Paul Dierking: The Inquisitive Engineer
According to Paul Dierking’s parents, he was the kind of kid who asked “how?” and “why?” … a lot.
That inquisitive nature has taken Dierking from the family farm to a career in water resources engineering with a major engineering consulting firm. Dierking, an IIHR alumnus and a member of the institute’s Advisory Board, says he finds his work with HDR in Chicago increasingly interesting and challenging — but that doesn’t mean he’s forgotten his farm roots.
In fact, Dierking thoroughly enjoyed his boyhood on the rolling hills of eastern Nebraska, and he looks forward to visiting each fall to help with the harvest. He grew up observing occasional flooding and his family’s efforts to mitigate those problems. “That’s part of where my interest in water resources originates,” Dierking says.
An IIHR Education
He studied civil engineering at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and learned about IIHR through an internship with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). After visiting the institute, Dierking and his wife Darcia, an audiologist, both decided to continue their studies at the University of Iowa. The choice was a good one.
“It couldn’t have worked out much better,” Dierking says. At IIHR, he was a part of the Hells Canyon model study, led by IIHR Research Engineer Larry Weber. The team investigated flow regimes at the dam, and how modifying the flow with structures such as deflectors affects total dissolved gas levels that can impact migrating salmon. Dierking particularly liked working on a project with real-world implications.
Dierking began his professional career with HDR at the firm’s Omaha headquarters. He spent nine productive years in this busy office, which includes some 300 engineering staff members. When a position opened up at HDR’s Chicago office, Dierking and his wife decided they were ready for a new adventure. Dierking serves as section manager of the water resources team in Chicago, and with his colleagues, he has been tasked with developing the water resources practice in the Chicago area.
Stopping the Invaders
The Chicago HDR team got an instant boost in visibility from a contract with the Great Lakes Commission to study the feasibility of building a physical barrier between the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River basins. The threat of Asian carp entering the Great Lakes through the Chicago Area Waterway System (and other invasive species transferring in either direction) has raised concerns among environmentalists, fishery managers, and scientists. The HDR team looked at the potential locations, costs, benefits, and impacts of such a barrier; the study indicated that the most viable separation scenario was to construct barriers that closely replicate the original hydrological divide.
Through this high-profile study, Dierking and his colleagues made connections with government officials and agencies in the Chicago area, including USACE’s Great Lakes and Mississippi River Interbasin Study (GLMRIS) team. GLMRIS is investigating a broader array of control technologies to reduce the risk of invasive species transfer through numerous aquatic pathways around the Great Lakes. While a long-term permanent solution may be decades away, the HDR team has recently focused on near-term measures for partial separation, which would further reduce the risk of invasive species transfer.
A Family Man
Outside of work hours, Dierking is active in his church and community, and he likes to run and play basketball. Basketball has been a passion since he played for his high school team in Scribner, Neb. Dierking admits he’s pretty competitive on the court. “I have fun with it too,” he says.
But Dierking dedicates most of his free time to his young and growing family. He and Darcia have two children: Jonathan, 3, and Elsie, 7 months. Before long, Dierking fully expects to be answering endless rounds of “how?” and “why?” as his own children learn about the world around them.