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Sophomore College

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.

CancelLed: Sophomore College 2020

Water and Power in the Pacific Northwest—The Columbia River

The 2017 cohort poses during a facility tour.

Due to the travel restrictions in place related to COVID-19, the entire Sophomore College program was cancelled for September 2020.

This seminar will explore the nature of and coupling between water, energy, and environmental resources in the Pacific Northwest.

Focusing on the Columbia River, we will explore the geographic, hydrologic, meteorologic, and geologic bases of water, energy, and other natural resources in the Columbia watershed; the historical determinants and consequences of their utilizatiion by indigenous peoples and later settlers; and the economic, social, environmental, and political  issues surrounding those resources in today’s Columbia Basin, including the impact of climate change as well as shifting cultural and legal standards for resource utilization.

A transnational, multi-state river with a rich human history and the largest residual populations of anadromous salmonids in the continental US, the Columbia supplies a substantial fraction of the electrical energy produced in the Northwest. From Lewis and Clark’s dugout canoes to today’s vast  volume of barge traffic, the river has been the major transportation link between the Pacific Ocean and the interior Northwest. It provides the water that irrigates an enormous agricultural empire in Washington and Idaho. Its watershed is also home to the Hanford Reservation, birthplace of the Nagasaki atomic bomb, a major producer of he U.S. nuclear arsenal during the Cold War, and today one of the most environmentally toxic sites in the nation. Resource management in the basin is spread across local, state, and Federal, and international agencies, along with several Native American nations.

We will begin with a week of classroom study and discussion on campus, preparing for the field portion of the seminar.  We will then spend approximately ten days in the Columbia basin, visiting historical sites, Native American communities, and several water, energy, resource management facilities across the watershed, e.g., dams and reservoirs with their powerhouses, fish passage facilities, navigation locks, and flood-mitigation systems; a fish hatchery; an irrigation project; operation centers; and offices of regulatory agencies. We will meet with local residents and relevant policy experts and public officials, along with other 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 maintain a daily reflective journal, and participate in discussion and debate.

Read about the experiences of the 2017 "Water and Power in the Pacific Northwest" cohort here.



David Freyberg
Associate Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering
David M. Kennedy
Donald J. McLachlan Professor of History, Emeritus

Important Logistics

Travel expenses during the seminar will be provided (except incidentals) by the Bill Lane Center for the American West and Sophomore College. Participants will be back on campus by 



Past Courses:

2019: Energy in Hawaii: Forefront of Clean Energy Technology and Policy

2018: Fighting Over Our Common Heritage: Public Lands in the West

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

2016: Managing Natural Resources on Native American Lands

2015: Energy in the Southwest

2014: Energy in the West

2013: The Last Frontier of the American West

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

2007: The Federal Government and the West

2006: What's the Matter with California?

2005: Spinning the West