Obituary: Rivers and streams were Thomas Waters' passion

  • Article by: PAM LOUWAGIE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 3, 2012 - 9:31 PM

Thomas F. Waters aimed to instill a love of the outdoors in future generations.

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Thomas Waters

Beginning as a little boy who took his fishing pole to the creeks near his childhood home in Michigan, Thomas F. Waters found his life's passion in rivers and streams.

By the time he died at age 86 last month, he had studied them scientifically as a professor of fisheries at the University of Minnesota, he had written books, poems and songs about them and, some say, he had influenced state DNR policy decisions designed to protect them.

Waters is lauded in conservation circles for writing about environmental science in a way that was accessible to the general public.

"Thomas Waters helped us understand that the river is more than water flowing through, it is everything around the river," said Rich Cornell, who came across Waters' work while researching a book about Wisconsin's Chippewa River. "The quality of water in the river is determined by everything that flows into the river."

Cornell ended up creating a documentary on Waters. "He just absolutely was crazy about rivers."

As a scientist, Waters was known for researching how aquatic insects release their hold on the bottom of the river and flow with the current at specific times of day, said former colleague George Spangler, professor emeritus of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology at the university.

Waters often consulted state DNR decision-makers formulating regulations on public access to streams and land use surrounding streams, Spangler said. Waters advocated keeping trout populations strong by keeping streams clean instead of simply adding fish back into them, Spangler said.

Waters' daughter, Liz Waters, said her father chose a career where his love of the outdoors went hand-in-hand with his desire to teach new generations to love it, too.

"He was always in teacher mode," she said. As the family drove to their cabin on the Snake River near Mora, Minn., her father would see a stream and start talking to Liz and her two brothers about stream ecology, she said. "We'd start talking about mayflies or something. ... That was his life."

During his last year, in assisted living, Waters perked up for visitors from his teaching days, his daughter said. "He would start talking about these things as if it was yesterday."

In one of the six books that he authored, "The Rivers of Minnesota," Waters wrote about the old adage to take a kid fishing.

"Standing in a rushing riffle, mention the need for that clear water," he wrote. "Turn over a stone or two to discover some mayfly nymphs. Think of him or her not just as a kid going fishing, but also as a future scientist, or a senator, or maybe even a judge hearing a water pollution lawsuit."

Tom Waters was a World War II veteran, serving in the Navy from 1944 to 1946. He was a professor from 1958 to 1991. He continued to fish and hunt, play guitar and write, publishing his last book in 2010. Besides Liz, he is survived by sons Dan Waters and Ben Waters.

A memorial service and reception will be held at 10 a.m. Oct. 20 at the Cargill Building on the University of Minnesota's St. Paul campus, 1500 Gortner Av.

Pam Louwagie • 612-673-7102

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