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.


Meet the Instructor(s)

Bruce Cain

Charles Louis Ducommun Professor in Humanities and Sciences and Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment, at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research and at the Precourt Institute for Energy

Bruce E. Cain is a professor of Political Science at Stanford University and Director of the Bill Lane Center for the American West. He received a B.A. from Bowdoin College, a B.Phil. from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, and a Ph.D. from Harvard University.  Professor Cain was Director of the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley from 1990 to 2007 and Executive Director of the UC Washington Center from 2005 to 2012.  He has won awards for his research (Richard F. Fenno Prize, 1988), teaching (Caltech 1988 and UC Berkeley 2003), and public service (Zale Award for Outstanding Achievement in Policy Research and Public Service, 2000). His areas of expertise include political regulation, applied democratic theory, representation, and state politics.

Sally Benson

Director, Precourt Institute for Energy and Professor of Energy Resources Engineering

Sally M. Benson is a Professor in the Department of Energy Resources Engineering and Co-Director of the Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford University. She received her B.A. from Barnard College in Geology and her M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of California in the Material Science and Mineral Engineering Department. Prior to joining Stanford, Benson worked at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), serving in a number of capacities, including Division Director for Earth Sciences and Associate Laboratory Director for Energy Sciences. For the past 12 years she has also led GCEP, a campus-wide research project to develop new energy technologies that radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. She is also a leading expert on Carbon Capture and Storage technology—an approach for directly reducing greenhouse emissions by capturing carbon dioxide from power plants and pumping it into deep underground formations for permanent sequestration and negative emissions.  She recently served on the Secretary of Energy’s Advisory Board Committee in Negative Emissions and the National Academy Study on Carbon Dioxide Removal and Secure Sequestration.


David Freyberg

Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Senior Fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment

David L. Freyberg is an associate professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford, where his teaching and research center on water in the environment and the human use of water, especially in the North American West.  He spends as much time as possible outdoors, for both teaching and research.  Professor Freyberg was a 1985 recipient of a Presidential Young Investigator Award, and has received recognition for excellence in undergraduate teaching, including the Stanford School of Engineering Tau Beta Pi Award twice and the School of Engineering's Eugene Grant Award for Excellence in Teaching.  He is Stanford's representative to the Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science, Inc. (CUAHSI), and the past chair of the National Research Council's Water Science and Technology Board.  He is a co-author of the widely-used text, Water-Resources Engineering.