Geography and Geology

By: Fraser Riverkeeper  09-12-2011
Keywords: Drainage Basin

The Fraser River is the longest river in British Columbia and the tenth longest river in Canada. It drains a 220,000 km² (85,000 sq mi) area and flows for 1,375 km (870 mi) into the Pacific Ocean in Vancouver. Its headquarters are in the Mount Robson Provisional Park in the Rocky Mountains, and it passes across the dry Fraser Plateau and through the coastal mountain ranges to the Pacific Ocean. It rumbles onward near the cities of Prince George, Williams Lake, Hope, Chilliwack, Abbotsford, and New Westminster. After about 100 km it forms a delta and discharges into the Georgia Strait between Vancouver and Vancouver Island.

Image persmissions by Andrea McNeil at Parks Canada

The majority of the drainage basin of the Fraser lies in British Columbia. However, a small portion does pass into Washington state in the United States. The Fraser Basin system comprises the main Fraser River and a huge network of tributaries that drains more than a quarter of British Columbia before the river’s egress into the Pacific Ocean through Vancouver. The river and its tributaries provide habitat, migration routes, nutrients, and food sources to many ecosystems and communities that exist within the basin. The Fraser Basin is comprised of a mixture of mountainous terrain, interior plains, and inter-mountain valleys. The plains and the valleys are covered with glacial, alluvial, and lacustrine deposits, and the mountains are made up of colluvium and outcrop (predominantly metamorphic and igneous rocks). The Fraser River is naturally high in sediment load due to erosion as it passes through central plateau glacial deposits.

Rivers of North America (Arthur C. Benke, Colbert E. Cushing – 2005)
Wikipedia (Fraser River)

Keywords: Drainage Basin

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Watershed Facts

Discharge rate at the River mouth: The Fraser River flows at an average rate of around 3550 m3/second and dumps up to 20 million tonnes of sediment at its mouth in the Fraser Basin Delta. In addition to the industrial stresses exerted on the region, new development pressures metastasize as the vibrant Vancouver region draws more residents and more economic activity.



At the delta mouth of the river in the Lower Fraser valley, there are a number of recreational opportunities including walking, bird watching, picnicking, fishing and boating. The riverhead is in the Rocky Mountains, and there it provides a haven for canoeing, kayaking, and whitewater rafting enthusiasts. There are viewpoints, parks, trails, and an aerial tram that can take sightseers across the Fraser River.



Further exploration continued as George Simpson came to the river in 1828 to decide whether Fort Langley would be adequate as the Hudson Bay Company’s main Pacific depot. Most of British Columbia’s history is linked to the Fraser River because it was an important and essential route between the Interior and the Coast.


Water Quality

After accessing all of the site-specific conditions and how well-protected the aquatic life is, the Index ranks waterbodies in the categories of Excellent, Good, Fair, Marginal, or Poor. It drains about one-quarter of the province’s water and ranges from central British Columbia, to Southwest British Columbia and east to the Rocky Mountains near Jasper.


The River

They do not damage or physically harm the adult fish; however, with the establishment of commercial salmon farming, sea lice parasites on juvenile salmon pose a great threat or even death to the young fish. Several organizations and biologists claim that salmon farming located along west Coast of BC are responsible for the dramatic decrease of wild sockeye salmon in the Fraser River in 2009.