They are as follows:

On the Columbia:

  • BNSF Railroad Bridge (downstream of I-5)

On the Willamette:

  • BNSF Railroad Bridge (University Park)
  • Steel Bridge (Highway 99)
  • Tillicum Bridge (Light Rail)
  • Lake Oswego Railroad Bridge

Marine Transport: The principal deep-draft commercial ports along the Columbia and Willamette Rivers are Vancouver (WA), and Portland (OR). Other significant ports include Astoria (OR), St. Helens (OR), Longview (WA), and Kalama (WA). There are limited ocean-going vessel repair facilities along the Columbia and Willamette Rivers, the largest of which are the dry-dock facilities at Swan Island in the Willamette River at Portland, Oregon. Other repair facilities include the Pier 3 Boatyard at the Port of Astoria (OR) and the Foss Rainier Shipyard in Rainier (OR).

Designated anchorage areas (listed in 33 CRR 110.228) for marine vessels have been established on the Columbia River at Astoria West, Astoria East, Longview, Cottonwood Island (Rainier), Kalama, Woodland (WA), Henrici Bar (Willow Point), Vancouver Lower, Kelley Point, and Vancouver Upper. Specific locations, depths, and capacities are described in the Lower Columbia Region Harbor Safety Plan (LCRHSC).

Facilities: Both the Columbia and Willamette Rivers are home to grain facilities at Longview, Kalama, Vancouver, and Portland, as well as oil storage and transport facilities, which include NuStar and Tesoro terminals in Vancouver, McCall Oil, Willbridge Famm Oil, Phillips 66, Chevron, BP, Kinder Morgan, Tesoro, and NuStar in Portland; Columbia Pacific BioRefinery in Clatskanie.

In Vancouver, NuStar receives jet fuel by tanker to its storage tanks, and then transfers it by barge to Pasco to be transferred to Spokane Air Force via pipeline. Tesoro Vancouver receives gasoline and diesel via pipeline operated by BP Pipelines North America. The gasoline and diesel are loaded at truck racks for local distribution and to Tidewater barges to be transported to Pasco distribution facilities. Terminals in Portland receive refined fuels, lube oils, ethanol, bunkers, and asphalt for distribution. They load tankers with Utah crude received by rail for shipment to West Coast refineries. In Clatskanie, the Columbia Pacific BioRefinery handles crude by rail shipments, which are stored on site and then transferred to tank barges for shipment to refineries in Anacortes (WA Dept. of Ecology).

Oil Pipelines: The pipeline operated by BP Pipelines North America is connected to several facilities located on the Columbia River; it terminates in Portland. It carries a range of petroleum products including gasoline, diesel, and aviation turbine fuel. South of Portland is the Kinder Morgan pipeline that connects the city to Eugene, OR carrying gasoline and diesel (Kinder Morgan). Also located in Portland is Kinder Morgan’s Portland Airport Pipeline. This pipeline transits commercial jet fuel 8.5 miles through the city from the terminals on the western bank of Willamette to Portland International Airport (Kinder Morgan). If a pipeline were to leak or rupture, impact to sensitive resources in the area could be significant.

Commercial Vessels: The Lower Columbia River planning area is a heavily commercialized transportation corridor. As of 2014, more than 4 million tons of petroleum products are received at terminals in Portland each year with approximately half of that volume barged upriver to inland ports. The river corridor also provides a route for the transport of grain from inland farms, to the river’s gateway at the Pacific Ocean. The Columbia River is the number one export route in the nation for wheat and barley, number two for soybeans, and the third largest grain export gateway in the world. The Lower Columbia River planning area has a history of spills due to vessel collisions and groundings. Due to the frequency of transit and the navigational constrictions of the river, the risk of a spill is very high.

Aircraft: Located along the Columbia are the Troutdale Airport, Portland International Airport, Pearson Field Airport, Scappose Industrial Airpark, Astoria Regional Airport, and Port of Ilwaco Airport. There is always a potential for aircraft failures during inbound and outbound flights that could result in fuel releases to water.

Recreational Boating: Accidents involving recreational water craft on the Columbia and Willamette Rivers could result in spills of a few gallons of fuel oil to several dozen gallons. Accidents could include a vessel grounding, fire, sinking, or explosion. Bilge discharges and refueling operations could also occur and also have the potential to impact sensitive resources in the Lower Columbia planning area.

Other Spill Risks: Other potential oil spill risks in the area include dam turbine mechanical failures, road run-off during rain events, on-shore or near shore construction activities where heavy equipment is being operated, and the migration of spilled oil through soil on lands adjacent to the lake or along creek/stream banks.

Non Floating Oils: The Columbia River is an example of a salt-wedge estuary. Rapid discharge from the river pushes freshwater out over the top of the less dense saltwater, creating a sharp boundary between the two water masses (NOAA). This dynamic between outgoing freshwater and tidal influenced saltwater adds additional complications to spill response and the behavior of NFOs. Some heavy oils are more dense than water and may sink when spilled or may sink after natural weathering.

The 1984 grounding of the SS MOBILOIL near Saint Helens, Oregon resulted in the rupture of several of its cargo tanks. Some of the product released were heavy oils, which made estimating spill size difficult. The spill size grew from an initial estimate of 1,000 barrels to nearly 4,000 barrels once evidence suggested a large portion of the oil had become submerged (NOAA). While some of the oil remained on the surface and traveled downstream with river flow, a portion traveled downstream lower in the water column or even pooled around the area surrounding the SS MOBILOIL grounding (NOAA).

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Resources at Risk

This section provides a summary of natural, cultural, and economic resources at risk in the vicinity of the Lower Columbia River, downstream of the Bonneville Dam. It provides general information on habitat, fish, and wildlife resources, and locations in the area where sensitive natural resource concerns exist. It offers a summary of cultural resources that include fundamental procedures for the discovery of cultural artifacts and human skeletal remains. A list of cultural and economic resources in the area can be found this section, as well as general information about flight restrictions, wildlife deterrence, and oiled wildlife.

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This section is purposely broad in scope and should not be considered comprehensive. Some of the sensitive resources described in this section cannot be addressed in Section 4 (Response Strategies and Priorities) because it is not possible to conduct effective response activities in these locations. Additional information from private organizations or federal, state, tribal, and local government agencies should also be sought during spills.

This material is intended to provide general information about the area during the first phase of a spill response. During an actual incident, more information about resources at risk will be available from the Environmental Unit in the Planning Section.

Specific resource concerns related to areas that already have designated protection strategies (see Section 4) may be found in the “Resources Protected” column of the matrix describing individual strategies.

The information provided in this chapter may be useful in:

  • Assisting the Environmental Unit (EU) in identifying resources at risk during a spill response and in developing additional response strategies beyond those found in Section 4.
  • Providing resource at risk “context” to responders, clean-up workers, and others during the initial phase of a spill response in the GRP area.
  • Briefing responders and incident command staff that may be unfamiliar with sensitive resource concerns in the GRP area.
  • Providing background information for personnel involved in media presentations and public outreach during a spill incident.

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Natural Resources at Risk – Summary

This area contains a wide variety of aquatic, riparian, and upland habitats, and nearshore marine (outer coast from the mouth of the river to Seaview, WA) areas. These habitats support many of Washington’s salmonid species as well as a complex diversity of other wildlife. In addition to those species directly at risk to oil spills, others (due to their life histories and/or behaviors) are unlikely to become directly oiled during a spill incident but may be disturbed by other operations such as cleanup, reconnaissance, or fire suppression activities. Some of the bird species are resident throughout the year, but many others seasonally migrate through the area.

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Several of the species found in this area have been classified under the Federal Endangered Species Act or by the Washington State Fish and Wildlife commission.

Classification types are:

  • Federal Endangered (FE)
  • Federal Threatened (FT)
  • Federal Candidate (FC)
  • State Endangered (SE)
  • State Threatened (ST)
  • State Sensitive (SS)

Federal and State listed species (subspecies shown in parenthesis) that may occur within this area include:


  • American white pelican [ST(WA)]
  • brown pelican [SE(OR)]
  • common loon [SS(WA)]
  • marbled murrelet [FT/SE(WA)/ST(OR)]
  • northern spotted owl [FT/SE(WA)/ST(OR)]
  • sandhill crane [SE(WA)]
  • short-tailed albatross [FE/SE(OR)]
  • steaked horned lark [FT/SE(WA)]
  • tufted puffin [SE(WA)]
  • western snowy plover [FT/SE(WA)/ST(OR)]
  • yellow billed cuckoo [FT/SE(WA)]


  • Columbian white-tailed deer [FT/SE(WA)]
  • blue whale [FE/SE(WA)/SE(OR)]
  • fin whale [FE/SE(WA/SE(OR)]
  • fisher [FC/SE(WA)]
  • gray whale (western North Pacific) [FE/SS(WA)]
  • gray whale (eastern north Pacific) [SS(WA)/SE(OR)]
  • gray wolf [FE/SE (WA)]
  • humpback whale (Central American population) [FE/SE(WA)/SE(OR)]
  • humpback whale (Mexican population) [FT/SE(WA)/SE(OR)]
  • killer whale (southern resident) [FE/SE(WA)]
  • right whale (north Pacific) [FE/SE(WA)]
  • sei whale [FE/SE(WA)/SE(OR)]
  • sperm whale [FE/SE(WA)/SE(OR)]
  • wolverine [FC/ST(OR)]


  • bull trout [FT]
  • chinook salmon (lower Columbia) [FT]; – Fall (Snake River) [FT/ST(OR)]; -Spring/Summer (Snake River) [FT/ST(OR)]; -Spring (upper Columbia) [FE]; (upper Willamette River) [FT])
  • chum salmon (Columbia River) [FT]
  • coho salmon (lower Columbia) [FT/SE(OR)]
  • green sturgeon [FT]
  • Pacific eulachon [FT]
  • sockeye salmon (Snake River) [FE]
  • steelhead trout (lower Columbia) [FT]; (middle Columbia) [FT]; (Snake River) [FT]; (upper Columbia) [FT]; upper Willamette River [FT]


  • green sea turtle [FT/ST(WA)/SE(OR)]
  • larch mountain salamander [SS (WA)]
  • leatherback sea turtle [FE/SE(WA)/SE(OR)]
  • loggerhead sea turtle [FE/SE(WA)/ST(OR)]
  • olive Ridley sea turtle [FT/ST(OR)]
  • Oregon spotted frog [FT/SE(WA)]
  • western pond turtle [SE(WA)]


  • Fender’s blue butterfly [FE]


  • Bradshaw’s desert-parsley [FE]
  • golden paintbrush [FT]
  • Kincaid’s lupine [FT]
  • Nelson’s checker-mallow [FT]
  • water howellia [FT]
  • Willamette daisy [FE]

Critical habitats:

These are the specific areas, occupied by an endangered or threatened species at the time it was listed, that contain the physical or biological features that are essential to the conservation of that species – and that may need special management or protection. Critical habitat may also include areas that were not occupied by the species at the time of listing but are essential to its conservation.

The following species have federally designated critical habitats within this area:

  • bull trout
  • chinook salmon (lower Columbia River); – Fall (Snake River); -Spring (upper Columbia River)
  • chum salmon (Columbia River)
  • coho salmon (lower Columbia River)
  • green sturgeon
  • leatherback sea turtle
  • marbled murrelet
  • northern spotted owl
  • Pacific eulachon
  • sockeye salmon -Spring/Summer (Snake River)
  • steelhead (lower Columbia River); (middle Columbia River); (upper Columbia River); (Snake River)
  • streaked horned lark
  • humpback whale (Central American population)
  • humpback whale (Mexican population)

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General Resource Concerns


  • Shallow estuarine bays serve several important ecological functions. Mud and sand flats in these bays support large numbers of benthic and epibenthic organisms and are important foraging areas for salmonids, crabs, fishes, and shorebirds.
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  • Eelgrass beds provide important nursery and foraging areas for crabs, salmonids, other fishes and waterfowl.
  • Intertidal shoals from Puget Island downstream to the river mouth provide critical haulout habitat for harbor seals.
  • Wetlands in this region range from brackish water marshes near the mouth of the river, to forested freshwater marshes at the upper end of the estuary near Welch Island. All wetland types support a diverse array of bird, insect and fish and wildlife species.
  • Sloughs and backwater channels provide feeding and resting areas for waterfowl and herons and are rearing areas for juvenile fish.
  • Islands provide important nesting habitat for a variety of bird species, as well as habitat for a variety of mammals, including Columbian white-tailed deer [FE/SE].
  • Sand beaches, along outer shore, provide habitat for razor clams, as well as for the large numbers of shorebirds that stop over to feed and rest on the outer coast and its estuaries during the spring and fall migration.
  • Stream mouths are concentration areas for anadromous fish and are feeding areas for a variety of marine birds.
  • Several rivers and smaller tributary streams flow into this estuary. These act as important salmon migration routes and spawning areas, as well as providing rearing habitat for juvenile salmonids. The associated riparian scrub and woodlands play a crucial role in supporting a large diversity and abundance of songbird species as breeding, migrating, and overwintering habitat.
  • Human-made structures such as pilings, rock jetties or log rafts may be used as roosting or nesting areas for a variety of marine birds and raptors or as haulout areas for sea lions and harbor seals.
  • Numerous habitat restoration sites exist along the lower Columbia River and its tributaries. Often, significant resources have been invested in these locations to improve stream conditions specific to salmon recovery.
  • Subsurface Habitats: Shallow subsurface habitats in this region extend from marine beaches outside of the river mouth, through the estuary, and upstream to the Bonneville Dam (~RM 146). These habitats are present along the mainstem of the Columbia River and all its associated tributaries.
    • Nutrient rich nearshore marine waters sustain a highly productive food web that includes fish, seabirds and marine mammals and serves as habitat for wide-ranging fish such as salmon, forage fish (herring, smelt, and sandlance), sharks, and a large number and wide variety of birds that utilize this habitat as foraging areas. These waters also support both resident and migrating marine mammals. Regional and localized oceanographic conditions can greatly influence the distribution and abundance of all these resources.
    • The marine subtidal habitats in this area consist primarily of soft sediments, such as clay, mud, sand, and gravel. These areas are broad, flat, and relatively level. The animals that tend to live on the surface of these habitats may include sea cucumber, sea stars, crustaceans (such as crab and shrimp), and bottom fish such as skate, perch, cod, and the flat fishes. These soft sediment habitats also support shellfish and other invertebrates including bivalves, worms, brittle stars, shrimplike crustaceans. The burrowing or foraging activities of these animals may penetrate up to one meter below the subsurface bottom.
    • The shallow brackish/freshwater habitats in this area also primarily consist of soft sediments, such as clay, mud, sand, and gravel. Aquatic vegetation may be present in these areas. Animals associated with these areas tend to be: cold or warm water fishes; birds (dabbling ducks); semi-aquatic mammals (muskrat, beaver, etc.); shellfish (freshwater clams and mussels); amphibians and reptiles (frogs, newts, salamanders, turtles, etc.); insects caddis flies, mayflies, dragonflies, and stoneflies). Many other animals also utilize these areas for foraging.

Fish and shellfish:

  • Juvenile and/or adult salmonids are present in the river below Bonneville Dam throughout the year. Millions of juvenile salmonids use estuarine waters as a rearing and foraging area as they prepare for migration to the ocean. Returning adult salmonids support significant tribal, commercial and recreational fisheries.
  • Anadromous fish (other than salmon) in this region include American shad, green sturgeon, and Pacific eulachon smelt.
  • Forage fish seasonally abundant in the estuary include northern anchovy, Pacific herring, longfin and surf smelt, and Pacific sandlance.
  • The Columbia River estuary serves as a major nursery area for larval and juvenile marine fish, including English sole, sand dab, butter sole, sand sole, and starry flounder.
  • The Columbia River estuary serves as a major nursery area for juvenile Dungeness crab. Crabs that rear in the estuary contribute significantly to the adult population along the outer coast.
  • Other shellfish occurring in the estuarine portion of the river include eastern soft-shell clams, horse clams, Manila clams, and cockles.
  • Resident fish present year-round in freshwater portions of the river include white sturgeon, walleye, largemouth bass, crappie, perch, bullheads, and northern pike minnow.


  • The Columbia River estuary is a major seabird concentration area with tens of thousands of birds either nesting, feeding or roosting throughout the lower ten miles of the river during the spring and summer months. Key among these are: Caspian terns, double-crested cormorants, brown pelicans and several species of gulls. Seabirds of various species, including marbled murrelet, feed in the mouth of the estuary throughout the year.
  • All stretches of this GRP region support significant waterfowl concentrations from fall through spring. Hundreds of thousands of geese, swans and dabbling ducks may occupy this region during peak periods. Resident and migratory waterfowl heavily utilize the islands, sloughs, wetlands and adjacent uplands of the region from fall through spring. Numerous islands in this sub-region also provide nesting habitat for resident waterfowl.
  • The Columbia River estuary is a shorebird site of world significance, supporting over 100,000 birds during peak migration periods.
  • Bald eagles andgreat blue herons are nesting residents and may be found year-round throughout the region. Peregrine falcons are commonly found as winter and spring visitors to the lower estuary.
  • Resident and migratory songbirds heavily utilize riparian habitats year-round and are susceptible to response activities that disturb riparian vegetation.
  • The lower river is home to thousands of harbor seals from fall through mid-spring, with haulout sites as far upstream as Puget Island. In addition, the south jetty at the mouth of the river is a significant haulout site for both California and Steller sea lions. During late winter and early spring, both harbor seals and California sea lions move upstream following seasonally abundant prey. Both species target eulachon smelt runs (primarily that of the Cowlitz River) and California and Steller sea lions range as far upstream as Bonneville Dam in search of salmon and sturgeon.
  • Various species of whales and dolphins regularly occur in this region’s nearshore zone. The entire U.S. population of gray whales migrates through Washington waters in the spring and fall, with many animals stopping to feed in shallow coastal waters during the northward migration in spring. Some individuals will typically leave the main migration and inhabit Washington’s nearshore waters throughout the summer. Humpback whalesare coastal residents during the summer months, tending to concentrate in feeding areas offshore of Washington’s north coast. Killer whales (Orca) sighted off the outer coast are most commonly transient or offshore pods, but southern resident killer whalepods may also be seen in the area, especially during the winter months. Harbor porpoise are common year-round and may be found from the surf zone out to several miles offshore. Both minke whales and Dall’s porpoise occasionally occur in nearshore waters. Numerous other species of whales or dolphins occur further offshore.
  • Columbian white-tailed deer are present on all islands and mainland shorelines between Lord and Walker Islands (near Longview) downstream to Tenasillahee Island (near Skamokawa).
  • Other mammals common to the region include large managed species (including elk, deer, and bear). Many semi-aquatic species such as beaver, muskrat, river otter, mink, and raccoon also utilize habitats in this area. These small mammals are particularly vulnerable to contact with spilled oil because of their habitat preferences.

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Specific Geographic Areas of Concern – Overview

Columbia River, RM 1-34 (see Figure 1)

  1. Cape Disappointment (~RM 1): Seabird nesting on cliffs. Audubon Important Bird Area. Cape Disappointment State Park.
  2. Jetty Lagoon (~RM 2): Extensive wetland and intertidal mudflat habitats. Rearing habitat for juvenile salmonids and Dungeness crab. Concentration area for migratory and wintering waterfowl and shorebirds. Fort Canby State Park.
  3. Baker Bay and vicinity (~RM 3): Extensive eelgrass and intertidal mudflat habitats. Salmonid spawning streams and rearing habitat for juvenile salmonids and Dungeness crab. This area supports the largest nesting colony of Caspian terns in the U.S. (over 10,000 pairs), Washington’s largest breeding concentration of double-crested cormorants (~6000 pairs) and nearly 10,000 pairs of nesting gulls. Significant concentration area for brown pelicans [SE(OR)] from summer through fall and for migrating and wintering waterfowl and shorebirds. Audubon Important Bird Area.
  4. Youngs Bay (~RM 12): Extensive wetland and intertidal mudflat habitats. Rearing habitat for juvenile salmonids and Dungeness crab. Concentration area for migratory and wintering waterfowl and shorebirds. Fort Clatsop National Monument.
  5. Grays Bay (~RM 20): Intertidal mudflat and wetland habitats. Salmonid spawning streams and rearing habitat for juvenile salmonids. Concentration area for wintering/migratory waterfowl and shorebirds. Nesting and foraging area for Bald eagles. Harbor seal haulout area.
  6. Lewis and Clark National Wildlife Refuge – Cathlamet Bay (~RM 20-34): Refuge islands from Welch Island downstream to Tongue Point provide a diverse array of habitats that support juvenile salmonid rearing and very large concentrations of migratory and wintering waterfowl and shorebirds. Bald eagles and harbor seals are present year-round.
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Columbia River, RM 34-63 (see Figure 2)

  1. Julia Butler Hansen National Wildlife Refuge (~RM 34-37): Core habitat area for Columbian white-tailed deer [FT/SE(WA)] both on the mainland west of Cathlamet, as well as on Hunting, Price, and Tenasillahe Islands. Forested tidal swamp habitat. Concentration area for wintering waterfowl and important habitat for cavity nesting ducks.
  2. Puget Island and Vicinity (RM 39-45): Juvenile salmonid rearing habitat. Concentration area for migrating and wintering waterfowl. Nesting area for bald eagles and great blue herons. Harbor seal haulout area.
  3. Wallace Island and Vicinity (~RM 50): Complex association of island, river and slough habitats with rich riparian habitat and freshwater marsh habitat. Rearing habitat for juvenile salmonids. Resident nesting, migrating and wintering waterfowl. Wallace Island and portions of the adjacent mainland are part of the Julia Butler Hansen National Wildlife Refuge.
  4. Lord Island/Walker/Hump/Fisher Islands and Vicinity (RM 58-63): Wetland and slough habitats. Fish rearing habitat. Concentration area for migrating and wintering waterfowl.

Columbia River, RM 69-92 (see Figure 3)

  1. Cowlitz River Mouth/Carrolls Channel/Kalama River mouth (~ RM 69-73): Salmonid spawning rivers. Concentrations of waterfowl, seabirds, harbor seals and California sea lions coincide with winter run of Pacific eulachon smelt [FT].
  2. Martin/Burke Islands and Vicinity (~RM 79-81): Riparian habitat. Juvenile salmonid rearing habitat in off-river channels. Concentration area for breeding, migrating and wintering waterfowl. Area supports cavity nesting ducks.
  3. Sauvie Island Wildlife Area and Multnomah Channel (~RM 85-100): Riparian habitat. Juvenile salmonid rearing habitat in off-river channels. Concentration area for migrating and wintering waterfowl, shorebirds and sandhill cranes [SE(WA)]. Resident nesting waterfowl, bald eagles and great blue herons. Oregon Dept. Fish and Wildlife lands. Audubon Important Bird Area.
  4. Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge (~ RM 87-92): Riparian habitat. Salmonid spawning stream and juvenile salmonid rearing habitat in off-river channels. Concentration area for migrating and wintering waterfowl, shorebirds and sandhill cranes [SE(WA)]. Resident nesting waterfowl, bald eagles and great blue herons. Audubon Important Bird Area.
  5. Frenchman’s Bar/Shillapoo Wildlife Area (~RM 96-99): Riparian habitat, pasture and agricultural land that supports wintering and migrating concentrations of waterfowl, shorebirds and sandhill cranes [SE(WA)]. Juvenile salmonid rearing habitat in off-river channels.

Columbia River, RM 115-132 (see Figure 4)

  1. Government Island (~ RM 115): Waterfowl concentration area. Great blue heron nesting colony. Government Island State Park. Audubon Important Bird Area.
  2. Sandy River (~RM 121): Spawning habitat for salmonids and Pacific eulachon smelt [FT].
  3. Steigerwald National Wildlife Refuge / Reed Island Park (~RM 126): Riparian habitat. Salmonid spawning stream and juvenile salmonid rearing habitat in off-river channels. Concentrations of migrating and wintering waterfowl and sandhill cranes [SE(WA)] on refuge, and waterfowl on nearby islands and river channels. Resident nesting great blue herons on nearby Reed Island. Audubon Important Bird Area.
  4. Sand Island Slough (~RM 132): Riparian habitat. Salmonid spawning stream and juvenile salmonid rearing habitat in off-river channels. Concentrations of migrating and wintering waterfowl in channel behind Sand Island. Rooster Rock State Park.

Columbia River, RM 138-142 (see Figure 5)

  1. Franz Lake National Wildlife Refuge (~RM 138): Riparian habitat. Salmonid spawning stream and juvenile salmonid rearing habitat in off-river channels. Concentrations of migrating and wintering waterfowl on refuge, nearby islands and river channels.
  2. Pierce National Wildlife Refuge (~RM 142): Riparian habitat. Salmonid spawning stream and juvenile salmonid rearing habitat in off-river channels. Concentrations of migrating and wintering waterfowl on refuge, nearby islands and river channels.

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Specific Geographic Areas of Concern – Maps

Figure 1: Columbia River, RM 1-34.

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Figure 2: Columbia River, RM 34-63.

Figure 3: Columbia River, RM 69-92.

Figure 4: Columbia River, RM 115-132.

Figure 5: Columbia River, RM 138-142.

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Cultural Resources at Risk – Summary

Culturally significant resources are present within the Lower Columbia River area. Information regarding the types of cultural resources and their locations is maintained by both the Washington Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation (WDAHP) and the Oregon State Historic Preservation Office (OR SHPO). This sensitive information is made available to the Washington Department of Ecology for oil spill preparedness and response planning. The Tribal Historic Preservation Offices (THPOs) of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Confederated Tribes of the Yakama Indian Nation, Cowlitz Indian Tribe, Grand Ronde Confederated Tribes, Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe and Warm Springs Confederated Tribes may also be able to provide information on cultural resources at risk in the area and should be contacted, along with WDAHP and the OR SHPO, through normal trustee notification processes when significant oil spills, or smaller spills above reportable thresholds, occur on the Columbia River.

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During a spill response, after the Unified Command is established, information related to specific archeological concerns will be coordinated through the Environmental Unit. In order to ensure that tactical response strategies do not inadvertently harm culturally sensitive sites, WDAHP and the OR SHPO should be consulted before disturbing any soil or sediment during a response action. WDAHP, the OR SHPO, and/or the Tribes may assign a person, or provide a list of professional archeologists that can be contracted, to monitor response activities and cleanup operations for the protection of cultural resources at risk. Due to the sensitive nature of such information, details regarding the location and type of cultural resources present are not included in this document.

Table 6-1: LCR-GRP Cultural Resource Contacts

Contact Phone Email
Washington Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (360) 586-3080 Rob.Whitlam@dahp.wa.gov
Oregon SHPO (503) 986-0674 Dennis.Griffin@oregon.gov
Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (541) 276-4348 NaturalResources@ctuir.org
Confederated Tribes of the Yakama Indian Nation (509) 865-5121 kate@yakama.com
Cowlitz Indian Tribe (360) 577-6962 culture@cowlitz.org
Grand Ronde Confederated Tribes (503) 879-1630 eirik.thorsgard@grandronde.org
Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe (360) 267-0731
(360) 267-8212
Warm Springs Confederated Tribes (541) 553-3257 jp.patt@wstribes.org

Discovery of Human Skeletal Remains

Any human remains, burial sites, or burial-related materials that are discovered during a spill response must be treated with respect at all times. Refer to Section 9403 of the Northwest Area Contingency Plan for National Historic Preservation Act Compliance Guidelines during an emergency response.

Procedures for the Discovery of Cultural Resources

All work must be stopped immediately and the Incident Commander and Cultural Resource Specialist notified if any person monitoring work activities or involved in spill response believes that they have encountered cultural resources. The area of work stoppage must be adequate to provide for the security, protection, and integrity of the material or artifact(s) discovered.

Prehistoric Cultural Resources (May include, but not limited to, any of the following items):

  • Lithic debitage (stone chips and other tool-making byproducts)
  • Flaked or ground stone tools
  • Exotic rock, minerals, or quarries
  • Concentrations of organically stained sediments, charcoal, or ash
  • Fire-modified rock
  • Rock alignments or rock structures
  • Bone (burned, modified, or in association with other bone, artifacts, or features)
  • Shell or shell fragments
  • Petroglyphs and pictographs
  • Fish weirs and traps
  • Culturally modified trees
  • Physical locations or features (traditional cultural properties)

Historic cultural material (May include any of the following items over 50 years old):

  • Bottles, or other glass
  • Cans
  • Ceramics
  • Milled wood, brick, concrete, metal, or other building material
  • Trash dumps
  • Homesteads, building remains
  • Logging, mining, or railroad features
  • Piers, wharves, docks, bridges, dams

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Economic Resources at Risk – Summary

Tribal and recreational fisheries targeting species such as salmon and steelhead are important to area and local economies.

Fish hatcheries (Operator)

  • Abernathy Hatchery (USFWS)
  • Abernathy Screw Trap (WDFW)
  • Beaver Creek Hatchery (WDFW)
  • Blind Slough Net Pen (ODFW)
  • Bonneville Dam North Shore Ladder
  • Cameron Creek Fishway (WDFW)
  • Camas Net Pens (WDFW)
  • Cathlamet Channel Net Pen (WDFW)
  • Deep River Net Pens (WDFW)
  • Deep River Net Pens Upper (WDFW)
  • Duncan Spawning Channel Trap (WDFW)
  • Eagle Island Channel Acclimation Pond (WDFW)
  • Echo Bay Net Pen (WDFW)
  • Elochoman River Lower Adult Trap (WDFW)
  • Elochoman Hatchery (WDFW)
  • Fallert Creek Hatchery (WDFW)
  • Germany Creek Project Rearing Pond (WDFW)
  • Germany Screw Trap (WDFW)
  • Grays River Hatchery (WDFW)
  • Grays River Rearing Pond (WDFW)
  • Ives Island Adult Trap (WDFW)
  • Kalama Falls Hatchery (WDFW)
  • Klineline Ponds (WDFW)
  • Lewis Channel Adult Trap (WDFW)
  • Lewis River Hatchery (WDFW)
  • Merwin Hatchery (WDFW)
  • Mill Screw Trap (WDFW)
  • Modrow (Kalama) Adult Trap (WDFW)
  • Peterson Project RSI (EN Co-op)
  • Salmon Falls Fishway (WDFW)
  • Sea Resources Hatchery (Sea Resources)
  • Skamania Hatchery (WDFW)
  • Swanson Channel Acclimation Pond (Fish First)
  • Vancouver Hatchery (WDFW)
  • Washougal Hatchery (WDFW)

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General Information

Flight Restriction Zones: The Environmental Unit (Planning Section) may recommend flight restriction zones to minimize disturbance or injury to wildlife during an oil spill. Pilots/operators can decrease the risk of aircraft/bird collisions, prevent the accidental driving of wildlife into oiled areas, and minimize abandonment of nests by keeping a safe distance and altitude from these identified sensitive areas. The Air Operations Branch (Operations Section) will manage all aircraft operations related to a response and will coordinate the establishment of any Flight Restriction Zones as appropriate. Environmental Unit staff will work with the Air Operations Branch Director to resolve any conflicts that arise between flight activities and sensitive resources.

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Wildlife Deterrence: The Wildlife Deterrence Unit within the Wildlife Branch (Operations Section) manages wildlife deterrence operations. These are actions intended to minimize injuries to wildlife by keeping animals away from the oil and cleanup operations. Deterrence activities may include using acoustic or visual deterrent devices, boats, aircraft or other tools. The Wildlife Branch works with state and federal agencies, and the Environmental Unit (Planning Section), to develop deterrence plans as appropriate.

Oiled Wildlife:  Capturing oiled wildlife may be hazardous to both personnel and the affected animals. Incident personnel should not try to approach or capture oiled wildlife but should report any observations of oiled wildlife to the Wildlife Branch (Operations Section).

Wilderness Refuges, State Parks, and Wilderness Areas:

The following are located within this region:

  • Cape Disappointment State Park
  • Columbia White Tailed Dear (Julia Butler) National Wildlife Refuge
  • Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge
  • Shillapoo Wildlife Area
  • Beacon Rock State Park
  • Franz Lake National Wildlife Refuge
  • Pierce National Wildlife Refuge
  • Ainsworth State Park
  • Rooster Rock State Park
  • Reed Island State Park
  • Government Island State Recreation Area
  • Paradise Point State Park
  • Fort Stevens State Park

There are no federally designated wilderness areas present in this GRP region.

Aquatic Invasive Species: The waters of this region may contain aquatic invasive species (AIS), species of plants and/or animals that are not native to an area and that can be harmful to an area’s ecosystem. If so, preventative actions may be required to prevent the spread of these species as a result of spill response activities and the Environmental Unit is able to recommend operational techniques and strategies to assist with this issue.

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