The Dam Water Problem

When 120 GSB students departed from Schwab to participate in their Outdoor Adventure Whitewater Rafting trip, many of them envisioned scenes from the movie The River Wild. However, due to a variety of circumstances, the search for whitewater rapids in Northern California was much more like Mission Impossible.

As in recent years, this year’s OA Rafting trip sought out the rapids of the South and Middle Forks of the American River. Under normal conditions, these stretches of river provide Class III-IV rapids. (Rivers are rated from I to VI: I is easy, VI unrunnable, and V the limit of sane rafting.) Working with Whitewater Voyages, the largest rafting outfitter in the state, the rafting group headed to the small town of Coloma, CA, which is located an hour northwest of Sacramento. From there, the plan was to embark on two days of rafting on the river.

However, the California energy crisis forced a change in plans.

This is because the South and Middle Forks of the American River are dam-released rivers. Energy is generated through the controlled release of these rivers. When more energy is needed, more water is released. As a consequence of the ongoing power crisis, more water has been released than normal through the course of the year in an effort to make up for the energy shortfall. So in an attempt to ration the remaining water in the dam to cover forecasted energy needs through the rest of the year, the State of California and Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) have limited the amount of water released on weekends…effectively turning off the river.

With the rivers already at low flow since the spring snow melt has long since passed and the threat of the dams not releasing on weekends, our outfitters informed us that rafting might be impossible. We were obviously disappointed by the development, but we later learned that weekend rafting was not the only activity impacted by the shortage. The changes in dam releases have also disrupted local tourism and operations. Whitewater Voyages, founded and operated by a GSB graduate, has been operating at 60% capacity at sites affected by the dam release. Local restaurants and bars have seen business dwindle as rafters cancel trips. In fact, the Coloma Club, a local bar, chose to remain open the last weekend of the season after it heard that a large group of MBA students from Stanford would be in town. Anyone who was there Saturday night can attest to the fact that we did our best to help them make up for business they may have lost earlier in the year.

By Robert Rajalingam, MBA2

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