Spirit of the Water Essay Contest

In 2016, the Iowa Water Center conducted its first-ever essay writing contest for high school students in Iowa. The Spirit of the Water Essay Contest was established and funded through a generous gift from Betty and Dennis Keeney of Ames, Iowa. It is now an annual competition that inspires Iowa youth to explore, reflect, and communicate the importance of water in their lives and communities.
The contest is conducted in the fall and winter, with winners announced at the Iowa Water Conference in March. Submissions to the contest are evaluated by a panel of agency representatives, industry experts, and researchers in water. The top three essays receive a monetary prize, publication in an e-anthology, and a scholarship to attend a summer course at Iowa Lakeside Laboratory: Regents Resource Center.

2019 Contest

The Iowa Water Center will release the next essay contest prompt in summer 2018. 
All submission materials include:
Essay (see submission guidelines above)
Student Information Form
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.

Previous Contests


Essay prompt: Water is connected to us, regardless of where we live. Individuals who work in a farm field, have a backyard, or work in city infrastructure can make a difference to protect and improve water. Identify someone in your community or in Iowa who is implementing a water improvement practice, project, or carrying out a policy. How they are making a difference for Iowa’s natural resources?
a.       Select a community member, elected official, government agency official, or farmer
b.       Describe the practice/policy in place
c.       Describe what motivates that individual to do the practice/project/policy
d.       Describe how others can emulate his/her work
Contest winners:
First Place: Laura Stowater, Algona High School
Second Place: Lucas Lowder, Xavier High School in Cedar Rapids
Third Place: Michaela Holvoet, Davenport North
Contest Judges:
Dr. John Lawrence Vice President of Extension & Outreach, Iowa State University
Dr. Richard Cruse Director, Iowa Water Center
Melissa Miller Associate Director, Iowa Water Center
2018 Iowa Water Center Spirit of the Water Essay Contest Anthology


Essay prompt: Think of a body of water that you are familiar with and the different kinds of benefits that it provides to the surrounding area. Why are places like that worth protecting?
2017 Iowa Water Center Spirit of the Water Essay Contest Anthology
Contest winners:
First Place: Donald Gee, International Baccalaureate Program at Central Academy in Des Moines
Second Place: Anna Kolln, Cedar Rapids Washington High School
Third Place: Tyler Buman, Harlan Community High School
Honorable Mention: Maggie Langenfeld, Harlan Community High School
Contest judges:
Laura Crowell
State Public Affairs Specialist, Iowa Natural Resources Conservation Service
Betty Keeney
Spirit of the Water Essay Contest Benefactor
Dennis Keeney
Spirt of the Water Essay Contest Benefactor; Emeritus Professor, Iowa State University; Former director, Iowa Water Center; First director, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture
Bill Northey
Secretary of Agriculture, State of Iowa

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