Dedicated to advancing scholarly and public understanding of the past, present, and future of western North America, the Center supports research, teaching, and reporting about western land and life in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
Richard Luthy is a Stanford professor of civil and environmental engineering, senior fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment and a member of the Water in the West project. Together with a multi-university team of researchers, Prof. Luthy has won an $18.5 million investment from the National Science Foundation to research new, sustainable techniques for managing urban water supplies.
Over the next five years, the funding will establish an Engineering Research Center (ERC) on urban water that will bring together researchers from environmental engineering, earth sciences, hydrology, ecology, urban studies, economics and law. Collaborating on the project with Stanford are the University of California, Berkeley, the Colorado School of Mines and New Mexico State University.
"Urban water represents a monumental challenge for the United States," Prof. Luthy told the Stanford News Service, "and it deserves concerted research and thinking on the grandest scale."
By Maika Nicholson
M.S. Civil and Environmental Engineering, 2012
The San Francisco Estuary Institute’s (SFEI) Historical Ecology (HE) Program seeks to learn how habitats were distributed and ecological functions were maintained within the native California landscape. By understanding how streams, wetlands, and woodlands were organized along physical gradients, a primary aim of the HE Program is to help scientists and managers develop new strategies for more integrated and functional landscape management.
I’m just finishing up my fourth week at SFEI-- another enjoyable day, leafing through the piles of historical maps and texts. Penitencia Creek is located within the Coyote Creek Watershed , on the east side of the Santa Clara Valley near Milpitas. I’m searching for clues about the drainage patterns and habitats that characterized Arroyo la Penitencia, prior to modification in the mid-19th Century. The creek provides significant potential for stream restoration and anadromous fish recover, and the aim of this study is to fill knowledge gaps and inform a number of ongoing and planned environmental restoration and management efforts for the watershed.
By Emily Pollock
B.A. Candidate in Anthropology, 2013
Seattle City Light was voted into existence in 1911 by Seattle citizens as a way for the City of Seattle to compete with private companies for control and production of hydroelectric power. The department quickly established itself as a strong national symbol of municipal power and the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project in the North Cascades was main attraction. Tourism has always been a large part of this operation, but since 9/11 the public hasn’t been allowed inside the powerhouses and a few years ago the tours were retracted entirely due to budget deficits.
My job this summer is to create a new tour, one that will take visitors all the way from the company town of Newhalem to the magnificent Ross Dam, the third and highest Dam in the Project. The tours will not only focus on the history of the Skagit Project, but on the ecology and geology of the area, Seattle City Light’s commitment to the environment and fish populations, and the production of power on the “river of a million horsepower.” I have been busy sifting through historical records, meeting with ecologists, fisheries experts, archaeologists and engineers, as well as taking trips up to the Project itself! I spent a few days up in Newhalem (the Skagit company town) this week working out some logistical kinks of my tour- but the highlight was getting to observe the lighting experts trying to re-create the historical nighttime up-lighting of Ladder Creek Falls nestled behind Gorge powerhouse- and it was simply breathtaking. It’s juxtapositions of nature and human engineering like this that make this project to fun and worthwhile to work on- a daily reminder that some of our greatest innovations can not only harness Mother Nature to our benefit, but can also protect and celebrate it.
Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns »
By Chris Rurik
B.A. English, minor in Geological and Environmental Science, 2011
The other day, we had a slight emergency in the Yellowstone National Park museum collections. While doing an inventory of the prized wolf skull collection, my fellow intern and I noticed some web-like material in the crevices of a few of the skulls. A small infestation, possibly spiders – bad news in a facility that exists so that the collection’s hundreds of thousands of objects won’t be exposed to damage from humidity, light, or insects.
As quitting time (on the last day of the week, no less) came and went, we frantically sealed almost a hundred skulls and boxes of “post-cranial material” into airtight bags and wheeled the whole collection into a walk-in freezer. The freeze-thaw-freeze-vacuum procedure for eliminating the infestation is ongoing.
Photograph by Anita Gould via Flickr
After attending the Uncommon Dialogue on Rangelands organized by the Center and the Woods Institute for the Environment in May, the livestock rancher and environmental lawyer Nicolette Hahn Niman was moved to write this post for the Atlantic Monthly:
Here on our ranch, the yard and gardens are now humming with so many busy bees that if I let our two-year-old go barefoot outside, I'd probably get arrested for child endangerment. Meanwhile, a suburban woman recently complained to me that she hadn't seen a single bee in her garden this year. This contrast would make perfect sense to scientists at the University of California - Berkeley, who've just released a study showing that grazing lands provide critical habitats for wild bees and other pollinators.
– "A Way to Save America's Bees: Buy Free-Range Beef" by Nicolette Hahn Niman
Photograph: United States Department of Agriculture
It's no secret that California's water management is highly fragmented and localized, especially the 30 percent of the state's water that is pumped from the ground each year. But according to a new study by Center researcher Rebecca Nelson and the Water in the West project, some local water districts are developing enlightened practices to promote sustainable management of their groundwater.
Nelson and her fellow researchers at the Center and the Woods Institute for the Environment have published their findings in a new report entitled "Uncommon Innovation: Developments in Groundwater Management Planning in California." "The homegrown innovations uncovered by this report point the way forward for local agencies to better manage groundwater in California," Nelson told the Stanford News Service, "and the way towards an updated and improved state policy structure to encourage them to do so."
In June, the Center's faculty co-directors Richard White and David M. Kennedy sat for a thought-provoking conversation about the transcontinental railroad – and the tycoons who built it – at the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco.
Prof. White also appeared in an interview on NPR's Morning Edition today, which is available online.
We've just published a data visualization of three centuries of American newspapers on the Center's Rural West Initiative site. Showing how newspapers followed the great expansion West in the 19th and 20th Centuries, the visualization uses over a hundred thousand listings of US newspapers culled from the Library of Congress' database.
The map was co-produced with the Center's Research Assistants Dan Chang, Yuankai Ge, Yinfeng Qin and Jason Wang, and 2009-2010 Knight Journalism Fellow Krissy Clark, now at KQED public media. Thanks for all your help!
Photo: What's Next California
At last weekend's "What's Next California?" deliberative poll in Torrance, nearly 400 participants discussed and debated the state's initiative process, tax policy, state and local governmance and legislative representation. Part of the Center's California Constiutional Reform project, the weekend-long forum was taped by a public television film crew for an upcoming documentary.
The designer of the process of "deliberative polling," Stanford Professor James Fishkin, gave his thoughts on the event on its last day in a YouTube video, and he will also be speaking about the project at the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco on June 30th.
More news about the deliberative poll can be found on the What's Next California website »