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The Science of Improving Iowa’s Water Quality


Posted on October 22nd, 2020

A few months ago, I wrote an essay that discussed the abandonment of empiricism and the contempt some of our elected leaders apparently have for science and scientists. A couple of recent items motivated me to write about this again. The first was hearing one of the presidential candidates mocking his opponent with the line […]

Dream On

Posted on October 14th, 2020

E. coli (Escherichia coli) belong to a group of bacteria sourced to the intestinal tract of vertebrates, including human beings. Much of the mass contained within a stool is the living and dead bodies of these bacteria, and billions upon billions of them are necessary to orchestrate one movement. There are many strains of E. […]

On Brothels and Cathedrals

Posted on September 10th, 2020

Clayton County’s Bloody Run Creek is designated an “Outstanding Iowa Water” by the Iowa DNR because limestone geology and a modestly-undisturbed watershed support a clear, cold stream that is home to trout and other pollution-intolerant species. In a state with 72,000 miles of streams and 120 or so lakes and reservoirs, Bloody Run is one […]

The Land of Milk and Money

Posted on September 3rd, 2020

Acknowledgement: Professors Silvia Secchi and Dave Cwiertny provided some information and inspiration for this essay. In the electricity-free aftermath of the derecho, somebody at the Ankeny Hy-Vee grocery store dumped 800 gallons of milk down the storm sewer. No amount of helpful smiles were able to keep this milk from entering Fourmile Creek, which runs […]

Everyone’s responsible so no one is responsible

Posted on July 27th, 2020

Roundup is the Monsanto trade name for the isopropylamine salt of glyphosate, and it is also known to chemists as N-(phosphonomethyl)glycine. As organic compounds go, it is not a complex molecule. The chemical is a broad-spectrum herbicide, meaning it can kill a lot of plant species. It’s been especially effective on annual grasses and broadleaf weeds that […]

When the Ship Comes In

Posted on July 14th, 2020

The photo below (credit David Thoreson) was taken at Iowa’s West Lake Okoboji this past 4th of July weekend. Ignoring for a while what it may show about the effectiveness of volunteerism in suppressing the coronavirus, I’d like to point out that this is one area of Iowa where our legislature has chosen to pursue […]

Ripe as a Roadkill Raccoon

Posted on June 3rd, 2020

Hydrologists classify watersheds using a hierarchical system that “nests” watersheds within one another, an idea that resembles a broad oak tree with the trunk being a large river such as the Mississippi and the countless branches its numerous tributaries. Each watershed or branch is given a number—a Hydrologic Unit Code (HUC) with the larger branches […]

China journal

Posted on April 15th, 2020

Note: Four years ago today (4/15), State Geologist Keith Schilling and I traveled to China at the invitation of Keith’s Ph.D. advisor at the University of Iowa, You-Kuan Zhang. You-Kuan had recently left UI to become a faculty member at Shenzhen University near Hong Kong. We went there with the intention of deploying a nitrate […]

“I’m not a scientist”

Posted on March 31st, 2020

You may have noticed that we have few trained scientists occupying elected positions in the United States. In the 115th Congress (1), members include one chemist, one physicist and one microbiologist, all in the house. By comparison there are 218 attorneys (including 47 former prosecutors and 15 judges), 101 teachers, 26 farmers, 8 ordained ministers, […]

Hair of the Dog

Posted on March 16th, 2020

Dr. Silvia Secchi wrote most of this; I added a dash of bitters here and there. The post expands on the interview Dr. Secchi gave to National Public Radio’s All Things Considered, which can be found here: The Iowa congressional delegation and many agricultural economists have been arguing over the small refineries exemption, which reduces the […]