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Columbia River

Columbia River Cold Water Refuges Plan

EPA released its final Columbia River Cold Water Refuges Plan on January 7, 2021. See Documents below to read the full plan and supporting documents. Read EPA's press release.

Supporting Salmon Migration

About Cold Water Refuges

Cold water refuges are areas that are colder than the main river temperature. Adult salmon and steelhead temporarily use cold water refuges to escape warm summer river temperatures and help them successfully migrate up the Columbia River to their spawning grounds. Protecting and restoring these cold water refuges is important for the survival of migrating salmon and the recovery of salmon populations.

The Cold Water Refuges Project extends from the mouth of the Columbia River to its confluence with the Snake River (the Washington-Oregon border, at River Mile 310).

About EPA's Plan

The Columbia River Cold Water Refuges Plan focuses on the lower 325 miles of the Columbia River from the Snake River to the ocean (see map). Cold water refuges serve an increasingly important role to some salmon and steelhead species as the Lower Columbia River has warmed over the past 50 years and will likely continue to warm in the future due to climate change.

The Columbia River Cold Water Refuges Plan is a scientific document with recommendations to protect and restore cold water refuges.

By issuing this plan, EPA is meeting its responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act associated with its approval of Oregon’s temperature standards for the Columbia River. This plan also serves as a reference for EPA’s Columbia and Snake Rivers Temperature Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL).

The plan:

  • Describes available cold water refuges (CWR) in the Lower Columbia River.
  • Characterizes how salmon and steelhead use CWR.
  • Assesses the amount of CWR needed to attain Oregon’s Clean Water Act CWR narrative water quality standard.
  • Identifies actions to protect and restore CWR.
  • Recommends future CWR studies.


EPA worked with Oregon, Washington, NOAA Fisheries, tribes, and other partners to develop the plan, including receiving valuable input from about twenty contributing parties on an October 2019 draft.


  • John Palmer (, Project Lead, 206-553-6521.
  • Andrea Lindsay (, Community Involvement Coordinator, 206-553-1896.

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