Director’s Letter April 2021

A Quiz...

My quiz of the month—name this environmental feature!

Its moods range from raging in the spring to placid and calm in the fall.

It is 1450 miles long.

It starts in La Poudre Pass Lake west of Fort Collins, but if we can make a reasonable argument that much of the journey starts in the valleys above Gothic.

It supports $1.4 trillion in annual economic activity and 16 million jobs in the American southwest.

It is the Colorado River!  The Gunnison River, which formally starts when Gothic’s East River and the Taylor River come together in Almont, provides 40% of the water in the Colorado River.

Starting with Dr. J David Allan in the mid- 1970’s there has been a rich stream of scientific publications flowing out of Gothic.  Following in the current of David Allen, Dr. Bobbi Peckarsky her collaborators have extended the work.  Her impact on our understanding of streams goes well beyond Gothic; in 2008 she received the North American Benthological Society’s Award of Excellence (see adjoining article for more about Bobbi).  Collectively RMBL scientists have generated hundreds of papers.

RMBL’s stream research highlights the relationship between policy, economics, and fundamental research.  If you have ever had the privilege of watching Bobbi and her research team (the Benthettes) in action, with waders, plastic tubs, and the occasional extensive plumbing to create artificial streams, you will quickly pick up that they are driven by passion and joy for the streams, for the teaching, and for each other.

While many RMBL supporters motivated by the passion for discovery, there are others who are just as drawn by impact.  RMBL research has helped us think about a legal framework for the benefits of leaving water in streams, the use of stream insects for managing water quality, the complicated ways in which invasive genes can impact water quality and disease transmission dynamics and provided insights into the lags between drought and stream flows.  If you peruse the actual science papers (check out it may seem a stretch to link the science to policy; exploration rarely follows a straight line.  But as our foundation of knowledge about the streams increases, our ability to answer more sophisticated questions about streams only grows.  At a value of $1,000,000,000,000+/year, it does not take much of a percentage improvement in terms of our ability to manage water quality and quantity to have a significant economic impact.

If you are interested in the further exploring the relationship between science and society, I highly recommend Walter Isaacson’s book The Code Breaker about Dr. Jennifer Doudna and the discovery and development of gene editing tools. It captures the way that curiosity (in this case, the oddness of viral genomes that were incorporated in bacterial DNA) can lead to discoveries that will literally rewrite life.  Isaacson also does a nice job of documenting the complexity of competition and collaboration in driving discovery.  To emphasize just how unpredictable the process of discovery is, I will provide a free 2021 RMBL t-shirt to the first two people who email me the name of the scientist (excepting scientists who collaborate with or are from the home institution of that person) who shows up in Isaacson’s book and also has a link to RMBL stream research.

Ian Billick - Director RMBL

Ian Billick | PhD
Executive Director, RMBL