Aidan Quinlan’s “When Water Makes You Blue” photo submission.


The Iowa Water Center held their annual high school essay writing competition across Iowa for the 2021- 2022 school year. The title of the competition, “Spirit of Water,” invoked a fond memory in the competition winner, homeschooled 12th grader Samantha Roth from Earlham, Iowa. Each contestant was required to use either an old photo or take a new one of a water feature that meant something to them and write a creative work or research piece based around this single snapshot, focusing on resource management and habitat activity. Samantha chose the creative writing path with a work titled “Not Just Water,” a story about a grandfather and his grandchild spending a day cleaning a creek. The picture Samantha chose depicted a creek nestled into an overgrown forest. Following begrudgingly behind her grandpa, the main character waded through the water, picking up trash and slowly learning to appreciate the beauty of water and the need to protect it. The piece ends as the main character decides to take action in stopping pollution and creating a better Earth.  

Each submitted piece was encouraged to include conservation practices, a geographic location, habitats, wildlife, human-ecology interactions, and other similar topics. The contest received ten submissions— each between 500-1000 words— for the creative writing track, and 3 winners were chosen. Homeschooled 9th grader Karli Roth from Earhlam, Iowa won second place with a creative work titled “Small Creatures of the Water,” which was based on a picture of a quaint section of a stream, the rippling water lined with fallen leaves. The story focused on a character named Sadie and her Aunt Becky as they stood by the stream and discussed the ways in which to identify healthy ecosystems versus sick ones. The main character learned from her aunt the importance of insects for water health and their impact on the food chain.  

The third place winner, Aidan Quinlan, an 11th grader at Iowa Valley High School in Marengo, Iowa, wrote a creative piece titled “When Water Makes You Blue” for a Creative Writing class in the Fall of 2021. The piece utilized a close-up picture of clear water, bubbles forming on the rocks lining the shore. Aidan’s story began with the death of an infant due to too much nitrate in his blood, which stopped his breathing. The infant’s mother, Emily, was then hospitalized due to the same issue. The story jumps to a year later as the mother fights for justice in court and to raise awareness of the potential impacts of water pollution on human health.  

These three students will be recognized for their achievements during the 2022 Iowa Water Conference and their works will be published online by the Iowa Water Center. Samantha Roth, the first place winner, won $500 and a scholarship for a college course— 4 credits— at the Iowa Lakeside Laboratory, worth a total of $1,700. Karli Roth won $300 and a 2 credit scholarship at the Iowa Lakeside Laboratory for winning second place. And for third place, Aidan Quinlan won $300. The Iowa Lakeside Laboratory in West Okoboji Lake provides science classes and research opportunities for university students by outreach programs and services through state universities. The first and second place winners get to choose any summer course at the laboratory to further their water journey.  


Read Samantha’s piece here.

Read Karli’s piece here.

Read Aidan’s piece here.