Perspectives: The Rose Parade and Hydropower

I spent Jan. 1, 2013, in Pasadena, Calif., watching the Rose Bowl Parade. My 16-year-old daughter marched down Colorado Boulevard as a band member (color guard) of the Pride of Broken Arrow, Okla., with more than 700,000 people cheering along the 5-and-a-half-mile-long route. As I observed this amazing spectacle of ingenuity, talent, natural beauty and enthusiasm … and reflected on the grand history of the event … I couldn’t help but make the connection between this parade and hydropower.

According to the Tournament of Roses website, the event was begun in 1890 by the Valley Hunt Club (an exclusive social club in Pasadena) to promote the city as the “Mediterranean of the West.” One member, Professor Charles F. Holder, is quoted as saying: “In New York, people are buried in snow. Here our flowers are blooming and our oranges are about to bear. Let’s hold a festival to tell the world about our paradise.”

The club organized chariot and foot races, jousting, polo and tug-of-war under the warm California sun, along with a parade of carriages decorated with hundreds of fresh flowers. Hence, the Tournament of Roses was born. The website describes the growth of the event over the next few years: “the festival expanded to include marching bands and motorized floats. … Reviewing stands were built along the Parade route, and Eastern newspapers began to take notice of the event. In 1895, the Tournament of Roses Association was formed to take charge of the festival.”

About this same time – the late 1800s – a fury of activity was occurring in the U.S. to harness water to generate electricity. In Wisconsin, Michigan, New York and Minnesota, enterprising entrepreneurs were using water to provide mechanical power to turn a turbine, which, in turn, spun a generator to create electricity. This electricity illuminated hotels, stores and streets, attracting thousands of people to the businesses and social gatherings – just as the California sun and the beautiful array of floral delights did in Pasadena.

Since these early days, both the Rose Parade and hydropower have come a long way.

Today, the parade features elaborate floats with high-tech computerized animation and exotic natural materials from around the world. According to the Tournament of Roses, although a few floats are still built exclusively by volunteers, most are built by professional float-building companies and take nearly a year to construct, with price tags of several hundreds of thousands of dollars each.

For hydropower, the use of computer technology, numerical modeling and diagnostic capabilities has transformed simple manual operations of a hydro plant into sophisticated, often completely automated and amazingly precise and efficient facilities providing electricity at the exact second it’s needed.

And there are other similarities. Both the Rose Parade and the hydropower industry relied … and continue to rely … on the visions of individuals who see value in what they have to share, and find ways to do just that … year after year.

As part of a pre-parade float construction tour, I was enthralled to watch workers take a specific flower, seed or plant and painstakingly create one element that would be added to thousands of other elements to create a unbelievable masterpiece of a float. Those thousands of workers don’t ride the floats on New Year’s morning or receive the glory, but, without them, there would be no Rose Parade.

That’s how it is with hydro, too. Thousands of engineers, maintenance workers, biologists, water resource specialists, regulatory experts, equipment suppliers (and the list goes on!) doing their part to contribute to the building, operation and maintenance of hydro projects. While they are quiet and unassuming, these individuals are essential for the continuation of a healthy, sustainable hydropower industry … like the float constructors are to the famous Rose Parade.


“Tracking the Pioneers of Hydroelectricity,” Hydro Review, October 1997.

Marla J. Barnes
Publisher and Chief Editor


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