Clean Water Pioneer Ruth Patrick dies at 105

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The environment lost a great friend this month.

Ruth Patrick, a botanist and limnologist who essentially changed the way scientists study water by taking the focus off the water’s chemistry and placing it on its biodiversity, died on Sept. 23 at 105.

Patrick created a system to appraise the health of a body of water by gauging the health, number and diversity of its aquatic life. She also pioneered a tool to identify water pollution using microscopic algae.

A CBS news article quotes conservation biologist Thomas Lovejoy as telling the Academy of Natural Sciences at Drexel University that Patrick “demonstrated biological diversity can be used to measure environmental impact. I call that the Patrick Principle and consider it the basis for all environmental science and management.”

She started her career at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia in 1933 as one of just a handful of female scientists, and she worked there well into her 90s. The CBS article says Patrick “advised President Lyndon Johnson on water pollution and President Ronald Reagan on acid rain.”

Over the years there, she wrote more than 200 papers, several books, and was the recipient of numerous awards, including the National Medal of Science, Benjamin Franklin Medal for Distinguished Achievement in the Sciences and the A.C. Redfield Lifetime Achievement Award.

Raise a glass of water to Ruth Patrick today. Her work paved the way for environmental activism and the identification and remediation of water pollution, leading to cleaner lakes, streams and groundwater the world over.

For more about Patrick, read this article in the Sept. 23 edition of the New York Times.