Congratulations to the 2024 Spirit of Water Contest Winners:

1st Place- “I Am” by Keira Mueller, 9th grader from Ankeny, Iowa
2nd Place- “Tranquility to Determination” by Andrea Saldana-Valdez, 10th grader from Des Moines, Iowa
3rd Place- “The Indispensable Fount of Life”  by Joe Sernett, 11th grader from Ankeny, Iowa

About the Spirit of the Water Essay Contest

The Spirit of the Water Essay Contest was established and is funded through a generous gift from Betty and Dennis Keeney, formerly of Ames, Iowa, and now living in Madison, Wisconsin. Dennis was the first director of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture and former director of the Iowa Water Center (IWC).

In 2016, the Iowa Water Center hosted the first Spirit of the Water Essay Contest for high school students across the state of Iowa. Since then, the essay contest has been hosted by IWC on an annual basis. The Spirit of the Water Essay Contest’s purpose is to inspire Iowa youth to explore, reflect, and communicate the importance of water in our lives and communities.

Essay Acceptance

Essays are accepted now through April 12, 2024. Submissions will be evaluated by a three-person panel representing the Iowa water community.

Essay winners will receive a monetary prize and a course scholarship to the Iowa Lakeside Laboratory. Winning essays will be distributed at the Iowa Water Conference in the fall of 2024. In addition, prize recipients will connect to those who impact water resource management in Iowa. 


Spirit of the Water Essay Contest 2024 Prompt

We challenge Iowa high school students to write an essay that relates to the following theme: 

Life Depends on Water. Water Depends on You. 

An emphasis should be placed on water resource management within the essay. 

Submissions should also include a photo taken by the student to support their essay related to this topic. 

How to Apply to the 2024 Spirit of the Water Essay Contest

To apply for the 2024 Spirit of the Water Essay Contest, you must complete the following:


Select the Creative Writing Track or the Research Track for your essay:

  1. Creative Writing Track: A written work that displays imagination or invention. Written works can be in the form of storytelling with the use of literary themes, character development, and expresses thoughts and emotions related to one of the photos. Creative writing can be fiction or non-fiction.
  2. Research Track: An essay written with clarity and organization that synthesizes what is learned from written material and scientific discovery as related to one of the photos. Research essays require a minimum of three resources.


Include a photo that you have taken to support your essay.


Submit your essay and student information form to by April 12, 2024, 5PM Central Time.

Submission Requirements

Essay length: 500-1000 words (approximately 4 pages typed in 12-point font, double-spaced). Please use in-text citations when using a reference. The reference list does not count towards the required essay length and must use MLA formatting. 

Submission Deadline: April 12, 2024, 5PM Central Time.


Your essay along with the Student Information form. See below for more information.


1st Place:

$500 cash prize. One full college-course scholarship or 4 credit hours total at the Iowa Lakeside Laboratory ($1700 value).

2nd Place:

$300 cash prize. 2 credit-hour course scholarship at the Iowa Lakeside Laboratory ($900 value).

3rd Place:

$300 cash prize.

We recognize the positive impact of diversity and welcome applications from all students meeting eligibility guidelines. Persons with documented disabilities are encouraged to contact IWC staff to make timely requests for reasonable accommodations.