WRS student Taylor Nelson pursues her MS degree while helping track efficacy of MNDot rest area septics

This fall WRS student Taylor Nelson will be investigating MDOT rest stops, studying water useage at the rest stop septic systems. This is not how Nelson, as a Biology/pre-med freshman at Luther College in Decorah Iowa, would have envisaged her post-graduate work.  She redirected her studies early on in her undergrad career; taking a physiology class was an eye-opener: “I hated it!” she remembers, with a laugh.  With medical school no longer an attractive option, Nelson became intrigued with a Luther microbiology professor’s research into Ecoli in the nearby Upper Iowa River. She assisted with collection, manual filtering of the water and colony counting. Nelson’s passion for water quality found its home in the laboratory. Her Ecoli counting also made her think twice about recreating on the river: “Tubing on the river somewhat lost its appeal for me, at least in the short term,” she recalls.

Nelson spent many happy summers visiting her grandmother in Two Harbors, MN enjoying the pristine waters of Lake Superior and the Knife River. Preserving the purity of surface and groundwater in Minnesota became the roadmap to Nelson’s choice of study. While interested in the field of public health, she realized she would miss working in the field and laboratory, so Nelson zeroed in on microbiology and the WRS program. “I liked the wide variety of classes and interdisciplinary nature of the program that all connected back to water resources,” says Nelson.

While assisting Sara Heger with the MNDot rest stop septic system survey, Nelson will also continue to work on another project, an analysis of household practices in Ottertail County and how they affect septic system performance. Using existing homeowner surveys from hundreds of county residents, Nelson is matching that data with separate septic system surveys, connecting homeowner behavior with the life span and quality of their septic systems. “If people knew that all that bleach they use to clean their homes seriously compromises the effectiveness of their septic system, I think they would change to more environmentally-friendly cleaners,” says Nelson.

Nelson will graduate from the WRS program with a master’s degree, and hopes to pursue a career in the private sector, helping proactive manufacturers create and follow best practices for water conservation and environmental protection.