Sophomore College 2017: Water and Power in the Pacific Northwest– The Columbia River

Stanford's Sophomore College provides rising second-year students with an opportunity for three weeks of intensive, research-based study with senior faculty in a range of subjects and disciplines. The Bill Lane Center regularly sponsors Sophomore College courses on the North American West.


Water and Power in the Pacific Northwest: The Columbia River

This seminar will explore the nature of and coupling between water and energy resources in the Pacific Northwest, using the Columbia River as our case study.  We will explore the hydrologic, meteorologic, and geologic basis of water and energy resources, and the practical, social, environmental, economic, and political issues surrounding their development in the West.

The Columbia River and its watershed provide a revealing prototype for examining these issues. A transnational, multi-state river with the largest residual populations of anadromous salmonids in the continental US, it provides a substantial fraction of the electrical energy produced in the Northwest (the Grand Coulee dam powerhouse on the Columbia is the largest-capacity hydropower facility in the US), it is a major bulk commodity transportation link to the interior West via its barge navigation system, it provides the water diversions supporting a large area of irrigated agriculture in Washington and Idaho, and its watershed is home to significant sources of solar and wind energy.  We will use the Columbia to study water and energy resources, and especially their coupling, in the context of rapid climate change, ecosystem impacts, economics, and public policy.

We will begin with a week of classroom study and discussion on campus, preparing for the field portion of the seminar.  We will then travel to the Columbia basin, spending approximately 10 days visiting a number of water and energy facilities across the watershed, e.g., solar, wind, and natural gas power plants; dams and reservoirs with their powerhouses, fish passage facilities, navigation locks, and flood-mitigation systems; an irrigation project; operation centers; and offices of regulatory agencies.  We will meet with relevant policy experts and public officials, along with some of the stakeholders in the basin.

Over the summer students will be responsible for assigned readings from several sources, including monographs, online materials, and recent news articles.  During the trip, students will work in small groups to analyze and assess one aspect of the coupling between water and energy resources in the Northwest.  The seminar will culminate in presentations on these analyses.

Note: Students will arrive on campus on Monday, September 4 (Labor Day) and will be housed at Stanford before departing for the travel portion of the course. Travel expenses during the seminar will be provided (except incidentals) by the Bill Lane Center for the American West and Sophomore College.


Other Courses:

2016: Environmental and Resource Challenges on Native American Lands

2015: Energy in the Southwest

2014: Energy in the West

2013: In the Age of the Anthropocene: Coupled Human-Natural Systems of Southeast Alaska

2012: People, Land, and Water in the Heart of the West

2011: The Colorado River: Water in the West as Seen from a Raft in the Grand Canyon

2008: Land and Water Policies in the West

2007: The Federal Government and the West

2006: What's the Matter with California?

2005: Spinning the Western Past: Washington, D.C., and the Manufacturing of American Memory