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University of California Berkeley 

Regional Oral History Office University of California 

The Bancroft Library Berkeley, California 

Luna B. Leopold 

U.S. GEOLOGICAL SURVEY, 1950-1972, AND UC BERKELEY, 1972-1987 

With an Introduction by 
Thomas Dunne 

Interviews Conducted by 

Ann Lage 
in 1990, 1991 

Copyright c 1993 by The Regents of the University of California 

Since 1954 the Regional Oral History Office has been interviewing leading 
participants in or well-placed witnesses to major events in the development of 
Northern California, the West, and the Nation. Oral history is a modern research 
technique involving an interviewee and an informed interviewer in spontaneous 
conversation. The taped record is transcribed, lightly edited for continuity 
and clarity, and reviewed by the interviewee. The resulting manuscript is typed 
in final form, indexed, bound with photographs and illustrative materials, and 
placed in The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, and 
other research collections for scholarly use. Because it is primary material, 
oral history is not intended to present the final, verified, or complete 
narrative of events. It is a spoken account, offered by the interviewee in 
response to questioning, and as such it is reflective, partisan, deeply involved, 
and irreplaceable. 

All uses of this manuscript are covered by a legal agreement 
between The Regents of the University of California and Luna B. 
Leopold dated May 9, 1991. The manuscript is thereby made available 
for research purposes. All literary rights in the manuscript, 
including the right to publish, are reserved to The Bancroft Library 
of the University of California, Berkeley. No part of the 
manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written 
permission of the Director of The Bancroft Library of the University 
of California, Berkeley. 

Requests for permission to quote for publication should be 
addressed to the Regional Oral History Office, 486 Library, 
University of California, Berkeley 94720, and should include 
identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated 
use of the passages, and identification of the user. The legal 
agreement with Luna B. Leopold requires that he be notified of the 
request and allowed thirty days in which to respond. 

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows: 

Luna B. Leopold, "Hydrology, 
Geomorphology, and Environmental Policy: 
U.S. Geological Survey, 1950-1972, and UC 
Berkeley, 1972-1987," an oral history 
conducted in 1990 and 1991 by Ann Lage, 
Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft 
Library, University of California, 
Berkeley, 1993. 

Copy no. 

Luna B. Leopold, 1991. 

Cataloging information 

Leopold, Luna B. (b. 1915) Hydrologist, educator 

Hydrology. Geomorphologv. and Environmental Policy: U.S. Geological Survey. 
1950-1972. and UC Berkeley. 1972-1987. 1993, viii, 309 pp. 

Family and youth in Albuquerque, New Mexico and Madison, Wisconsin: influence 
of father, Aldo Leopold, in development of scientific skills and land ethic; 
siblings Starker, Nina, Carl, and Estella; education, Wisconsin and Harvard, 
1930s, 1950; jobs with Soil Conservation Service, Army Corps of Engineers, 
Bureau of Reclamation, Pineapple Research Institute (Hawaii), 1930s-1940s; 
chief hydrologist and research scientist, USGS Water Resources Division: 
administrative reorganization, personnel policies, publications, new programs 
of scientific research, field trips, relations with other government agencies; 
genesis of scientific papers in hydrology, geomorphology ; colleagues Thomas 
Maddock, John Miller, Walter Langbein, Herb Skibitzke; environmental policies 
on Florida Everglades Jetport, Trans -Alaska oil pipeline, Colorado River 
issues, Hell's Canyon; Sierra Club Board of Directors, 1968-1971; teaching and 
research at UC Berkeley Departments of Geology and Landscape Architecture. 
Appended interview of USGS colleague David R. Dawdy. 

Introduction by Thomas Dunne, Professor of Geological Sciences, University of 

Interviewed 1990, 1991 by Ann Lage. The Regional Oral History Office, The 
Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley. 

Donors to the Luna B. Leopold Oral History 

The Regional Oral History Office would like to express its 
thanks to the following organizations whose encouragement and support 
have made possible the oral history of Luna B. Leopold. 

University of California Water Resources Center 

United States Geological Survey 

UC Berkeley Department of Geology and Geophysics 
UC Berkeley Department of Landscape Architecture 

TABLE OF CONTENTS --Luna B. Leopold 

INTRODUCTION- -by Thomas Dunne i 




Memories of Duck Hunting in Albuquerque 1 

Mother's Family: Sheep Ranchers in the Southwest 2 

The Lunas and Bergeres 6 

Move to Wisconsin: Family Interest in Archery and Craftsmanship 8 

Passing on Family Values and Traditions 11 

Reading and Religion 13 

Father's Family in Burlington, Iowa 15 

Skate Sailing, Skiing, and Hunting in Wisconsin 16 

Developing Habits of Close Observation of Nature 19 


Schooling in Albuquerque and Madison 21 
Civil Engineering at the University of Wisconsin: Influence of 

Professor Von Hagen 22 

Designing a Broadened Field of Study, with Lasting Impact 25 

A Learning Experience at Coon Valley Experiment Station 28 
Thoughts on Breadth in Education and the Value of Field Experience 29 

Lessons in Supervision at the Soil Conservation Service 31 

Flood Control Surveys with Tom Maddock, SCS, 1938-1941 34 

Graduate Study at Harvard, 1937: Classical Ideas in Science 37 

Failure of Modern Science to Pursue the Important Problems 38 

Interdisciplinary Resource Planning with the SCS 42 

Land Planning: Need for Responsibility to Society and the Land 44 


Postwar Changes in the Soil Conservation Service 46 

Brief Stint with the Army Corps of Engineers 47 

Enrolling as a Private in the U.S. Army 48 

Meteorological Studies at UCLA 49 

Sedimentation Studies and the Bureau of Reclamation 51 
Meteorologist for the Pineapple Research Institute in Hawaii, 

1946-1949 54 

Another Lesson in Supervisory Styles 55 

Rainfall Maps and Records 57 

Developing a New Rain Forecasting Scheme in Hawaii 59 

Experiments with Cloud Seeding 60 

Four Months to a Ph.D. in Geology at Harvard, 1950 62 


Competitive Relationship with Starker 
Financial Hardship in the Depression Years 
Carl, Nina, and Estella Leopold 
Building the Shack and Restoring the Land 
Publication of A Sand County Almanac 
Round River: Conservationists and Hunting 
Further Editions of A Sand County Almanac 


Research in the Water Resources Division, 1950 86 
Research with John Miller on the Influence of Climatic Change 

on River Valleys 91 

Genesis of Hydraulic Geometry 94 
Further Collaboration with John Miller: His Untimely Death and 

Special Qualities 96 

Fluvial Processes in Geomorphology 100 


USGS Directors Wrather and Nolan 102 
Assistant Chief Hydrologic Engineer: Initiating Controversial 

Changes in Budget Process 104 
Accepting the Job of Chief Engineer and Director Nolan's Mandate 

for Change, 1957 106 

Allocating an Increased Budget: New Programs and Personnel 108 

Hiring and Retraining Research Staff 109 

Reorganizing the Administrative Structure 111 
Continuing Research Work as Chief: Taking a Random Walk with 

Walter Langbein 113 

Independence for Researchers 119 

Raising Expectations in Publications and Hiring 121 

Promoting Education in Hydrology in the Universities 123 

Redrawing Civil Service Requirements for Hydrologists 125 

Revising Publications Policies: The Pink Terror Memos 126 

Encouraging the Flow of Ideas 129 
Retrospective Views on Leopold's Changes in Program and Management 130 


Changes in Data Collection: Network Design, Benchmark Gauging 

Stations, the Vigil Network 133 

Backyard Research: Strawberry Creek, Hawaiian Dew 138 

Attempt to Stimulate Publication of Hydrology Series 139 

Maintaining Staff Productivity and Initiative 141 

The Tree Ring Laboratory: Documenting Climatic Change 142 

The Hydraulic Laboratories 145 

The Ocean and Glacial Programs 147 

Influence of Western Irrigators on the Research Program 149 

Cooperation with the Geologic and Topographic Divisions 150 
Relations with Congress: The Senate Select Committee on Water 

Resources 152 

Interagency Conflicts over Water Quality 156 
Battling the Bureau of Reclamation over Colorado River 

Water Quality 158 


The Pick and Hammer Show 162 

Poems, Songs, and Literary Allusions 165 

Field Trips: Canoeing, Surveying, Mapmaking 167 

First River Raft Trip: Down Lodore Canyon with Herb Skibitzke 169 

Research on the River Trips 172 

John Wesley Powell and the Intrigue of Unanswered Questions 175 

Choosing the Important Problems in Geomorphology 177 


Basic Hydrological Research and Environmental Problems 179 

Agency Politics and Dams on the Colorado River 180 

Testifying in Arizona vs. Colorado 183 
Pressures for River Development vs. Scientific Fact and Public 

Interest 185 

Advice to Secretary of Interior Udall 187 

The First Environmental Impact Review: Everglades Jetport 189 

Preventing an Ill-Conceived Trans-Alaska Pipeline 193 

Recommendation on Redwoods National Park 199 

Scientists as Consultants on Environmental Issues 201 

The Forest Service and the Denver Water Board 202 
A Turbulent Time on the Sierra Club Board of Directors, 1968-1971 206 

Importance of Aesthetic Values: Hells Canyon 211 


Resigning as Chief Hydrologist and Subsequent Changes in the 

Division 213 

Problems of Maintaining Productivity in a Research Staff 216 

Deficiencies in University Reviews for Promotion and Ph.D.'s 219 

Trend toward Unimportant Problems and Short Research Papers 223 

Encouraging Careful Acknowledgement of Ideas 226 

UC Graduate Student Seminar in Geomorphology 227 
Bitter Experience at the Survey after Leaving Chief's Job: 

Isolation and Vindictiveness 229 
To UC Berkeley in the Departments of Geology and Landscape 

Architecture, 1972 233 
Herb Skibitzke and His Crew: Brilliant Iconoclast, Disturbing to 

Survey Hierarchy 234 


Overview of Contributions to Geological Survey and Field of 

Hydrology 237 

Changing Geomorphology to a Quantitative Science 238 

Entropy and Landscape Evolution 245 

Hydrology in Urban Areas: Study of the Brandywine Basin 249 

Evaluating Non- Economic Values 251 

Family and Family Values 254 

Building Cabin and House in Pinedale, Wyoming 256 

Since Retirement: Seminars in Hydrology 260 

"Ethos, Equity, and the Water Resource" 262 


APPENDIX- -Interview with David R. Dawdy 266 




Field Assistant with a B.A. in History, 1951 270 

To Washington, on Flood Frequency Analysis 271 

Walter Langbein, a Genius 272 

Papers on Sand Channel Streams 273 
Higher Degree in Statistics through the Government 

Training Act 276 


Hiring Ph.D.'s 277 

Administrative Reorganization and the Old- Boy Network 278 

Reeducating the Old-Line Staff: Rolland Carter 282 

Luna's Shoot -from- the -Hip Style 284 

Resistance to Change in the Bureaucracy 286 
A Permanent Change in the Orientation of the Water Resources 

Division 288 

Building Programs: Looking at Systems and Processes 290 

Reorganizing the Research Unit in the 1970s 291 

Pink Terror Memos 293 

Leopold's Contributions to the Publications Program 294 

Review of Policy Statements in Research Papers 295 

Political Pressures on Research 297 

Leopold's Treatment after Resignation as Chief Hydrologist 298 

The Maverick Herb Skibitzke 301 

In Summary 304 


INDEX 307 

INTRODUCTION- -by Thomas Dunne 

One day in late 1968, I was perched at the end of a long desk in 
Luna Leopold's Geological Survey office, making Einstein bedload 
calculations on a slide rule. Suddenly, into the room swept a group of 
men who settled in an arc around the other end of the desk. "Luna!" said 
one of them. "What are we going to do with Alaska?" I felt my neck 
contract slightly into my shoulders, in anticipation that a big issue was 
about to be discussed far above my head. It was a period in which Luna 
was pioneering the assessment of how the proposed Trans -Alaska oil 
pipeline would impact rivers and other wild resources. Such experiences 
became common throughout the months when I worked as Luna's research 
assistant during a lull in my graduate student career. The research 
group swirled between discussion of large environmental -policy issues and 
analysis of data collected and analyzed with our own hands. During the 
succeeding quarter century, while sharing with Luna many field trips in 
diverse lands, committee work, ideas for teaching, research and writing, 
I have watched this interplay of broad vision and hands-on experience 
exert remarkable influence on people and institutions . 

A conversation with Luna Leopold is a vigorous experience- -bracing 
for some, overwhelming for others. You're expected to get in there and 
dig. Think! What do you think? Here's what I think! The intense 
roving eyes, resonant voice, challenging questions mean that we're 
swimming out here in the deep water. This is not idle gossip, but meaty 
stuff about science, personal conduct, history, wild rivers, and 
politics. Luna brings the reticent into the conversation with courtly 
patience, and will listen to others with deep concentration. At other 
times his Stygian expression will flash into a grin, the tip of his 
tongue becomes visible between slightly open lips, his index finger will 
scythe the air in a loop from right to left as he has some new insight, 
recognizes an oversight or an absurdity, or imagines something new that 
"we ought to do". Luna thrives on lengthy, analytical discussion carried 
on for hours, or intermittently over years, or on a long field trip. 
Breakfast may extend for half a day. 

I don't know another academic person with such a strong style as 
Luna's. Students sense in him something striking, different, even 
formidable. Some are unnerved, but others are drawn to him as a role 
model. Many decide to emulate him: his method of note-taking, of 
speaking, the way he thinks, the way he organizes himself and his life. 
He has a presence and an intensity. Reciprocally, he places great value 
on young people, encouraging them to search for the critical new idea 
that will move an entire field or institution to a new level of 
understanding or effectiveness. 


Fundamental to Luna's style is the way he integrates his 
intellectual, aesthetic, and home life. The houses in Berkeley and 
Pinedale, Wyoming, have views chosen with great care; here it is 
difficult to forget mountains, rivers, the sea, wild game, and the need 
for their husbandry. There is a desk by the fire. A miscellany of books 
lie close at hand: Hurst's studies of the Nile streamflow, Darwin, Robert 
Graves, Alexander's military adventures, birds, a few collections of 
technical papers leather-bound by Luna's hand. The walls hold paintings 
of western American landscapes. There is good wine, the flame of a wood 
fire, an oil lamp or a candle reflected in it. Scientists, students, 
lawyers, administrators are hosted with great generosity and warmth by 
Luna and Barbara, whose ebullience leavens the proceedings and reminds 
everyone that the science, the careers, the plans, the programs are worth 
something only if they are humane. Here, Luna works on developing a 
perspective on a problem concerning science, environmental management, or 
public administration. When delivered, it is strongly cast. Whether 
right or wrong, he has worked hard at crafting it, sought extensive 
review from colleagues and students, and he keeps working on it. 1 have 
watched him mulling over problems for twenty- five years, and through his 
literature I can trace others for half a century. 

The integration is evident also in the way Luna values individual 
craft. He enjoys doing his own river surveying, plotting his own graphs 
and maps for publication, carpentry, bookbinding, and building cabins for 
himself and others. When he took up the building of stone fireplaces, he 
read Ben Franklin's original paper on the design of fireplaces and 
stoves. The historical roots of a skill, an idea, a scientific 
development, are extremely important to him. He values also the crafts 
and music of others, as marks of their individuality. Hand-wrought 
objects collected on travels lie around within reach so that they can be 
picked up, turned over and marvelled at. "Gee! how d'you think they made 
that?" he'll say quietly. 

There is a seriousness and intensity about Luna which is easy to 
mistake for competitiveness and self -absorption. He just doesn't choose 
to project silliness very oftenthough a glass of wine or a brand-new 
experience sometimes loosens him up. A guitar will often release another 
of his muses. He has written songs that express his love of doing 
science, environmental conservation, and the camaraderie of his River 
Boys team during the 1960 -70s. Once, late in a day of maple -sap 
collecting in Vermont, Luna discovered a list of annual maple -syrup 
yields scribbled in pencil on the inside wall of the sugar house. He was 
excited when he recognized the possibility of correlating these yields 
with weather variations, and he spent much of the evening merrily 
standing in melting snow as he questioned the farmer about the sugaring 
process and factors that might cause yields to vary. On visits to 
Africa, his joyful enthusiasm for bird identification, animal ecology, 


and learning about traditional herding practices persisted through days 
of hillslope surveying and bumpy rides. The only two times I have ever 
been charged uncomfortably close by a rhinoceros was in Luna's company. 
They just don't seem to like his concentrated stare! 

The main public result of all this energy, of course, is a 
scientific career of international and inter- generational significance. 
Luna defined a field of research at the intersection of the traditional 
disciplines of geology, climatology, and terrestrial ecology, and was 
emphasizing the interacting roles of climatic change and human impact on 
land and water even during the 1940s, long before these issues were 
appreciated by most environmental scientists. More specifically, he 
yoked together surface-water hydrology and fluvial geomorphology and 
changed the latter into a quantitative science that provides a basis for 
environmental management and aesthetic appreciation of landscape. As 
chief hydrologist in the U.S. Geological Survey and later as a professor, 
Luna fostered a generation of young geoscientists in government and 
academe who have extended his quantitative interdisciplinary approach to 
other branches of earth- surf ace studies. When the need arose, Luna 
applied his process -based hydrology and geomorphology to the problem of 
environmental impact assessment in the cases of the proposed Everglades 
jetport and the Alaska pipeline. Though copied only badly in most cases, 
his examples still provide models for improvement in this vital activity 
that anticipates and seeks to minimize environmental degradation. 

Throughout his career, Luna has emphasized the value of data and 
their honest use. He has pressed for government agencies to collect data 
and to disseminate them promptly and in a form that is transparent to 
citizens. He tirelessly stresses to young people the value of making 
one's own measurements in a backyard rain gauge, at regularly measured 
channel cross-sections, or simply from photo stations that can be re- 
occupied to document landscape change. They would be easily convinced if 
they had seen Luna in his nightshirt reading a stream gauge through a 
telescope from his deck and then using the resulting data as the basis of 
a scientific article on the effect of urban growth on floods. They would 
also be stimulated by his mischievous sense that out of such a simple 
measurement can come a scientific result with the power to help people 
understand and conserve the landscape that is so important to him. 

It is difficult to imagine the development of surface-water 
hydrology and fluvial geomorphology without Luna Leopold's role as a 
restless, energetic leader of the U.S. Geological Survey's Water 
Resources Division, and later as professor of both geology and landscape 
architecture at the University of California. In these careers he has 
been a teacher sensu lato from the undergraduate level to the highest 
levels of government. He has challenged scientists to confront their 
responsibilities for Earth, and shown them how to develop the tools to 
undertake that task with a sense of optimism and deep appreciation. His 


career illustrates this passion, rooted in his strong sense of history, 
ethical responsibility, and love of the Western American landscape. 

Thomas Dunne 

Professor of Geological Sciences 

University of Washington 

September 25, 1992 
Seattle, Washington 


Luna Leopold, professor emeritus of geology and landscape 
architecture at the University and former chief hydrologist of the U.S. 
Geological Survey's Water Resources Division, was interviewed by the 
Regional Oral History Office as part of its extensive collection of oral 
histories in water resources. Leopold's oral history documents his life 
work as a hydrologist who redefined the field of hydrology; a 
geomorphologist who changed geomorphology from "an arm-waving pastime to 
a quantitative science;" and an administrator who transformed a 
government agency into a major research institution in water resources. 
It also chronicles his contributions as an educator in helping to shape 
university programs in hydrology and geomorphology, and as an 
environmentalist in bringing both science and ethics to bear on 
environmental problems . 

Luna Leopold's early life and family background are of considerable 
interest. He is the second son of Aldo Leopold, pioneer in scientific 
wildlife management and author of A Sand County Almanac, a collection of 
reflective essays which stands alongside the works of Thoreau and John 
Muir as philosophic underpinnings for the modern environmental movement. 
Knowing that Aldo Leopold's life has been throughly documented, our 
discussions in this oral history focused on familial influences important 
in shaping Luna Leopold's scientific and ethical outlooks. Especially 
valuable are his recollections of his father's teaching by example the 
skills of precision craftsmanship and careful observation of nature; and 
his relationships with brothers Starker and Carl and sisters Nina and 
Estella, all of whom have followed distinguished scientific careers. 
Also important in understanding Leopold's interest in the lands and 
rivers of the Southwest are his recollections of his mother's family and 
his youthful experiences in New Mexico. Other areas of his background 
discussed here are his education and educational mentors at the 
University of Wisconsin and at Harvard and his early career experiences 
with the Soil Conservation Service, Army Corps of Engineers, Bureau of 
Reclamation, and the Pineapple Research Institute in Hawaii. 

A significant portion of the oral history is devoted to Leopold's 
twenty- two year career with the United States Geological Survey, 
including his seminal research during this period, recollections of field 
trips and colleagues, and a perspective on the sometimes wrenching 
changes he instituted as chief of the Water Resources Division from 1957 
to 1966. A videotaped interview with Luna Leopold was conducted in 1988 


by R.C. Averett and W.W. Emmett for the USGS and was invaluable in 
preparing for this oral history. Mr. Leopold has made available a copy 
of the videotape for deposit in The Bancroft Library. To supplement his 
remarks and give another perspective on his leadership of the Water 
Resources Division, Leopold suggested that we interview his colleague, 
David Dawdy. That interview is included here as an appendix. 

The final sections of the interview focus on Leopold's teaching at 
the University of California, his involvement in environmental issues, 
and insights into his major research work during more than fifty years in 
the field of hydrology. Throughout the oral history a picture emerges of 
a very gracious person, an intense scientist, sometimes intimidating in 
his strong sense of mission and his adherance to the highest standards in 
science and personal conduct. The conversations with Luna Leopold also 
reveal his sense of joy in intellectual inquiry, scientific discovery, 
and camaraderie with his fellow travelers along the research trails. 

Mr. Leopold was interviewed in his office in the Department of 
Geology at the University. The first three sessions took place in May 
and June of 1990. Interviewing resumed in January 1991 after his yearly 
sojourn in Wyoming. The eighth and final session took place in May 1991. 
The interview transcripts were lightly edited in this office for clarity 
and continuity and reviewed by Mr. Leopold, who made only minor changes 
to his words. Some of his scientific papers have been placed in The 
Bancroft Library; his technical field notes have been given to the 
Geological Society of America. In his personal library he has an 
extraordinary collection of his personal journals from a lifetime of 
hunting trips and field trips, which he has hand bound in leather. 

While this oral history was underway, in September of 1991, Mr. 
Leopold was awarded the National Medal of Science, the nation's highest 
scientific honor. Previously he received the Distinguished Service Award 
of the Department of the Interior (1958) and the Rockefeller Public 
Service Award (1971). 

We are grateful to the Water Resources Center of the University of 
California and in particular to its director, Henry Vaux, Jr., for a 
major contribution to make this oral history possible. This is one of 
twelve Regional Oral History Office interviews funded in whole or in part 
by the Water Resources Center since 1964. The United States Geological 
Survey also contributed substantial funds to underwrite a careful 
documentation of Luna Leopold's role in that agency. Additional funding 
was received from the Departments of Geology and Landscape Architecture 
at the University of California, Berkeley. 


The Regional Oral History Office was established in 1954 to record 
the lives of persons who have contributed significantly to the history of 
California and the West. The office is a division of The Bancroft 
Library and is under the direction of Willa K. Baum. 

Ann Lage 

January 20, 1993 

Regional Oral History Office 

The Bancroft Library 

University of California, Berkeley 

Regional Oral History Office 
Room 486 The Bancroft Library 


University of California 
Berkeley, California 94720 

(Please write clearly. Use black ink.) 

Your full name_ 

Date of birth 

Father's full name 

Mother's full name 

Your spouse 


Your children 




, fa P- 



Where did you grow up? 

Present community 


. i / > 


X? y-^/^: ^ 

Areas of expertise 

Other interests or activities 

Organizations in which you are active 

[Interview 1: May 15, 1990 ]## 

Memories of Duck Hunting in Albuquerque 

Lage: We were going to start with family background, which is a natural 
thing, but in your case probably more important than with most 
people, and try to get a picture of what your family was like and 
how it influenced you, since the focus of this interview really 
is on you. 

Leopold: It must be remembered that when I was a small child in 

Albuquerque, New Mexico, things were entirely different than we 
know now. I can remember very well, for example, when my father 
drove up down the alley with a brand-new Model T Ford, the kind 
with the brass front and the little acetylene lamps on the side, 
and one of those little black tops that folded back. Ve used to 
go hunting down near Los Lunas , where my family came from, at a 
place called Tom6, where many of our relatives are buried in the 
Tome cemetery. Tom6 is across the river from Los Lunas. My 
father had acquired a very small adobe one -room house that we 
used as a shack, and there was a nearby little pond where he went 

That was a wonderful time of life because I can remember my 
father would hunt, go out on the little pond in the morning, and 
when we came back to Albuquerque that evening he'd have twenty- 
four, all drake mallards. In other words, there were so many 
ducks that he could choose to shoot only drakes. And of course, 
twenty-four was the limit in those days. Nobody considered that 
to be excessive, but clearly it was something quite different 
than what it would appear now. 

Lage: And then were those ducks part of your meal? 
Leopold: Oh, of course. 

Driving a Model T Ford, the tires were awful, and I can 
remember in the evening one time having a flat tire between 
Albuquerque and Los Lunas , only eighteen miles, but it was dark 
and there were no flashlights. So, since the road went by the 
railroad track, parallel to the railroad track, ay father and I 
would- -and 1 forget who else was with us --would sit on the 
running board of the Model T Ford and wait until the train came. 
When the train came, in the headlights of the train, in that few 
moments that the train was going by we would work desperately to 
change the tire. Blow up the tire. You know, you had to put a 
patch on it. Blow up the tire in the dark. 

Lage: In the few moments of headlight, that wasn't much time. 
Leopold: And then we had to wait for the next train. 

Mother's Familv: Sheen Ranchers in the Southwest 



What do you remember of your mother's family? 
with them? Did you see them a lot? 

Were you close 

Yes, because as it turned out, over the years 1 was kind of the 
favorite grandchild, so I spent a lot of time, more time than 
practically any of the other children, with the family. See, the 
family had moved from Los Lunas, where my mother was born, to 
Santa Fe, and I'm not quite sure what the date was, but it was 
probably around the turn of the century, I suppose. I know that 
the family moved into a house which was down Grant Avenue just a 
block away from what we called the big house, the house that 1 
knew. I suppose they were renting it, because the house that 1 
knew when 1 was growing up was nearer the plaza, and it had been 
built by the army in 1846 when General Doniphan came into Santa 
Fe at the beginning of the Mexican War in August of 1846. That 
was at that time that the army formed Fort Marcy, which is up in 
the hill above Santa Fe. They built a series of sort of look- 
alike houses for the officers' quarters. 

My great -grandmother --my grandmother's mother- -had acquired 
one of these houses. I suppose it was about the turn of the 
century. Later, and I'm not sure what the sequence was, but my 
great -grandmother gave this house to my grandmother and her 
family. I suppose that the house was enlarged somewhat later, 
but it was an adobe house with walls about two and a half feet 
thick. Right behind the kitchen, outside, there's a little line 
of very small, all connected buildings, one of which was an 
outhouse. So in those days they had an outside privy. And they 

had a peach orchard. It was only two blocks from the center of 
town, so it was quite a different kind of situation than you have 
now, with all the urbanization. 

Lage : Santa Fe's changed tremendously. 
Leopold: Oh, my God, yes. Tremendously. 

So, yes, I spent a lot of time in Santa Fe, primarily at the 
time that I was in early high school. 

Lage: You'd go down for summers? 

Leopold: 1 went down for summers, and then when 1 became a senior in high 
school, my father told me that now I had to go and get a job. It 
was expected that you work. So that summer, the summer of, I 
guess it must have been my senior high school year, I got my 
first job, non-paying, but anyhow, I spent the summer someplace 

Lage: Do you have more to say about this side of your family and how 
they might have had an impact on you? Was it kind of two 
different worlds that you were exposed to there? 

Leopold: No, I don't think so. I'm not sure just what kind of a question 
you're asking. What is it that you'd like to know about that? 

Lage: In terms of values, attitude towards the wilderness and the land, 
even religion. 

Leopold: They were sheep ranchers, that family, and had been sheep 

ranchers for generations. It is said that my great-grandfather, 
Antonio Jose Luna after whom I'm named, was sort of the --not only 
the patrdn. but he was also the hidalgo of Valencia County. They 
were very important politically, and they thought they were going 
to lose a certain election, so Antonio Jos6 Luna arrived at the 
polls with a Winchester across his saddle, and he said, "All my 
sheep are citizens, and they're all going to vote." So he put 
the sheep through the place where the votes were counted, and of 
course he won. 

I'm told that relative to other people, although they ran a 
very large bunch of sheep, they probably were better managers 
than many others. Although when they were running, let's just 
guess at 15,000 sheep, the country must have been pretty badly 
grazed. Later, when the sheep of the family were cut down to 
about three thousand head, the land probably was being kept 

Lage: Were these things that were talked about, or did you notice them 
at the time? 

Leopold: No. As a matter of fact, the other problem was that they were 
very--. I'm not sure just what the word is, but I never was 
taken to the ranch until after I was out of college. What 
happened was that all the grandsons, or the nephews, that 
couldn't get through college, who were dropouts, they were taken 
to the ranch and they tried to make them into sheep men. Well, 
if they couldn't get through college, they certainly weren't 
going to be very good sheep men. None of them lasted more than a 
few months. But those of us who might have really had the sort 
of background to run the place were never invited. As a matter 
of fact, I was never invited at all. I simply went there one 
time after I was out of college. 

And then when the family ranch was to be sold- -remember , 
this was my grandmother's ranchher first sons were the ones who 
were running the ranch after her brother Solomon Luna died. 

Lage: So your mother's brothers were running the ranch. 

Leopold: Yes. My mother's brothers were running the ranch. First Eduardo 
and then later Manuel. When Eduardo died, I was probably in the 
last year in high school. His younger brother Manuel took over 
the ranch and ran the ranch successfully for a good many years . 
The ranch had been set up as a trust by his mother, my 
grandmother. It was for the purpose of supporting all these 
women, you see. There were thirteen children in that family, and 
eleven of them were women. Therefore, the whole purpose of the 
trust was to see to it that the women in the family always had 
someplace to come to. 

About the time I was out of college- -I'm jumping, but this 
is an important matter for what you're asking about--! could see 
that my Uncle Manuel --my mother's brother- -was getting not only 
too old but too tired to keep running the ranch, and they decided 
that they were going to sell it. The people that really ran it 
were the brother and his sister, my Aunt Nina, who was the 
matriarch of the family, and her brother Manuel. They were 
discussing the fact that they were going to sell the ranch. 

Now, the ranch was a pretty extensive place. It was down 
near Mogollon, in the Gila. They owned, apparently, about one 
section, as I understand it. Six hundred and forty acres. They 
controlled about thirty- five sections, so they controlled thirty- 
five square miles that extended from the Gila Basin north into 
the San Agustin plains. 

Well, this heritage I had now seen once. I had gone there 
to see it once. So my older brother Starker and I --he at that 
time was already a professor at the University of California --we 
made up our mind that we didn't want that land sold; we wanted to 
protect it, and we decided we would make an offer. So 1 went to 
my aunt, and I said to her, "My brother Starker and I would like 
the opportunity to run the ranch rather than have you sell it." 
I explained that we were both college educated, we knew something 
about agriculture. I was an engineer, he was a forester, we knew 
a lot about land. She looked at me and she said, "You don't know 
a damn thing about sheep." I said, "No, but I can learn." "No," 
she said, "that's impossible, because you never worked under 
Solomon Luna . " 

So they sold it, under very unfavorable conditions because 
they wouldn't listen to any advice. They paid about three- 
quarters of their earnings in taxes, so they ended up with 
nothing like what they should have had. And then, of course, 
within two years, the ranch, which had been bought by a bunch of 
Texans, was sold for four times the price or something like that. 
Anyhow, that was what was happening. 

Lage: Why did she object to your trying it, you and Starker? 

Leopold: That was what I'm trying to explain. This family felt that the 
only way to do things was the way it had always been done . I 
remember when the Soil Conservation Service was formed, and on 
all the surrounding ranches --big ranches in that part of the 
country- -the government was coming in and paying through the CCC 
[Civilian Conservation Corps] for drilling wells and doing 
fencing and improving the grass, and erosion control. My Uncle 
Manuel would have none of it: "I don't want any goddamn 
government people on my land." 

But they were very interesting people. They were real 
characters. Eduardo, my mother's eldest half-brother, Eduardo 
Otero, was, as his sister Nina was, red haired and very light 
colored. They were all great gamblers, all of them. They loved 
to play poker, they gambled about everything. The story goes 
that Eduardo was playing one of the gambling games, apparently, 
in northern Mexico- -one of the west Mexican towns- -and apparently 
he had amassed a very large number of chips. He heard the 
director of the gambling place come up to the dealer and say in 
Spanish, "Don't let that damn gringo get any more money." 
Eduardo apparently- -you can imagine, light colored and blue eyed 
and red haired- -spoke out in perfect Spanish, said, "Thank you 
very much; I'm just about through anyhow," and he pulled all his 
chips together and left. [laughter] 

The Lunas and Bereeres 

Lage: So their heritage was Spanish, from Spain. 

Leopold: Oh, yes. It starts. . .Well, if you look in the Bible in which 1 

have put as much of the history of the family as I could get, the 
first record of the Lunas was one of the great figures in the 
history of Spain. He was called the condestabel. or constable. 
He was really was the most potent political man in Spain under 
the king. His name was Alvaro de Luna. He was beheaded by the 
king in 1432. We know a lot about him. And then I have traced 
all of the family. There's a big break in the history in the 
Middle Ages that I don't know very much about. 

But they came to New Mexico from Spain, the way I figure it, 
about 1680. The leader of the expedition was Diego de Luna. 
When he came up from Mexico into New Mexico along the Rio Grande, 
he formed two towns. One he called after his cousin, the Duke of 
Albuquerque; he called it Albuquerque. The other he named for 
his own family; he called it Los Lunas. So that we know then 
that the family settled there in the Rio Grande Valley. Because 
the railroad happened to have a main way station in Albuquerque, 
it turned out to be a large city, and Los Lunas is just still a 
little town. We know quite a lot about that history. But they 
were all sheep men. 

Lage: Had any of the family married outside the cultural setting before 
your mother did? Here she married a government man. 

Leopold: Until my grandmother, I think essentially not. After my 

grandmother's first husband, Manuel Otero, was murdered, she 
married my grandfather Bergere, who came from England. 

Lage: Was he English? 

Leopold: He was a professional pianist, apparently a very good one. We 
got to know something about this just last summer when Barbara 
and I were in England. We got in touch with a long- lost relative 
of ours who happens to be my second cousin. His name is Michael 
Berger. Apparently, he and his family have been very interested 
in tracing the genealogy of that part of the family, and from 
what we all can conjecture, my grandfather- -my mother's father- - 
was sent away from home, from Liverpool, because apparently his 
stepmother couldn't get along with the boys. So they were each 
given a couple of thousand pounds and told to get out. 

My grandfather came to New York in the hope of studying 
under a great piano teacher there. Our conjecture is that 
thinking it would be better as a pianist not to have the name 
Berger, he added an "e" to it and called himself Berggre. That 
is our conjecture; we don't know. But then he was turned down by 
this great teacher, so he really left the piano and didn't come 
back to it for many, many, years. Went to New Mexico where he 
met my grandmother, and that's where the family started. 

But the previous generation before that marriage, all of the 
people in the Luna family had married people from New Mexico, of 
Spanish origin. The red hair and blue eyes come from people in 

Lage: Was there any problem with melding these two cultures together- - 
your mother's and your father's? 

Leopold: That's a little hard to say. There were so many of them that 1 
didn't know very well. The one that I knew best was the 
matriarch, my Aunt Nina Otero. She was a very strong-willed 
woman, very proud of her origin, very smart. She was in politics 
and in business and in a whole lot of other things. She was the 
one that turned us down when we wanted to run the ranch. But she 
was also very pecuniary, and she and her sisters tended to look 
down on my father because he was an intellectual; he was not a 
businessman who made a lot of money. But that's a passing 
conjecture of mine; at least that has been my experience. 

Lage: It wasn't something that you saw functioning in the family? 

Leopold: No, it's simply that when something came up, and I had heard--. 
She never said anything to me about it, but it was quite clear 
that they thought my father, who, of course, became the most 
famous of all of them, wasn't really amounting to very much 
because he didn't make a lot of money. 

Lage: Right. And did the fact that he worked for the government--? 

Your remark about the family's attitude toward the government- - 

Leopold: No, that had nothing to do with it. 
Lage: That didn't bother them. 

Leopold: It was a question of the fact that he didn't earn a lot of money. 
Because all the rest of these people were business people, you 

Lage: Maybe your argument that you and Starker had gone to college and 
therefore you could run the ranch didn't hold too much water with 

Leopold: Oh, no. 

Move to Wisconsin: Familv Interest in Archerv and Craftsmanship 

Lage: It sounds like an interesting background to come from. 

Leopold: Yes, but of course I saw that only in summertime. Much more 
important in the long run was my association with my father's 
family. Or my father alone. 

Lage: Let's look at that aspect, then. 

Leopold: My father was a very farsighted man when he lived in New Mexico. 
For example, he was secretary of the Chamber of Commerce; he was 
very influential in an organization of sportsmen that he either 
formed or participated in. That's all written up; there are a 
lot of books about that. But the important part was that he was 
very successful in his civic and in his government work, and was 
advanced to higher and higher jobs until they offered him this 
opportunity to go to Wisconsin, where he was to become the 
associate director of the Forest Products Laboratory. But as I 
say, there's no use going into that because there are books 
written around it. A lot is known about that. 

Lage: We should concentrate on how it might have influenced you. 

Leopold: But when we moved to Wisconsin, when I was about eight, my mother 
found it very difficult to get settled there because she missed 
the sunshine, and the dark, long winter days of cloudy weather 
she found very difficult to get along with. 

Lage: And just the change in the landscape and being away from her 
family must have been hard. 

Leopold: But my mother was a very remarkable woman. She became an 

extremely good botanist. She could name any darn plant that you 
ever grew. She was very good at birds. She was a good gardener. 
And how in the world she got along with five children on that 
little money, I don't know, but when my father died in 1948 he 
was earning $6,000 a year. And my mother--. We all went to 
college. We all got along quite well. 

Lage : She does sound remarkable. 

Leopold: Oh, she was. And then she was, of course, the state champion in 
archery. We went into archery when I was about ten. And this 
becomes one of the most important things of my life. When my 
father got interested in bows and arrows, and he started to make 
bows and arrows himself, this was really the beginning of the 
whole business of handmade, first-class articles of beauty as 
well as utility. 

Lage: So this became kind of a family- - 

Leopold: Oh, yes. And everybody, all of the family then, at least the 

elder children, primarily my older brother and I, were shown that 
to make things by hand of great beauty with a high degree of 
perfection was the thing to do. So we all became highly skilled 

Lage: What kinds of things did you make? 

Leopold: I not only made my bows and arrows, but I made knives, quivers, 
jewel boxes, on and on and on. But that was a very important 
thing. And all with hand tools. In other words, we didn't have 
a machine tool in the house. Everything was done by hand. 

Lage: Were these things expressed in words or just by example, the 

value of making something by hand? Would this be talked about as 
well as done? 

Leopold: No. But for example, when 1 started making knives, I can 

remember spending a large amount of time, evening after evening, 
going over drawings of knives with my father, talking about every 
little nuance of how the shape should be. I mean, he took a 
great interest in the whole question of "make it beautiful and do 
it with perfection." So these things that were turned out were 
things of great beauty, I can tell you. 

Lage: Do you still have these things? 

Leopold: My best knife that I made then, I have used all my life. So I 

certainly do have it. The greatest piece of archery tackle that 
my father made, I think to our knowledge no one has ever achieved 
anything like what he did. I don't know whether you realize that 
when you shoot a bow, your arrow goes from your chin and 
therefore it's pointing upward when you look across it. 
Therefore, when you talk about pointblank at a certain distance, 
it means that the angle between the arrowhead and the bottom of 
the chin is just enough rise in elevation to go a certain 
distance. My father had a set of arrows, had a bow that shot 


them, that shot polntblank at a hundred yards. No one to our 
knowledge had ever achieved that before. The most beautiful set 
of equipment that I've ever seen in my life. 

Lage: Did a great deal of study go into the dynamics of the arrow? 

Leopold: Yes, my father was a friend of a physicist who wrote several 

books on bows, a man that later I knew in my professional life. 
So that although my father himself was not versed in the physics 
of projectiles, he certainly knew people who took a lot of 
interest in that. So there was a lot of back and forth. My 
father interested a lot of other people in Madison in making 
bows. And in making knives, as a matter of fact. Several 
friends of ours got interested in making knives when I started 
making knives. But they were older people, people that were a 
generation older than I. 

Lage: Did Starker make things like this also? 

Leopold: Beautiful. Oh, Starker was a superb craftsman. He not only made 
good bows and arrows, but he made fly rods, for example. He tied 
the most beautiful trout flies I've ever seen in my life. He was 
a real expert on that. He carved a perfectly beautiful chest for 
his daughter. I don't know who's got that chest now, but he was a 
woodcarver. Well, in every way, Starker was a first-rate 
craftsman in practically everything. 

Lage: Did your mother also-- 

Leopold: My mother shot the bows. 

Lage: [laughs] She was the expert at that. 

Leopold: She was state champion for more than a decade. She was a 

national champion in one aspect of archery. She was the best 
archer that we had ever seen. She never was beaten; she just 
stopped shooting bows and arrows, and somebody else--. In other 
words, as far as the women were concerned, she was the best 
archer that ever existed in Wisconsin. She was very good. 

Lage: So she took all these things up with enthusiasm. 

Leopold: Oh, my goodness, yes. Oh, yes. I should say so. She was 
superb . 

Lage: What got your father interested in this? Was it a new way of 
hunting, or was it the craftsmanship angle? 


Leopold: Oh, it was both, because you see--. Veil, you are acquainted 

with the things that have been written about his life. He was a 
great hunter, as 1 told you. And then as we moved to Madison, it 
became more and more clear to him as he became more involved in 
what was later to be called ecology- -he named it, really- -he 
began to see that it was more important to be more related to the 
study of rather than taking of game. 

Passing on Family Values and Traditions//// 

Leopold: But all of that has been written up in great detail. 

Lage: Would he talk to you boys about this as you were growing up? 

Leopold: Oh, you didn't have to talk about it; you just did it, that's 

all. So basically, although he never really gave up shotguns, we 
really did less and less hunting, and more and more shooting with 
a bow. Some of the greatest experiences that we ever had were 
going deer hunting with a bow, long before anybody else was doing 
that. We never killed a deer. 

Lage: You never made-- 

Leopold: Oh, no, never did it. But it was very exciting to be shooting. 
Nowadays you see people buy the tackle at the sporting goods 
store. We didn't. We made everything ourselves. 

But I can remember my father saying to me one time, "One 
cannot grow up to be a gentleman without some experience with 
dogs, guns, and horses." So after my first summer with a paying 
job, when I was in early college, I came back from that full 
summer work, and my father said to me--. And that's when he was 
unemployed. We were living off his savings, and we were really 
very poorly off. He said, "How much money did you earn?" I 
said, "I came back with $90." He said, "That's fine. What are 
you going to do with it?" I said, "Ninety dollars will pay for a 
whole year of my tuition and books at the university, and I'm 
going to spend it on that." He said, "I don't think I'd do 
that." I said, "Why?" He said, "Why don't you buy yourself a 
shotgun?" I'd been shooting all my life this little 20 gauge- -a 
single -barrel shotgun. A very nice little shotgun but very 
cheap. So I then got hold of the catalogue of the finest shotgun 
maker in the world and ordered a made -to -order shotgun. I was 
fourteen, and that gun which I--. Oh, yes, and my father said--. 
I said, "Dad, I've only got $90, and the shotgun costs $120." He 


said, "I'll give you the rest." So that shotgun is now worth, 
what, $5,000. It's a perfectly wonderful weapon. 

So anyhow, he was very interested in having the right 
equipment. And to keep care of equipment; he was very, very 
particular about keeping care of axes and shovels and shotguns, 
things like that. So nobody spoke about these things; you just 
did them. You watched your father sharpen a knife, and you 
sharpened a knife that way. You watched him clean his gun, and 
you cleaned your gun that way. So you don't talk about these 
things; you just did them. It was a marvelous way to be taught, 
because when you watched a really great craftsman go to all the 
trouble to do it absolutely right, then what the son does is to 
follow the same thing. You do it right, you do it the best you 
possibly can, and are not satisfied with anything else. 

Lage: It doesn't always seem to work that way, though, in families, 
that the tradition is passed on that way so successfully. 

Leopold: Well, I'm going to give an example, because it doesn't pass on 
necessarily either easily or surely. My father was, of course, 
very interested in birds but never made a big deal out of it; he 
just knew birds. Well, I wasn't. I thought birds were, except 
for shooting, birds weren't very interesting. But when I had my 
first job after I left college, I bought a pair of very good 
binoculars, and from that day on I became a birder. The 
difference was that I had never seen a bird through a pair of 
glasses. No one ever said, "You should do that," but once you 
got into it, once you got the right equipment, then all of a 
sudden I've been a birder ever since. 

Lage: And they're habits of mind that seem to be passed down, of being 
very thorough. This is evident in looking at your journals from 
the early years . 

Leopold: Well, I keep a journal because my father kept a journal. 
Lage: Right. 

Leopold: And I write small in the journal because my father wrote small in 
the journal. 

Lage: And you put the initials of the people who were on each trip at 
beginning of each entry. 

Leopold: That's the way he did it. That's the way I did it. 

Lage: Was Starker like that also? Did he pattern himself in that way? 


Leopold: Quite, yes. Now, our journals are really quite different, but, 
oh, yes, he has a-- 

Lage: But he did keep one too. 

Leopold: I'm not sure exactly how he kept his journal. But yes, he was a 
very good note taker. 

Reading and Religion 

Lage: What other kinds of activities do you remember from these boyhood 
years? Was reading something important in the family? 

Leopold: Oh, my goodness, yes. My father always had trouble with his 
eyes. Every night, without fail, my father would sit in the 
living room with his eyes partly closed, and my mother would read 
to him. They were the best -read people I've ever seen. They 
read everything. They read plays, they read novels, they read 
history, they read new books, they read classics. I never saw 
such a well-read family, very well-read people. 

Lage: And then would you listen in on this? 

Leopold: No, because ordinarily I was studying. But it was a pattern. I 
look back at the things that I read, and I'm just amazed at how 
much I read. No, we read a lot. Everybody in the family read. 

Lage: Were there boyhood books that you recall as having particular 
excitement for you, or influence? 

Leopold: Yes, I was crazy about Robert Louis Stevenson. I read an awful 
lot of classical material because I found it interesting. And 
then later on this grew into an interest in historical novels. 
But it was simply part of the family business that reading was a 
very important matter. 

Lage: Not like having a television today. 

Leopold: No, that's one of the really great difficulties with television, 
is that you're not going to get the same kind of education that 
you get from reading books. 


Right. Or family setting, really. 


Leopold: Yes. Of course, even in those days there weren't very many 

families that read the way my family did. The idea of my mother 
reading to father every single night, without fail. 

Lage: Did your mother follow her Catholic upbringing? 

Leopold: Oh, that was wonderful. Ve were all brought up Catholic. 

Lage: Oh, you were? 

Leopold: Oh, yes. All of the children, all five of us, successively, one 
after the other, dropped out of the Catholic church at about the 
same time. About the same age. 

Lage: About what age was that? 

Leopold: About ten or eleven. I found that the little neighborhood 

Catholic church that we went to at Madison, all I can remember is 
they talked about money, how the church needed money. I found it 
very uninspiring, uninteresting, and as a matter of fact, just a 
waste of time. My mother went to church every Sunday, but when 
we'd go hunting on the weekend, my mother would say, "God will 
know that it's more important for you to go out a day with your 
father than to go to Mass, so you go with your father." She went 
to Mass, but that was the way we were taught. 

Lage: Did she object when you all successively dropped out of the 

Leopold: No. Oh, I think she was sorry in a way, but any verbal 

objection, no. As long as we were going out with our father, 
doing something that was interesting outdoors, that was more 

Lage: But she didn't mind when you completely gave up on the church as 
a religion? 

Leopold: If she did, she didn't talk much about it. 

Lage: Did your father ever express any opinion about it? 

Leopold: No. My father was so well read, he knew more about the Bible 
than I ever knew. He never went to church, but he knew a lot 
about religion. Like many things, he didn't say what you should 
or shouldn't do; he simply encouraged you to do what you're going 
to do. So there was really very little discussion about that. 


And then have you followed any organized religion since then? 


Leopold: No. My first wife insisted that my children be brought up in the 
Episcopal church, and indeed my son, who is now a physician, went 
to an Episcopal school, a very good school, a private school, and 
I think got a lot out of it, but has not followed up religion 
since. Although our daughter, I think, has now turned to one of 
the churches, I think an Episcopal church, and apparently gets 
considerable satisfaction out of it. 

Father's Familv in Burlineton. Iowa 

Lage: Did you have many ties to your father's family in Burlington? 

Leopold: Yes, but I never spent as much time there as I spent in New 

Mexico. You see, what happened in New Mexico was that not only 
did 1 spend several summers there during high school time, but 
then I went there to live after I graduated, and I worked in New 
Mexico. And I've worked in New Mexico all my life. So that I 
saw a lot more of my mother's family than my father's family. 
But the Leopolds were a very remarkable group of people. Very 
remarkable people. Again, it's all been discussed in books, but 
among the things that were important were that all of my father's 
family- -his sister, his two brothers- -were extremely good 

Lage: Oh. I've never seen that in the books. 

Leopold: No. Father was not. And I never played golf. Starker 

apparently played golf for a while, but the idea of being a 
sportsman in the Leopold family was always an important thing. 
These people were good. My Uncle Frederic was shooting the same 
score as his age when he was seventy- five. 

Lage: That's very remarkable. 

Leopold: That same Uncle Frederic, the youngest brother of my father's 
family, became the world expert on one kind of bird, the wood 
duck. Everything that's known about wood ducks, he really 
pioneered. He put up boxes in the family yard and followed the 
life history of these little ducks, and wrote about them 
extensively, and lectured about them, and a lot is known now 
about wood ducks, and he started all that. 

The family, of course, made fine wood furniture. This is a 
Leopold desk [in Luna Leopold's office]. All during the 
Depression, all during the war, no union ever unionized that 
plant. No one was ever fired. They had a very old factory, but 


they turned out beautiful stuff with very happy personnel, 
apparently. The unions tried to unionize it, but apparently the 
two brothers, Frederic and Carl, were very advanced in dealing 
with employees. They had some kind of a benefit system of 
bonuses that depended upon output, so without being a sweatshop, 
it was very successful in dealing with employees. Very loyal 
people, all the employees. 

You'll still see these desks. The bank I go to down in 
Berkeley is full of these Leopold desks. They don't know where 
they came from. 

Lage: You can tell by the style? 
Leopold: Yes, I can tell by the style. 
Lage: Is the business still operating? 

Leopold: No, my uncle sold the business in one of these takeovers. He had 
turned the thing from a struggling little shop into a very 
successful small business and sold it for a very high price. But 
sold in one of these takeover jobs. 

Lage: But some time ago. 

Leopold: Oh, yes, it must have been, I suppose about twenty years ago, I 
suppose . 

Skate Sailing. Skiing, and Hunting in Wisconsin 

Lage: What other outdoor experiences do you remember? I've run across 
references to your skate sailing, and I saw in your journals some 
skiing trips. 

Leopold: In those days, you see, before the days of ski lifts, my best 

friend Bert Gallistel, who's one of my closest friends still; his 
father was the chief engineer for the University of Wisconsin in 
Madison. He and I did everything together. We went to high 
school together, we went to college together, and we taught 
ourselves to ski. But since we worked all day in school, we 
started to ski at night. So we would leave after studying; we 
would start out at nine o'clock in the evening on our skis, and 
we taught ourselves to ski in the dark. 

Lage: That's pretty hard to do. 





We nearly killed ourselves a lot of times, too. 
lot about skiing and skate sailing. 

But we learned a 




This was more cross -country -type skiing, I would assume. 

We didn't know anything about so-called downhill skiing, because 
there were no slopes. Everything was fluffy snow, and therefore 
you learned to telemark before you learned to christy, you see. 

Did you learn these various techniques? 

We taught ourselves just doing it, that's all. And then there 
was skate sailing. Growing up in Madison was an amazing 
experience because here you had all these lakes . We hoped to 
skate on Thanksgiving Day every year. We'd go to the smallest 
lake, Lake Wingra, and we would skate across this thin ice before 
it was ready. [laughs] Why we never fell in, I don't know. But 
then when the big lake, when Lake Mendota became frozen- -and 
there were years in which it froze when there was no wind and no 
snow, and it was just a glass all the way across, four miles 
across. Bert and 1 one time timed ourselves sixty-five miles an 
hour over a mile course on our skates. It was a very exciting 
thing to do. We could never make up our mind whether we liked 
skate sailing or skiing better. 

What exactly was skate sailing? 

The skate sails Bert and I built were of very unorthodox design. 
Mine consisted of a T-shaped spar, the base eight feet, the 
height fifteen feet. On this was stretched a triangle of muslin 
cloth. The apex of the triangle dragged on the ice. The long 
spar sat on your shoulder about three feet from the base of the 
T. To move, the pressure of the long spar against your shoulder 
pushed you along. To tack, the whole sail was lifted over your 
head and put on the opposite shoulder. We could tack about 
thirty degrees off the wind. Because of the force components we 
could sail faster than the wind pushing us, so a forty mile-per- 
hour wind could push us sixty miles per hour, approximately. 

Sounds like a great, exciting boyhood. 

Well, then, of course, we did a lot of hunting too. 
did not, but I mean my family did. 

Would these be weekend trips, or longer trips? 
No, mostly just a day or two days, weekend trips. 

Bert and I 


Lage : What do you think--. A lot of conservation-minded people now 
think hunting's a terrible thing. How do you feel hunting 
developed your own sense of sort of the ecology? It doesn't do 
it for all hunters, but it surely seemed to for your family. 

Leopold: The main thing about hunting is hunting is an exercise in 

sportsmanship. The idea of killing a lot of something is simply 
not the way it's supposed to be. 

Lage: And it wasn't the way it was in your family. 

Leopold: No, absolutely not. But as I say, my father had gradually 
changed his mind. He finally gave up hunting more or less 
completely in his later years. 

Lage: Altogether? 

Leopold: No, it was simply that he was more interested in doing other 
things. Now, for example, after we had the shack and spent 
practically every weekend up there, we were trying to build up 
the population of whatever animals we had. But when I came back 
during the war, when I came back for a visit when I was still in 
the army, we'd go up to the shack, and my father would say, "Why 
don't we go out and see whether we can find you a duck?" He 
wasn't interested in shooting, but he was interested in having me 
find a duck. 

So the family turned more and more to growing plants and 
trying to do what my sister now has done very well- -to learn how 
to restore prairies in their original form with all the original 
species. We tried for many years to try to grow a population of 
quail in our land. That's way in the far northern edge of quail 
territory, because they would simply kill off in the winter, in 
the big, cold winters. But my father never really gave up 
hunting. He simply was interested more in doing other things. 
But when the boys came back and if they wanted to hunt, why, 
that's fine. 

But your question about hunting in general, well, it's like 
this business of animal fur. You can carry all these things to 
extremes. If you're going to say you can't wear furs, then you 
shouldn't wear shoes, or you shouldn't eat meat, or you shouldn't 
kill cattle for beef. I mean, there are extremes that people go 
to, and I would say hunting is one of the most important things I 
ever did and I have no intention of giving it up, and I think 
there's nothing more important as far as learning sportsmanship 
than to go hunting. Because you learn all of the things that are 
needed: how to take care of equipment, how to treat other 
people, how to deal with landowners, how to deal with fences, and 


respecting other people's property, 
and birds. 

and then how to treat animals 

Yes, there are people who in the name of conservation don't 
like hunting, but there's an awful lot of very good 
conservationists who do like hunting. I say if you look at the 
aspects that I'm speaking of, hunting as we knew it was probably 
the most educational experience that we did, because it involved 
all of these ethical types of problems, so that you learn to do 
it the right way. And besides, develop a skill. 

Lage: And be in the outdoors. 
Leopold: Yes, that's right. 

Develocine Habits of Close Observation of Nature 

Lage: What about the habit of very close observation of nature? That's 
something that the family seemed to have had across the board. 
Did that come through your hunting experience? 

Leopold: Clearly it came straight from my father, no question about that. 
But then there were other aspects of it. I studied a lot of 
botany, but I was never a very good botanist. Because I was 
primarily in another field, my knowledge of taxonomy never really 
improved very much. Many times when I came back after I'd 
graduated, came back to be for a weekend with the family, and we 
would go up to the shack. The general thing was you went for a 
walk, and my father would look at a certain plant, and he would 
say, "Of course you'll remember that this plant is called so-and- 
so." Well, hell, I didn't remember it, but he would never 
embarrass you by suggesting that you didn't know. But then he 
would remind you. And then we could talk about that plant. 

But close observation was the basis of his teaching, too. 
I'll never forget the final exam in his course when I took it. 
The final exam consisted of a little sketch, and I remember it 
still. The sketch was a cross -section. He didn't tell you where 
it was. It showed a road, and a fence, and a rock, and a dead 
rabbit. That's all the cross -section showed. The question 
started like this: Where is this location? Where did the rock 
come from? Why is the rabbit dead? What would be the 
relationship of the rabbit to the road? To the roadside, and on 
and on and on. 







You had to think of all these relationships. You had to be 
in Wisconsin because the rock was exotic. The rock was rounded 
and therefore it was moved by something, and you had to think, 
what could have moved the rock? Why was the rock sitting there 
alone? What killed the rabbit? Why the road? Because the road 
bank was protected, you see, from farming, and therefore it had 
some plants in it that you wouldn't have found across the fence. 
The reason the rabbit was there, because the plants were there. 

I see. Would these be the kinds of questions that your father 
put forth when you were out together, too? Would he encourage 
you to notice things in that way? 

No, he would look at something and then he would start talking 
about why it was so. So he wasn't as much asking questions as 
discussing with you why you thought a certain thing that you 
observed was true. He always listened to what you had to say, 
even though you may not have had very good ideas about it. 

Did writing the journals help you observe more closely, do you 

Yes, 1 think so, because the reason that a journal is important 
is that you'd be surprised how fast you lose something, how fast 
you forget. If you sit down as we always did and wrote your 
journal that night, everything's fresh in your mind and you'll 
see things in the freshness of your memory that you would have 
lost had you not done so. 

But it seems to me it would also tend to make you, during the 
day, more aware, more conscious of what's going on. 


I never thought about it that way, but that's possibly 

The unfortunate thing is that my father never lived long 
enough to see how successful this teaching was and how the 
children had all responded to it. I think he would have been 
tremendously pleased. 

But he had some indication of what direction you were going in, 
At least the older- - 

It was too early, actually. 



Earlv Schooling in Albuoueraue and Madison 






One of the books that I looked at said you'd entered college at 
age fifteen. Was that unusual at that time? 

Actually, I must have been fourteen. It was very peculiar. In 
the first place, when we lived in Albuquerque, my mother sent me 
to school when I just turned five. We went to a little private 
school run by two very talented women who had probably--! don't 
think there were more than twenty students. The learning was 
such that you made two grades per year. Or maybe it was a grade 
and a half. But I do know that when we left Albuquerque, I was 
eight years old when I was in sixth grade, and I was too darn 
young, because the problem was that by the time I got up at that 
level, I wasn't remembering as much as I should. 

So you went right to sixth grade in Wisconsin? 

They accepted the 

Yes, but my problem was at eighth grade. I was going to a 
grammar school in Madison, and the teacher was very nice. She 
didn't insist that I learn the arithmetic that I should have 
known, so that when I got to high school, I was not as good in 
arithmetic as I should have been, and I didn't like geometry, 
which later I came to love, and I had simply fallen behind. So 
when I entered college and started the engineering school, there 
was a six-weeks' period during which you prepared yourself after 
you entered college. At the end of six weeks you were to take an 
examination to see whether you could stay in school. I learned 
all my high school mathematics in six weeks, but the problem is, 
you don't learn it well enough. So compared with the students 
that we see here, my math has always been very much less than I 
would like. 

Has that been a problem in your field, or has it directed you in 
a way that you might not have gone? 


Leopold: It simply has not turned out to be my particular specialty. 
Observation is my specialty, and analysis. And I wish that 
knew more math, yes. 

Civil Engineering at the University of Wisconsin: 
Influence of Professor Von Hagan 


You started in civil engineering, 
field then? 

What were you thinking of as a 

The way I went into engineering was interesting. I told you that 
the father of my best friend, Bert Gallistel, was a mining 
engineer who became the superintendent of buildings and grounds 
at the university. We'd gone through high school together and 
learned to ski and skate sail together. So when school started, 
we were walking up the hill to go to register. Bert said, "What 
are you going to register as?" I said, "I don't know. What are 
you going to be?" He said, "I'm going to go into engineering." 
I said, "I think I will too." [laughter] So we walked together, 
and we signed up, and he said, "I'm going to get in this line; 
this is mining engineering." I said, "I don't think I'll be as 
interested in that as civil engineering; I'll take the next 
line." So I went into civil engineering. 

Well, then you come to the most important thing that ever 
happened to me, is that the head of the civil engineering 
department at the University of Wisconsin was a man by the name 
of Professor Leslie Von Hagan. Von Hagan happened to be the 
father of another close friend, Charles Von Hagan. Bert and I 
and Charlie were very close. 

Leopold: Professor Von Hagan was a very strict disciplinarian. He did a 
lot of things that no university professor before or since has 
ever done. Everything that he did, I have done in my teaching. 
For the first three years we hated him, he was so tough on us. 
But here's what he did. For all the civil engineers, he gave a 
course in engineering English. The course was taught every 
semester, and every civil engineer had to take a course every 
semester for all the years in college, in English. 

Lage: In writing, basically? 


Leopold: Both. Every week a student had to turn in to him twenty words. 
The twenty words were supposed to have been words you picked up 
during your reading. Of course, you didn't have time to read, so 
you went to the library and you took out a dictionary and you 
wrote twenty words. You had to define them, and then he would 
choose from all these words that were turned in to him, and he 
would give them to you in an exam, and say, "Define these words." 

Lage: So you had to know your words plus the other words. 

Leopold: And you sure learned a lot. Boy, I'll tell you. I'm greatly 
influenced by what that man taught me. 

Lage: Now, have you done that? In your teaching? 

Leopold: Not just that, but for example: everything that you turned in to 
him had to be bound in a particular way, in exactly the same way 
every time, in a manila folder, exactly the way he wanted it 
done. You never threw any notes away. You did your computations 
on the side so he could check them. And then if you got a 
problem wrong, you got the same problems handed back to you, and 
you did it again and again and again until it was perfect. And 
then if it still wasn't done right, the same problem was handed 
to you on the final examination. After you finished the 
examination, here are the problems that you haven't finished. If 
you didn't pass them, you were flunked. 

Lage: What did you do if you needed help with that problem? Obviously, 
it didn't come easy if you kept getting it back all semester. 

Leopold: The difficulties were along these lines. In those days you 

didn't have calculators, and everything had to be done to three 
significant figures, for example, and therefore we used 
logarithms. But you had to use six-place logarithms, so that if 
you didn't copy the logarithm number down correctly, the six 
letters, you're going to get something wrong, you see-- 

Lage: You had to be pretty precise. 

Leopold: --and therefore you might make a slight error, and you had to do 
that over. Not very often--. The problems were discussed in 
class, so that there was no reason why you certainly couldn't get 
it on the second or third time. But if you didn't do it 
perfectly, you'd get it again and again. So that was a very 
important influence. This man was--. He was wonderful. 


Did he have influence on other students as well? 






Oh, yes, there's no question about it. But I think I was 
probably more influenced than most. 

When we went to summer camp, we had six weeks of intense 

And this is still civil engineering? 

Yes. Ue went up to the Baraboo Hills where the summer camp was 
held. When we were laying out the railroad that we had to 
design, and Professor Von Hagan was out with us in the field, we 
found that he really was a human being, that he was very funny, 
was honest, very friendly, and we all just loved the hell out of 
him. Whereas formerly, you thought in class he always seemed so 
gruff, and so rough on you. But he was very influential on 

So that training was absolutely wonderful because of the 
discipline that this particular professor gave you. There were 
not very many other things I could say about that training, but 
engineering is always a wonderful thing to study because you're 
thrown up against a lot of different kinds of problems. But 1 
think that everybody who went through that particular university 
system got something that no one else has ever gotten. He was 
just beyond belief. 

Were there other professors that you recall in a similar way? 

At Harvard, yes. My professor at Harvard was very important to 
me. But other than--. Yes, there was. One of the young 
instructors in civil engineering later became a professor and 
then became the dean, then became the head of all of engineering 
at Wisconsin. He was very important to me because he followed 
the same line of approach to students. Very demanding, had to be 
done exactly right, and when you look back, you just loved him 
for it. This was Professor Kurt Wendt. 

Now, you say you carried this on into your teaching. 


Has it been successful? Have you gotten the students to-- 

Well, it's a different way, but there are--. See all those 
folders there? 




Leopold: Those are students' works that were handed in the same way that 
Professor Von Hagan made us hand them in. If they weren't 
stapled correctly, the student gets them back. For example, in 
my teaching, I wasn't very loved for this, but I told the class, 
when you hand in a piece of work in my class, if you have a 
mistake in spelling, I said, it's ten points off. I said, "I 
never correct a word that's a misspelled word without myself 
looking into the dictionary to make sure that I'm correcting it 
correctly. If I can look into the dictionary, so can you." Boy, 
when they started to get ten points off per spelling, my students 
paid some attention, I'll tell you. 

Lage: It must have been unusual- -at least, in my conception of 

engineering now- -to put this emphasis on writing and on reading 
outside the field. 

Leopold: I have absolutely no respect for this university, California, in 
the engineering school. None, because everything's mathematics 
and computers, and I don't think that's engineering. Not the way 
I know it. 

Designing a Broadened Field of Study, with Lasting Impact 

Lage: Did you switch out of engineering and into geology while you were 
at Wisconsin, or did you graduate in civil engineering? 

Leopold: Well, what happened was that I found civil engineering to be much 
too constrained. 

Lage: When did you decide that? 

Leopold: About the end of my first year in college. There were no 

electives. I think in four years of college, I would have two 
electives. So I went to the dean, and I said, "I would like to 
make an agreement with the university that if I take five years 
instead of four to get my degree, I want to be able to study 
botany and ecology and plant physiology and geology and soils and 
agricultural climatology. If I take five years, would you give 
me just a little more flexibility in my schedule?" They said, 
yes, so that's what I did. 

Lage: That was quite an overview. There seems to be a big change from 
your first entry into college and the casual way you decided to 
take engineering. And then a year later you had this kind of 
broad overview of what you wanted to study. How did you design a 


series of subjects that you were going to take to round out your 

Leopold: I wanted to know something about geology and biology, and that's 
what engineering was not giving me. So 1 took a lot of extra 
geology, and that was very important because I'd gotten 
interested in the one required course in geology. The required 
course in geology was taught by a famous professor at Wisconsin 
by the name of Warren Mead. 1 was so crazy about that course, it 
was just wonderful. One of the great teachers 1 studied under. 
So I started to take quite a few more courses in geology. And 
then 1 went over to botany and started more or less at the 
beginning with elementary botany and then advanced botany and 
then taxonomy, then ecology and plant physiology, and on and on. 
So that I came out with a considerable knowledge- -training, not 
knowledge --training in the biological sciences, which most 
engineers don't get. 

Lage: Was this anything that your father encouraged, or you just-- 

Leopold: Oh, he encouraged it, but this was really my idea. My father 

thought I was very foolish to stay in engineering. He said, "Why 
don't you go into something else?" I said, "I now believe that 
in order to talk to engineers I have to be an engineer." I said, 
"I want a degree in engineering in order to deal with engineers." 

Lage: You saw them as a group that had to be dealt with? 

Leopold: Yes. Because I could see what was happening in his profession, 
that there were a lot of sort of practical people who couldn't 
see that ecology had much to do with them. 

Lage: I see. So you want to be able to talk their language. 

Leopold: Yes. And it's been very helpful to me. Very helpful to me. I 
could see, for example, by watching my father, that you're not 
going to get very far in science of the kind that we were 
interested in without knowing something about biology. 
Engineering was not enough. So although my father hardly was 
directing this, he certainly was encouraging it. 

Lage: I know you just kind of stumbled into engineering originally, 
from what you told me, but did you come to see it as something 
that maybe was missing from your father's background? Did it 
give you something that would be able to take you in a different 

Leopold: Well, I never thought about it as my father missing it, but I 

certainly was gaining something from it, because, for example, I 


could think in terms of the physical forces, the kind of thing 
that we studied in physics and in structures and in bridge 
design, foundations, which in biologic training you simply don't 
get any- -you never get any of it. It was a very good 
combination. As a matter of fact, the combination is really 
quite necessary if you're going to go into hydrology in the 
modern sense. 

Lage: Were you able to take that broad base of studies at Wisconsin 
that you requested? 

Leopold: Oh, yes, indeed. Yes. As a matter of fact, that's standard 
business now. But I had to fight for it in those days. They 
didn't believe in it at all. 

For example, when I was teaching in this department 
[Department of Geology], I would say to graduate students, 
"You've come to the University of California, Berkeley, which is 
a very large and a very diverse place." I said, "I don't care 
what you do, but get yourself educated. Take what you want, but 
come out an educated person, because you can do so at Berkeley. 
There are no requirements as far as I'm concerned. Now, I expect 
you to learn some geology, but I'm not telling you what part of 
geology you have to learn. Be educated." That's what I told 
students when I was an advisor here- -in other words when I was a 
chief advisor to students --because I believe that you're never 
going to learn everything, and that the individual ought to have 
a great opportunity to decide what combinations of things he 
wants to learn. 

Lage: So you wouldn't be one of the educators who feels that there 
should be a core curriculum that everybody participates in? 

Leopold: I think a person has to be educated in a broad way, but whether 

that is the way to accomplish that purpose, I don't know. I have 
a great empathy for a student who wishes to decide for himself or 
herself what kind of an education that he or she wishes. I think 
we should both give students an opportunity to do so, and to 
encourage them to do so, and give them some advice as they go. 
But if you graduate in geology from this department, as I said, I 
expect you to know some geology. But how you're going to learn 
that geology is up to you. But you're going to have to know 
something about these various subjects, all of which are 
geologically oriented. To come out, for example, without ever 
having taken a course in paleontology, which most of these 
students don't, I think is a shame. They don't know any biology 
at all. 


Lage: It doesn't give them the kind of broad view that you've brought 
to it. 

A Learning Experience at Coon Vallev with the Soil Erosion 


You worked with the Soil Erosion Service during the summers? 
that the non-paying summer jobs you referred to? 





Well, first I worked for the Forest Service at a forest 
experiment station. Then I worked for the Soil Erosion Service 
in a non-paying job at one of the experiment stations. The third 
summer, I worked for the Soil Conservation Service as a young 

Was the Coon Valley experience one of those? 

I spent a summer at Coon Valley before the big experiment station 
was expanded into a big deal. When Coon Valley was first being 
set up, I was there as a non-paid helper actually laying out the 
experimental plots in areas that were later to be used by the 
experiment station. It was just getting started at Coon Valley 
at that time. 

Was that an experience that shaped you in any way, or developed 
your interest in soils? 

Yes, some things that happened there were very important. Yes, 
I'll tell you one of the things, which was always a source of 
great embarrassment to me. I was a civil engineer, and I had 
just finished a course in surveying. Years later, surveying 
became one of the most important things that I do. I was running 
a transit, laying out experimental plots. Apparently I went in 
for lunch, a thunderstorm broke, and my expensive instrument was 
out there in the rain. I ran out and I picked up the instrument 
and I took it in the barn, and I started to dry it out. By the 
time I got it dried out and had looked through it, I had 
destroyed the spider-hair crosshairs, which of course could not 
be fixed except in the factory. I was fifteen. 

Oh, you were very young then. 

Yes. I just turned fifteen. So I went to the head boss, and I 
said, "Sir, I've made a terrible mistake. I've ruined our 
instrument." And I can tell you, that was very difficult to do, 
but it was also a very great learning experience, because to 



force myself to go and admit that I'd made a mistake, and to go 
to the boss and tell him immediately and in detail what 1 had 
done wrong- -and of course, when you do that, there isn't very 
much the poor gentleman could say except to say, "We'll have to 
send it to the company to be fixed." But that was a moment of 
great growth, I'll tell you, when you forced yourself to say you 
had made a terrible mistake; and to admit it immediately and 
publicly, that was tough. I think that's one thing I remember 
the most about that summer. 

That's quite a learning experience. How did you get interested 
in soil erosion and end up at Coon Valley? 

Veil, because this was from my father's influence. We were 
interested in conservation, and I happened to be leaning toward 
the whole manner of how land was treated, and the one 
organization that dealt with that matter was the Soil Erosion 
Service. So that's where I started. 

Thoughts on Breadth in Education and the Value of Field 

Lage: I think we've probably come to a good stopping point, unless 

there's something that comes to mind about the things we've been 
talking about that you think we should add. 

Leopold: To summarize that part of our experiences, it was quite clear 

that an education demands breadth, and breadth you're not going 
to get in many of the ways in which certain courses or certain 
things are taught, such as engineering. Breadth also means 
reading, which my family did a lot of. When I first went to 
graduate school, you certainly did a lot of reading, which is not 
now required of anybody. Therefore, people are growing up 
without breadth and without having read anything, and have 
usually not been forced to write very much, and therefore they 
find the whole matter of writing very difficult. 

So the whole business of education has been turned upside 
down by the lack of experience in writing and reading, too much 
emphasis on computing and what are now called "models." That's a 
very bad turn of events, where you don't ever have to go out and 
see anything in the field; you construct something in your mind 
that you can put on a computer. Now people are being trained 
without any field experience whatsoever. 

Lage: It's like they were empty vessels, if they don't have the field 
experience or the reading. 









That's right. And that's what's happening in engineering now. 
In this university here, civil engineering in the graduate school 
requires only that you learn computers and mathematics, and 

that's all. 

No work in the field. 

No. Matter of fact, they resent working in the field, or do not 
encourage the students to work in the field. I know, because 
some of my student friends have gone there at my suggestion, and 
I turn and find out that this is not an education. And yet for 
some reason or another, Berkeley engineering, Berkeley civil 
engineering, is considered one of the best in the country. 1 
don't believe it. That's not my idea of engineering. 

Do you think other programs are similar, though? 
trend not just at Berkeley. 

Maybe it's a 

Unfortunately, this is not just this university. I went to a 
meeting a couple of months ago, of the Institute for Hydrology, 
American Institute for Hydrology, and there was a lot of 
discussion about training. I found, in talking to a lot of 
people, there's only one school that I've found out about that 
has the kind of education in hydrology that I think is a real 
education. It happens to be the School of Mines in Colorado. 
Not civil engineering, but the School of Mines. That's the only 
place that I've seen where I would consider that they are 
offering a real education in hydrology, because it has all the 
things that I've been talking about. 

How about in geology? Is there an emphasis there also on kind of 
the "black box" approach? Computing and modeling? Or do they 
still have the fieldwork? 

That's a very touchy point in this department. It is indeed. 
With you on one side and others on another? 

Yes. I'm not the only one on my side, but there's a real schism 
here. There is a difference of opinion as to the value of field 
work in the science of geology. Some laboratory scientists and 
theoreticians believe field work for students in geology is a 
waste of time. I feel field experience is essential. But in the 
last few years this has changed. Many of our more recently hired 
teachers are very good field geologists, and so the pendulum is 
now swinging back, I'm glad to say. 


s in Suervision at the Soil Conservation Service 

[Interview 2: May 30, 1990 ]## 

Lage: You wanted to start out today with some learning experiences at 
the Soil Conservation Service. 

Leopold: In 1936, when I graduated from the University of Wisconsin, I had 
taken five years to take my degree because I was dissatisfied 
with engineering. At the end of five years I was probably the 
only person at that time trained specifically for work in the 
field of soil conservation. I took a job, a temporary job with 
the Soil Conservation Service in New Mexico, where I had many 
roots. I was paid $77 a month working for the regional office in 
Albuquerque, and I was put in a reconnaissance survey team- -not 
surveying, but resource surveys. 

Leopold: There was a geologist in the office, Dr. Parry Reiche, that I got 
to be very close to, a man who was very important to me in my 
career. I had taken some geology, but I certainly could hardly 
be called a geologist; I was an engineer. Also, his secretary in 
the office was a girl that I started to go out with, a very 
lovely girl. One time she said to me, "Why haven't you taken any 
of those fine jobs that were offered to you? You have been 
working here for $77 a month as a temporary. You don't even have 
a classification." I said, "I never heard about them." She 
said, "These letters are coming in, and they were never sent to 
you?" I said, "No." "Well," she said, "your boss apparently is 
simply pocketing them and doesn't let you see them." Then I 
began to realize that people can take advantage of you. It never 
occurred to me that people would take advantage of you. So that 
made quite an impression on me, that that's no way to handle 
young people . 

At that time since I was a fledgling geologist, my geology 
friend, Dr. Reiche, had told me about the whole question of the 
effect of changing climate on the environment. I began to read 
the geologic literature about this, particularly written by 
Professor Kirk Bryan at Harvard. I began to see that there were 
people who just didn't believe in what we were doing. The Soil 
Conservation Service had one idea, but here were the other 
people, very important people like the professor at Harvard, who 
thought that we were crazy. 

Lage: In what aspect of what you were doing? 

Leopold: He said, "Man is not the cause of your erosion problems. Climate 
is the cause of your erosion problem." So 1 had long discussions 
with my geologist friend. Finally, I decided I wanted to learn 
something about this. So I went to the big boss and I said, 
"There are people who disagree with us. 1 suggest you send me to 
graduate school to study under Kirk Bryan and I'll come back and 
tell you, or tell everybody here, what this man is talking about. 
He's a very well-known man." They said, "Oh, he doesn't know 
anything. No, we won't send you to school." So I said, "1 

So at that time, Dr. Reiche had written a letter to Kirk 
Bryan at Harvard and said, "This young man wants to come and 
study geology under you. He wants to know your ideas, and I 
would suggest that you give him some help." And then Kirk Bryan, 
whom I'd never met, wrote to my father and said, "Your young man 
wants to come and work under me." I saw the letter later on. 
"I've always wanted to have an engineer come and study geology." 
He said, "I will give him a small scholarship, but that's only a 
small part of what it takes to go to Harvard, and I suggest that 
you help him out." But I was accepted to Harvard. 

So I went to my father and I told him about this. Yes, he 
had gotten the letter from Professor Bryan. My father said, 
"Very well," he said, "I will give you" --and this is now when he 
was unemployed- -he said, "I will give you $900." It was costing 
at that time about $2,500 to go to Harvard. So I had less than 
half of what other people had, but I was delighted to have it. 
So off I went. 

Well, that's another whole story. But at the end of the 
year I didn't have any money, and there was no way to get any. 
There were no such thing as grants, you see. So I went back to 
work. This time, when I went back to New Mexico, having thought 
about my experience with this prior boss and having learned 
practically nothing--! was a very dumb engineer--! said, "I want 
to work with the man I've heard about"--! had never met him- -"who 
works in Safford, Arizona. His name is Thomas Maddock, Jr." At 
that time Maddock was just being transferred to Albuquerque, so I 
had the opportunity to work under this man, about ten years older 
than I. 

Tom Maddock has been one of my closest friends ever since. 
We have shared an office together, and Tom is an engineer. Tom 
grew up in Arizona, a very broad-gauge man, and he would put his 
feet up on the desk opposite me and he would be reading all the 
scientific journals. He would say to me, "Here's something we 
ought to do. You compute this." So under his guidance, I 
computed day after day after day, and by the time I finished 


working under him after the first year we were probably as far 
advanced in the hydrologic sciences as anybody in the United 
States, because Tom read all the time and 1 tried the things out 
and ran my slide rule and computed for him. 

Then, in contrast to this previous supervisor, everything 
that was good, Tom sent me to. Somebody would say, "We need a 
man to come to Washington and do such-and-such." Tom would say, 
"My assistant will go." And then he would get the money and he 
would send me. So I was sent on field trips, I was sent on 
conferences, and I was given every single opportunity that was 
possible. I learned a lot. 

I learned something about what it was like to be a 
supervisor. Take care of your people. Assume that they are 
going to work hard for you and they're going to work hard for 
themselves and they're going to learn something, and that's the 
way to get ahead. You don't get ahead by keeping people down. 
You don't get ahead by putting a lid on them. You get ahead by 
helping them move ahead. 

Well, that affected me all my life, because later on when I 
became a supervisor, then 1 did the same thing. 

Lage: It's an unusual quality, I think. 

Leopold: Yes. And of course, it has paid off again and again. In order 
to promote yourself you promote the people that work under you. 
And I mean promote in an intellectual sense; I'm not talking 
necessarily about promoting in a job. 

Those were very important things that happened to me. Then, 
for example, in that same first year when I was working close to 
but not with this geologist friend of mine, I went on field trips 
with him. 

Lage: With Tom Haddock? 

Leopold: No, this was with Parry Reiche before I met Tom Haddock. 

I was going with a girl that I was crazy about for many, 
many years. Her mother had some mining claims, and one of them 
was a claim in the mountains in the Jemez Hountains, and she 
asked me as a young fledgling geologist to go take a look at this 
claim, that happened to be a claim for kaolin, a clay. So I went 
there and it was an amazing geologic formation. I studied the 
thing and made a map of it. So I started to write a paper about 
this. I wrote this manuscript, and Dr. Reiche helped me. He 
told me this and he told me that and he guided me, and here was 



my first published paper, a paper in geology. ["Climatic 
character of the interval between the Jurassic and Cretaceous in 
New Mexico and Arizona": Journal of Geology, v. 51 No. 1, pp. 56- 
62.] Without Dr. Reiche 1 never could have completed it. But I 
learned a lot by being under somebody who was really willing to 
help you. He furnished technical information as well as other 
kinds of advice. So again, the way to make things move is to 
help people. He certainly was a wonderful help to me. 

Interestingly, shortly after that Dr. Reiche was sent to 
some other place, the war came along, I lost complete track of 
him for many, many years, and I never could really get a chance 
to thank him for all he's done for me. Last year a friend of 
mine here in Berkeley said, "Do you remember what happened to 
Parry Reiche? " I said, "No." "He's living here in town." I 
said, " He is? I haven't seen him for forty years." So I wrote 
him a letter, and I said, "I want to tell you after all these 
forty years, that everything in my career has been due to the 
help that you gave me." He wrote me a letter back that said, 
"That's very interesting." He said, "I've helped a lot of 
people, but you're the only person who ever thanked me." 

Maybe they'd lost him too. 

I don ' t know . 

Did you go to see him then? 

He didn't want to see me. He was an older man, and--. I don't 
know. But he was a very, very fine geologist, and I always felt 
that I had to do something to tell this man who helped me so 
much; that I had to tell him about how much I appreciated him. 

Flood Control Surveys with Tom Haddock. SCS . 1938-1941 

Lage: When you first went to the Soil Conservation Service, did you go 
as a hydrologist? 

Leopold: No, I went as an engineer. I didn't become a hydrologist until 
after I joined the Geological Survey many years later. Although 
I had taken hydraulics, hydrology, as it turned out, when I 
started my work in the Soil Conservation Service I found that--. 
Looking back at it, I certainly didn't know anything. But under 
Maddock I learned a lot. I really learned a lot. 


Lage: Now, what was the Job with the Soil Conservation Service? 
Leopold: I was simply called junior engineer. 

Lage: And you were with the Soil Conservation Service from 1938 to 
1941, three years. 

Leopold: Yes. 

Lage: What kinds of things were you assigned to do? 

Leopold: Haddock and I were working on flood control surveys. Now, flood 
control surveys involve all the kinds of things that are in 
modern hydrology --that is, rainfall characteristics, 
infiltration, the translation of rainfall into the runoff 
hydrograph, the routing of the runoff hydrograph to some 
downstream point, the whole question of measurement in streams -- 
everything that's in modern hydrology. But at that time it was 
not well codified, and at the end of that period of time, I think 
we both realized that we were as far ahead as anybody in the 
country, that we were learning an awful lot. Because we were 
reading the literature, and we were actually working out 
problems . 

So what did I do, for example? I took it upon myself to 
chase rainstorms , and when a big flood occurred I would go 
rushing down to see the effect of the floods and to collect data 
on the rainfall that caused the flood, and I would make 
measurements of the highwater marks. 

Lage: Your later jobs seemed to give you a lot of freedom to decide 

what the important matters to pursue were. Is that the case with 

Leopold: Tom Haddock, as I told you, was a very, very intelligent 

supervisor. Since we worked very closely together, he gave me a 
lot of openings to--. Because I was very active. When I said, 
"Let's go chase that storm," he's say, "Go ahead. You'll get 
some data." So it was very different from many offices, where 
you have set things you were going to do. We were doing 
research, as a matter of fact. We were trying to develop new 
ideas . 

Lage: Was publication part of the function of your job? 

Leopold: As it turned out, I was the one that was interested in 

publication. Tom wasn't. Later on he became interested, but I 
published several papers during that period. But I didn't 
realize at that time how important that was going to become. 


Lage: In the USGS video' you made a reference to new hydrological 

principles developed by these soil conservationists -hydrologists. 
Could you expand on that? 


Leopold: Yes, because right at the end of the- -just before the war, there 
were two or three figures that stood out as contributors of 
really new ideas. They included the famous engineer Robert E. 
Horton, the engineer V.V. Horner, and a man by the name of 
Sherman. What they were all working on in one form or another 
was the procedure by which you could compute the volume and 
timing of runoff from a precipitation event. Robert E. Horton 
was at that time working on what later became known as his famous 
infiltration theory, and Sherman and Horner were working on what 
is now the basis of most hydrology, which is called the unit 
hydrograph. When I was sent to Washington on one assignment by 
Tom Haddock, I was sent to work on data relating rainfall, 
infiltration, and runoff. We were generally supervised by the 
great Horton. 

Lage: Was that important in your development of your ideas? 

Leopold: Yes, because I could see then that Tom Haddock and I were indeed 
working on the right things. We were very close to having ideas 
similar to these great names that were working on this problem. 

Lage: But independently. 

Leopold: Right. 

Lage: Were you part of a hydrological division or anything like that? 

Leopold: No, Tom Haddock and I were simply the hydrologists on the flood 
control surveys. 

Lage: 1 see. And what was Horton? Was he in Washington? 

Leopold: No, Horton was a consultant to the Soil Conservation Service and 
the Forest Service in Washington. A part-time consultant. So 
the point is that at that time, we were independently doing--. 
Looking back at it, it was research, but we weren't supposed to 
research. But we were. We were on the right track. 

'interview of Luna Leopold by R. C. Averett and W. W. Emmett, August 
1988, for the U.S. Geological Survey. A copy is in The Bancroft Library. 


Graduate Studv at Harvard. 1937: Classical Ideas in Science 



The year at Harvard in 1937 was extremely important. I had never 
heard anyone use the word "science." Kirk Bryan was always 
talking about science, meaning the intellectual growth in 
scientific thought. No one had ever talked to me about science. 
All of a sudden I began to see that that was a very important 
matter, to provide new information to other people by learning 
new things. That's what science is all about. 

And there was a difference from the present age. In those 
days a graduate student was expected to read a lot, and that has 
simply been lost. Completely lost. Now what people do is read 
short articles in current journals. But when I went to graduate 
school, what you were being taught was not the new things but the 
classical ideas. 

And that's not the case anymore? 
Absolutely not. 

Leopold: The classical ideas. For example, William Morris Davis was even 
at that time beginning to be seen not as the great tower of 
knowledge in physical geography, but he was seen at that time as 
somebody who contributed a lot but we had to move ahead into 
quantitative geology. But Kirk Bryan insisted that we read all 
kinds of essays written by the great man. But each time, he was 
saying, "We must do it a little differently; we must proceed 
beyond this . " 

We read all the classical people in the field of physical 
geography. At that time there was a great discussion among the 
most advanced thinkers in physical geography about the difference 
in view between the great William Morris Davis from the United 
States, and Walter Penck from Germany. 

Furthermore, Professor Bryan expected you to know languages. 
The first paper he gave me to read was in Spanish. The next 
paper he gave me to read was in German, and boy, I'll tell you, 
that was tough, because I knew very little about languages. 

Lage: Did you know Spanish? 

Leopold: No, but I damn well started to learn, I'll tell you. 

Lage: I thought maybe you'd learned that as a youth. 


Leopold: No, unfortunately. No, that's a great mistake. Any family that 
can speak more than one language, if they fail to bring up their 
children speaking that language, it's a great, great loss. No, 
I'm very sorry that my mother didn't do that. 

Anyhow, this doesn't occur here. In this geology 
department, for example, a graduate student was once required to 
have one language, only to be able to read scientific work in 
that language. Until the day that I left the department, I was 
the last holdout saying that we must maintain the idea that in 
order to be a modern scientist you have to read a language other 
than your own. Practically the day I left this department and 
retired, they changed it, and now no languages are required. 

Lage: I thought it was a requirement of the graduate division. 

Leopold: No, ma'am. It's up to the department. A great shame. Anyhow, 

at Harvard you had to have two languages, and you had to read it, 

Lage : Then part of your year 'at Harvard involved learning these 
languages . 

Leopold: You bet your life. So that there were things that were done in 
those days that I think were right. 

Failure of Modern Science to Pursue the Important Problems 

Leopold: I find that modern graduate students in this department really 

have very little sense of how we got to where we are. The older 
ideas, many of which posed extremely important problems in our 
science, are being bypassed by present young people, probably 
because they never realized how important they were. Let me give 
you an example. 

Geomorphology is the study of landforms, and that means both 
process and form. What I did, actually, was to more or less help 
change the nature of geomorphology from a descriptive science 
into a quantitative science. But we have problems of outstanding 
importance on which nobody is doing anything. As a matter of 
fact, after I left the job of chief hydrologist with the 
Geological Survey and came to California, I could see that I had 
about ten years of active work left. I made up my mind that I 
was going to tackle some of the great problems in geomorphology 
that no one had ever solved. 




Now, in science, we have what I think is called the Medawar 
curve. Dr. Medawar wrote a book on advice to young scientists, 
and one of the things he said was, there are problems that are so 
easy that they really aren't worth doing. And there are problems 
that are so difficult, the chances are ten to one you're not 
going to solve them anyhow. Therefore most of your effort ought 
to be spent on problems of the intermediate sort that you think 
are relatively important but within your scope. I decided the 
last ten years of my life, I was going to go to the other end of 
the curve, and I was going to deal with those problems that were 
so difficult that maybe I couldn't solve them but I was going to 
make some stab at it. 

This is the kind of thinking that we're not getting right 
now. Let me give an example. I was driving last week between 
Los Angeles and San Francisco, and going up the San Joaquin 
Valley and looking at the shape of hills. I had been working on 
and off on the shape of hills for twenty-five years. The hills 
that you are passing along Route 5 all have profiles that are 
convex to the sky, meaning they're shaped like a ball. And then 
you go into many of the nearby hills, and they're shaped in the 
opposite direct ion- -they 're concave to the sky. Now, 
geomorphology has to do with the shape of forms. Of the 
thousands of geomorphologists in the world, I know of nobody 
right now, except one, I think, who is working on the problem of 
what determines the shape of hills. That's the science we're 
supposed to be dealing with, but who's tackling it? It's so 
obvious. It also is very difficult. 

Obvious and difficult? 


Is that one you worked on at all? 

Yes, but I've never published anything on it because my friend 
Thomas Dunne, University of Washington, and I started fifteen 
years ago making a collection of surveys of the shape of hills. 
We have surveys made all over the world now, that we've done-- 

You've done the surveys, or you collect other- - 

No, no. He and I have done the surveys together. One of the 
things that we worked on together was in East Africa, where they 
have these long hill slopes, oh, a mile and a half long. Very 
slightly concave to the sky. Tom Dunne has made a tremendous 
advance in showing by actual measurement how it is that these 
slopes can develop. As a result, he was elected to the National 




Academy of Sciences. It was a very important problem, but it was 
only one aspect of the problem of the shape of hills. 

Now, what I'm saying is that the--. Let me put it this way. 
I say to my students, "You can waste your life on three small 
problems." Last year, when I gave a commencement address to the 
people in the earth sciences here, I reiterated this point. I 
said, "Don't spend your life on trivia. Pick out problems that 
are really worth working on." Because as I say, you can waste 
your life on a few small ones. 

Do you find that your students respond to that? 


Even the ones you've worked closely with? 

No. Fads develop. One aspect of this is that I learned long ago 
that when a person gets a Ph.D. , he or she is going to spend the 
next year or two years continuing that same subject, regardless 
of what position he or she is in. When I hired people, 
particularly when I sent them to school, I just made up my mind, 
there's no use trying to change their mind. After they get out 
of the Ph.D., give them a year or two, because they're going to 
work on it anyhow. 

But once that's done, you see, a person has the choice as to 
what you do next. Unfortunately, the choices being made are 
continuing to get narrower and narrower and narrower. Instead of 
sitting back and saying, "All right, now I've finished my Ph.D.; 
I spent the extra two years after my degree, and I've got as far 
as I'm going to go with that problem. Now I'll sit back and see 
what we ought to work on." What I tell students--. Again, I 
usually tell students to do what I do-- 

[ laughs] Of course. 

--and that is, I keep in my file a folder that says, "great 
ideas," or "big ideas," or "ideas." I said, "Keep a file, a 
personal private file, in which you write down your thoughts 
about what are the things that really are most important, whether 
or not you ever go into them, but keep a file. And once a year, 
take that file out and read it, and say, 'All right, what did I 
think in the last year about which were the really important 
ideas in my field? Am I working on some of these? And if so, 
what am I contributing?'" 

Very few people are taking such a stance, where they're 
sitting back at times to ask themselves, "Now, what in my science 


is worth doing?" I'm not talking about people who are a great 
genius like Stephen Hawkings or people like that, but the 
ordinary scientist, I fear, is sort of going from one problem to 
the next one that is kind of an offshoot of the one he did last 

Lage : Maybe more careerism involved, instead of the larger view of 
science, do you think? 

Leopold: Yes, because--. I think I spoke to you about this before. 

There's a very grave difficulty now plaguing young scientists, 
and that is that they think- -and a matter of fact, it probably is 
true --that the way you get ahead, the way you get promoted, and 
the way you get grants, is to write lots of papers, even if the 
papers are half a page long. Big problems aren't solved that 
way, in my opinion. They are not solved that way. You've got to 
take a job on that lasts a long time, perhaps. But what I say to 
people is this: Always have more than one string to your bow. 
Don't work on just one thing. You ought to be doing three or 
four things simultaneously, and then if one does not pan out, 
you've got other things you can turn to that are panning out. So 
that if you do that, you can afford to spend some time on 
something that is not likely to produce, or that's too difficult. 

When 1 was building a research organization and hiring 
people, I would say to them, "In choosing something to work on, 
ask yourself these questions. First, 'Is this something that 
interests me?' Then, 'Is this something I am capable of doing?' 
Then, 'Is it possible to do it at all?' because you may pick a 
problem that there's simply no way to get it done. 'Is there 
time to do it?' And finally, 'If I do solve the problem that I 
set up, where does it lead? Can it be expanded by others? Will 
it be the background for new advances?' So you may turn down a 
problem because it's either too difficult or you don't have the 
means to do it; it may require such complicated procedure or 
money or instruments that you can't do it; or it may be that it 
requires the kind of skills that you don't have; and finally, it 
may not be worth working on." 

That, I find, is a very unfortunate present difficulty in 
modern science, in the fields that I know. 

Interdisciplinary Resource Planning with the SCS 





Now, to get back into sort of the earlier years, when you were 
working with the Soil Conservation Service, was there a sense of 
a mission? 

Oh, yes. There was no question about that. Oh, yes. In other 
words, everybody felt a sense of doing something for the land, 
doing something for the country, preventing the loss of a 
resource. A real mission. Oh, yes, no question about that. 

So choice of problems maybe was dictated by that in part-- 

But remember, in that kind of an organization, now, you didn't 
choose problems. We weren't doing research; we were doing an 
assigned job. But the assigned job allowed us --Tom Haddock and 
me- -to develop new methods, so that in a way it was research, but 
this was not free research as people do in the university. You 
were assigned to a group that was doing something. 

At that time, there were a lot of new things going on. Now, 
the group that 1 was assigned to, it was the first time that 
anybody in the world had decided that if you're going to do 
resource planning, it's got to be done in an interdisciplinary 
way. The team that I was assigned to consisted of an engineer, a 
soils man, a forester, a hydrologist, and we had at that time a 
sociologist, but they were sort of not part of the team. Our 
team consisted of four scientific people. 

And how did that work? 

That sounds like a really forward-looking 

Oh, it was. And as a matter of fact, people are now repeating 
the same thing and getting the same results we got fifty years 
ago. For example, we were making a series of maps of the 
watersheds we were working on. A big watershed like the Rio 
Grande, where you made a map of the rainfall, you made a map of 
the forest, a map of the soils, a map of runoff, of erosion. 
This is exactly what is being done now. 1 saw a group a couple 
of weeks ago constructing the same kinds of maps we were 
constructing fifty years ago on the same basin. But I don't 
think they even knew where to get the material that we had done. 

It would be interesting to compare the results of those. 

I'll tell you where I saw it. The forest plans that are now 
being constructed by the Forest Service consist of maps that show 
the rainfall, the soils, the vegetation, on and on-- 


Lage: And this Is a new thing --inter disciplinary research. 

Leopold: Exactly. Actually, some of these plans are redoing what we did 
fifty years ago, And I don't think they're doing it much better. 

Lage: But the land must have changed. 

Leopold: Very little. You're not going to change the rainfall. You're 
not going to change the extent of the forest. You're not going 
to change the soils. That's really where all land planning 
begins, you see. 

Lage: Did it work well in the Soil Conservation Service? Did this team 
of people coming from such different approaches do okay together? 

Leopold: Very well. Oh, yes, indeed. 

Then what we did then was copied by CSIRO in Australia. 
That was the next group that was doing exactly the same thing. 

Lage: Is that a government agency in Australia? 

Leopold: Yes, this is the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research 
Organization, a very important scientific group. I found out 
some decades after we were doing it that they had also put 
together teams exactly like ours, again doing very large areas 
much the way we were doing it. 

Lage: And how did the sociologists fit in? You sort of put them off to 
the side. 

Leopold: Because we were at that time, for example, working in the Rio 

Grande Basin, the question was about the Indian people, and the 
Spanish -American people. So that one wanted to know, if you're 
doing land planning, one wanted to know where these people get 
their livelihood. Where does their water come from? What are 
the cash crops that they grow? How are the cash crops sold? How 
do they relate to the matter of credit? How do they relate to 
the local businesses? Therefore, what kind of planning can be 
done to maintain and help the indigenous people? So this was a 
sociological problem. 


Land Planning: Need for Responsibility to Society and the Land 

Leopold: But of course, land planning in this country has never been done 
very successfully. Remember these were the days in the New Deal. 
Planning has taken on rather a bad flavor, despite the need for 
it. There's such individualism, especially in the commercial 
enterprises in this country, that planning of a large area is not 
well accepted. There aren't very many workable tools for 
enforcing plans. Zoning is the most prevalent one and is a very 
weak reed, as we all know, because it's so easy to find ways to 
get variance or to avoid it. The administrative and legislative 
bodies don't really want to enforce it. So that even the most 
lucrative kinds of plans for land preservation and development 
are likely to be turned down by local people. 

We worked for some years on a very advanced land plan for a 
watershed in Pennsylvania called the Brandywine. 

Lage: This was with the USGS?. 

Leopold: Yes, this was when 1 was in Geological Survey. I was working 

with people from the University of Pennsylvania and another set 
of scientific groups, and we were trying to develop a scheme for 
the preservation of the landscape in this watershed in a very 
wealthy area near Philadelphia. The idea was that the Ford 
Foundation was going to put up money to cover the cost of helping 
people to, in effect, reserve their land following certain land- 
use practices. 

Actually, we had promised to pay them in cash for doing 
things to show what could be done by proper land planning. For 
example, don't build on the steepest hillsides. Don't build too 
close to the streams. Don't build on the floodplains. So 
basically, we were suggesting that local landowners do not 
develop their land for the maximum money return, but develop 
their land in a way so that they get a reasonable return at the 
same time that they preserve the environment. After a long 
period of study, the local people turned it down. They are now 
trying, without our help, to do exactly what we were trying to do 
twenty years ago. They found, you see, that they are being 
pushed by the developers who want to be too close to the streams, 
and they want to build on too steep a hillside. 

The whole problem that we've got in this country is this 
question of the right to do on your own land anything that you 
want to do without any feeling of responsibility for society as a 
whole. This is the most regressive idea that any community or 
society ever had. And this, of course, this was my father's main 


idea- -that you have a responsibility to other people and to the 
land itself. 

He seemed to feel that the government couldn't do it, though. 

Exactly. And that's why we were trying, in our individual way, 
to work with private landowners and say, "Let us try to help you 
do the things that we think ought to be done, and try to persuade 
you that this is in your interest as well as society's." 

And of course, you'll hear this idea spoken of again and 
again as taking property without recompense. The idea is that 
you must be paid to do anything that you try to do for society, 
rather than to say, "I have a responsibility to society to do 
something that goes beyond my own personal interest." 

This is the whole game of land and resource problems in the 
United States. This is the whole question of the ancient timber, 
the ancient forests, the rainforests, the ozone layer, the carbon 
dioxide. This is the concatenation of all these resource 
problems that now we begin to see are affecting everybody. It 
comes about from the fact that each individual, whether it be a 
business or a person, may, if he or she wishes, act as if you had 
no responsibility to the world as a whole. 

That's true. It's sort of built into our whole ethical system. 
That's right. And that's what my father's essays were all about. 

So in the whole question of resources, now- -quite apart from 
the scientific part- -the physical scientist has a great part to 
play, and very few scientists get involved in the relationship of 
their science to the society or civilization. Somehow or 
another, the kinds of contributions that are presently needed are 
contributions that could come from all aspects of the society, 
including the scientific society. 

But you don't think that many scientists see-- 

No. How many of my students are working on such problems? I 
can't name any of them. 



Postwar Changes in the Soil Conservation Serviced 

Lage: On the video you also mentioned some urihappiness when the Soil 
Conservation Service turned to big engineering solutions. Was 
that during your time with them? 

Leopold: That's a sad story. We at that time, between the Forest Service 
and the Soil Conservation Service, had developed probably the 
most active and knowledgeable group of hydrologists in the 
business. Those two agencies. When the war came along, most of 
us felt that this work wasn't the most important thing. I 
resigned from the Soil Conservation Service and joined the Corps 
of Engineers. 


As a result of war? 

Leopold: Yes, I simply said, "I've got to do something else." So I had 
made contacts during that time with many of the flood control 
people in the Corps of Engineers, and I wanted to get into work 
that was more concerned with the war effort. So I resigned from 
the Soil Conservation Service, and many other people did the same 
thing, in one form or another. Tom Haddock, for example, went to 
Central America and became a very important man in growing food 
in Central America during the wartime. Later he came back, and 
he and I joined forces again. 

But when we came back after the war, we could see that the 
Soil Conservation Service had turned into an entirely different 
organization. The chief engineer for the Soil Conservation 
Service in Washington--! used to remember his name but I don't 
right now- -went to Hugh Bennett, who was the head of the SCS, and 
essentially convinced Bennett that in order to really get money 
for soil conservation he was going to have to turn it into an 
engineering organization, where formerly it had been run by 
agronomists and geologists and plant ecologists and foresters. 


So what they started in on was a program of building dams, 
both large and small, and we who had this sort of starry-eyed 
idea of taking care of the land as a whole felt it ought to be 
done in the most natural way possible, but not by concrete. So 
none of us went back to the Soil Conservation Service. The 
service ended up with only one hydrologist out of all those that 
we had been working with. He was a very good man, but everybody 
else left, as far as I know. 

Lage: This sort of interdisciplinary approach seems to have been lost. 
Leopold: Yes, the interdisciplinary approach simply fell apart. 
Lage: Would you say that was a casualty of war? 

Leopold: No, it was a decision which often is taken by a government 

agency, that in order to be important they must be big, and in 
order to be big they had to get money, and in order to get money 
they had to really change their way of looking at it. 

Lage: They had to do things that cost a lot of money. 

Leopold: That's correct. So the whole idea of soil conservation was 
undermined, in my opinion. 

Brief Stint with the Army Corps of Engineers 

Lage: And what was the Corps of Engineers doing when you worked with 
them? Were you with them for long? 

Leopold: No, for less than a year. The Corps was working on a whole lot 

of problems having to do primarily with flood control, but mostly 
with military installations. For example, I was ordered to lay 
out the desert training camp that General Patton was to be using 
in the southern Mojave. This was a question of designing a camp 
for thousands and thousands of people, where you had to deal with 
water supply, housing, roads, electricity, that sort of thing. 
Now, most of this actual detail work was done by consulting 
firms , but engineers within the Corps of Engineers had to make 
the original design and then supervise the contractors to make 
the detailed studies. 

Lage: Was there anything special that you brought to this, or was the 
interest just in getting it done quickly? Were you concerned 
about the effect on the land, that kind of thing? 


Leopold: Not under those conditions, no. No, I realized later that--. I 
didn't realize what a terrible thing the tanks were going to do 
to the desert. 

Enrolling as a Private in the U.S. Army 


You don't think of that during wartime, 
other work during the war? 

And then what was your 




Everybody, of course, wanted to be in uniform. I had advanced up 
the ladder as a civilian engineer, and I was working under a 
lieutenant in the Corps of Engineers. I asked him how I could be 
commissioned as a lieutenant in the army. They found no way of 
doing it. So I then went to the navy and the Marine Corps. They 
were looking for engineers, so 1 was offered a commission in the 
Marine Corps, and I was offered a commission in the navy. I told 
my boss 1 was going to resign my civilian position and take up a 
military position. I had passed the physical examination, that 
sort of thing, and decided I was going to go with the navy. They 
were going to offer me the grade of ensign in the Civil Engineer 
Corps . 

So the day I was to be sworn in, in Los Angeles, 1 went 
there early in the morning. I was to be sworn in at eight 
o'clock. I went to the federal building, and I was about a half 
an hour early. There was a long flight of marble steps leading 
up the main door of the federal building, and I was standing on 
the steps watching, and I saw all these officers walking up the 
steps. They would get to the door one after another, turn around 
on their heel and salute. I kept looking, and I thought, "Now, 
what do they do that for?" I kept looking, and I finally decided 
they were saluting the flagpole. But there wasn't a flag. I 
said, "To hell with that." 

[laughs] This is a great story. 

I turned on my heels and I walked down the street to the nearest 
recruiting office, and 1 said to the sergeant, "1 want to be a 
private in the U.S. Army." And he signed me up. [laughter] 

Did people think you were crazy? 

Oh, yes, of course. So here I was, I was now a private in the 

You probably had to do a lot of saluting with that, too. 


Meteorological Studies at UCLA 




Yes, but then I was sent to boot camp and I immediately put in a 
request for officer training, and I asked to be assigned to 
meteorological training because it would help my hydrology 
background. There were three schools of training in meteorology 
at that time: one at Caltech, one at UCLA, and one at the 
University of Chicago. My experience had been that anybody who 
was accepted in the officers' training corps was going to be sent 
as far as away from where they were as they could be. So 1 
expected to be sent to Chicago. Well, 1 wasn't. 1 was sent to 
UCLA, and here 1 was, living in Los Angeles already. 1 was 
assigned as an officer candidate in the meteorological school at 
UCLA, and there 1 spent a year. 

Studying meteorology? 


Not teaching? 

No. Oh, no. I didn't know anything about meteorology. But I 
had a lot of background, you see, from my work at flood control. 
Practically everybody in our class- -there were about thirty-five 
people --they all came from either physics or mathematics. So 1 
as an engineer was pretty far behind. They all knew a lot more 
physics than 1 did. 1 was also about a half-year older than 
anybody else; I was twenty-eight. 

The end of the first month- -the first week, it must have 
been, 1 was sure 1 was going to flunk out. 1 got a low grade on 
the examination, and I was so physically being stretched with 
these terrible calisthenics that we had to do. It wasn't as 
tough, I think, as the Marine Corps, but we had a very tough 
program. I was sure 1 wasn't going to last. Veil, it turned out 
to be one of the great experiences in my life. 1 finally got the 
hang of it and 1 graduated second in the class. 

How did you finally get the hang of it? 
math background? 

Did you pick up your 

1 just worked like hell. But also, 1 had skills that were 
needed; I was very skillful with anything that had to do with 
drawing and making maps. 




So when we were commissioned, there were about five of us 
that were asked to stay there and teach as army officers. The 
next class was much larger than ours, so for the next several 
years we were teaching meteorology to incoming officer 
candidates. Our graduates were going all over the world to 
forecast for the air force. I was in what was called the Air 
Weather Service. 

So finally the war was drawing to a close and we were being 
reassigned, and 1 was sent down to one of the air force fields in 
Texas waiting for assignment. When the assignments came and 
everybody was being dispersed all over the world, my assignment 
and my orders read, "Go back to UCLA," because the famous 
meteorologist who taught at UCLA had his eye on me, and he wanted 
me to do research for him. 

So I went back to UCLA as commanding officer of a small 
weather station, to do research on low clouds, to work under a 
professor, Morris Neiberger, who had already been working on the 
problem of coastal stratas, or coastal clouds. The real idea was 
that the situation of the coastal clouds in Los Angeles is the 
exact counterpart of the coastal clouds in Casablanca in Africa, 
and if we could learn to forecast it in Los Angeles, we could 
forecast it in Africa. That was what the problem was. 

I was now in charge of this little research unit. There was 
one other officer and about six or eight enlisted men. Every 
time that 1 got orders to go overseas, Professor Jacob Bjerknes 
would phone in General Arnold and say, "No, you can't send 
Leopold overseas; he has to stay here." So I stayed there the 
rest of the war and published several papers. 

And you got a master's degree. 

Yes, and I worked at night to get a master's degree. 

In meteorology, was it? 

Yes. And I wrote the first paper on the air pollution problem in 
Los Angeles. 

That was very early. 

Yes. We were trying to describe exactly what the meteorological 
situation was as far as air pollution in Los Angeles was 
concerned. Well, of course, it grew into a great big thing after 


I didn't realize it was even very recognized at that point. 


Leopold: It wasn't. That's why it was such an advanced idea. 

Sedimentation Studies and the Bureau of Reclamation 

Leopold: So then when we were mustered out of the Army, then I had to 
decide what 1 was going to do. 

Lage: Were you married by this time? 

Leopold: Yes. At that time, a person was discharged at the camp nearest 
his main residence, and my main residence was Wisconsin. So 1 
was discharged at Fort Douglas in Wisconsin. In the meantime, 1 
was in conversation with people that I had known, one of whom was 
in the Bureau of Reclamation, and he offered me a job. So 1 went 
to Washington as a civil engineer in the Bureau of Reclamation. 

The man that hired me was sort of a, not a distant relative, 
but he was connected by marriage with someone in my family, and 
he offered me this job. I got there and I said, "Now, I want you 
to know that I'm really not a believer in what the Bureau of 
Reclamation does. If I take this job, I want you to know that, 
because I've been in flood control now for a long time, and I 
don't believe you're going the way you ought to go. But I think 
I can contribute something." "That's all right." 

So two things transpired: one, the main hydrologic work in 
the Bureau of Reclamation was going on in Denver, and as part of 
this work that I was doing I was assigned to go to Denver to 
assist in some problems that were coming up in the Rio Grande. 
But the Rio Grande is what I had studied in the Soil Conservation 
Service. So I went there with the chief hydrologist, Randy 
Riter, and we went to a meeting, and I had made a study of recent 
data on the Rio Grande. He was so impressed with what I had done 
that he said, "Why don't you come to Denver and be in my 
department?" I said, "No, I don't think I want to do that." 

But I said, "I'll tell you what I think you need." I said 
to the people in Washington, "You don't know anything about 
sediment. You'd better know something about sediment, because 
you're going to have a lot of problems with it, and I suggest 
that we set up a sedimentation section." Well, I sold it and I 
set up a sedimentation section, built a big laboratory, and got 
the Bureau of Reclamation interested in sediment which, of 
course, I've followed up on the rest of my career. 


Lage: Was that something the Bureau just hadn't paid much mind to in 
the past? It seems awfully important for their work. 

Leopold: You'd think that they'd have realized it, but for some reason 
they didn't. But when the chief of the hydrology section got 
involved in the Rio Grande question and I gave some assistance to 
him in understanding the sediment problem, he began to realize 
that sediment was important to him, and therefore he got behind 
the idea that I had proposed and the formation of a section on 
sedimentation . 

And then I brought my friend Tom Haddock in. At the end of 
the war he was looking for a job, and I persuaded the Bureau of 
Reclamation to take him on. I think that's the sequence. He 
joined the Bureau of Reclamation at my suggestion and was very 
important in getting their sediment business started. Shortly 
after that, I left the bureau and went to Hawaii. Tom Haddock 
was with the Bureau for many years and was of great assistance to 
them because he was a very practical engineer with a lot of 
knowledge about western conditions. 

Lage: You had mentioned in the video a sedimentation survey of Lake 
Head. Is that something you were in on or that you just got 

Leopold: Well, I was certainly in on it, but I wasn't really responsible 
for it. I was much concerned with it at the time, yes. But I 
was simply a collateral player in that game. 

Lage: From what I've heard of the bureau's role in the water 

controversies in the Southwest, it seems as if they haven't taken 
account of the problems of sedimentation. How does the research 
end up in the project planning? 

Leopold: Well, you see, what happened was that they got a group of very 
good people when the sedimentation section was first started. 
When those people retired, the whole section went to pot. As far 
as I can see now, no sediment work is being done that I know of. 
As a matter of fact, the laboratory that I had them construct has 
really never been used for the purposes I had in mind. 

Lage: That's discouraging. 

You also mentioned cooperation between the bureau and the 
navy and the Geological Survey during this time back in '46. 

Leopold: Yes. When it was decided among the many of us that there was to 
be a sedimentation survey of Lake Head, it's a big lake, and 
therefore we needed essentially naval vessels. So that Hr. 










Cummings from the navy was a scientist who was of great 
assistance in getting equipment that the navy could produce onto 
the Lake Mead survey. So the combination was the navy produced 
primarily the equipment, the bureau mapped the reservoir, and the 
Geological Survey put the man in charge who was the technical 
supervisor of the job. 

What was the Bureau of Reclamation like to work for? 
you characterize it at that time? 

How would 

Veil, I guess 1 told you that when I went to work for them, 1 
said, "I really don't believe in what you're doing. I'm going to 
try to assist, but I'm not a believer in big dams." But after 
all, that was just one person making a statement. 

I don't know how to characterize it; I was there such a 
short time. It tended to be quite bureaucratic and obviously 
very political. The people that I got to know later on in the 
secretary's office were, in my opinion, a much broader kind of. 
people. At that time, you see, there was a tremendous push for 
the combination of flood control, irrigation, and power. That 
was what was driving the Interior Department. Later, when the 
administration changed and the situation began to change, 
especially when Kennedy put Stewart Udall in as secretary of the 
interior, then there was an entirely different point of view. 

And in the public as well. 

Yes. A gradual change in the public view too. 

Oh, no, I wouldn't have stayed in the Bureau of Reclamation. I 
was looking for other things to do. 

Was your interest in sediment something that came out of your 
experience with the Soil Conservation Service? 

It's a whole business of how meteorology fits with hydrology, 
fits with sediments, fits with floods, and the whole thing about 
water development. It was another step forward. 

So meteorology focused into this. 

Oh, meteorology was very important to me because it made me think 
of things in a different way than other people thought about 



Leopold: Well, then let me tell you about that. Yes, but nobody had 

proven it, you see. The Soil Conservation Service said, "Man and 
overgrazing has wrecked the whole world," and the Harvard 
professor said, "No, you haven't thought about changes in 
climate. " 

Meteorologist for the Pineapple Research Institute in Havaii. 

Leopold: So working at the Bureau of Reclamation in Washington--! had been 
there little less than a year- -I had a telephone call from 
probably the most important meteorologist-hydrologist in the 
country, Merle Bernard, who worked for the Weather Bureau. He 
said, "There's a man in town from Hawaii who's looking for a 
meteorologist, and he'd like to meet you. Would you like to talk 
with him?" I said, "Yes, I'll talk to him." 

So I went to meet this gentleman who had been formerly a 
very important man in the research unit in the Department of 
Agriculture, and he said, "I would like to have you meet me at 
the Mayflower Hotel for breakfast." I went to breakfast with 
him, and we talked, and he said, "I would like to have a 
meteorologist come to Hawaii to be the head meteorologist, to 
develop a scheme of forecasting for us. We are particularly 
interested in long-range forecasts for both pineapple and sugar, 
because," he said, "the organization I head, called the Pineapple 
Research Institute, is supported by the sugar people and the 
pineapple people." 

Well, during the discussion I said, "Dr. Achter, I think 
that you can get a lot of help out of short-term forecasts, but 
I've been in meteorology enough to tell you point-blank that 
you're not going to get any long-range forecasts. We are not 
able to forecast more than two days ahead, and if over a period 
of a decade we can forecast three or four days ahead, we will be 
doing very well." But I said, "I will not be hired with the 
expectation that I'm going to develop long-range forecasting for 
you. But I can tell you that meteorology is something that will 
help you." 

So further discussion, another breakfast, and then I called 
my father, and I said, "I have this opportunity to go to Hawaii, 


to be a meteorologist. What would you think?" Dad never gave 
any advice to anybody. He said, "I'm very glad that you have 
this opportunity. It's something that you ought to consider very 
carefully," but he refused to commit himself. He was not going 
to try to influence one way or another. 

Lage: Would he give you suggestions to think about? 

Leopold: I don't remember--. Yes, of course, but I don't remember what 

they were. But he would not help decide. He would only make you 
think about them. 

So the last meeting with Dr. Achter I said, "Sir, I'll go to 
Hawaii, but I can't do it unless you double my present salary." 
"Oh," he said, "that's no problem." Well, then I was stuck. 

Lage: Then you had to do it. [laughs] 

Leopold: So now I went to a very- -in those days, a very highly paid job, 

Lage: Who were you actually working for? 
Leopold: The Pineapple Research Institute. 
Lage: Not the Weather Bureau. 

Leopold: No. No, then I was in competition with the Weather Bureau, you 
see. Because now I'm the foremost meteorologist in Hawaii, and 
start showing up the Weather Bureau, who weren't doing what they 
were supposed to do. 

Lage: But was it in cooperation with the Weather Bureau? 

Leopold: I tried to develop cooperation with the Weather Bureau, but they 
felt I was intruding on their business. And indeed, they didn't 
have any new, young ideas, you see. 

Another Lesson in Supervisory Styles 

Leopold: Well, anyhow, I got to Hawaii. They paid my expenses, and it was 
wonderful. I got there, and of course, I'd never been to Hawaii 
before. It was just a marvelous experience. Beautiful climate, 
and everything was lovely. They furnished me with an office, a 
beautiful secretary, a car, and a big salary. I waited for the 
director to tell me something. I tried to find out something, 


but nothing happened, nothing happened, nothing happened. Three 
weeks. Finally I had a call from the director's office. He 
wanted to talk to me. They had taken me everywhere and wined and 
dined and everything. 

So I went in his office, and he said, "I suppose by this 
time you would like to know what we want you to do." I said, 
"Dr. Achter, I'm so glad to talk to you. It's exactly what I've 
been waiting for. I want to know what you want me to do." He 
said, "Well, I want to tell you what I want you to do. I want 
you to do nothing." I said, "Nothing?" He said, "Yes." He 
said, "I want you to travel, I want you to get to know everybody 
on the island, all the islands." He said, "You're the only one 
that can freely travel to all the islands , because some of the 
islands have only sugar, some have only pineapple, but you work 
for both. Go everyplace. Meet all the plantation people, learn 
all you can about pineapple and about sugar, and don't do 
anything for a couple of years. Just learn." 

Lage : That's an interesting assignment. 

Leopold: Well, you see, now I'm beginning more and more to find out what 
it is to be a supervisor. 

Lage: Right. 

Leopold: So that's exactly what I did. 

Lage: How did you react to that? 

Leopold: Wonderful. I was a free agent. 

A month went by, and I was called into the director's 
office. He said, "Luna, you haven't followed my instructions." I 
said, "How so, sir?" He said, "I have here on my desk a 
manuscript that you've written, that you want my permission to 
publish. But," he said, "I told you to do nothing. And here 
you've been doing research, and you've already written a 
manuscript." He said, "You haven't followed what I told you to 
do." I said, "Yes, that's correct." "Well," he said, "you know? 
I have had several department heads who have never written a 
paper in the last ten years." Of course, he was pleased as 
punch, but that was the way he greeted me. So I-- 

Lage: Was this a big outfit, this Pineapple Research Institute? 

Leopold: Yes, indeed. It was not very large in numbers, but there were 

very important people in charge of different departments. I was 
the chief of meteorology. There was a plant physiology section, 


a mechanical engineering section where they designed equipment 
for harvesting. There was a soils section. There was a plant 
genetics section. There was an entomology section. And mine was 
the newest of all of the sections. 

Lage: And was it funded by the sugar -- 

Leopold: By the sugar and pineapple people. 

Lage: It sounds like sort of an agricultural experiment station. 

Leopold: It was an agricultural experiment station. 

Lage: But not connected with the university? 

Leopold: We were on university property, but we--. We took over some 
university buildings and then built an absolutely beautiful 
research building. Later on, after I left, hard times fell on 
both sugar and pineapple and they discontinued it. But in the 
meantime, a lot of interesting things happened. It was a 
wonderful experience. 

Rainfall. Maps and Records 

Leopold: For example, I was constructing rainfall maps, you see, the same 
thing that I had been doing before, and now being a meteorologist 
I knew a lot more about things of this kind. An argument grew up 
between one of the sugar companies on the island of Maui and the 
territorial government. The territorial government, 
interestingly, was being represented by the United States 
Geological Survey. The sugar company was paying the territory 
for water which fell on territorial lands, which were drawn from 
a ditch coming along the mountainside into the sugar and 
pineapple plantations, sugar primarily. The payment to the 
territory --the territory, you see, was part of the United States 
government now; Hawaii was not yet a statewas based on the 
rainfall map. 

It was decided by both agencies that the rainfall map was 
probably wrong. They wanted somebody to make an independent 
study which would not be influenced either by the agriculture 
people or the federal government. They came and asked me if I 
would do it. I said, "I'm very busy doing what I'm doing, but 
I'll tell you what I will do for you. I will lay out the methods 
by which this could be done, and then you could have it carried 
out by somebody else . " 


Veil, I got so interested in it that I did it myself and 
wrote a paper that was published as "The Rainfall of East Maui . " 
It was a study of the rain-gauge records, you see. Then I had to 
go back into the geological record, particularly pollen, to see 
what the rainfall record had probably been in the Holocene, in 
the last ten thousand years. As it turned out, in the central 
part of east Maui I raised the annual rainfall by 150 inches. 

Lage: You found 150 more inches? 

Leopold: Yes. So it made a lot of difference about who paid what. 

Anyhow, it was a very interesting assignment. But it was a kind 
of a sidelight, you see. 

Lage: Did it result in the plantation owners having to pay more? 

Leopold: I don't even remember, because that was not my problem. My 
problem was to make a new map, which I did. 

But immediately when I got to Hawaii, I began to realize 
that rainfall was everything, and therefore I had to know not 
only about irrigation, but I had to know a lot about rainfall. 
So 1 started to make a study of the rainfall records in Hawaii. 
There were published, I think, six gauges. When I got through 
with my study, I found 650 gauges. 

Lage: You found them already there? 

Leopold: They were there. Nobody knew about them, because each 

plantation, you see, was doing certain things, and I brought them 
all together and made a rainfall map of everything with all the 
gauges shown and where they were and how long they had been 
there . 

Lage: And was the data accurate at these various gauges? 

Leopold: But then that was a question I had to deal with, you see. I had 
to now deal with the accuracy of the data, so 1 had to make a 
study of what gauges could be trusted and what gauges couldn't. 
There was a lot of interesting stuff. 

Lage: A lot of traveling around and really getting to know the-- 

Leopold: I loved it. Oh, yes, I loved it. I had an airplane and I had a 
jeep on each of two islands, and it was great. 


Developing a New Rain Forecasting Scheme in 

Lage : Had your work in Hawaii come to a turning point? 

Leopold: No, no. I had developed a new forecasting scheme that was 

already in place; I was forecasting in a very new way, a lot of 
new ideas. 

Lage: Short -tern forecasting? 

Leopold: Yes. I developed a scheme which nobody had ever done before. My 
scheme allowed me to make a forecast of the rainfall, field by 
field, all over the whole island of Oahu. I had worked up 
cooperative relationships with universities on the mainland and 
was getting help from a lot of scientists on the mainland; that's 
another whole story. But we had a forecasting scheme in 

Lage: Did this affect the pineapple and sugar people's decision making? 

Leopold: Yes. I really couldn't forecast the small rains very much, but I 
did pretty well on the large rains. I went to Washington and I 
talked to the chief of the Weather Bureau in Washington, and I 
said, "I now have a scheme which I would like to put on the 
radio. My scheme involves the following things. I want to 
forecast the rainfall in amounts. In other words, I'm going to 
tell you how many inches are going to fall twenty- four hours in 
advance. I want to put it on the radio, but I'm going to put, 
also, a probability forecast. I'm going to say this is a 75 
percent chance or a 90 percent chance, to tell people how sure I 
am." And he said, "Oh, that's much too advanced. You can't do 
that." Of course, that's what's done every day now. 

Lage: Right. But it's many years after you came up with that idea. 
Leopold: Yes. Many years. Anyhow, they said that. 

So I went back to Hawaii and I said, "Now, what I'm going to 
do is when I see something that's important, I'm going to start 
phoning the pineapple companies and sugar companies and tell 
them, 'Look, two days from now you're going to get such and such. 
And it's going to fall on these fields, and this is how much it's 
going to be.'" Shortly after that there was a big storm coming 
in and I phoned the main people on the islands, told them what I 
thought was going to happen, and everybody then stopped burning 
cane, took their machines off the fields- -cost them many, many 
dollars --except one. The Ewa Plantation said, "To hell with 
that. We're going to do what we're going to do." The rain came 


exactly as I forecast, and they lost about a quarter of a million 
dollars. Which paid for my operation in full. And then they 
began to pay attention. 

Lage: Now, was it the equipment that the rain would ruin? 

Leopold: Yes, because you see, you burn ten acres of cane, or five acres 
of cane. Now, it's lying on the ground. You have to get it to 
the mill before it decomposes, and you have to get it there with 
heavy equipment. But the heavy equipment was stuck in the mud. 
So you had both the canes on the ground and the heavy equipment 
can't move because of the mud. 

Lage: So it really was important. 

Leopold: So they had a big loss, and all of a sudden they began to pay 

attention to the fact that I was furnishing them with a service 
that was important. 

Experiments with Cloud Seeding 

Lage: I noticed in your journal on the Hawaiian years something that 
looked intriguing. You can tell me if it was or not. The 
seeding of clouds. 

Leopold: Veil, at that time, the first scientific papers had come out on 
this. In the eastern United States, they started out with 
laboratory experiments, but then one began to see that under 
certain conditions, if you could supercool the cloud droplets, 
that you're going to cause rain. Well, since that was one of the 
main things that the pineapple and the sugar people were 
interested in, I decided I was going to try it. 

Lage: They needed more rain? Or just rain when they wanted it? 

Leopold: Well, they needed more rain, in the summertime especially. And 
you see, on the dry parts of these islands --you have a lot of 
rain on the windward side, but the dry sides are very dry. 

So with the permission of both the sugar companies and the 
pineapple companies and my boss, we started to try it. This was 
very early in the game when not much was known about it. We had 
lapse -time photographs of how the clouds built up when we seeded 
it with dry ice. This we carried on for some months. On one 
day, such a tremendous rain occurred on the island of Lanai we 
practically washed them out. 





I saw a picture in your journal of the real floodlike situation. 

Leopold: Some of the companies got really very interested because it 

looked like it might work. At the same time, Dr. Langmuir from 
Schenectady was trying to determine why it should work under 
those circumstances, because in the physical theory, there was no 
reason why it should work under these tropical conditions. 
Langmuir wrote a paper in which he used our data to try to give 
an explanation for what was happening. 

Well, this had gone on for, I suppose, close to a year. 1 
said, "I'm dissatisfied with this business because we're just 
testing now. We have to have an experiment that's properly 
designed." I designed an experiment in which we were to draw by 
random lot when the seeding was to be done and where it was to be 
done. We had a list of places that seeding might be done and 
under what circumstances. There's no use seeding when there's no 
possibility- -when there are no clouds, for example. Therefore, 
once the conditions were right, then by drawing lots, I had 
recommended that we were going to seed at the place that the card 
showed. And the draw of the card would determine also whether to 
seed or not to seed. In other words, was the rain going to fall 
in the absence of seeding? 

1 presented this to the companies. The Libby Company had a 
chief scientist who said, "Look, you work for us. We pay you. 
If you say that the conditions are right for seeding, we're going 
to seed regardless of what you do." "Well," I said, "that would 
ruin the experiment." "We don't care. That's what we're going 
to do." I said, "Very well, I cancel everything. I will not do 
any more seeding." And I never did. From that day on I never 
touched it again, because if they wouldn't allow me to do a 
proper experiment, I wasn't going to continue to have anything to 
do with it. So the thing just fell apart. 

I see. Was there any public response to this? 
today , I - - 

If you did it 


Oh, a tremendous public interest, but as knowledge grew, we could 
see that in the long run it was not trustworthy at all. My 
published papers show that. I couldn't prove that the rain that 
occurred was really due to our seeding. And that was the reason I 
wanted a scientifically designed experiment. If they didn't want 
to run an experiment, I said I didn't want to do it at all, so I 
just quit. 

They didn't try to get somebody else? 


Leopold: Shortly thereafter, I left Hawaii, and the man who took my place, 
who was my colleague at the time, he tried to continue it. In 
order to do so, he brought in some very high-powered talent from 
universities in various parts of the country. It simply 
frittered away. I was away from it and therefore I didn't know, 
really, what happened. But it didn't come to anything. 

Lage: It hasn't come to anything else, now, has it? 

Leopold: No. In other words, the more people got into it- -and there were 
lots of people who really put a lot of effort into it- -it simply 
is not dependable and you can put it in one sentence. At the 
time you need the rain, the clouds are not in a favorable 
situation. In other words, when you need the rain the most, it's 
not possible to get any inducement. 

Lage: You have to have the clouds to begin with. 

Leopold: So in effect, the times that you need it most to make it is the 
most impossible time to get any effect. 

Lage: Your journal talks about a trip you made to Washington in the 
middle of this assignment. 

Leopold: Oh, many trips to Washington. Many trips, yes. 

Lage: It sounds as if you had relationships with the Weather Bureau 
that had to be worked out. 

Leopold: Indeed. As a matter of fact, I worked very closely with the 
chief of the Weather Bureau, because I was furnishing a 
forecasting system that they should have been furnishing, you 
see. And I was trying to bring them into a cooperative agreement 
with me, so we could do these things jointly. They were very 
slow to respond. They did finally begin to respond, but it was 
kind of touch and go because, you see, they felt I was a 
competitor. Or we were competitors. 

Four Months to a Ph.D. in Geology at Harvard. 1950 

Leopold: In the meantime, I went back to some of the things that I had 

been doing when I was in the Soil Conservation Service before the 
war. I was completing a paper that I had started in the Bureau 
of Reclamation on the history of what the early explorers had 
found when they first went to the West in the late nineteenth 
century. I was writing a paper on what I was calling the 


vegetation in the Southwest in the nineteenth century, 
now I'm talking about biology. 

You see , 

Leopold: So I finished this manuscript. I had been in correspondence over 
a good many years, since 1937--this was now 1950- -with Professor 
Bryan at Harvard. He had earlier said, "Yes, you can come back 
to Harvard and finish your degree if you take this , that , that , " 
things that didn't interest me and that I simply wasn't trained 
to do. But I sent him this manuscript, and he wrote back a 
letter that changed my life. It was only two sentences. It 
said, "Why don't you come back to Harvard and use this manuscript 
as the beginning of your doctor's thesis?" 

So I said, "I'm going to go." I had been earning a large 
salary so I had put my money aside, and I figured, "If I spend 
all my savings of five years, I'll take my family to Harvard," 
which is a lot of expense. But then when I went to my director, 
he said, "I'll tell you. We will pay for your schooling." 

Lage: The Pineapple Research Institute? 

Leopold: Yes. I said, "All right. I would like to have you tell me, 
though, what would be my responsibilities? Because I can't 
accept this without knowing what's expected of me when I come 
back." They put off and put off, and they wouldn't really 
specify. So I said, "No, I can't do that." I said, "I cannot 
tie myself down to something when I don't know what I'm expected 
to do. I would rather go on my own, and then if you want me to 
come back, that's another matter." 

So here I am; I packed up my family and I went to Cambridge, 
used up all my savings. Got there on the second of January, and 
in the next three weeks I took two language examinations, I 
passed my orals, and then I took four courses, wrote my thesis, 
and left with a Ph.D. in four months. No one had ever done this 
at Harvard before. 

Lage: Tell me more about Harvard and the Ph.D. studies. Weren't you 
working for the Geological Survey when you went to Harvard? 

Leopold: Yes. The Geological Survey hired me when I left Hawaii, and I 
worked for them for a couple of months . 

Lage: In Los Angeles. 

Leopold: In Los Angeles, yes. That's where I was stationed. Then I took 
leave without pay, went to Harvard for half a year, and then came 






to Washington after that. So that yes, I was employed but I 
wasn't being paid. In other words, I was on leave. 

Was that all set up before you came to the Geological Survey? 

No. Well, yes, in a way it was, although I think the survey 
people had not the slightest idea what I was going to do, because 
they had never hired a research man before. 

Tell me about that, 

How did they hire you as a research man, and 

Veil, I told you that while I was with the Bureau of Reclamation, 
1 had made a good impression on the chief hydraulic engineer of 
the USGS. About the time I wanted to go to Harvard, the chief of 
one of the branches came to visit his offices in Hawaii. I had 
him for dinner, and I said to him, "I'd like to remind you that 
five years ago, the chief said that if 1 wanted to come back to 
Washington and the Geological Survey, that they would give me 
consideration." 1 said, "I wonder if you would be good enough to 
take that message to the chief saying, 'Yes, I would like to do 
that . ' " 

He said thank you, he would do that, so that the 
arrangements were made then that they knew I was going to come 
back anyhow to go to Harvard, so they said very well- -I was 
paying my own way- -I could report for work in Los Angeles and 
take leave and then be reassigned. 

Was the work in Los Angeles research also? 

No. I worked for them about two months. I came to Los Angeles, 
and they didn't know what to do with me; they didn't have any 
idea what 1 was hired for. But nobody did. It was my friend 
Walter Langbein who had persuaded the chief hydraulic engineer 
that I'd be a good person to have around. But nobody knew what I 
was supposed to do. So I got to Los Angeles and they said, 
"Well, there's a desk, but you'll have to make up your mind 
because we don't do that kind of work that you expect to do. 

You were the first research person in the division? 

Yes. They'd never had one before. So I said, "Fine." So 
without even sitting down at my desk, I said, "I'm going to New 
Mexico . " I had been now away for five years . So I went to New 
Mexico and picked up with some of my old colleagues there. When 
I got there, I was working on one paper for my thesis. 


The Southwest vegetation? 



No, it was the one on the climate of the Pleistocene, 
working on evaporation. 

I was 




Because I wanted to see my USGS friends in New Mexico, I'd 
gone to New Mexico. I was supposed to meet one of their 
administrators, Mr. Peterson, at the hotel in Gallup at a certain 
time. I went to the hotel after the train arrived and he wasn't 
there, so I just put my baggage behind the desk and I put on my 
boots and I walked out of the hotel down to the river, which was 
right past the hotel. Within two hours I had discovered things 
that I had never seen before and nobody had ever seen before. I 
started mapping the geology that I saw. 

I came back a couple of hours later and met Mr. Peterson. I 
said, "You ought to see what I found. It's very, very 
interesting. I found some ancient material that is exposed in 
the gully." So we went out in the field to see some of the 
things that he was doing. Every time that I saw something 
interesting, I'd have the car stopped and I'd rush over and take 
a look and make a sketch. They didn't know what the hell I was 
doing. So at the end of two days, I had a paper ready to write 
because I had discovered a whole lot of things that no one had 
ever seen before, which was right along the line of my major 
professor at Harvard that I was going to work under. 

Was this again looking at the past? 

Yes, this was looking at the geologic section and seeing what the 
climate had been. 

So at the end of this two or three days, I went back to Los 
Angeles and sat down and wrote a paper, which then became part of 
my doctor's thesis. 

And then when I was in Los Angeles, I was living in west Los 
Angeles and my office was in the federal building in the center 
of Los Angeles , so I had to take the bus . The bus trip took 
three-quarters of an hour, so I studied French twice a day on the 
bus. By the time I got to Harvard I could pass my examination in 
French. [laughter] 

You really make good use of your time, I must say. 
I was young. [laughs] 

So that's one reason you got through Harvard so quickly. Or got 
the requirements finished. 


Leopold: Yes. 

Lage: In that short time at Harvard were there any important 

experiences, or did your major professor have a particular impact 
on you? 

Leopold: Oh, yes, indeed. But this was, you see, the second time I had 

worked under him. In other words, I worked under him in 1937 and 
this was 1950, and now I came back, you see, much more senior; I 
had written quite a few papers. He took a tremendous 
satisfaction from my being there, because now I was older than 
most of these other people that he had had. 

I owe everything to him because he simply said to me one 
time, "The day you decided to leave Hawaii, you earned your 
degree." He said, "The fact that you were willing to spend your 
own money to come back here and study and get your degree, that 
means that I'm going to--." In effect, he was saying, "I'm going 
to see to it you get your degree in three months," which he did. 

He was happy as the Dickens because he had- - . Compared with 
the amount of time that we spend on graduate students here-- 
helping them and reading their manuscripts and giving them ideas 
and all that sort of thing- -that's not the way Dr. Bryan worked 
at all. The greatest help that he gave me was one letter 
consisting of two sentences. That's the supervision I had. One 
letter, two sentences. And it said, "I wish that you would 
consider the problem of what was the climate in the Pleistocene 
in the Ice Age." That was it. I said, "Well, if that's what he 
wants to do, that's what I'm going to do." The paper I wrote 
became very famous, and he was very pleased with it. Extremely 
pleased. Because I was attacking it from a way that no one had 
ever thought about before, looking at it as a meteorologist as 
well as a geologist. Bryan was very pleased with that. 

Lage: Was it your meteorological training that provided the new input? 

Leopold: Well, in this respect. I went from the published change in the 
height of the snowline, which had been published by geologists, 
and made the meteorological assumption, which later turned out to 
be a reasonable statement, that the so-called lapse rate- -in 
other words, the rate of change of temperature --remained the same 
in the Pleistocene as the present. That was a meteorological 
assumption that was very important. It turned out that everybody 
agreed. When they saw it, they said, "Yes, that's the way it 
ought to be . " 

One of the people on my committee wrote a letter to another 
member of my committee at Harvard. This was the great Russian 




climatologist whose name was Konrad. Reading this paper that I 
had written, he wrote a letter to the other professor, which I of 
course was not supposed to see, but after 1 got my degree Dr. 
Brooks gave me the letter. Konrad said, "It is not right for a 
young man to work on a problem so complicated as the climate of 
the Pleistocene. That should be left for the end of his career." 

That was his objection? 

Yes. And Bryan and Brooks laughed to themselves. They simply 
didn't pay any attention, but he objected strongly to my working 
on a problem that was a problem of speculation. [laughs] 

And your Ph.D. was in geology? 

Leopold: Yes. 



Competitive Relationship with Starker^V/ 







After last session, I realized that, in an effort not to repeat 
too much of all the written material, we really haven't talked 
enough about your family, particularly your recollections of your 
brothers and sisters, and growing up in Wisconsin. Do you want 
to talk a little bit about your brothers and sisters? 

Well, of course, Starker and I were two years apart in age, but 
we were much closer together in schooling. We were only one year 
apart in schooling, so that the early part of our childhood was 
very competitive. Extremely competitive. 

Did you both 

:ive. extremely competitive, 
feel that, do you think, or you as the younger 

1 don't think I posed much of a problem for him, but we were 
competitive in a lot of ways, girls among other things. And then 
there was a long period of time in which we practically didn't 
speak to each other. 

What age was that? 

That must have been from, oh, I just don't remember. I know 
there was a long period when we didn't seem very-- 

When you were an adult, or still a-- 

I think it must have been late high school, early college. But 
my brother Starker was a very popular man who in high school was 
on the hockey team. I never went out for any team, and I was 
very shy and sort of retarded in high school. Never had a-- 

I'm sure that's not the right word. [laughs] 


Leopold: Well, I had no confidence in myself. When Starker started 

college he didn't work very hard, and he joined a fraternity and 
ended up by flunking out. Well, to make up for that, I made up 
my mind- -and of course my family was very upset about this--! was 
going to be the guy that got good grades and showed him up, at 
which I worked very, very hard, and was kind of the opposite of 

Lage: I see. And consciously sort of-- 

Leopold: Oh, yes indeed. But then, of course, after Starker went to work 
after he flunked out of college, he then came back and made an 
extremely good record for himself. So it didn't last. But in 
the meantime, I took it on myself, as I say, to be in an entirely 
different camp. I wouldn't join a fraternity, for example, and I 
got very good grades. The turning point in my life was at the 
end of my freshman year of college when I was just fifteen. I 
made the crew of the first boat, and that changed my life because 
all of a sudden now I found that I, also, could be successful in 
sports. And then immediately after that, then, I was soon 
elected to the honor societies, and that really was a very, very 
great change in my life, that all of a sudden I became 

Lage: The hard work paid off. 
Leopold: Yes. 

Lage: Now, do you think Starker at that point began to feel more 
competitive from his end? 

Leopold: No. Starker, you see, had gone off. After that we didn't see 
each other for many, many years. He went off to get his Ph.D. 
[at University of California, Berkeley] so that we weren't thrown 
together very much. He took his bachelor's at Wisconsin, 
Master's in forestry at Yale, and then Berkeley. This was in the 
period 1939-41 approximately. During the war he was doing 
research in Mexico. 

Lage: But you did go on hunting trips together, it seems from your 
journals, as a youth and teenager. 

Leopold: At that time, yes, we did quite a few things together, although 
there was still a lot of competition because, for example, he 
started dating the girl I was in love with. 

Lage: How about your parents' reactions to the two of you? How did 

they deal with this one very self-disciplined youth and one not 
so disciplined? 


Leopold: They were very under standing of both the personalities. Very 

tinder standing. No comment was ever made that made Starker feel 
bad for not doing very well in school, and very little praise was 
heaped on me, but my father would say--. Just before they went 
to bed I'd have been studying for three or four hours, and my 
father would say, "I think you study too much. Why don't you 
study a little less? This is not worthwhile." They were very 
understanding; never any criticism about either of the boys. 

Lage: That's hard to do as a parent, to remove yourself and not be 

Leopold: Yes, but they were extremely unusual parents. For example, right 
about the time that Starker was about ready to flunk out, he was 
going with a sorority girl. He went off to have a party with 
some boys and asked his girl to drive our family car back to 
town. The car was brand new, and buying a car in those days, 
particularly when my father earned so little money, was a very 
important matter. On the way back she wrecked the car, and I 
mean wrecked it completely. I remember my father came in the 
house, and my mother said to him, "What's-her-name has just 
completely ruined our car." His reply was, "I hope she wasn't 
hurt." "No," my mother said, "she wasn't hurt." My father said, 
"Stella, I think you'd better invite her to dinner tomorrow night 
so that she doesn't think we're angry at her." This was quite a 
blow, and a very great financial blow, but that was the kind of 
reaction he had. 

Financial Hardships in the Depression Years 

Lage: Did the tightness of the financial situation affect you? 

Leopold: Oh, yes, indeed. I don't know how my mother made out with five 
children on the amount of money that she was given. She never 
knew anything about the family finances . She took what my father 
gave her, and that was that. And she made out somehow or 
another. We were never bothered about it; we were never told 
much- -nothing in detail. 

Lage: It wasn't discussed as a family problem. 

Leopold: No. I saw once in a while my mother in tears, but it was not 
imposed upon the children, nor did you have to say anything, 
because everybody knew that there wasn't very much money. 




You didn't ask to go away to college, for instance. 
Was that ever a thought? 

Or did you? 



No, we were perfectly happy to go to Wisconsin. A very good 
school indeed, that of course wasn't costing very much In those 
days. Sixty- four dollars a semester. 

And living at home? 

Yes, and living at home. But for example, we never took the bus 
to school. The nearest edge of the campus was just a mile from 
our house, and we walked four times a day. Ve walked to school, 
walked back for lunch, walked to school in the afternoon, and 
walked home, regardless of weather. Well, friends of ours would 
take the bus, but we apparently didn't have ten cents to take the 

Was this when your father wasn't working? 

Oh, yes. When the Depression came, he was working for an arms 
and ammunition company. He had just quit his job at the Forest 
Service, and he was making this famous survey- -the game survey, 
first of Iowa and then of the midwestern states. When the 
Depression caused that job to disappear and he was really without 
work, he just sat down and wrote a book. Then, as a result of a 
series of lectures that he gave at the time that this book was 
being written, arrangements were made by the dean of the 
university to create a professorship for him. But this was a 
very trying time for my mother and father because they were 
really short of money. 

Yes, because I think that most young people go through something 
like this. Most of the people that I know started out pretty 
much from scratch and didn't get very much help from their 
families. We certainly didn't get any help from our family, but 
nobody talked much about it; you were expected to go off and do 
it, that's all. But yes, it was like any other important 
experience: you learn something about how to do it properly, not 
because you discuss it, because you just thought about how it was 


Carl. Nina, and Estella Leopold 
[Interview 3: June 6, 1990 ]## 

Lage: Could we talk a little bit about your younger brother and 

Leopold: They're all very distinguished people. 

My younger brother, Carl, took his Ph.D. at Harvard, and he 
is distinguished professor of plant physiology at Cornell. 
Actually, he sort of divides his time between the Boyce Thompson 
Institute and the University at Cornell. He, I understand, just 
recently retired but keeps up his research. He's very much 
interested in training of scientists, the whole matter of ethics 
in science, as I am. His wife, interestingly, runs the largest 
recycling environmental group, apparently, in the state. 

My sister Nina is married to a geologist. They live on the 
Leopold Memorial Reserve at Baraboo, Wisconsin, and she's made a 
big reputation for herself in the ability to restore original 
prairies with original plants. A year ago she and her husband 
were each given an honorary doctor's degree from the University 
of Wisconsin, which is quite unusual, to have a couple, each 
honored by a big university. They lead essentially a kind of 
research life. They have a great garden. I never saw anything 
like it. It's a garden that's big enough to feed a whole town, I 
think. So they're great plant horticulturists. 

My sister Estella took her Ph.D. at Yale, and she worked for 
quite a while in the United States Geological Survey as a 
palynologist [student of fossil pollen]; she's a pollen expert 
and now is professor of botany at the University of Washington, 
Seattle, and a very distinguished scientist. She's a member of 
the National Academy and is a great conservationist. She and her 
friend, Vim Wright, were responsible with a few other people for 
saving the great fossil beds called the Florrisant in Colorado. 
And they actually did sit down in front of the bulldozers. They 
were trying to get this very famous paleontology site, which has 
insects and leaves in it, declared a national monument. 

Lage: What were the bulldozers proposing to do? 

Leopold: The bulldozers were going to build houses on the fossil bed. 

They got the bill through Congress, and the thing is protected 


Lage: So the whole family combines the scientific interest and the 
ethical-ecological interest. 

Leopold: No question about it, yes. 

Lage: As the girls were growing up, were there the same expectations 
for them as for the three boys, in terms of schooling, for 
instance? Did you see a difference in treatment? 

Leopold: My younger sister Estella, of course, is eleven years younger 

than 1, so that she was home for a much longer time and without 
any siblings at home. So basically 1 think she probably knew my 
father and mother more than the rest of us did when we grew up, 
because everybody was so close together that--. 

There's a tremendous difference between my older brother and 
I, although we're two years apart, on the one hand, and my 
younger sister and younger brother, on the other. They were also 
two years younger than ourselves, but it was as if there were ten 
years difference. 

Lage: Why is that, do you think? 

Leopold: 1 don't know. 1 really don't know. Well, it was partly because 
Starker and 1 went to one high school, and then when the other 
children got into high school, they went to another high school, 
so they had another group of friends , and they always seemed much 
younger than we were. It's hard to explain. I don't understand 
it, but it's as if the difference in age were much larger than it 
really was. 

Lage: Did you do things with Carl like the hunting and fishing trips? 
Leopold: That's the point. Not so much. 
Lage: More with Starker. 

Leopold: Later, after we were all out of college, then it began to change. 
But when we were growing up, the answer is no. 

Building the Shack and Restoring the Land 

Lage: Were the younger set more shaped, do you think, by the 

experiences at the shack? Or did you get back there often enough 
that you participated? 







Since I was more or less responsible for building the shack, 1 

Tell me about that. Ve didn't get into that at all. 

You saw the pictures in the journal. 


For years my father had been wanting a piece of property, and 
nothing quite suited him. 

So he'd been talking about getting something of that sort. 

Oh, yes, for a long time. Yes. But I never really understood 
exactly what he was looking for, and maybe he didn't know 
himself. After we had the property [an abandoned sand county 
farm near Baraboo, Wisconsin], then it began to be clear what we 
were going to try to do. We were going to try to reclaim it. 

At first was he talking about it as hunting cabin? 

No. It was very diffuse. We weren't actively looking, but 
looking back at it, it was quite clear that he was waiting for a 
chance to find some land he could protect, because some of his 
friends knew he was. I can remember the day that a friend of my 
father's in Baraboo, Wisconsin, phoned him- -I remember the day-- 
and said, "There's a piece of property outside of Baraboo that's 
up for sale. I think it might be something that you want to look 

So on a cold, snowy day--. My sister says she was there; I 
don't remember. But I know my mother, father, and I, and perhaps 
Nina, drove out there, and it was a very bleak- looking place. 
There were no leaves on the trees and the snow was deep. There 
was this little shack half the size of this room, no larger. It 
was first a horse barn and then a chicken coop. We looked in it 
and it was piled six feet deep with manure. My mother turned to 
my father and said, "You're crazy. You don't mean to tell me you 
want this place!" My father said, "Estella, when that manure 
gets spread over your garden, you'll be very glad to have it." 

So he immediately saw its potential. 

So anyhow, we bought the 250 acres for practically nothing, 
it was a very bleak place, I can tell you. 



Lage: And when did the building take place, and what was your role in 

Leopold: Well, I was the chief builder. 
Lage: Oh, you were? 

Leopold: We built a little addition which became the bunk room- -just an 
extension of the little house. We had to repair the roof. We 
put in a fireplace that was on the design that my father had used 
when we were in New Mexico. I don't know why there was a 
difference, but the one in New Mexico worked, and the one in the 
shack that we built didn't work. We spent a miserable year with 
the smoking fireplace; it wasn't satisfactory. It was a dirt 

Finally, the next year, we said, "Let's do it properly." So 
on a Sunday day, my father and I went to the quarry, which was 
only a short distance from our house in Madison. A limestone 
quarry. Behind the old Essex car we had a trailer, a flatbed 
trailer. We went up to the quarrymen and we looked all around, 
and finally we walked up to the cliff. We scratched around and 
finally put our hands on a big rock and said, "This is the rock 
we want." It was about 5-1/2 feet long, nearly a foot thick, 
about this wide [about three feet] . We asked whether they could 
quarry it out for us, and they did. So with a crowbar the big 
rock was moved out to the trailer, and we drove it out to the 
shack, about fifty miles from Madison. 

A few weeks later, on spring vacation, we all went out 
there: my sister Nina, a girl who was a friend of all of us, 
Mother and Father, and myself, I guess. 

Lage: Starker didn't get in on this? 
Leopold: He was away at the time. 

We built a fireplace, and this time it was a good one. To 
move that rock into the shack, we built a platform of overlapping 
logs, and you would lift one end of the rock with a crowbar, and 
then the other end of the rock, and put another log under it. We 
finally moved that thing the ten or fifteen feet that was 
necessary to get it in the shack. So there's the fireplace, and 
it's worked extremely well. 

Lage: How long did the building process take? 
the rock-- 

Did you have to break 


Leopold: No, we put the rock up as it was. I chipped it a little bit to 
sort of knock some edges off, but no, the rock was exactly the 
way we took it out of the quarry. 

One of the stories of the family occurred when we were 
building the brick chimney above the new fireplace. My father 
was up on the roof standing on the ladder, putting a brick on the 
chimney. The brick slipped out of his hand and fell to the 
ground, and my father looked down and said, "Oops! Goddamnit!" 
[laughter] And that's been a family expression ever since. 
Oops! Goddamnit! 

Lage: Was that characteristic of him? 

Leopold: Yes. 

Lage: And then how about the flooring? When did that come? 

Leopold: Two or three years later, my mother finally said, "I want the 

inside of the house painted or something. It's too hard to keep 
clean. And besides, I want a floor." So we said, "Fine." 

Lage: No objection? 

Leopold: No, no. Ve were now ready to fix the shack up a little bit, so 
we put in a wood floor and we used calcimine, I guess it was, to 
paint everything. Not with paint, but with calcimine. That's the 
way it is now. It's white inside. 

We never bought a piece of new lumber. If you wanted a 
piece of lumber, you went down on the riverbank and picked up 
some wood that was thrown up by the high water. So a lot of bum 
wood went into the fireplace because we never went to a 
lumberyard at all; you just went to the riverbank and got 
whatever you wanted. 

Lage: That must give it a real characteristic air. 

Leopold: Oh, yes. As a matter of fact, in the one bench that I built for 
the shack there is the hole that was drilled for a peg when they 
were floating logs down the Wisconsin River to the mill, so you 
knew that this was Paul Bunyan land, you see. There's the 
stretcher, you might say, that held the log raft together. 
That's one of the benches in the shack. 

Lage: Did you get involved also in the restoration process on the land, 
or did that come after you were away from home? 


Leopold: At the time that we finished the shack, finished the building, 

then we started seriously to plant. At that time- -and you still 
can, you can get seedlings that were called a one -two or a two- 
three. In other words, one- two would be a seedling of .pine that 
had spent one year from the time that it was germinating, and 
then two years of growth. So the little pines were about six 
inches high. You could get them from the Conservation Commission 
or some state agency in bundles of a hundred, with the roots. 

So we started to plant. In the long run, we planted 19,000 
pines. I can remember my father planting these little things 
that stood six inches high, saying, "The time will come when this 
is going to be valuable." And indeed, the white pine is very 
valuable stuff because there's practically none of it left 

So my sister's house there in Baraboo is built out of the 
pines we planted. The logs are fourteen inches in diameter, and 
she built her house out of the logs that all of us planted when 
they were six inches high. 


That's a wonderful feeling. 

Leopold: Yes. 


And then my father was very interested in prairie and the 
whole history of land use, so he began to move prairie plants. I 
can remember going out with him along the railroad track, where 
prairie plants had survived from the farming. He would search 
for a plant that he wanted and would take it back to the shack 
and plant it. 

Since that time, my sister Nina has found you don't have to 
do it that way. What they do now, they first went along railroad 
tracks and they collected seeds. But you perhaps know that the 
seeds of prairie plants are extremely small. Ten could fit on 
the end of a pin, for example. Therefore, a special technique 
had to be developed for how you get seeds off these plants. Once 
Nina got plants started in her yard, then she got the seeds from 
her own plants, so that the thing has expanded now, and now they 
actually have enough seeds so they can actually give seed away. 
But outside of her house, for example, there's a place at least 
as large as a square block that's all prairie grass standing as 
high as your head, and the most beautiful flowers you ever saw. 
All native flowers. 

I thought the introduced plants sort of tended to choke off the 






That's what they had to teach themselves how to handle. So what 
they have to do is really sterilize the ground for one year to 
get rid of the weeds so they won't compete with the new prairie 
plants. But once that's done and the prairie plants start to 
come up, then apparently it goes quite quickly. 

Has this become a nodel for government agencies and others? 

Yes. Lots of people go to Baraboo to see my sister's prairies, 
because now it's gotten to be a big thing. Lots of people are 
interested in prairie, so that there's a Prairie Restoration 
Research Station in Kansas that's doing it on a fairly large 
scale. Many students have come to work with Nina and Charlie at 
Baraboo to learn the techniques and to help with the 
reconstruction. Then those students go out and do it elsewhere. 
So it's now spreading; a lot of people are interested in prairie 
restoration now. 

A lot of ripples went out. 

But when you heard about the covered wagons in 1846 going across 
the Great Plains, and maybe you read some of that, where they 
said, "And the grass stands up to your shoulder," well, indeed, 
my sister's grass stands up to your shoulder. You see, when you 
go from the hundredth meridian westward, you go first from the 
tall grass prairie to the short grass prairie. The tall grass 
prairie ends approximately at the edge of Colorado; and then from 
Colorado all the way to the mountains, the Colorado border going 
westward all the way to the mountains is short grass prairie. 
But the high grass prairie must have been something to see, when 
these billowing, waving grass stands that stood, as 1 say, as 
high as a man. It must have been quite a sight. 

Really. And something to get through, also, 
present a little bit of barrier. 

I think it would 

Well, 1 presume so, although you see in both the Santa Fe Trail 
and the Oregon Trail that once the trail was made, everybody 
followed the same trail. Near our house in Wyoming, for example, 
you can see the ruts of the Oregon Trail that are two feet deep, 
still, just as though the wagons were there yesterday. 

Publication of A Sand County Almanac 

Lage: Can we talk a little bit about A Sand County Almanac and what you 
remember about the time your father was putting things together, 


and how you helped with the publication and the final editing of 

Leopold: It's quite clear that these essays had been germinating in my 

father's mind for many, many years, because after Dad died, there 
was found in his desk a private notebook which I had never seen, 
a very small notebook. Looking through it, there were phrases 
that he had written down in that private notebook that twenty 
years later appeared in an essay. Little ways of putting words 
together that he had thought of much earlier and then used later 
on. Certain essays I recall were written during the few times 
that my father was sick. I can remember coming in the house one 
day, and he had been in bed for a day, which very seldom 
happened. He said, with some satisfaction, "I've Just finished 
another essay." I think that my father wrote as I do: very 
quickly indeed, and then spend months and even years editing, 
cleaning it up and making sure every word is exactly where you 
want it. 

Lage : Did he share any of this with the family, in process? 

Leopold: When an essay was done, he would make the simple statement, "1 
finished an essay," and the idea was, if you wanted to read it, 
he'd be happy to have you, but he never forced it on you, never. 

Well, the essays were gradually being put together. 1 came 
back from Hawaii about 1946, it must have been, and Dad had 
finally gotten the essays in a manner that he felt was going to 
go. He sent them to a publisher; it was Alfred Knopf. Knopf 
wrote back and said, "These are very nice, but you ought to write 
more of them." My father was so angry, he could hardly stand it. 
This had just happened when 1 happened to come back from Hawaii 
for a trip. I was living in Hawaii at the time. I talked with 
Dad about it, and I said, "The trouble with you, Dad, is that 
you're too soft. You don't argue with these people." I said, 
"Why don't you let me try to get your manuscript published?" He 
said, "I'd be delighted." 

I was in Washington shortly thereafter, and I went to see my 
friend, Ed Graham, who worked for the Department of Agriculture. 
Ed Graham had published a book on land use, so I knew he had had 
recent experience with publishing. I went to him and I said, 
"Ed, what advice can you give me?" He said, "Why don't you try 
my publisher, the Oxford University Press in New York?" He said 
that the editor's name was Philip Vaudrin. 

So I made an appointment with Vaudrin and apparently I sent 
the manuscript to him. Then I took a special trip to New York 
and went to lunch with him. This is the usual way of authors 


dealing with publishers. We discussed the matter, and he said, 
yes, he really was interested in publishing it, but there were 
certain things he didn't like, and that was what we were going to 
have to worry about. 

Lage: Do you remember his objections? 

Leopold: Yes, Dad's title was Great Possessions, which is the title of one 
of the essays. He said, "That sounds too much like Dickens." 1 
said, "Okay, I'll make up an alternative possible list of 

Now, what 1 don't remember right now is the sequence of 
exactly what happened, because 1 think that the matter of the 
title came up after Dad died. Because when Vaudrin finally made 
up his mind that he was going to publish it, he sent a letter to 
Madison saying to my father that the book had been accepted and 
there were certain things that had to be worked out. That was 
the weekend my father died. So he knew that it had been 
accepted; that's all he knew. 

So then thereafter, I was worrying now about illustrations. 
There was a friend of mine in Washington who had recently 
illustrated a book, and I asked him to make some sketches for me. 
They were much too modern for me; I didn't like them at all. My 
brother Starker had, you see, spent a good many years working in 
Missouri. When 1 was in Hawaii, 1 met this friend, at that time 
a friend of Starker 's who later became a good friend of mine, 
Charles Schwartz. 1 got to know Charlie quite well when we were 
both in Hawaii. 

It was at that time that I was now at the job of trying to 
get this book published, so I wrote to Charlie and said, "Would 
you make some sketches for me?" 1 had worked out a series of 
sentences chosen from the book that I thought could be used as 
illustrations. In other words, a sentence that said something 
that reminded you of something that might spur the artist to make 
a drawing. So Charlie sent me some samples, which to my mind 
were exactly what I wanted. 

Then we made a serious effort to write down things that 
could be illustrated. For example, the essay about the 
chickadee. We picked out a sentence; say, it was about the 
chickadee on a sawn log. Well, that turned out to be one of the 
illustrations in Sand County. So Charlie did a splendid job. 

Lage: What was his background? Was he a wildlife illustrator, 


Leopold: No, he was primarily a game manager. He was a professional game 
manager but has made his reputation now as a great artist. 

Lage: But he knew game? 

Leopold: Oh, yes, yes. Oh, yes, indeed, he did. Absolutely. No, he was 
a real professional. And then later when 1 published the second 
book of my father's work, Charlie did the illustrations for me 

Lage: Who thought of the title? 

Leopold: It was one of the titles that 1 had suggested. I was by no means 
happy with 'it. I thought there were better titles than that. 
But apparently Vaudrin was sort of taken with that idea. Because 
it's only the first part of the book that was really an almanac, 
which started with January, February, March. But anyhow, that's 
what the editor liked. So with some reluctance, I agreed to it. 
It's turned out to be satisfactory, but there's always been a 
question of whether that really would have been the best title. 
I'm not sure. 

Lage: You don't remember the ones that you wanted? 

Leopold: No, but I had a list of them. No, I don't. But obviously I was 
leaning toward the one that my father picked out originally. But 
then 1 had made up a series of alternatives. 

Lage: Did other people review it after his death also? 

Leopold: At the time that Dad had first sent it to Knopf, he had several 
of his students, Bob McCabe and Frederick Hamerstrom and Joe 
Hickey, who all had seen the manuscript. When I got it, when I 
was in Hawaii, there were a few notes written by those people on 
the margin. But the final decision as to how to deal with these 
minor matters were decisions that 1 myself had to make. 

Lage: You didn't make too many changes on this? 
Leopold: Oh, no, I certainly did not. 

Round River: Conservationists and Hunting 

Leopold: But then there was quite a different matter when Round River came 
along. That's an interesting story, too. 


Some years after my father died, my mother said to me, "You 
know, there are really quite a few things of your father's that 
were never published, and I think you ought to publish them." 
Well, I was always kind of soft-hearted with my mother, so 1 
said, "Okay, I'll try." In his files there were a series of 
manuscripts that had never been really finished. 

Lage: He hadn't worked them over? 

Leopold: Yes, but actually had not finished. They were not done. 

Lage: Oh, not finished. Not even completed. 

Leopold: So I took several of these and finished them myself. "Round 

River" was one. I didn't have to touch "A Man's Leisure Time." 
That was fine just the way it was. There were several others, 
basically where I had to add the words or I had to add the 
paragraphs or I had to bring it to completion. 

Anyhow, the book was published, and I got the first copy. 
Apparently the press had written the description on the dust 
jacket. My mother took a look at this, and she said, "I will not 
accept that." I don't know where I was at the time, but I said, 
"Very well, Mum, I'll change it. Now, what would you suggest?" 
"Well," she said, "I don't want it stressed that your father was 
a hunter." I said, "Very well, we'll change it." So I spoke to 
the press and I said, "I will pay the difference. I want to have 
you redo the dust jacket because my mother doesn't like it. 
Here's the reason." Okay, they put a new dust jacket on and I 
paid for it. Or the royalties paid for it. 

Well, shortly thereafter, when that book was published, 
there appeared in the Boston paper a book review that really 
blasted my father. It said, "He cannot be a conservationist. 
He's a hunter; he shoots things. He's a fraud." 

Leopold: "Aldo Leopold's a fraud. He doesn't mean anything that he's 
talking about. He's not in conservation at all. He shoots 
things." Well, I was in conversation with one of the editors of 
Oxford Press, and they said, "Did you see that book review in the 
Boston paper?" I said, "I surely did, and I was very angry." 
They said, "Do you know who wrote it?" I said, "No." "Rachel 
Carson wrote it." 

Lage: Oh, my goodness. Was it not signed? 


Leopold: No, she had somebody else sign it. Well, that really put me off, 
I'll tell you. 

Lage: Did you have any contact with her on it? 

Leopold: No, no, of course not. But anyhow, it's the kind of extremism 

that we see in many places. You think that people interested in 
the environment are also people that are broad minded or--. I'm 
not just so sure what to say, but I was shocked. 

Lage: Did you run across that a lot? That kind of response? 

Leopold: No, that was the only one that was important. But you see, my 

mother had been very smart about this. She read that sentence in 
the dust jacket and she said, "You take that out." But yet that 
still did not prevent some people from saying, "Anybody who--." 
Well, look at what's going on now. The whole business of you 
don't want to use animals for experimentation in the medical 
profession for the saving of human lives. And now the fur 

Lage: But there was hunting mentioned in A Sand County Almanac, and the 
response -- 

Leopold: But you see, Round River was my father's journals, you recall, 
and therefore they were hunting journals like mine. So anyhow, 
that was part of the story. 

Fur the r Editions of A Sand County Almanac 

Leopold: Then this also ought to be recorded, although no one will read 

it. Some years went by, and Oxford Press was not reprinting one 
of the books. I forget which one they weren't reprinting. I 
think they were not going to reprint Sand County. The editors at 
Ballantine Press approached the Oxford Press people and said, 
"We'd like to republish the book in a paperback form." Oxford 
Press got in touch with me and said, "What do you think?" I 
said, "What do they want to publish?" "They want to publish Sand 
County in its original form." And it was decidedand I don't 
remember exactly how this decision was made that it might be 
better to take the best essays out of Round River, leaving out 
the hunting journals, and combine them with the original essays 
in A Sand County Almanac, and publish a new edition. 

Well, now, since I was having to edit this, the question 
became, "How are you going to put them together?" So what I did 





was to--. Veil, this is the part that's a little touchy. My 
former wife is an aggressive woman, and she had made up her mind 
she was going to edit this new edition. Well, I knew goddamn 
well that she didn't have the talent to do it. 

Now, was she your former wife at the time? 

No, she was married to me at the time. And it was, you know, 
sort of a fight in the family. So she finally got her name as 
well as mine put on the new foreword, and that made the rest of 
my family madder than hell, because they didn't like her, you 

Well, anyhow, in trying to devise a way to put these things 
together, it really required an entirely new lay-out for the 
book, because Round River was the name of the book but also the 
name of an essay, but it was one of the essays that I finished. 

That isn't made clear, really. 

Not at all. No. Not at all clear. So what 1 did, was 1, in 
order to meld them all together, 1 made changes in the things 
that I had written, without changing anything that my father had 
written, but changing the words that I had written in order to 
make this thing fit. Well, the family was madder than hell. 
Then there were book reviews written about how terrible it was, 
blaming me, you see, for rewriting everything. The family as 
well as friends of the family were very unhappy about the whole 

The family tends to forget, you know. If they knew it, they 
didn't act that way. Anyhow, that's what happened. 

How did you feel about that product? 

I was so angry that I simply said, "I don't want anything more to 
do with it," so I turned it over to my brother. I had been 
running the thing for twenty- five years and I was very unhappy 
about it. Because I thought it was very unfair of the family to 
jump on me for things that they really didn't take any trouble to 
find out about. 

Lage: The work really enjoyed a tremendous revival of interest in the 
sixties. That must have been gratifying. 



Oh, yes indeed, 
large way. 

In other words, the thing came back in a very 








When did the translation in Russian occur? 

Let's see. The Russian translation is dated 1980. We have just 
finished a translation in German. There's a translation in 
Chinese, and 1 think that we've made some progress recently in a 
translation in French, which I've been working on for some time. 
But they used the same illustrations, and interestingly, in this 
Russian edition they combined the two books too. 

Oh, they did? 

Because the illustration- - that ' s an illustration from Round 
River, not an illustration from Sand County. Since I can't read 
it, I don't know exactly what they did to it, but clearly they 
combined the two books . 

Do you get any response from this personally? 
No, not very much. 

The thought that it's translated into Russian is really 
incredible. Especially considering how environmental issues are 
seemingly so important in Eastern Europe and-- 

Indeed. As a matter of fact, the Russians are--. Well, they're 
far ahead. The leadership in the Soviet Union is far ahead of 
the leadership in the United States as far as environmental 
matters are concerned. 

Okay, anything else to mention on the books or the editing? 

I think that it might be said that the care and interest that my 
father took in writing has been tremendously influential on all 
of us. You can see, if you read my stuff, you can see that I'm 
greatly influenced by the kind of things that my father wrote 
about . 

Even in your journals I can see similarities. 

Yes, I think so. 

Have you published essays of the sort your father wrote? 

Yes, well, there are some. I think that the one that's been most 
widely reprinted is the one I called "Conservation and 
Protection. " 



Research in the Water Resources Division. 

Lage: I'd like to turn now to your early years with the Geological 
Survey. You received your Ph.D. in geology in 1950, and then 
went back to the survey in Washington, D.C. , I understand. What 
was the nature of your work in those years before you became 
chief of the Water Resources Division? 

Leopold: I gave you those two videotapes, didn't I? [1988 interview of 
Luna Leopold for the U.S. Geological Survey.] 

Lage: Yes. I listened to those, and I'd like to elaborate on that here. 

Leopold: When I joined the Geological Survey, this was the first time the 
Water Resources Division had ever hired a man who was supposed to 
do something other than what other people did. 

Lage : Do research? 

Leopold: To do research, but they weren't quite sure what that meant. 

Lage: So there really wasn't a research program at that time. 

Leopold: Oh, no, there was none at all. There wasn't a research man in 

the whole organization. In several thousand people, there wasn't 
a research man. 

When I came to the survey from Hawaii, and as I guess I told 
you, landing in Los Angeles, they didn't know what in the world 
to do with me. So they said, "Here's a desk," and I didn't pay 
attention to anybody, and I sat down and started doing my own 
work. So when I came back from Harvard in about three-quarters 
of a year, I came to Washington where I was to be more 
permanently assigned, and there wasn't an office for me, nor were 
there any instructions; nobody knew what I was supposed to do. 


Lage: And who was the person who had hired you? 

Leopold: The chief hydraulic engineer, Carl Paulsen, hired me. 

Lage: He hired you, but without a particular framework? 

Leopold: When I was in the Bureau of Reclamation before I went to Hawaii, 
I had in some manner or another access to people who had money. 
I was very much interested in what the survey was doing. Since 
they were right across the street from my office, I had a lot of 
contacts, particularly with my friend Walter Langbein, whom I was 
getting to know better. Valter was probably the senior mind, you 
might say, in the office of the chief hydraulic engineer. 

So to promote the work that they were doing, I transferred 
some money to the Geological Survey from the Bureau of 
Reclamation to continue the work that was already going on in the 
hydrology of the western states. This went on for about a little 
less than a year because I was only with the Reclamation Service 
about a year. When I was leaving I went to call on my friends in 
the Geological Survey across the street, and the chief hydraulic 
engineer said, "We're sorry that you're leaving Washington, but 
if you ever want a job, we would like to have you in the 
Geological Survey." 

So five years after that, I approached him and said, "This 
is what you've said." Actually, one of the chief's people was 
visiting Hawaii and I sent the message back through him, to the 
chief, and the chief then got in touch with me and it was 
arranged. When 1 came back from Harvard a little less than a 
year later, they didn't have any job for me. They didn't even 
have an office. So the assistant chief hydrologic engineer, Mr. 
Royal Davenport, a wonderful manvery quiet, soft-spoken 
gentleman of the very old school, a real gentleman- -he said, "Why 
don't you share my office? There's an empty desk here." So I 
sat down in the office of assistant chief because there was no 
other place for me. So he went on with his business and 
interviewed people and talked to people, and of course 1 simply 
sat down and was quiet. 

In the meantime, I had a lot of projects that I wanted to 
work on and was having a very fine time. I had to complete for 
publication a couple of papers that 1 had been working on 
connected with my doctor's thesis. That led to a lot of new 
investigations, but right after I got back from Harvard, in June 
of 1950, I was in touch with my closest friend at Harvard, John 
Miller, who was at that time at Penn State, and said, "Let's go 


to the field together." So that summer, the first summer with 
the survey, I went to the field with John Miller. 

Well, we had a wonderful time. We were investigating the 
whole question of the effect of changes of climate on the river 
valleys of the western states, especially Wyoming. When we got 
back from that summer, the question that kept sticking in my mind 
was, why does the river have such a width? Because the width is 
really what was going to determine how the terraces were going to 
develop. So I picked up the question of why a river is as wide 
as it is. This turned out to be a very fruitful question indeed. 
A question that really no one had ever asked before. 

The next thing that happened was that--. Well, there were 
two really important aspects of this. In the first place, 
because I'd just come from five years of being a professional 
meteorologist, I visualized everything in terms of the atmosphere 
and the structures that we see in the atmosphere, which you now 
see in the form of fronts on a map on television everyday. 

I'm now going to transfer my meteorological training to the 
river system, because now we're still talking about a fluid, you 
see . The air as a fluid has certain shapes and forms and does 
certain things in a very consistent manner. Water is a fluid 
also, and therefore there must be some relationship. So I 
started to pick up the ideas that I had absorbed as a 
meteorologist and started to apply them, to ask the questions in 
terms of-- 

Lage : Ask the questions of the river that a meteorologist asks of the 

Leopold: That I had been working on as a meteorologist. For example, one 
of the major tools that was being developed at that time was 
called an isentropic map. That is a map of equal entropy. 
Basically, equal entropy means, in very shorthand, no loss or 
gain of energy. Well, I said, now, if that actually accounts for 
these waves that we see in the atmosphere --at least one aspect of 
the waves- -is there something comparable in the fluid of water? 
Yes, indeed, there is something. So that was the kind of idea 
that I had. 

So really, there were two things of great importance: one, 
having worked on terraces that first summer the question was, why 
is a river as wide as it is? The second, transferring the ideas 
that I had picked up as a meteorologist to ask the same kinds of 
questions of the river system. That really started the direction 
of my research. As a result, the study of river terraces has 






been a preoccupation of mine all my life, starting with that 
particular summer. 

Were there people in the Geological Survey that encouraged you 
along these lines, or were you really just a sole figure then? 

I was really quite alone, except that 1 could walk across the 
hall and talk to Walter Langbein. But Walter wasn't working on 
research as much as he was working on primarily the--. Most of 
his time was taken up by the things that were asked of him in an 
administrative way. 

What was his position at that time? 

I'm not even sure what it was called. He was certainly called a 
hydraulic engineer, but there was no particular position. He was 
simply on the staff of the chief hydraulic engineer. 

But he had administrative responsibilities? 

He was always called upon because he was good at it. And in his 
spare time, basically, he was working on some very important 
hydrologic problems in research. Then he was also very important 
in many other ways. When I became chief of the division, I 
appointed Walter chief scientist. But he was great at training 
people, so that people would come in from the field and spend six 
months working in his office, more or less under his direction, 
and he really was the leader in the development of several of the 
most important research people that later on became prominent in 
the research game. 

This is even in those early years? 

Yes, this was still in those early days. So that I would go 
across the hall and there would be someone in Walter's office 
that was basically working under him on some research project. 
For example, they worked on such problems as how much water is 
lost by evaporation from a stock pond. This is a research 
project. How do you compute it? 

You compute it among other things by measuring the radiation 
from the sun. You also can compute it by measuring the change in 
elevation of the water surface. But the measurement of water 
surface was not enough because you didn't know how much leakage 
there was. So then the question was, can we compute evaporation 
by measuring the sun's radiation? Which means that you have to 
know about the albedo, that is, the amount of reflected energy. 
You have to know what kind of wavelengths are coming in. So then 


you have a whole new series of instruments. You're now talking 
about pyroheliometers set up near the water surface. 

Later on this became terribly important when they started 
this big, very expensive survey at Lake Mead, because Lake Mead 
has an evaporation of more than three feet a year. That's a very 
large amount of water. So with the projects that Valter had been 
working on with the people that were sent to help him or to work 
under him, they had already developed a method for doing it. So 
when they got to the big reservoir, they now had a theoretical 
method and they knew how to make the measurement. 

Lage: Did they choose this research subject because there were problems 
with stock ponds, or did they do it to study the pure problem of 
evaporation rates? 

Leopold: Both. In other words, the whole question of evaporative loss in 
the western states where water is short is extremely important. 
They worked on the stock ponds because they could handle it. 
They were small enough to really make direct measurement. 

So anyhow, here were things going on that were really 
research but not called that, and then nobody had been assigned 
to research except I . I could see that there were many 
potentials, because here were people being trained in research 
techniques , here was one of the great minds in the whole 
organization that was having to spend his time writing memoranda 
for the chief. 

Lage: I don't like to keep interrupting, but questions come up. Were 
the people he was training Ph.D.'s? 

Leopold: No, no, not a single one of them. No, not at all. 
Lage: What would their background have been? 

Leopold: They were usually engineers. For example, there was the highly 
qualified man who's been working with me off and on, especially 
in this court case in the last year, David Dawdy. He got a start 
working under Walter Langbein. Earl Harbeck was the man who 
really developed the theory that was used in the measurement of 
evaporation. There were flood specialists. Those are the two 
that I remember that were working under Walter during that first 
couple of years. 

Lage: So they didn't necessarily have the kind of research background 
that they needed for some of these questions? 

Leopold: No, but they were developing it. They were developing it, 

believe me. They all turned out to be very highly qualified and 
important research people. 

Research with John Miller on Influence of Climatic Changes on 
River VallevsM 

Lage: I want to talk more about your research during the years before 

you became chief of the division. Can we talk more about some of 
the important research like your work on hydraulic geometry, and 
try to make that understandable? 

Leopold: The thing that made the difference was that right there in the 

hall where I worked, just two doors down from my office, were all 
the streamflow records for the whole United States. 

Lage: All this data collection. 

Leopold: All these data, you see. 

Lage: What kind of data did they collect? 

Leopold: They measure the stream, so that on a certain day they had a 
current meter out there and they were measuring the velocity. 
So here was this whole room full of tabulated data from the field 
that no one had ever touched. 

Lage: If the data wasn't interpreted, what was it collected for? 

Leopold: The amounts of water were published, but the details of how they 
got there, the details of the stream itself, were not published. 
So they told you on August the 1st there was so much water in 
such and such a stream. But the data that they measured in the 
river had never been published, you see. 

Lage: I see. 

Leopold: So here were all these direct measurements, field measurements, 
that no one had ever done anything with. So I said, "I'm going 
to start fooling around with this." 

Well, I left Harvard in May, 1950, and I told you I had made 
a very good friend at Harvard, John Miller, who took his degree 
at the same time. John was younger than I but was a geologist 
who had worked for many years in New Mexico. When John graduated 
at the same time I did with his Ph.D., he immediately was offered 




a job as assistant professor of geology at Perm State. We were 

both very glad to get out of school, and I said, "John, let's 

spend the summer together." I said, "I'll meet you in Sundance, 
Wyoming , " on a certain day . 

John and his wife, Laura, drove across the country, and they 
arrived in Sundance. They were very apprehensive about whether I 
really meant business. But they were happy to start the field 
work themselves. So when the train pulled up--. In those days 
you could take the train. I took the train from Denver to 
Sundance. When I stepped off the train they were quite surprised 
that I really was there. 

So I said, "Do you still have a hotel room?" "Yes, we've 
got a hotel room." I said, "Okay, I've got to put on my field 
clothes." So I went to the hotel. Sundance was about the size 
of Pinedale; not even a paved street in the front. I went in the 
hotel and I put on my blue jeans and my boots. I had a great big 
Stetson about this high that was twenty years old. Apparently I 
came out of the hotel, ran down the steps to the middle of the 
street, threw the Stetson up in the air, and yelled, "Hah! the 

So we started out. We had a wonderful time; we learned all 
kinds of things. We had one ball out there. 

Were you focused on a particular thing? 

Yes. Because John and I were both interested in the things that 
Professor Bryan had worked on all his life and that I had found 
in New Mexico. 

The Pleistocene. 

Yes. We wanted to make a survey of Eastern Wyoming to see what 
the climate was in the latter part of the Pleistocene and the 
Holocene in Eastern Wyoming. That was our plan, and indeed, we 
were very successful. So one of the papers that we had written 
during that time before I was made chief was a paper on the 
climate, and thus the geology, of the rivers of eastern Wyoming 
["A post-glacial chronology for some alluvial valleys in 
Wyoming"). I published that in the main Water Supply Series of 
the Geological Survey. 

But when I finished my paper on "The hydraulic geometry of 
stream channels and some physiographic implications," that later 
became famous, I had recommended that it be published as a 
professional paper. Now, it turns out that the professional 
paper series was primarily a series that published geological 


material. The water supply paper series was primarily publishing 
water material. When the chief hydraulic engineer received my 
manuscript for permission, with the recommendation that it be 
published in the professional paper series, certain people came 
up to him and said, "He can't publish that in the professional 
paper series because that's not our series. That's the geologic 
division. " 

So I went to the chief and I said, "Sir, I've written two 
papers. This was a paper on geology which was written for the 
hydraulic engineer. So my geological paper on western Wyoming 
had to be published in the water supply paper series. Here is a 
paper on water which I want to publish for the geologist. It's 
going to be written in the professional paper series." He said, 
"That's a good idea." So that's the way it turned out. 

So I started, then, this cross connection, that I later 
expanded, for writing papers on water for the geologist and 
writing papers on geology for the water people. So this began to 
change the way that people were looking at what we were all 
supposed to do. 

Lage : I noticed a paper on nineteenth -century vegetation in the 
Southwest ("Vegetation of Southwestern Watersheds in the 
Nineteenth Century," 1951]. 

Leopold: That was part of my doctor's thesis. What I was trying to do 
there was to determine if old photographs recorded conditions 
different from those observed today. By reading journals of 
early exploration and collecting early photographs- -I was still 
working on the problem of erosion, you see. 

Lage: So all of this was related to the problem of erosion. 

Leopold: Yes. That's right. And then one of the papers that was in my 

doctor's thesis again became a famous paper because we had talked 
for many, many years about climatic change, but no one had ever 
computed quantitative values for climatic parameters during the 
glacial age. 

In another paper I found something that no one had ever 
expected. There's a very famous geographer by the name of Thorne 
Thwaite who had written a paper saying, "The data do not show any 
climatic change in the latter part of the nineteenth century and 
therefore the erosion problem must be due to man." 

What I did is I showed that the averages didn't change, that 
was true, but the rainfall intensity changed. My paper on 


rainfall intensity, then, was a way of explaining how a 
particular aspect of the climatic change would have been the most 
important in the erosion problem. No one had ever seen that 
before. ["Rainfall intensity: an aspect of climatic variation."] 

Later it's been confirmed by many, many people, and now it's 
agreed upon that the climatic change in the last part of the 
nineteenth century was not a change in the annual rainfall but a 
change in the type of precipitation. 

Lage: How did you determine the intensity of rainfall in the past? 

Leopold: Well, 1 saw that as a climatologist, you see. I mean, after all, 
I was coming from meteorology, so I had ways of thinking about it 
that other people hadn't thought of at that time. I took the 
oldest rainfall record in the United States --again, you see, New 
Mexico. The oldest rainfall record in the United States started 
at Fort Marcy in Santa Fe in 1846 when General Doniphan first got 
there and started the Mexican War. They started to collect 
rainfall records . So I took those records and I counted the 
number of days of different amounts of rain, and showed that the 
frequency of high rainfall changed in the latter part of the 
nineteenth century. 

So here were a series of papers all dealing with the 
interaction between meteorology and water and geology, which were 
published at the time before 1 became chief. 

Genesis of Hydraulic Geometry 

Lage: What about hydraulic geometry? Tell me what that is. 

Leopold: This is a good question. It started this way. John Miller and I 
were out in the field in eastern Wyoming trying to explain to 
ourselves how the climate of the Pleistocene had changed the 
landscape . We saw evidence that the landscape had gone through 
climatic change and caused deep gullying which occurred in the 
period from 1200 to 1400 A.D., and then the gullies filled up, 
and then they repeated themselves at the beginning of the present 
century. This had first been demonstrated by Professor Kirk 
Bryan . 

Lage: So you saw this in the geological record of the stream bed? 

Leopold: Yes. The question then came up, in many different ways, why is 

the river as wide as it is? That was a question that I posed for 


myself which turned out to be a very important question. As I 
often tell students later, "The important thing is not how you do 
it but what question you choose to work on." That, I maintained, 
was a very important question. It affected everything I did for 
many years later. This is the kind of difficult question that 
the present students are missing. They are not paying attention 
to the really important questions. They are taking things that 
are too small and too easy. 

Lage: Why did that question occur to you? Do you remember? 

Leopold: Because here John and 1 were looking at these gullies, you see. 
And we were saying, "Why should they be as wide as they were?" 
We were looking at it geologically, and then I started to ask 
myself, "Hydraulically, from the standpoint of the flow of the 
water, why is it this way?" So I got into a whole lot of 
literature about what the English engineers were doing in India 
and how canals were designed and that sort of thing. 

Then I remember the day I walked into Walter Langbein's 
office across the hall, and I said, "Look what I found." I said, 
"Do you realize that the relationship between the width of the 
river and the discharge follows in a certain mathematical 
formula?" "No," he said. "That's really interesting." I said, 
"Did you know that that's exactly what the engineers found in 
India in 1890 when they built canals?" So then we began to see 
that we were talking now about how stable channels operate. 
Nobody knew why, and they didn't see all these interconnections, 
and then I started to put these interconnections together. 

Lage: As you speak, it's so obvious how your kind of unique education 
really came together. 

Leopold: The main thing is that the combination that John Miller and I 

were working on--. We were looking at the geology in the field. 
We were interpreting the geology in terms of what had been 
changing in the last ten thousand years. That had certain 
climatic and hydraulic relationships, which becomes a water 
problem. Being a meteorologist, I was looking at it from the 
standpoint of climatology and from the standpoint of hydraulics 
and from the standpoint of climate and from the standpoint of 
geology. That kind of combination is the kind of stuff we need. 

Lage: And John had been a geologist, or did he have a background- - 

Leopold: Oh, yes, John was a tremendous help. We knew different things. 
John had been mapping in northern New Mexico and was a real 
expert in geologic mapping. But John also was an expert in 
soils. He was a very highly trained chemist with particular 


emphasis on soils. Soils were one of the things we were using as 
a measure of climate, so that his knowledge of chemistry and 
soils, and what I was bringing from climatology and hydraulics, 
we were combining into a way of looking at things. 

For example, we wrote a paper together called "The Role of 
Paleosols in Climatic Interpretation," something like that. 
Paleosol was an ancient soil from a different climate. So when 
we were in eastern Wyoming, we were measuring the soil profile, 
in his terms; in other words, we were actually measuring the 
amount of gypsum and the amount of calcium carbonate deposited in 
the soils. So it was a very good combination. 

And then later on- - . My whole career has been characterized 
by finding somebody who knew something that I didn't know, and 
finding ways to work closely with that person, so that we put our 
heads together and did something that neither one of us could 
have done alone. My later relationship with Walter Langbein, who 
is a real genius, was of the same sort. 

John and I had worked on several things together. We wrote 
this paper on eastern Wyoming. We wrote the paper on paleosols. 
We wrote the paper, which became very well known, on ephemeral 
channels. The channels that are dry most of the time and flow 
only during rainstorms. 

Lage: What was that one called? 

Leopold: That was called "Ephemeral streams: relation to the drainage 

net." That was a professional paper of the Geological Survey. 

Further Collaboration with John Miller: His Untimely Death and 
Special Qualities 

Leopold: When Kirk Bryan died- -I was his last student; he died the year 
that John and 1 took our degree --John Miller was asked, after 
kind of an interim, to leave Pennsylvania State and go to Harvard 
to take Kirk Bryan's place, which he did. So the student of Kirk 
Bryan now became Kirk Bryan's successor. He came up for tenure. 
A great geologist in the Geological Survey was on the visiting 
committee, and he came to see me. He said, "You've written these 
papers with John Miller, and Miller's coming up for tenure. We 
can't tell what his contribution was because you're the senior 
author in most of these papers. What did he do?" 


Veil, I tried as best I could to explain, but they didn't 
promote him at that time. I went to John and--. We were the 
closest friends. I said, "John, you and 1 can't work together 
for a while." I said, "You've got to wait until you've written 
some papers all on your own and you get tenure, and then we can 
start working together again." 

So many years went by, and John was on his own, obviously 
proved himself to be an extremely good scientist. And then we 
started to work again in about 1958 after he had published 
several very important papers of his own. We started a project 
in New Mexico that involved a lot of things. We decided that we 
were going to find how individual rocks moved on the stream bed, 
so we started the business of painting rocks, which now has 
spread all over the world. 

We would take rocks off the stream bed and take them to our 
truck, weigh each rock, paint them orange, and then paint the 
weight of the rock on the rock. Rocks always have slightly 
different weights in grams; for example, 5,212, there's not going 
to be another rock of exactly that weight. So that when you 
picked up the rock after it moved, you can look at it and say, 
"Yes, I know where that rock came from. That's Number 5,212, and 
it came from so-and-so a place." 

So we laid out these rocks in different patterns to find out 
what rocks moved and under what conditions they moved. We were 
well into this procedure. We had developed a lot of new ideas on 
how to measure these things . 

One of the things that we did was I invented the system of 
what 1 call bank pins. I'd take a steel reinforcing rod and 
drive it into the bank of the stream and let it stick out just 
two -tenths of a foot. Then after a year you'd come back and 
measure it, and if it were sticking out this far you could then 
know how much the erosion was. 

We did the same thing with vertical rods. We invented the 
things which are now called scour chains, where we dig a hole in 
the bed, and--. People had tried this before, but they had 
failed to do one important thing that we did that was right. You 
had to have the links of the chain large enough so the sand would 
get in the link. So the links that we used were about this size 
[1 centimeter]. We'd dig a hole, take this length of chain, tie 
a rock on the end, put it down the bottom of the hole, and then 
holding the chain vertically, would fill the thing in and lay the 
chain on the ground. Then when the stream came along and washed 
away the sand, the chain, now, which formerly was like this, 
would now bend here and now be strung out at some depth. And 


then, since we knew exactly where that chain was because we could 
stretch a tape from our benchmark, we could dig down and find out 
how deep was the bend in the chain. The bend in the chain shows 
the lowest elevation of the stream bed during scour by flood. 

Veil, that's in the middle of what we were doing. At the 
end of the summer in 1961, we were well into this business. We 
had painted hundreds and hundreds of rocks and we had cross - 
sections everywhere and maps and the whole thing very well done. 
John had to go back to Cambridge, so I put him on the plane on a 
Friday afternoon. Saturday morning I started out on a field trip 
in Colorado. On Tuesday 1 was up in the mountains and I was 
pulling a car out of the mud or something, a place in the high 
mountains. A car came by and said, "Your name Leopold?" I said, 
"Yes." They said, "The sheriff's looking for you." I said, 
"What's the trouble?" They said, "I don't know, but they're very 
anxious to get in touch with you. You'd better get into town and 
call the sheriff." 

So I drove down to the nearest town and called the sheriff, 
and he said, "Your office in Santa Fe is looking for you. 
There's been a terrible accident." John had died. 

Lage: Oh, no. How sad. 1 didn't realize you lost him so-- 
Leopold: He got bubonic plague from our work in New Mexico. 


And just like that? 

Leopold: Yes, and he was dead in two days. And then the question was what 
had happened. Well, it turns out that bubonic plague is endemic 
there, and he was bitten by a flea. Had he been taken in Santa 
Fe, I'm sure they could have saved him. 

Lage: They would have known. 

Leopold: When he got to a small hospital in Cambridge, they'd never heard 
of it. So instead of treating him, they let it go for two days, 
and in two days he was dead. So anyhow, it was a terrible, 
terrible thing. 

So then I had a long bout with the Center for Disease 
Control in Atlanta. Over a matter of about ten months, meeting 
again with all kinds of doctors and stuff, I finally persuaded 
them that the mark that he had on one hand was indeed a flea 
bite. Then it was proven all over again that the fleas in the 
area where we were working had bubonic plague, so it made a 
tremendous difference to his family because Laura, his widow, got 
a very good pension that's lastedkept her alive all her life 








now. But it was a very sad thing because he was an extremely 
competent geologist. 

So there was a question even after he died that-- 

Veil, we had somehow to prove in one manner or another--. 
Apparently the people that gave out the pension, they insisted 
that there be some physical evidence that he died on duty. Well, 
on duty he was when we were together, but he died in Cambridge 
when he was not on duty, and 1 had to prove that he contracted a 
disease which killed him while he was working for the Geological 
Survey with me. Anyhow, we finally persuaded them to do so. 

It's so sad. 

But John was a different sort. He was the most competent 
geologist I've ever worked with. For a man of his age , he really 
was a wonder. 

Well, in the first place, he was an extremely hard worker and 
loved doing it. 

He liked the field the way you did? 

Oh, yes. Oh, yes. And he could walk your pants off. We went to 
some of the toughest places that I've ever been. I used to get 
really quite unhappy with John because he was always going way 
ahead of me because he could walk faster than I over rough 
country. God, he was a wiry fella. That's his picture there, 
the center one. 

Oh, yes. 

Up on top of the peak. He was a very, 
We had an awfully good time together, 

very competent geologist. 
We just loved what we were 

He seemed to have an intuitive quality of mind. 

Leopold: I think that's the thing that characterized both of us, as a 

matter of fact. I would say different than anybody I've ever 

worked with. None of my students seemed to be able to have the 

same thing. There are some very brilliant ones, but I think 


that being able to see Intuitively what's immediately in front of 
you is a characteristic that's rather rare. And John had it. 

Lage: And you can't say what it comes from. In your case you could 

attribute it to the training of your father and the way he looked 
at the world and nature. Or is qualities of mind? 

Leopold: I don't know how to describe that. It's being able to think in 
dimensions of time and space, to think about the geologic 
setting, the geologic history, and the present processes 
simultaneously. I think that's probably the thing that 
distinguished him. 

Fluvial Processes in Geomorvholzv 

Leopold: So anyhow, right after that, John and 1 that summer, as a matter 
of fact, had been sitting under a pinon tree there outside of 
Santa Fe writing the outline of the book that we were to write. 

Lage : On? 

Leopold: We were at that time writing a book, but we had just gotten 

started. John had a draft of one chapter when he died. Well, I 
made up my mind on two things. In the first place, I was going 
to publish that book, period, which I did then. And second, I 
was going to complete the work in New Mexico, which did occur 
too. Both of them were accomplished in good time. And the book, 
of course -- 

Lage: Which is the book? 

Leopold: Leopold, Wolman, and Miller. This book has been the most 

important geomorphological book up until very recent times. It 
was the standard for the whole world until, oh, in the last five 
or seven years. A lot of new books have come out, but this for 
many years was the important book in geomorphology. 

Lage: Fluvial Processes in Geomorphology [San Francisco: W.H. Freeman, 
1964). Who was Wolman? 

Leopold: Gordon Wolman also was taking his degree at Harvard when we were 
both there. He finished his degree a couple years later, and he 
and I worked together very closely for quite some years, so that 
when John died, I asked my friend Gordon to help me finish the 


Lage: You made the statement --maybe it was in the video that you were 
responsible for bringing geomorphology to the Geological Survey. 
What does that mean, and how did it happen? 

Leopold: When I joined the Geological Survey in Washington, as I told you, 
and people asked me what I worked on, I said 1 work in 
geomorphology, and they said, "What's that?" No one in the 
survey had ever heard the term. 

Lage: Now, what is the term? What does it mean? 

Leopold: Geomorphology is the--. The morph- is "the form." "Geo-," "of 
the earth." And "-ology" is "the study of." Geomorphology is 
the study of the earth's surface forms, and by forms we mean 
processes as well. 

Lage: Why wasn't that a part of the Geological Survey? 

Leopold: Because the people in the Water Resources Division were 

interested in water. They didn't know anything about geomorphic 
problems, you see. 

Lage: 1 see. So the focus was much narrower. 

Leopold: Yes. And that's what I expanded. So anyhow, what Walter 

Langbein and 1 did, as soon as I became chief and we had some 
money, we said, "We're going to hire people in a whole lot of 
fields to do things in a research way in the field of water." 
Within about six or seven years, what we created was the most 
important research organization in the world, in the field of 
water. It became very famous. It became famous because 
primarily everybody was looking for the professional papers of 
the Geological Survey to see what was new. That's where we were 


I think that's a good place maybe to stop for today. 


[Interview 4: January 17, 1991 ]## 

USGS Directors Wrather and Nolan 

Lage: Today, after a long break in our interviewing, we're going to 
look at the U.S. Geological Survey in some detail. We talked 
last June about your early research, and I thought we'd turn 
today to your appointment and work as chief of the Water 
Resources Division. 

Leopold: We talked about my paper on river channel geometry, which 

everybody recognized at the time was going to be an important 
paper. Presumably, I gathered that the various papers that I was 
working on must have been called to the attention of the director 
[of the USGS]. I didn't see the director probably once or twice 
in that whole several years . 

Lage: Who was the director at that time? 

Leopold: Thomas B. Nolan was the associate director. But the director at 
that time was William Wrather. Bill Wrather came basically from 
industry, but he was a very good spokesman for the survey and a 
very understanding man. But he was the kind of leader that was 
basically a political- -not political in the ordinary sense, but 
the public relations man who could explain to the Congress what 
we were trying to do, and he was very good at that. He also was 
very interested in these problems, but not in a detailed way. He 
was not a research person himself. 

I remember one time, for example, Dr. Wrather asked me to go 
with him and the chief of the Groundwater Branch, to go over to 
New Jersey to visit the famous meteorologist, Warren 
Thornthwaite. He was interested enough, you see, to actually go 
out and talk with this famous meteorologist, because Thornthwaite 
at that time was working on the problem of determining how much 


water they needed for irrigation for crops in the East. Later on 
he turned this into a very lucrative business by basically 
selling his services to people like the people that made frozen 
peas, for example. I forgot what you call them, but anyhow, to 
determine how much water the plants needed, he was turning his 
meteorological background into something very practical. 

In this way, therefore, I got to see a little bit of other 
research people. This is the kind of thing that Bill Wrather 
did, but he was not really the one that was really running the 
details of the survey. It was the associate director. 

Lage: So Nolan, even before he became director, was-- 

Leopold: Yes. And Tom Nolan had been a very loyal assistant director for, 
oh, I don't know how many years, but it must have been at least a 
half a dozen years, I suppose. 

The time came when Dr. Wrather was going to retire. Now, up 
to that time, the customary way the director of the Geological 
Survey was chosen was for the Department of Interior to turn to 
the National Academy of Sciences and say, "Would you make 
recommendations? 11 Usually the way that worked was that the 
president of the National Academy would set up a committee who 
would study the problem, and they would make a recommendation of 
somebody's name to be the director. 

Tom Nolan was obviously a choice. He was a member of the 
National Academy of Sciences himself. He was a member of the 
American Philosophical Society. He was a very important 
geologist and a research man in his own right. He had spent 
every summer in Eureka, Nevada, working on a mining district 
there, so he knew research and he was a very good working 
geologist in his own right. So the Academyand I don't know the 
details of this, but that was the way it was done in those days-- 
the Academy must have recommended Nolan, and Nolan was appointed. 

Well, then as soon as Nolan was now director, now things 
were going to start to change, because now for the first time in 
a long time since--. Well, let's see. First there was John 
Wesley Powell, and then came--. Gee, I can't remember the names 
of all of these people who had been in the director's job. But 
in recent years Tom Nolan was the first one who was actually a 
research scientist himself and a member of the Academy. But once 
he got to be director, then he started to shift things around. 


Assistant Chief Hvdrologic Engineer: Initiating Controversial 
Changes in Budget Process 

Lage : You saw an immediate change? 

Leopold: Oh, yes. A change immediately. Yes. He right away called me in 
and said, "I want you to be the assistant chief hydrologic 
engineer. I'm going to bring in another geologist"- -whose name 
was Raymond Nace--"from Idaho to be the other assistant chief." 
Royal Davenport actually remained the assistant chief hydrologic 
engineer, so there basically must have been three of us. I don't 
remember exactly how the thing looked on an organization chart, 
because Mr. Davenport was still very important in administrative 

What Nolan wanted us to do was to think through how the 
Water Resources Division ought to be changed. So I was given the 
job of dealing with money. I was really the budget officer. Ray 
Nace was given the job of essentially the operational officer. 
Just about that time, Royal Davenport retired, also before 
Paulsen retired, I think. I think that was the sequence. 
Anyhow, it turned out that under Mr. Paulsen, Nace and I were the 
two assistant chiefs in charge of operations and budget 

Well, it had always been the idea that in splitting up the 
money that was available for the work of the Water Resources 
Division, the people that really controlled it were the chief of 
the Surface Water Branch, who at that time was Joseph Wells, Joe 
Wells, and the chief of the Groundwater Branch Nelson Sayre. 
They really, together with Paulsen- -the chiefs of the two big 
branches and the chief hydrologic engineer --they basically 
decided what they were going to do, and the matter of water 
quality and the other aspects of water simply were not given much 

I took a look at that, and I said, "All that's doing is 
perpetuating what we're doing." Everybody was so concerned with 
the cooperative program because half of the survey's money was 
coming from the states under the cooperative program. The states 
would say to the chief of the Surface Water Branch, "I want a 
gauging station at such-and-such a place, and we'll pay 50 
percent," and the Congress gives the USGS the money to pay the 
other 50 percent. 

Lage: So that determines the program. 


Leopold: That was running the whole survey, because a large part of the 
total money was coming in the form of the cooperative program. 
The cooperative program was just data collection. 

Lage: Did the cooperative program involve both the Surface Water Branch 
and the Groundwater Branch? 

Leopold: That's right, yes. 

Lage: Were both of those part of data collection? 

Leopold: Yes, because as I say, the regular cooperative program in the 

Groundwater Branch was to make a study of a certain county. But 
there wasn't any research in it; there was measuring wells to try 
to determine what was the nature of the aquifer and how much 
water was being pumped out. But there was not any research in 
it. And that was the problem, that there were many important 
scientific aspects of groundwater that weren't even being looked 

Lage: They were collecting data in case somebody wanted to look at it. 

Leopold: No, the state wanted it. They said, "All right, now, we're going 
to make a study of Contra Costa County." All right, the state 
puts up half of the money, and the survey's told to go out and 
measure the wells in Contra Costa County, and the survey comes up 
with a report called "The Groundwater Resources of Contra Costa 
County." But all of the county reports were pretty much the 
same. There basically was no research part of the organization. 

The other problem was that the groundwater people gave 
everybody the impression that they were the real scientists, 
because they were not ordinarily just making measurements of the 
rivers the way the Surface Water Branch was. They were the 
scientists, and they were the only scientists. They felt that 
they were the chief scientific branch. 

Well, that really wasn't quite true because there was a lot 
of good work going on in the other branches, but they were always 
sort of pushed aside and the groundwater people felt that they 
were the top dog. 

Lage: Were there other branches other than surface water and 

Leopold: Yes, well, there was water quality, but they were sort of the 



When the chiefs of the branches heard that I was going to 
decide where the money was going to go myself, instead of letting 
them decide, there was a great outcry. They were now essentially 
losing their ability to determine the direction of the survey. I 
said, "Now we're going to start doing this a little differently. 
We're going to decide. I'm going to decide.* So Nace and I then 
sort of decided what we were going to do. But at the same time, 
things were not going to change very fast because the people 
really in charge still were the branch chiefs, and they were not 
happy about the redistribution of money, but nevertheless, they 
were the ones running the program. 

When they got the money, they would decide what to do with it. 

Leopold: Yes, that's right. And it was, of course, more or less a 
continuation of what they were doing. 

Now, there are a lot of details about these matters that I 
don't remember very well, but that was the gist of it. This 
lasted for, 1 suppose about two years. Dr. Nolan knew that Carl 
Paulsen, the chief, would retire, so he was simply biding his 
time, 1 think, in order to make more drastic changes. But he was 
basically getting two people --Nace and myself --to be in a 
position to start making the changes that the director wanted. 

Accepting the Job of Chief Engineer and Director Nolan's Mandate 
for Change. 1957 

Leopold: Well, came the time that Mr. Paulsen retired. He was a grand 

guy. He was a very friendly man, very easygoing, not a terribly 
good speaker but he knew everybody by their first name and he had 
been in every office in the survey and he knew all the people in 
the field, and everybody loved him. But he was basically an 
administrator of the program the way it was. He was a very 
popular man. 

And then when it was announced that I was going to be 
appointed the chief, everybody could see that as something quite 
different. Because in the first place, I wasn't known; I didn't 
know these people. 

Lage: You hadn't been out visiting the field. 

Leopold: Hell, no, I didn't know anything about that. But I remember the 
day that the director asked me to be chief. I asked my friend 
Thomas Maddock who had been my mentor when 1-- 



Leopold: Partly through my Influence, Tom Haddock was hired by the Bureau 
of Reclamation, and of course he was a very experienced engineer 
and a very close friend of mine. 1 asked him to come see me, and 
he did. I remember when he walked in the front door of my house, 
he said, "Well, Luna, you're a big boy now. Yes, of course 
you're going to take this job." 

Lage: You had some doubts of your own? 

Leopold: Oh, yes, I didn't want to do it. In the first place, I didn't 

like the administrative work of being assistant chief. I really 
was more interested in my research. But it was immediately 
apparent that there were things that could be done. 

Now, what happened then- -I tell it this way but it may not 
be exactly true. When the director talked to me, he said, in 
effect, "I really don't know what needs to be done in the 
division, but the division has got to change." 

The Water Resources Division was not like the Geologic 
Division, where over many years they had the custom that if 
somebody was a branch chief, he was a branch chief only a certain 
time, and then he was allowed to go back to the field to do his 
geology. So there was continual rotation. But these people in 
the Water Resources Division had been the branch chiefs all their 
lives, or many, many years. There was no rotation at all. And 
therefore, you see, there was no way of the things getting 
changed. Nolan didn't say that exactly, but he implied- -and I 
had learned enough now about the divisions to see what was going 
on. The implication to me was clear: that the business of having 
no people moving around and no new ideas coming in over long 
periods of time was not working. 

Lage: Did he tell you in general way what he wanted to see? 

Leopold: No. 

Lage: He didn't say, "I want more research, more basic research"? 

Leopold: No, no. He said, "It's got to be improved, but I don't know 
exactly how to do it. You'll just have to figure it out." I 
said, "I'm going to have to have some money." He had gone to the 
Congress and put it in the budget, which I didn't know about. He 
said, "All right, I'll give you $2 million." That was a lot of 
money in those days. He had apparently rearranged the budget; as 
soon as he got to be director, he asked the Congress for more 


federal money to carry on the kinds of work that he had been 
doing in the Geologic Division, and he was going to divide it 
among the various divisions. There were three divisions, you 
see. There were actually four. There was the Topographic 
Division, which makes maps; the Geologic Division, which has 
always been known as a scientific organization; the Water 
Resources Division, which traditionally had been known as the 
people who measure water but which now was going into scientific 
research; and the so-called Conservation Division, which dealt 
with oil and gas matters. 

Allocating an Increased Budget: New Programs and Personnel 

Leopold: So all right, now 1 have some money, which 1 had never had 

available before. Federal money. It was not dependent upon the 

Lage : I see. So this made it very different. 

Leopold: Oh, it made a lot of difference. So I called Walter Langbein in. 
I had just moved into the chief's office. I said, "All right, 
how are we going to spend this money?" We started laying out 
pieces of paper, 1 can remember, on a long table. Walter said, 
"I would like to have a program in glaciology." I said, "Great. 
That's another aspect of the survey that we've never done 
anything about. Let's go into glaciology." 

I said, "I want some hydraulic work done on the kinds of 
streams that I've been working on in the West, which I would call 
the problem of the alluvial stream. We know quite a lot about 
the hydraulics of streams in the East, but there are a lot of 
hydraulic problems of a new sort in the Far West." 

We decided that we wanted a program of education. No 
schools were teaching hydrology. We wanted a program in 
groundwater mechanics, including what later turned out to be the 
great work of Herb Skibitzke, my friend, who really invented the 
whole business of modeling groundwater, first with electrical 
analogs and then later on computers. I wanted something on 
chemistry of water beyond what they were doing, and pollution. 
There was no program in pollution. So this was how it went. 

But anyhow, we divided up the money, and now we had to find 
people . 




This Is a major thing, deciding on these new programs. Did you 
get other input or spend a long time, or had you had this in 

No, Walter and I did it in a very short time. No, we knew about 
what we wanted. We wanted to spread the division out into a 
research program that involved many aspects of water that had 
never been touched. I said, for example, I wanted a hydraulic 
laboratory. Well, this didn't just occur overnight. The 
decision about what we were going to do with the money was done 
very quickly. Now we had to manage, you see. 

Hirine and Retraining Research Staff 

Lage: You had to have personnel. 

Leopold: Yes, now we had to get personnel. So the first thing I did was I 
said, "All right, I'm going to use some of this money to send 
people back to school." Well, this was a hell of a big change. 
So those people that appeared to have the qualifications, I said, 
"Okay, you're a GS-12," let's say. "You're on permanent duty. 
You're a civil service employee. I'm going to assign you to 
such-and-such a university and you're going to work there on a 
degree." The men were then transferred. The whole family was 
transferred to the place that the man was going to go to the 

Lage: Did people apply for this, or did you go to them and say, "This 

Leopold: No, I was picking them out. 

Lage: Were they receptive? 

Leopold: Oh, yes. 

Lage: This was not something you had to force on them. 

Leopold: No, but the thing is that there was nothing in the federal 
government that allows you to do this. I was doing it 
surreptitiously. Later on, after I had this whole program 
started, then they passed a law in Congress that allowed you to 
do this. But at that time there was ho law. This was simply my 
idea: "This is what we're going to do." 


Were most of these people engineers? 


Leopold: They were both engineers and geologists, and some chemists. How 
many people? I suppose at least a dozen, 1 guess. 

Then I started to pick up people that were already finishing 
their degree. For example, what were we going to do about 
glaciology? Well, through my contacts at Caltech where I had 
been a visiting professor before, I knew that there was a young 
man just graduating from a Ph.D. program in glaciology. His name 
was Mark Meier. I got in touch with Mark and 1 said, "You're 
just getting your degree. I wonder if you would want to come and 
be our glaciologist." He had many other opportunities, and 1 
said, "One thing that you can be assured of is that your first 
year, you're not going to be asked to do anything except finish 
what you're already doing. You have to finish up your thesis and 
get it ready for publication, so anyhow, you do exactly what you 
want. After that, then we'll talk about what kind of a program 
you want . " 

Well, that sold him. In other words, he didn't have to go 
to a university and start teaching. He could continue his work 
on the thesis. 

Lage: And design his own program. 

Leopold: Yes. I have foundand I think this is absolutely truewhen you 
hire a Ph.D., the first year of his life after he gets his Ph.D., 
he's going to continue to work on the subject of his Ph.D. This 
is absolutely universal. I know of practically no exceptions. 

Lage: To get it ready for publication? 

Leopold: And you know, to finish up, because you've been immersed in it, 
you see, under the university. Now, the first thing you want to 
do is get the thing tied up. Well, this made a lot of 
difference. But if you hadn't gone through that experience, you 
wouldn't know that this is the way people think. So I got a lot 
of people by saying, "In your first year, you Just work on what 
you want to on your thesis. On the subject of your thesis." In 
other words, extend it in some manner or another. That's what I 
did. My first couple of years in the survey I was working on an 
extension of what I'd done for my Ph.D. thesis. 

I don't know where I found all these guys, but most of them 
came out of the survey itself. 

Lage: Most of the ones that headed up the new programs? 


Leopold: Yes. And about a third of them, I imagine, were hired anew from 
the outside. For the people on the outside, I didn't have 
anybody unless they had a Ph.D. I was determined that the only 
way you were going to get into the scientific work was you were 
going to have to get people who had already done science, who had 
done research work. By sending our own people back to school to 
get Ph.D.'s, then I had the whole thing tied up with new Ph.D.'s 
and Ph.D.'s that we were actually giving people the opportunity 
to go back to school and earn. Some of the people were sent to 
school, got a Master's degree and then came back to the survey 
without getting a Ph.D., but most of them continued on until they 
got their Ph.D. 

The problem was in the field; with all this attention being 
paid to new people, sending people back to school and getting a 
research program started on a whole lot of things that no one had 
ever worked on before in the division, there was a lot of 

Lage : From the groundwater and surface water people? 

Leopold: From the Groundwater and Surface Water Branches because they felt 
that the basic data program that they had all done work on all 
their lives was not given very much attention. So what Ray Nace 
and I had to do was to try to explain to people that we were 
perfectly cognizant of the importance of the basic data program. 
What we were trying to do was expand our total work. We pointed 
out that no research people can do anything without the basic 
data. The basic data is just as important as the research, 
because most of the research depends upon the basic data itself 
anyhow . 

Reorganizing the Administrative Structure 

Lage: Did you reorganize the structure of the division? 

Leopold: Oh, yes. I immediately started the reorganization. 

Lage: How did that work? 

Leopold: Nobody liked that either. 

Lage: People don't like change. 

Leopold: No. 1 set up a new branch, which was called the General 

Hydrology Branch, where all of the research people were located 


They were not in the Surface Water Branch, and they were not in 
the Groundwater Branch or the quality branch, they were in the 
General Hydrology Branch. 

Lage : Did you institute the organization by state, having a state 

Leopold: That was the big change that was made, and that was the part that 
caused so much controversy. 

Each state had up to this time had three distinct offices, 
and they often weren't in the same building. There was the 
Surface Water Branch, and then someplace else there was the 
Groundwater Branch, someplace else there was the Quality Water 
Branch. Not all states had Quality Water Branch offices, but 
every state had a Groundwater Branch and a Surface Water Branch. 

It became clear to all of us that there was no single person 
you could talk to. You had to talk to three people to know what 
we were doing. And furthermore, that did not allow you, then, to 
cross these branch lines. So we changed the structure and set up 
an organization in which there was a water resources district 
engineer or district officer called a district hydrologist who 
was the officer for the whole state. 

This caused a lot of turmoil because now the people who had 
really pretty cushy jobs, I'll tell you--. When you got to be a 
district chief from the Surface Water Branch, you had a really 
good job. It was relatively easy. You just had to get along 
with cooperators, and it was a pushover. 

When you started to have a district chief that had to merge 
these people, then the job became much more difficult, because 
now you had a lot of personality problems that people didn't 
like, and the branch representatives felt that they were more 
submerged. And some of the people that I chose were good, and 
some of the people were not good. 

Lage: How did you choose them? From the ranks? 

Leopold: From the ranks, yes. 

Lage: Did you have a way of deciding who to choose, or evaluating? 

Leopold: Between Ray Nace and Director Nolan and the branch chiefs, Joe 
Wells and Nelson Sayre, the chief of the Groundwater Branch, we 
knew an awful lot of people. Then there was Albert Fiedler, a 
very competent groundwater engineer who we made an assistant 
chief. He was a tremendous help, because he was not only 







competent but very popular. So there was a lot of input from the 
senior officers and from the director himself. Some of the 
choices were good and some just didn't work out very well. But 
that's the way it went. 

Did it involve new offices also? 
together under this one chief? 


Moving the three branches 

This all took a lot of money too, I would think. 

Oh, yes. Now, to a great extent it was merging the offices, 
although it differed from one state to another. Usually there 
were several offices in each state anyhow. Let's take 
California, for example. The major district office in the 
California district is in Menlo Park. But then there's a sub- 
office in Sacramento, and there are sub -off ices in several other 
places. In a state of this kind there would be, I don't remember 
how many, but maybe five subdistrict offices. But the main thing 
had to be run by one person. He might be a groundwater man, he 
might be a surface water man, he might be a quality water man. 
But anyhow, it would be some one man now in charge of the whole 
organization in the state. 

Then the General Hydrology Branch, the new branch that I 
created, was basically overseeing the research people. 

Did they also report to the district? 
No. They reported to me. 

Continuing Research as Chief: A Random Walk with Walter Lanebein 

Leopold: Then in addition to that, 1 appointed Walter Langbein to be the 
chief scientist and gave him that title, chief scientist. 
Obviously, then, he didn't have to do any of the administrative 
work anymore , except anything that was important 1 would go in 
and talk to him, or Ray Nace and I would go talk to him and get 
his advice because he had been much longer in the survey than we 
and knew a lot of people. But he also was a very, very smart 
research man, and he knew problems in the water field. So he was 
tremendously important --the most important man in the survey. 

Lage: How old a man was he at this time? 


Leopold: Walter? 
Lage : Yes . 

Leopold: Walter--. I'm now seventy-five. Walter was about five years 
older than I, and he died at the age of about seventy- two, I 
think. He died about seven, eight years ago. 

Lage: So he was five years your senior. 

Leopold: Approximately, yes. But he and I were very close. We wrote many 
papers together. The way it worked is this: in practically all 
these things, including the research itself, the ideas were 
usually mine. As far as Walter and I, our cooperation, is 
concerned, he was often usually the one who could take an idea 
and do the mathematics, which was very important, and sort of add 
to it- -in other words, see new ways of doing it. I'll give you 
an example. 

We went down to La Jolla on a trip together to have a 
discussion about certain water problems with Roger Revelle, a 
famous scientist at La Jolla. Roger Revelle had called together 
a group of people, maybe ten people I suppose, among them one of 
my former professors from Harvard whose name is Harold Thomas, a 
professor of engineering. I had taken a course from Thomas when 
I was doing my Ph.D. there. 

At the end of the day we were sitting, I remember, in a 
patio of the hotel, and I fell in conversation with Harold 
Thomas, whom I hadn't seen for a good many years. I said, 
"Harold, what are you working on these days?" He said, "I'm 
working on the problem of the movement of water through a medium 
such as sand, and I'm looking at it in terms of a random walk." 
I said, "That's very interesting." 

About an hour later Walter and I were on the plane together, 
and I said, "Hey, I've got an idea. Random walks, I've never 
thought about it before, but that has got something to do with 
us." Now, I said, "First, random walk can be thought of as how a 
drainage basin develops by chance. Random walk can be used for 
the movement of stream channels. Random walk might be used in 
several kinds of groundvater problems. It could also be used in 
hydraulic problems." I said, "Now, we have to exploit this." 

Well, that's all you needed, one word, and all of a sudden 
Walter and I started to churn out ways in which random walks 
could be used. Now random walks are very, very common. 



It's a common concept? What exactly does random walk mean? 
it mean that things develop by chance? 




If you have two rills on a hill slope that happen to be starting 
down the hill slope by chance, and they're a certain distance 
apart, and you can ask yourself, "What is the chance of those two 
streams meeting and becoming one?" If you take each one and 
assign it a random chance of moving right or left and then you 
follow them down, each assigning by chance whether they turn 
right or left, how long will they go before they meet, or will 
they meet? 

When I posed that problem to Walter, he came back in a 
little while and he said, "That can be expressed by the 
statistical problem called the Gambler's Ruin. I said, "How's 
that?" "Well," he said, "the way it works is this." He said, 
"Your chances of winning at Reno depend on the relative capital 
that you have against the house. Since most gamblers can never 
have the capital that a big casino can have, they simply can't 
win in the long run. You can describe this by the chances of two 
things coming together, and depending upon, in this case of the 
Gambler's Ruin, the question of who has the capital behind him. 
And here is the equation that describes the gambling thing and 
also describes the question of how these things meet." It turns 
out that that was the equation that was needed. He supplied the 
equation, I supplied the idea. 

Did you apply it to the various problems you mentioned? 

Oh, yes. One of the lectures in the courses that I give in the 
summer is based on this. I got interested in the problem of the 
branching of streams, and we had published this paper on the 
random walk, and we showed for the first time that the joining of 
streams actually was a random problem, a completely random 
problem. I said, "Therefore, if you have streams that join in a 
random manner, how about the branching of trees?" 

You're changing now from a two-dimensional case to a three- 
dimensional case. We had hired on our staff on a temporary basis 
the great geophysicist, Adrian Scheidegger, a very famous guy who 
was so theoretical that nobody could understand him. 

How did you happen to hire him? 

He was at the University of Illinois, I think. He was so smart 
that Langbein and I decided that he was somebody we needed 
around. He wrote a book on theoretical geomorphology that nobody 
could read, it was so complicated. I can't read it. 


Lage: Did he write it as a result of his time with you, or was he 
already working in geomorphology? 

Leopold: I think he did it because he was associated with us, because we 
got him interested in it. 

I turned to Scheidegger and I said, "Adrian, Walter's worked 
out the mathematics of a two-dimensional form of river channels, 
but 1 want you to see whether you can derive a theoretical 
analysis of a three-dimensional thing like a tree." He worked on 
it for weeks, 1 guess, and said, "No, it's impossible. 1 just 
can't do it." And I considered him one of the great 
mathematicians of his day. 1 said, "Okay, if you don't do it, 
then I will." 

So my chief administrative officer came into the office one 
day, and he said, "Chief, do 1 understand that you asked me to 
order two boxes of Tinker Toys?" I said, "Yes." "What in the 
world do you want Tinker Toys for?" I said, "I'm going to build 
a three-dimensional tree." So I took the Tinker Toys (you 
remember what they are) and you'd toss a card, and the card would 
tell you, do you add a stick or a round wheel, how many do you 
add, and what length. So by tossing cards I built up this tree, 
a three-dimensional tree, out of Tinker Toys, but for each one, 
the decision to do something depended upon the toss of the card. 

Then when 1 analyzed the tree , it had the same 

characteristics as the rivers did. So 1 published this paper 

called "Rivers and Trees, the Efficiency of Branching Patterns." 
Then I showed the difference. 


Leopold: Then I went to real trees and showed that the analyses that you 
can make of river channels could also be applied to trees. You 
got the same result whether you were dealing with the random 
Tinker Toy tree or a real tree . 

Lage: So the pattern of the random Tinker Toy tree was the same as the 
pattern observed in real trees? 

Leopold: That's right. Yes. Now, I had no theory to--. I simply showed 
that this was true. 

Lage: You didn't have the mathematics. 

Leopold: There is no mathematics that was available to do it. I simply 
said, "This is the way it is." But then I said, "Well--." 
Remember, now, as chief I spent at least three months of the year 


on my own research. I simply let somebody else run the 
organization. So I said, "There must be, as in rivers, there 
must be some efficiency to be gained by this; the random pattern 
must develop into some kind of efficiency." 

In my back yard I was growing a sunflower plant about this 
high [1 meter]. The sunflower plant had rather large leaves, so 
I took this plant and I painted a big number on every leaf. Then 
I wanted to know what--. You remember how beautifully organized 
trees --if you took a mescal plant, how beautifully organized they 
are. So I said, "They must be arranged in such a way that they 
get their sunlight in some efficient manner." 

So 1 took a light camera and I put it in the end of a 
fishing pole , and over the sunflower plant I took photographs of 
different positions of the sun as if the sun were looking down at 
the plant. Then I took the photographs and with a planimeter 
measured the amount of surface of each leaf that would be seen by 
the sun and added them over the passage of the sun. This gave me 
the number of square inch-hours obtaining direct sunlight during 
a whole day. 

Then I said, "All right. Now I'll compare that with a 
theoretical plant which is shaped like a hemisphere having 
exactly the same total leaf area as the real plant. Now I'm 
going to do the same thing, and I'll pass with the same angles 
over this hemisphere and find out how many square -inch -hours of 
direct sunlight it got. And I showed that the actual plant 
having exactly the same area as this dome was more efficient by 
20 percent. 

So then I said one of the reasons that these random patterns 
develop is for efficiency. 

Lage : Why would you expect that the random development would be more 

Leopold: Because, two things. First, the utilization of energy in natural 
systems in practically all cases moves toward the most efficient 
use of that energy. This is described, at least to some extent, 
in the theory of entropy. 

But entropy also involves the question of randomness. For 
example, the one example that we used was: when you have your 
desk cluttered with material, it becomes random, and you don't 
have anything organized, because if you pick up a sheet of paper 
here, that may or may not be the one that you're looking for. 
But when you start organizing them in the form of files, you are 
decreasing the entropy by putting energy into it. But by 


organizing it into slots, you are decreasing the entropy, so that 
the more organized it is, the lower the entropy. The more 
disorganized it is, the higher the entropy. Therefore the 
efficiency of how your files are kept is proportional to the 
work, or energy, put into the system. That's really one of the 
aspects of entropy. 

So that efficiency and maximum probability go hand in hand. 
I was trying to show that the way in which natural systems are 
organized is partly random and partly for efficiency. This was 
just one example. 

Lage: I know this is off the subject, but it's fascinating. Do 
botanists look at it in the same way? Or did you talk to 
botanists about it? 

Leopold: My brother is a very well-known botanist. He's a professor of 
plant physiology. I sent it to him, and I said, "Have you ever 
thought of this?" He said, "No. It's an interesting idea, but 
no botanist has ever played with it before." 

I sent it to Ecology, and they turned it down. I sent it to 
another scientific journal and they turned it down. It sat in my 
file for several years. Finally a man came to see me. We were 
talking about this problem, and he said, "I know the editor of a 
journal called The Journal of Theoretical Biology. Why don't you 
send it there?" They were delighted; they published it. 
Theoretical biology. Well, anyhow, that's an example. 

Many of the things that I worked on- -and a lot of them were 
together with Walter Langbein--were both complicated and not very 
well received. 

Lage: By--? 

Leopold: By scientists in general. Like a lot of things that go on in 
science, things can be simply sitting on the shelf for years 
without anybody picking them up, especially if they're 
complicated. In other words, it's a lot easier to take some 
relatively simple picture. 

A lot of things we worked on, especially my work with Walter 
Langbein, have not really been followed up by people because they 
are complicated, they are different. And all this was going on 
when I was chief, you see. In other words, I always had 
something on my desk that I was working on in my own research. 

One of the things that I did, for example, was to say to my 
senior officers in the Washington office, "I want each of you to 


take at least a month, preferably two months in a year and go 
away. Any time that you want to, walk out of the office and go 
someplace and do something else. I don't care what you do. Go 
to the district office and help them with administration, or 
collect data, or go out and measure streams, or measure wells, 1 
don't care. But get out of the office and go get some new 
ideas . " 

No one in the whole organization did that except I . 1 would 
simply walk out in the summer and say, "Okay, you guys run it; 
I'm going out to do my own .work." 

Lage : Why did they not get out? It seems like you would pick the kind 
of people -- 

Leopold: Because most of the people who had gotten up in higher grades had 
not followed research for a long time and they had lost touch. 

Lage: They almost didn't know how to do it? 

Leopold: They didn't know how, and they were afraid to go back to data 
collection. They were either too old to get help measuring 
streams, or--. There are a lot of reasons why they didn't. But 
the point being that the difference was that the organization was 
being run by somebody who was on the research team himself, and 
that made a lot of difference. And when I left, you see, the 
whole thing fell apart because they didn't put back in that job 
people that were actually research people themselves. 

So this was simply a hiatus in the history of the 
organization, and it's pretty much gone back to where it was 
before, except that now research is spread widely through the 
organization. But the top people are not research people. 

Lage: But the research program, it seems, is still ongoing. 

Leopold: The programs kept going. But the idea of somebody himself doing 
research at the top level has simply not been duplicated. 

Independence for Researchers 

Lage: Earlier you were talking about hiring the young scientists and 
letting them finish their Ph.D. work, and then you said, "After 
that, we'll talk about your program." After that, how did you 
work with them on what they would research? 


Leopold: All right. I would call a man in to talk to me, and I'd say, 
"What I expect of you is this--" and you can imagine how much 
this has changed. I said, "1 want once a year a one -page 
statement to tell me what you are doing and what you intend to 
do. That's all I'm asking." That was it. 

Lage: What if you didn't like their one-page statement? What if they 
weren't significant problems or didn't fit the goals of the 

Leopold: Then there are lots of ways to urge and encourage and that sort 
of thing, but I did not tell people what to do. 

Lage: You didn't tell them what to research? 

Leopold: No. I said, "You know the field better than I. You pick out 
what you think are important problems, and you do it your own 
way." And then further, I said to them, "I'm going to give each 
of you--" this is the research people-- "I'm going to give each 
of you an amount of money equal to your salary to do with 
whatever you like. You can have a secretary, or you can go to 
the field, you can spend it for travel, you can spend it on your 
office, you can spend it any way you want to. Beyond that, you 
then have to compete with everybody else. If you want a big 
laboratory, then you have to wait. We'll program that." 

For example, some people said, "I need a chemical 
laboratory." "Fine," I said. "Okay. Your turn will come up 
such-and-such a year. You will have to wait, but the time will 
come up, then we'll built this whole damn laboratory from scratch 
and set it up the way you want it." So that everybody had enough 
money to do something. 

Lage: Did this system work, do you feel? 

Leopold: Oh, it worked extremely well. Oh, yes, you bet. Oh, everybody 
loved it. Because in the first place, they were doing what they 
wanted to do. Within about six years after I was chief, the 
papers that were coming out by the Geological Survey were the 
most famous papers ever written in the field of water, on every 
kind of subject. No question about it; this was the place to 
look for the current thinking. And of course, that's all gone to 
hell too. 


Raisinz Expectations in Publications and Hirinz 

Lage: You did something with publications, too. 

Leopold: Oh, yes, you bet. Firstand this was not entirely my idea, but 
I was the one that was pushing it- -we had always worried about 
the fact that it took such a long time for the surface water 
records to be published, because they were published in the Water 
Supply Papers by river basins. Most of us felt that one office 
was slow, one office was fast, and you had to wait four or five 
years before you could get hold of the data. So we decided we 
were going to split it up by states. So the district chief of 
that state would get out his report as soon as he could. 

Well, this has been tremendously successful. And then, of 
course, everybody was competing with the other guy to see who'd 
get it out first. So instead of waiting five to six years on the 
average, they were getting their reports out in about six months. 

Lage: What happened when the river basin cut across several states? 

Leopold: No. The state still took all the stations that it was 
responsible for. 

Lage : You have a book there . 

Leopold: Yes, here's one. [gets book] Now, here, the new ones have 

quality water, sediment, and surface water, whereas the older 
ones, you see, had nothing but surface water. So that the 
gradual change that was made by the integration of the offices 
allowed us to publish on a rather quick basis all the aspects of 
water that were being studied. So that was a big improvement. 

Another thing that came up through the branches as a result 
of encouragement of research was this. Under the leadership of 
Joe Wells when he was the chief of the Surface Water Branch, we 
wanted to develop a method by which you could somehow scan the 
ink trace that we'd get from the water surface chart and turn it 
into numbers. So they were looking at essentially a scanner 
which nowadays would be relatively easy to do. 

But at that time, they spent a lot of money on it and it 
wasn't working out terribly well, and one of their chief 
scientists in the Surface Water Branch, whose name was Rolland 
Carter, he said, "Let's try it a different way. Let's see 
whether we can put it punched on a tape." Well, now, this is the 
way it's done. He worked with one of the manufacturing companies 
to replace the inkline with a punch, basically like the computers 


now. Now what they can do is take the punched tape and read it 
like you read the yes and no answers on an examination. You can 
read the tape and turn that into a computer. And now 
everything's done by computer. So anyhow, a lot of things were 
going on. 

Lage: A first step towards automation. 

Leopold: Automating the whole system. That came out of the encouragement 
of the research activities in the branches. It was Carter's 

Lage: Was Carter a research person then? Not a surface water person. 

Leopold: He was both. I don't know exactly how he was described, but I 
would call him one of their chief researchers. At least I 
thought that he was a chief researcher. And I think he was paid 
as a researcher. 

Lage: Were these kinds of changes accepted well, or was there 

Leopold: Yes. It took the district quite a long while to get used to 
putting the data out by states, but as soon as they saw the 
possibilities, then they became very enthusiastic about it. 

And then there was another very important thing that we did, 
We found, you see, that we didn't have the right kind of people 
coming to work for us. Now, this took two forms. 

In the first place, in addition to the district hydrologist 
who was in charge of a state, we divided the whole country into 
regions. One of our regions was in St. Louis, and it was run by 
the young surface water man whose name was Wilson. We'd had a 
long discussion about how to get good people to come to work for 
us, and I said to Harry Wilson, "What we ought to do," I said, 
"is to not hire anybody but Ph.D.'s." 

He went through the ceiling: "That's impossible. For 
goodness sakes, right now we can't even get the lowest engineer. 
The poorest grades, they won't come to work for us." I said, 
"The problem is that you're not setting your standards high 
enough. I'm convinced that if you said, 'We won't take anything 
but the very best,' that you will improve the position of 
hiring." "No," he said, "it absolutely won't work. My God, we 
can't even get the lowest one on the totem pole." 

I was passing through St. Louis, and I had a conversation 
with Wilson, and I said, "Have you thought about my plan?" He 




said, "Well, I'll tell you. Why don't we do this? I'll agree to 
use your plan for six months, and if it works, we'll do it. But 
if it doesn't work, I want to prove to you that it simply won't 
go." I said, "All right, Harry, you do it. I'll give you six 
months. You follow completely my plan." 

So they went to the schools in that state or in the states 
around, and they were interviewing people and said, "We're not 
even interested unless you're in the top 10 percent of the 
class." All of a sudden, by God, we started to have people that 
were applying all over the place. Nothing but the best. I said, 
"Okay, you see?" So now the thing changed entirely. After that, 
the survey wouldn't even talk to college students unless you were 
in the very top of a class, whether you would be a chemist or an 
engineer or a geologist. Well, it changed everything. 

So you had a convert, I would guess, after that six months. 

Oh, yes. He said, "I wouldn't have believed it. It really 
worked." So anyhow, then the whole business of hiring changed. 

Were this hiring for the research program or for data collection? 

For both. Usually--. Well, you see, we needed engineers to run 
the district programs too. And we needed geologists to run the 
district programs. So we wanted people that were the best people 
that were being trained. 

Promoting Education in Hydrology in the Universities 

Leopold: In addition to that, Langbein and I decided we had to start a 
school. We weren't getting the people that we wanted because 
either they were engineers or they were chemists or they were 
geologists, but nobody was across the field where you were a 

One of our people that we admired a lot was John Harshbarger 
who was a geologist in Tucson. He was interested in the kinds of 
things that we were doing, so Walter and I talked to John and 
said, "How about starting a school for hydrologists under you?" 
I said, "We will furnish the teachers, and you make arrangements 
with the university." John had very close relationships with the 

Lage: Was John with the survey? 


Leopold: Yes. He was a groundvater man with us, and he was the kind of 

man who was very, very good at dealing with people and persuading 
them and that sort of thing. So it was decided that we would set 
up a school for hydrologists in the University of Arizona at 
Tucson. John would be a teacher, and we sent three other people 
to be teachers. 

Herb Skibitzke, my friend with whom I flew all the time, 
lived in Phoenix. Herb used to take off from Phoenix in his 
airplane and write his lecture notes on the airplane while it 
took three-quarters of an hour to fly to Tucson. He'd leave his 
airplane, go to school, teach, fly back to Phoenix. 

Lage: He'd be flying himself as a pilot and writing his lecture notes? 
[ laughs ] 

Leopold: Yes. He was a marvelous guy. Veil, it was very successful. 
Lage: What level of training was this? 

Leopold: In the graduate school. I think that the credits were applicable 
in the graduate school, but I suspect that some of the students 
that came to take those courses were also undergraduate. But 
they could get graduate credit if they wanted to. 

Lage: So they got this kind of synthetic approach. 

Leopold: Yes. But you see, we were teaching groundwater, surface water, 
and water quality altogether. Herb Skibitzke was teaching 
groundwater theory. Harshbarger was teaching about groundwater 
practice in the field. One of the men was teaching the 
mathematics of what they called systems analysis. The 
mathematics of systems analysis applied to water resources work. 
We had one man who was a groundwater theoretician. I don't 
remember who was teaching the surface water part. 

But once we started to turn out people now who were trained 
across the board in hydrology, then everybody could see that this 
was going to be very successful and other schools started to do 
the same thing. So within two or three years there were 
hydrology courses being taught practically everywhere. Everybody 
just jumped on the bandwagon. Other schools could see that this 
was a field where there was opportunity to be hired, it was a 
broad scientific field of inquiry, and so now we have hydrology 
being taught in at least dozens of universities throughout the 
country. That was the first time that hydrology was taught as a 


Redrawing Civil Service Requirements for Hvdrologists 

Leopold: At this time, we weren't satisfied with the kinds of people we 
were getting, and the civil service began to realize that they 
were too narrow. So the civil service called me in and said, "We 
would like to have a new program of a civil servant called 
hydro legist." I said, "Fine. I'll write it for you." 

So I personally wrote the civil service requirements for 
hydrology patterned on my own experience at Wisconsin, where I 
was in the engineering school, but I took plant physiology, 
geology, botany, ecology, taxonomy. Then various levels of 
geology, including paleontology. So in my own experience I could 
see how this could be done. To be a hydrologist, the civil 
service requirements that I wrote included a certain amount of 
work at the college level in chemistry, physics, mathematics, 
biology, geology. That was basically it. 

Lage : Did you write those before you got these schools stimulated? 

Leopold: It must have been about the same time. That's what we were 
teaching in the university. So we were teaching people who 
fitted into the field of hydrology. 

Now, to show you how different this is and how it's been 
degraded: in connection with this big law case that I've been 
involved in for the Forest Service, it became quite clear that 
the Forest Service was very short of hydrologists that knew the 
field. Although they have a big research organization, the 
research organization is so disparate from the operational part 
of the Forest Service that the Forest Service operations had no 
hydrologic help. 

It was decided by one of the assistant chiefs of the Forest 
Service that they were going to finance some work by one of my 
students. When I heard about this, I went to the Forest Service 
and said, "That's not the way to spend your money. You can put a 
lot of money into one person, but that's not what you need to do. 
What we need to do is to train people already in your 
organization on a much wider basis." I said, "Use the same 
amount of money, and you hire me and my friend Dave Rosgen," who 
used to be in the Forest Service- -he is a very competent 
hydrologist-- "and we will teach your people." 


So last summer Rosgen and I gave two courses, thirty 
students each. Each course lasted a week. We took them to 
Pagosa Springs, Colorado. They were all Forest Service 

Lage : With different backgrounds? 

Leopold: Yes, various backgrounds. Most of them had some possible 

smattering of hydrologic background, but usually not. Quite a 
few of them were called hydrologists. 

At the end of one of the two courses, I was talking to a 
young person who was the hydrologist for one of the forests in 
Alaska. She had been quite quiet during the course. The course 
was over and they were all about ready to leave, and 1 happened 
to fall in conversation with her. I said, "Tell me, how did you 
get to be a hydrologist in the United States Forest Service?" 
She said, "1 have a degree in environmental science." A 
bachelor's degree. 1 said, "That's interesting. How much 
hydrology did you have?" She said, "I didn't even have a course 
in hydrology." I said, "You're called a hydrologist and you've 
never had a course in hydrology?" "No," she said, "everything 
you talked about was brand new to me . " 

Lage: And yet civil service hired her as a hydrologist. 

Leopold: But what I'm saying is, you see the difference. In other words, 
we were saying, "We know what a hydrologist has to know." You 
can't teach him everything, but he's got to have a background 
that involves a whole lot of things, including hydrology. 

Lage: And these requirements weren't just used to be hired by your 
organization, but by other- - 

Leopold: No, it's for the whole government. All of the government 

agencies. But over the years the requirements I wrote have been 
changed and diluted. 

Revising Publications Policies: The Pink Terror Memos 

Leopold: So anyhow, you can see that a lot of things were going on at that 
time. Training, the expansion of the field of inquiry in the 
whole field of water, writing, and publication. The survey has 
always been very proud of its publication program, and indeed the 
publications have always been extremely good and very carefully 


Leopold: But publication has also been very slow. 

Leopold: Both. Yes. Mostly the research publications. 

Two interesting aspects of this. One of the young people 
that I hired was writing a report on a certain geomorphic problem 
in California. He was one of the people we sent to school. He 
had taken his degree at Harvard but was relatively new both in 
the survey and the research team. He wrote me a long letter in 
which he complained that the more senior people in the 
organization were basically directing his research. They didn't 
like his ideas, and he felt that he was being prevented from 
being innovative and fresh. 

So I wrote a letter to him, without his name on it. Such 
policy memoranda came to be known as the "Pink Terrors." 

Lage: The Pink Terror memo? 

Leopold: Yes. They were published on pink paper. This one said-- 

Lage: Oh, there was more than one? 

Leopold: Oh, yes, there were quite a few. This one said, "It has long 
been supposed in the Geological Survey that what the survey 
agrees to publish is true." I said, "In science, that cannot be 
guaranteed. My policy in this division is as follows: I will 
guarantee you that I will publish anything you write, no matter 
how different than the usual thinking, provided that you have a 
copy read by somebody in or out of the survey who will give you 
comments." This was a kind of peer review, but I think I asked 
for two people to read it. I said, "All I want you to do is to 
write a memorandum which tells me what were their criticisms and 
what you did about it, but you do not have to follow their 
advice. You merely have to pay attention. With that 
understanding, we will publish whatever you write." 

Well, this made a lot of difference. Because now people 
were feeling they could write what they wanted to, what they 
believed to be true. But I said, "We cannot guarantee the truth 
of what you say. We'll only guarantee your right to say it." 

Lage: Previous to that, the publications of the survey-- 









It was always supposed, you see, that unless something could be 
tacked down to be absolutely right, it wasn't going to be 
published by the survey. 

It couldn't be very theoretical. 

It prevented people from expanding into new ideas. So I sent a 
copy of this to the chief geologist- -the division chief 
comparable to my own position. I said, "Here's my policy. I 
wonder if you will publish the same thing, or something like it." 
He turned me down. We were the only ones who said, "We want any 
ideas that you've got, providing it's well thought out, carefully 
presented. " 

Did you run into any trouble with that? 
unfortunate research? 

No, no, no, everybody loved it. 

Did you get any 

But did you get any unfortunate papers as a result? 

Yes. I remember one guy we sent to school. He had really gotten 
right up to the end of the Ph.D. program. At that time, I was 
reading, myself, every single paper that anybody prepared for 
publication. In other words, when they came through for our 
permission, I read it. ! read it. Now it's not done that way at 
all, anymore. I saw this manuscript, and I called this guy in, 
and I said, "In the mapping of this geology, you said that this 
particular feature was a kame terrace." 

Now, a kame terrace, if you possibly remember, is the 
collection of material on a hill slope up against a glacier. 
When the glacier melts, the terrace is simply a little sort of a 
hanging deposit on the side of the hill. I said to the young 
man, "How did you know this was a kame terrace?" He said, "I 
don't remember." I said, "Why don't you get your notes out?" It 
turns out he didn't have any notes. I said, "I won't publish 
this. That's not the kind of science that we do." There's an 
example . 

So you had a way of checking on quality. 

The thing is, in this particular case not only was he supposed to 
have somebody else read it, but I picked up this thing and I 
said, "I want to know how you did this," because it was in a 
situation where I didn't think that this could be seen, and I 
wanted to know how the heck he'd made this statement. This is 
what peer review is supposed to pick up. So yes, we had some 


cases where people were turned down because they didn't prove to 
their compatriots that this was a well-reasoned argument. 

Encouraging the Flow of Ideas 

Leopold: Then there was another aspect of it. One of them was that I 
wanted somebody on our staff at all times, some person from a 
foreign country. So I set out to bring people over to work for 
us for a year and let them do whatever they want. So that 
somebody from another country got acquainted with what we did, 
and our people got to know how other people thought. 

Well, that was very successful in certain cases and less 
successful in others, depending upon the type of person that I 
actually chose. 

Lage: Would you have some way of introducing them? Did they give 

Leopold: Usually they picked a problem where they wanted to go to various 
parts of the country. So they got to know people in various 
parts of the country. 

Then I was very concerned about presentation. In the 
Washington office, whenever somebody arrived in town that I 
thought had interesting things to say, I could immediately pick 
up the telephone and within a half an hour have a dozen research 
people in the Washington office get to my office and hear this 
guy give a seminar. So I was very concerned about the constant 
flow of ideas, particularly when somebody came through town that 
we didn't know. 

But then I was also concerned about how people learned to 
speak. I'm still laughing about this one. The Surface Water 
Branch was holding a big seminar, people from all over the United 
States. Many of these seminars or discussions that the branches 
had, I would go and listen to myself. Well, I went to listen to 
this one. A man got up and started to talk, and he started to 
show some slides. They were so bad that in the first place, 
nobody could read them, and nobody could understand what he was 

Right in the middle of this crowd of a hundred people or so, 
I stood up and said, "Stop." I said, "I won't stand for it. I'm 
paying you people, and by George, if you're going to come here 
and take up the time of a hundred people, you're going to be 




better prepared and you're going to speak clearly, and you're 
going to have slides that we can read. Would you please take a 
piece of chalk in your hand and go to that blackboard, and you 
tell us in words that we can understand what you have to say." 
I'll tell you, it had never happened before. But God, you could 
hear a pin drop. 

Did that kind of thing have repercussions? I think that would 
make them just shudder, the thought of your walking into one of 
these seminars. 

Leopold: But everybody started to pay attention. But boy, that had a hell 
of an impact. It had never been done before. 

What were some of the other Pink Terror memos? 

Leopold: I don't remember, but somebody told me a week ago, somebody told 
me that one of the Pink Terrors had been reproduced and was now 
passing through the survey offices here in the western United 
States last week. He said, "The same thing. Just what you 
wrote. It's so applicable to what's going on." 

Lage: [laughs] Fascinating. 

Leopold: I don't remember what they were about. 

Retrospective Views on Leopold's Changes in PrPgfflP 

Leopold: The thing that people talk about now in the division is how they 
disliked and distrusted what we were doing. Looking back at it, 
they said it's the best damn thing that ever happened to us. 
They realize now that we were on the right track, but they didn't 
like it at the time. That was really the key to what was going 

Lage: So you've had that kind of feedback since you left? 

Leopold: Oh, yes. And they're still talking about it. Those were the 
days when things were really going on. And to everybody's 
advantage. The thing that is amazing is why this kind of 
management did not persist. What we did structurally, the 
importance of the research program, that has expanded greatly, 
but the management view has not persisted. 


I'll give you one example of this. I hired one biologist- - 
we'd never had a biologist before- -to start a program of biology 
and water. There are now forty research people in the field of 
biology, in the division. You can see what happened. Once you 
got it started, then all of a sudden they see, "Gee, biology is 
very important in the field of water." It's involved in water 
quality, involved in the flora and fauna of streams, in 
hydraulics --the effect on roughness --and particularly in 
chemistry. Anyhow, these things are ongoing, but, as I say, the 
management style has not persisted. 

Lage: But when you say management style, I think of sort of the 
technique of management. 

Leopold: No, that's not what I mean. The only thing you can say about 

technique is this. Differing from anything that went on before, 
when I went to the field office, I never talked money. The 
district chiefs used to get so angry at me because I'd say hello 
to them, then I'd walk down the hall with all these people, you 
see, in a big room doing something. I would sit down with 
somebody I'd never met before and I'd say, "Hi, I'm Luna Leopold. 
What do you do?" "I do this." "Tell me about your work." 
Instead of talking about budget, my idea was I wanted to know 
what the people do, what they think about, what's important to 
them. Those were things that I think were- -that's what I call 

Lage: So you worked with rank and file too. 
Leopold: I tried desperately to do so. 
Lage: Did you keep in touch? 

Leopold: I had 360 offices, and I visited a large number. Certainly not 
all, but I visited offices overseas as well as in most states. 

Lage: If you didn't like what this rank-and-f ile person told you, was 
there -- 

Leopold: Then I never criticized him. I would say, "Here's a suggestion. 
You might consider this." And then I'd talk to the boss, you 
see. But it never was critical. Rather, the thing is that I had 
a lot of ideas about how things might be done. They usually felt 
that they got kind of a lift. They said, "Gee, here's somebody 


thinking about my problem and giving me suggestions of how I 
could do this better." 

Lage: It makes his work seem significant also. 
Leopold: Yes. 


[Interview 5: February 6, 1991 ]#// 

Changes in Data Collection: Network Design. Benchmark Gauging 
Stations, the Vizil Network 

Lage: Today is February 6, 1991, and this is the fifth interview with 

Luna Leopold. We're in the midst of talking about the Geological 
Survey and your experiences in managing the Water Resources 
Division. I had a few questions about the data collection 
program. You have mentioned that you made an attempt to expand 
data collection, but I think the implication was it wasn't as 
successful as you had hoped. Were you trying to get new kinds of 

Leopold: Yes. Let me explain a couple of things about that. I forgot 

exactly how many gauging stations we were running at that time. 
It was about 11,000, I believe. It was quite clear that the 
original idea that had been long held by engineers in the Water 
Resources Division, with regard to the longevity of the gauging 
station, was not going to work, in that you could not afford to 
keep all gauging stations going indefinitely. The question came 
up, what are we going to do about this? You can't, in other 
words, have gauging stations running forever and still increasing 
the number without limit. 

About the middle 1950s, Walter Langbein published a paper 
anonymously in which he said, "How long should we run a gauging 
station?" Well, this caused quite a stir. In the first place, 
nobody was supposed to know who it was. Later on it became clear 
who wrote it, but he was saying, in effect, "We're going to have 
some sort of a scheme to determine how long a gauging station 
should be run. " 


Remember, now, that there are two kinds of gauging stations. 
A small number were financed completely out of federal funds. 
Most of them were financed cooperatively by having the state pay 
50 percent. In the latter type of gauge, the location was 
usually chosen by the state. In other words, the state needed it 
for water management purposes or for the distribution of water or 
for measurement, and they simply put up half the money, and the 
Geological Survey ran the station for them. 

What Langbein had suggested was that we basically should 
have two types of stations. One would be called a water 
management station and the other would be basically a base 
station, if you like. The base stations were to be chosen to be 
representative of various parts of the country, and they were to 
be run more or less indefinitely. The water management stations 
were to run for a short period of time and then be discontinued. 
But before they were discontinued, the idea was that their 
records would be compared with one of the base stations until a 
correlation could be developed so that you could make an estimate 
on the basis of correlation. If the base station had a certain 
discharge in a particular year, by correlation you could estimate 
what the coordinate or the simultaneous discharge was at the 
discontinued station. This actually did become the procedure 
that we adopted. 

Lage : Did this mean disruption in people's jobs? 

Leopold: No, no, it was simply that it was so different than what 

everybody had assumed, that the longer the record, the better the 
record was going to be. 

Now, what we finally decided on was that there were to be 
stations that were to be run indefinitely, but all these 
stations, of course, were subject to not only the changes of 
climate but also to the changes caused by man. Therefore I 
devised a scheme that we have another set of stations which I 
would call the benchmark gauging stations. I started out with a 
small number; I think there were about ten about that time. We 
asked the district offices to find places where there would be a 
stream that for one reason or another would be indefinitely 
protected against man's incursions, such as in a national park, 
in a national monument, in certain kinds of other protected 

We would install a gauging station at these selected points, 
and they were to be really the long-term stations that represent 
the natural condition unchanged by anthropogenic effects. We 
visualized that the first type of measurement which was to be 
made would be ordinarily the same kind of measurement of water 


discharge that would be made at an ordinary gauging station, but 
the idea would be that these stations would later on have 
chemical, biologic, and other water quality parameters in 
addition to the flow rate. 

Lage: That was something- - 

Leopold: That was brand new. I called those the benchmark gauging 

Well, this has been now, let's see, it's been forty- odd 
years since the first benchmark gauging station was run. They've 
turned out to be so successful that the Water Resources Division 
has gradually expanded this program, and now we have, I 
understand, something in the order of forty of these. They are 
considered to be one of the best things that the division's ever 

Lage: So that's something that continued after you left. 

Leopold: Yes. That's one of the things that did continue. As a matter of 
fact, it expanded. 

The other thing that I started was another system of data 
collection which I ended up calling the Vigil Network. Have I 
spoken about that? 

Lage: No, not at all. 

Leopold: It started this way. When I was in New Mexico in the 1930s, we 
were trying to determine the rate at which the great trenches or 
gullies were enlarging through time, which started with the 
climatic change in the last century. We knew that Professor Kirk 
Bryan from Harvard had surveyed several cross -sections on the Rio 
Pureco, one of the great gullies of the world. We wanted to re 
run those surveys that he made in order to find out what had 
happened since his survey was made in the 1920s. 

Well, there were no notes and nobody could find the cross- 
sections. So 1 said, "Since we can't find them, let us start 
over again, and we will put in some cross -sect ions that would be 
well monumented and would be carefully recorded so that twenty 
years from that time we could re-run our own cross-sections." 

I came back after the war and found that when I tried to 
send somebody out to locate these stations, the notes had been 
lost. Then I wanted to look back at the measurements that I had 
made on the Navajo reservation in 1933, where I had been employed 
by the Soil Erosion Service to actually map the vegetation on 


certain fenced plots. Those were supposed to be long-term 
measurements of what would happen if you didn't graze in that 
kind of an area. 

I went to the Department of Agriculture and said, "I'd like 
to see the maps that I made in 1933 on the experiment station," 
and all the maps were lost. So here are two times in my life the 
things that I knew were very important had actually been lost. I 
said, "Let's then start something brand new. Let's have a 
procedure by which the original notes from surveys of this kind 
will be stored in two places forever: the Library of the United 
States Geological Survey in Washington, and the Laboratory of 
Geomorphology in Uppsala, Sweden. Duplicate copies therefore 
will be available, so that a hundred years from now somebody 
could go back and redo what we had done many years before." I 
presented this at an international conference in Italy, and the 
Italian words that I used to describe the system created the 
acronym "vigil," which means "watching." 

Well, now this has become extremely important. I think 
there's something like two hundred-odd such surveys now in the 
Vigil Network file. Just this year, in 1990, two of my friends 
in the Geological Survey in Denver are now trying to advertise, 
if you like, to get more people to contribute to it. So there is 
a paper now in press which is calling attention to people 
throughout the world that there is something that is vitally 
needed for science, and if they will make the survey according to 
the descriptions that we have written and published, they would 
be on file forever in two places. 

Lage: So there's a description of how the data should be collected and 
what kind of data. 

Leopold: Yes. It's very simple. Very simple. In other words, this is 
not something very fancy. The point is, if you put two iron 
stakes in the ground and survey between them so that you get the 
cross -section of the channel, if you didn't do anything else, 
that would be useful. You'd come back and say, "How much has the 
channel changed over a period of time?" It has nothing to do 
with why the channel changed; it simply said what did happen. 

So that although Ray Nace and I were criticized for paying 
too little attention to the data collection program, at least in 
the eyes of many of the older people in the survey, indeed, we 
had gone much farther than they had done and tried to expand the 
theory or the policy of how gauging stations should be done. 
This was one of the great contributions that Walter Langbein made 
where he mathematically attempted to determine how long stations 


should be run under certain circumstances, 
design In those days. 

It was called network 






Yes, because If it was a question of correlation, you see. But 
his mathematics had to do with what is the most efficient 
combination between length and dispersal of the station 
locations. In connection with the change in the method of 
publication of the water surface records, that became an 
important matter. 

And also, another thing that had not been done before: I 
felt that sooner or later we were going to have to get into the 
biological aspects of water. So I hired a small number, I think 
one or two, limnologists. 


Limnologists, people who are interested in the biologic aspects, 
the creatures and the plants that grow in the streams. 

This has been so successful that now the biologic part of 
the Water Resources Division is probably the largest part of this 
whole research effort. They have something like forty scientists 
working on nothing but stream biology. By stream biology I mean 
also the chemistry, and part of their job is to deal with the 
most complicated and esoteric aspects of water chemistry. 

Is this because of the interest in water pollution, water 

Yes, not only pollution but the whole question of all the aspects 
of water quality, which include the use of water for human 
consumption as well as heavy metals, poisonous substances, and 
especially petroleum products that get into water, such as 
phenols and things like that. 

So during that period of time between 1956 and 1966, there 
were important changes in the data collection program. So that 
the people in the field may not have seen the extent to which we 
were actually expanding and making more useful the data 
collection program. But because it was different than what they 
were used to, it came in for considerable criticism. 


Backyard Research: Strawberry Creek. Hawaiian Dew 

Lage: The program of backyard research, what was that? 

Leopold: That was another aspect of something I invented. Backyard 
research is well exemplified by my and my students' work on 
Strawberry Creek [on the UC Berkeley campus] . It is my opinion 
that a lot of very useful scientific work can be done with 
practically no money and using very simple procedures if people 
take the trouble to decide what should be measured. So when 1 
came to this university, I installed a staff gauge out here 
behind Haviland Hall. When it rained, I went out there, put a 
rain gauge out on the lawn, and I sat there and watched the water 
rise on my little gauge. The gauge was nothing but a meter 
stick, you see, stuck in the ground. So that by measuring the 
depth of water every two minutes and the measurement of the 
rainfall every five minutes, then I could put them together and 
figure out what was the effect of man's use in Strawberry Creek. 
How would it compare with a similar watershed that was not 

That went on from 1972 until 1990. This year I have in 
press right now, in a scientific publication published in 
Germany, the report of my ten years of work on Strawberry Creek 
and the other creeks around here. I call this backyard research 
because it costs nothing. You can get a rain gauge for two 
dollars. You can make a staff gauge, and many of my students 
did, out of a stick. You simply put it in the ground. And you 
use your wristwatch. So it takes nothing except time and 
thought. I said that this kind of research could be very useful, 
and I tried to encourage people in the survey to do this kind of 

Lage: People who were out in the field? 

Leopold: People could do it at home or do it out in the field- -observe 

something. I said, really, you can do this in your backyard, and 
it was called backyard research. 

Lage: How did you communicate these ideas to people? Were they 

Leopold: No, these were memoranda. Furthermore, then 1 could give 

examples of what 1 was doing. For example, 1 lived in Hawaii for 
five years. Every morning at breakfast time I went out and 
measured my rain gauge and read the temperature and the wind 
anemometer, but in addition, I made an estimate of how much dew 
there was on my feet. So I had five years of record, every day, 


of how much dew collected on my lawn, that was very qualitative. 
So when I got to Washington after five years in Hawaii, I wrote a 
paper about this which I called "Dew as a Source of Plant 
Moisture." It turned out that this was the first paper of 
something that later on grabbed the interest of scientists 
throughout the world, and all of a sudden the thing expanded and 
lots of people were working on dew. 

When my paper was done, 1 went to Walter Langbein and asked 
him to read it. He really berated me and said, "You did it Just 
by looking at your shoes? You should have had more quantitative 
measurement." I said, "Walter, that's what 1 did. This is my 
backyard research." 

Lage: But the ideas were there. 

Leopold: The idea, and the point is that when 1 made a statistical 

analysis of my results, they were qualitative. I could turn 
those estimates into numbers that came out to be very good. 

Lage: How did you measure it by your shoes? How wet they got? 

Leopold: I said light, medium, heavy, or none. But then when 1 had enough 
data, then I could go back to other kinds of records, you see. 
For example, we found that in many kinds of plants like a 
pineapple plant, the leaves are shaped such that when dewfall 
forms on the leaf, the dew slides down the leaf right to the root 
and becomes extremely important in providing moisture to the 
roots. Well, this is true of all desert plants. This was the 
first paper, to my knowledge, that brought out the fact that in 
the desert, dew is very important, and here's an idea of how 
often dew occurs and how much water was involved. So that's an 
example of what I mean by backyard research. 

Lage : And how did it work out in the survey? Did people take this up? 
Leopold: A few. 

Attempt to Stimulate Publication of Hydrology Series 

Leopold: Well, then I had another idea that didn't pan out as well as I 

thought. We now had, after five to ten years of research, we now 
had people that were probably the most expert people in the world 
on glaciers, on water quality, on groundwater, on water levels, 
on discharge. I thought, why don't we write a series of books to 
fill a whole shelf of the library, in which there would be a book 


on each one of these subjects on which we have now become really 
expert? The problem of climate and its effect on water supply; 
glaciers; river channels; geomorphology in general; on and on and 
on. 1 said, now, if this is really going to be successful, this 
series of books should not be published by the government. 

So I went to a close friend of mine, a very important 
publisher by the name of William H. Freeman, who was the 
president of V. H. Freeman Company and who had a great interest 
in geology and was very helpful to the geological profession. 1 
laid that idea out for him, and he said, "That's fine. I'll 
publish the series of books." So then I divided the subjects up 
among the people in the survey, mostly the research people. 1 
said, "1 would like to have you agree to write a book on the 
subject which is your specialty." I think there were about ten 
of them. 1 was in the middle, at that time, of writing my book 
on geomorphology, so that was sort of a prototype of what we were 
trying to do. 

Well, then 1 took the idea up with the director, and the 
director said, "That's such a good idea, 1 want us to do it." I 
said to the director, "That's not going to work. If it's a 
government publication, this will not get the kind of publicity 
we're talking about when we're trying to advertise the Geological 
Survey. Government publications in general do not receive the 
kind of publicity and the kind of distribution that a private 
firm can give it." 1 said, "Bill Freeman has agreed to publish 
this." "No," he said, "the idea is too good. We'll do it." 

Lage: This is Director Nolan? 

Leopold: No, no, this was after Nolan left. Nolan would never have done 
that. Nolan would have said, "Sure, go ahead." No, this was 
right after Bill Pecora became the director. 

Well, of course the thing fell apart immediately because no 
one was interested in doing this. They could write a water 
supply paper or a professional paper any time they wanted to, but 
the idea of writing a book was something that had never been done 
before. I was the first one in the Geological Survey who ever 
published a book while I was in the survey. 

But anyhow, the idea fell apart. Now, after twenty- five 
years , one of the books that was proposed at that time is now in 
print, or it's coming out. Dr. William Bull of the University of 
Arizona, who was on our staff at that time, is now publishing a 
book that was started with that idea. He was asked to write a 
book on climatic geomorphology, and 1 understand that his book is 


now done and is in press at the present time. So there were lots 
of ideas that were being kicked around, some of which worked and 
some of which didn't. 

Maintaining Staff Productivity and Initiative 

Leopold: The thing that is important about all of this is that somebody 
who runs an organization of this kind, in my view, will be most 
successful if he comes at it from a scientific point of view 
where he's trying to not just sort of flow with the wind but have 
an independent course: "This is what we're going to do and we're 
going to stick to this because this is our job." In my view, 
there's been a tendency for the organization to be essentially 
directed by the budget, and I think that's too bad. 

Now, for example, one of the great troubles that we had, 
that I think I mentioned before, was that as the staff gets 
older, they become less productive. I had started the practice 
that people were going to be moved, they were going to be 
transferred. Maybe not transferred physically, but at least 
changed into a new position, and that each year there should be a 
certain number of younger people hired. Well, until quite 
recently that was stopped, so the research staff got older and 
older. No one was moved, no one had their job changed, so you 
could imagine that the whole research productivity went down the 
tubes because there weren't enough people with new ideas that 
were coming up with, "Let's do things in a different manner." I 
think that's been one of the great changes that--. Let's say 
that they lost the initiative, they lost the momentum that we had 
at that time. 

Lage : The period when you came was a period of great change and 
excitement, I can see that. 

Leopold: Yes, because we made it so, you see. 
Lage: Yes. New ideas, new people. 
Leopold: That's right. And new people. 

Lage: And how you get that institutionalized and continue the 
excitement is a challenge. 

Leopold: Then it deteriorates. At least that's been the experience. 


The Tree Ring Laboratory: Documenting Climatic Change 

Lage: There are a few other programs we haven't talked about that I'm 
hoping you might have something to say about. You mentioned the 
tree ring lab, the ocean programs, the hydraulics lab, but we 
haven't talked about what they were, and what happened to them. 

Leopold: Something that we had in mind then, something that's been of 
interest to me for all of my life, is the matter of climatic 
change, because my concentration on the processes and physical 
characteristics of river channels and their changes, their 
changes through time, these changes primarily occur as a result 
of climatic change. Therefore, the whole matter of measuring 
climatic parameters is important to ge onto rpho logy, not merely to 
weather bureau people, not merely to meteorology. And of course, 
at that time this was just before carbon 14 was invented by Dr. 
Willard LIbby. The best procedures available for making 
estimates of climate of the past were tree rings. 

There's a distant cousin of mine by marriage, by the name of 
Dr. Deric O'Brien, who was an expert archaeologist before the 
Second World War, worked for a long time in New Mexico and 
Arizona. He was a Rhodes scholar, took his Ph.D. at Oxford. He 
came back from the war and went to work basically as a 
geographer, if you like, an analytical geographer for the CIA. 
He was concerned with such things as trying to explain to Army 
people and to CIA people what were the indigenous characteristics 
of people who lived in some foreign country. 

He was moved from Africa to Virginia. I hadn't seen him for 
many years. I met him and I asked about his work, and he told me 
about it. I said, "That really is not as interesting as some of 
the work you used to do before the war. Why don't you join the 
Geological Survey as a social scientist, and we'll go back to the 
work that you did many years ago on tree rings, and I'll build 
you a tree ring laboratory?" Well, he took it up. 

This is an interesting story. Deric O'Brien was the son of 
a woman who was a very strong-minded gal. When he was a young 
boy, they lived at Mesa Verde, and his stepfather was the 
director of Mesa Verde National Park. That's where Deric got his 
first training in archaeology, because he was in on all of the 
excavation that was going on at that time. So at the age of ten 
he wrote two books , and they were damn good books . They were not 


just children's books; they were very interesting, but they were 
written by a very young person. 


Leopold: One was called Deric in Mesa Verde, and the other was called 
Deric with the Indians. Years later, for what reason I don't 
know, he was always embarrassed any time anything was brought up 
about the books that he had written when he was a young child. 
Clearly his mother was very influential in getting those books 
written. Although she didn't write them, she was very 
influential. But looking back at it, I have the feeling that 
Deric was always so, let's say cowed, by his mother, that he 
never was able to stand up on his two feet and fight for himself. 
That's my opinion. 

Anyhow, I said, "You design a tree ring laboratory of the 
most advanced sort," and indeed he did. He went all over the 
United States getting ideas from people who ran tree ring work, 
particularly the University of Arizona, which is very famous for 
it. We set up in Washington a tree ring laboratory in which 
there were microscopes that were set up so that you could look at 
the tree rings under a microscope and images were thrown up onto 
a very large screen. You could make accurate measurements, and 
it was the most advanced in the world. 

What Deric and 1 decided to do was to go to a place in 
southwestern Colorado and get a series of cores from primarily 
spruce trees in the climatic region where they're most sensitive 
to the amount of rainfall. The idea was that we would take the 
tree ring width for the years of record for which we actually had 
current records and concurrent crop records from nearby farms. 
We were going to correlate the width of the tree ring with how 
many tons of beans or corn or crops that were grown in the nearby 
area. Then we could go back to tree rings before the present 
records were available and say, "What could the people have been 
growing in tons per year per acre, under the conditions of the 
climate which were indicated by the tree ring?" 

So anyhow, the tree rings were collected. They were 
analyzed in the laboratory, and the manuscript was nearly done. 
We had at that time also a bunch of high- class mathematicians who 
were very statistically oriented. Apparently this manuscript, 
unbeknownst to me, was turned over to the statisticians, and they 
said, "You ought to make statistical analyses of these data to 
make sure that they are not random." So there developed a kind 
of a controversy about whether this work should be published as 
it was or whether there ought to be additional work done, 


particularly in statistics, which is not my field and certainly 
not Deric's field. 

And then furthermore, it was so successful that there were 
two other botanists on our staff who now wanted to work on the 
tree ring problems in the eastern United States, and therefore 
there began to be a competition for the time available of the 
technician who was actually doing the detailed work in the 

One day Deric O'Brien walked into my office and he said, "I 
want to resign from the tree ring laboratory." I said, "What the 
hell are you talking about?" He said, "There's such a 
competition, people are imposing on the laboratory and they're 
pushing me around. I'm tired of it." I said, "Now, that's a 
bunch of nonsense. The laboratory was made for you. I'm going 
to kick the guys out." "No," he said, "I'm through. I'm tired 
of fighting it." I said, "Why the hell didn't you come and talk 
to me about it a year ago?" "I didn't want to bother you." I 
said, "Now, look. It's not that serious. I will tell these 
people that they have low priority, and until you finish the work 
that you're doing, the laboratory's not available to them." 
"No," he said, "I'm tired of it." 

Veil, Deric died about two years ago. I saw him a couple of 
years before he died, in England, and I said, "Deric, let me 
finish the manuscript." This manuscript had been held for 
twenty-five years. I said, "I will pull it out. I will put your 
name on it, but let me finish it." "No. I will do it," he said. 
And twenty-five years, and then he died. So anyhow, it was very 
disappointing. I think that the laboratory has been completely 
dismantled. Terribly disappointing. 

Lage: Was it going to be used for other research as well? 

Leopold: It could be used for lots of things, but the thing is that the 

main purpose for which it was made was dealing with southwestern 
problems, where tree rings are so critical. But they became 
overshadowed. An indicator of this is that the work that the 
other people were doing on eastern problems never received any 
recognition because they were working on problems that were not 
very important. So basically, the tree ring laboratory got 
wasted on problems that were unimportant. 


The Hvdraulic Laboratories 

Leopold: Now, with regard to the hydraulic lab--. When Walter and I 

divided up the money for research programs, I said, "One of the 
things that 1 want to do is to have a hydraulic laboratory in 
which there would be experiments to determine the roughness- -we 
call it the roughness --in alluvial channels." Now, the roughness 
in alluvial channels is not determined by the size of the rock 
but really by the dunes and other bars and things that form in a 
channel that's made up of fine-grained material --sand, for 
example . 

So two of our men- -I think one of them was with the survey 
at the time, the other I employed anew. I assigned them to Fort 
Collins, Colorado, where there already was a modest hydraulics 
laboratory. I said, "You build a flume and work on this 
problem," which they did. They were very successful and got 
international recognition for what they'd done. That has had its 
difficulties too, because these same people later resigned from 
the Geological Survey and set themselves up as engineering 
consultants and became very well known, but in many cases their 
engineering was problematic. Anyhow, we're not going to go into 

But anyhow, the hydraulics laboratory set up at Fort Collins 
was quite successful, but it also had some areas that were less 
than successful. Personality problems, among other things. In 
addition to that, 1 decided that 1 wanted a hydraulics laboratory 
for my own work, so I finally made an arrangement with the 
University of Maryland to go to the basement of one of their 
buildings and build a flume, which I did. It was a very high- 
class structure. The flume was about three feet wide and about 
sixty feet long, and it had everything that was needed for good 
flume work. I had paid to have Brigadier Bagnold come from 
England to work with us, we devised an experiment, which was a 
very successful experiment indeed. 

I mentioned that I have tried to have one foreign scientist 
on our staff at all times. Ralph A. Bagnold was a very famous 
scientist and a very famous officer in the British Army, a 
brigadier. The brother of Enid Bagnold, the famous playwright. 
A very distinguished family. 

Lage: What was his field? 

Leopold: Rivers and sediment transport, but he'd made his reputation in 

desert studies. This is a long, long story. Last week I went to 
England for the specific purpose of participating in the memorial 





service held at Trafalgar Square in the great cathedral at St. 
Martin's in the Field, and 1 spoke at this memorial service for 
my friend Brigadier Bagnold. I just returned a couple of days 
ago. That was another one of the great successes we had. We had 
this great scientist on our staff. I brought him over 'half a 
dozen times, at least. 

And you worked out of the hydraulic laboratory? 

Mostly, we started out by working together in the hydraulics 
laboratory that I had built for my work. Then we collaborated on 
many other projects, including the big project in Wyoming at East 
Fork River. 1 set up this very fancy bedload trap, which we ran 
for the period from 1973 to 1980. Bagnold was very important in 
both helping with the design and also with the analysis of the 

Did the hydraulic lab set up an artificial river? 
work? You mentioned the flume . 

How did it 

Yes, it's really an artificial river, if you like. But one of 
the big problems in hydraulics has always been that the 
difference between a river and an artificial river in the 
laboratory is obvious in certain respects and very subtle in 
other respects. One of the difficulties was that it was not well 
known at that time what you could and could not do with the 
artificial river water flowing down a channel if you made it in 
the laboratory. 

Is that why you moved to this outdoor- -the East Fork river- - 
Oh, no. They were two different problems. 

Well, then we had only run this laboratory for about a year 
and a half, I guess, and the University of Maryland for some 
reason or another said they didn't want us there anymore. So 
here was this tremendous piece of equipment that had to be moved. 
So I really had to work hard to try to find some other place in 
Washington. My administrative assistant finally found me a place 
in the so-called old gun factory in Washington where they used to 
make cannons. They had this very, very large, extremely old 
building that looked like a deserted warehouse. Indeed, though, 
it had an overhead crane that hadn't been used for anything for a 
long, long time, and it was an absolutely splendid place. The 
overhead crane was very helpful , and it was large and had a high 
ceiling. Bill Emmett and I designed and really built by 
ourselves a very much better laboratory than we ever had at the 
University of Maryland. 




So I took one of the young scientists that I had hired, and 
Bagnold and I devised a scheme of what he was to work on in this 
new laboratory. That was a very successful part. Then when--. 
Everything was going splendidly. Ue had not only the big flume 
there, but there vas enough space to make a whole area that could 
be sprinkled. I wanted to build essentially a homemade watershed 
so we could have artificial rainfall falling in this large area 
and collecting it down the mountain. Just as we were getting 
started on that, Lady Bird Johnson started her famous "We will 
beautify the countryside." Because of something Lady Bird 
Johnson said to somebody, they were going to improve this very 
old building, so they told us to get out. 

What a shame. 

So having built this marvelous laboratory, it had to be moved to 
another place, and by the time it was moved, everything had gone 
to hell and it never was used again. 

Oh, that's too bad. Lady Bird probably never really knew. 

No, she had no idea. As a matter of fact, nothing ever happened, 
of course. She didn't beautify it all, and it was actually 
silly. That's the kind of thing that happens. 

The Ocean and Glacial Programs 

Lage: How about the ocean program? 

Leopold: That's another whole story. There was a gentleman hired by the 
Geological Survey in the Geologic Division to really put us in 
the ocean business, because after all, geomorphology of the ocean 
floor is a very important matter, and oceans are terribly 
important in hydrology. The one thing that he did during the 
short time that he worked for the Geologic Division was he said, 
"There's now just been freed a great oceanographic location at 
Tiburon in San Francisco Bay. It's free. Take it. You can have 
it from the Navy." The director said, "No." Because here, in 
Tiburon, now it's an environmental station, as you know, but at 
that time it had everything; it had ships, and it had docks, and 
it had buildings. It was just too big a bite for the director to 

There was another aspect of this. I said, "Let's not put 
all our eggs in that one basket. Let's have a joint program with 
the Woods Hole oceanographic experiment station." So we sent 





several people up to Woods Hole to work there under the 
jurisdiction of one of the famous oceanographers of the day, 
whose name is Dr. Emory. So we associated ourselves with one of 
the best people in the world. That was moderately successful, 
but compared with what Woods Hole has done before and since, it 
really was a very small part, so our incursion into the 
oceanographic thing was too small and too narrow in scope, too 
narrow in scientific view. 

For example, right after that it was discovered by Alan Cox 
at Stanford, and some associates, the whole business about the 
Central Atlantic Ridge which at that time had Just recently been 
mapped, the whole question about sea floor spreading, the change 
in magnetism of the areas parallel to the central mountain range 
under the Atlantic. We missed out on that. In other words, had 
we had a larger scope, we might have been in on that, but we 

You'd need more staff, more money? 

Is that the idea? Or more 

All those things, I think, yes. It's not always money. It's 
really a combination of the way people think and their energy and 
that sort of thing. So again, here was an incursion into a new 
field, but some of it was extremely successful and some of it was 
less than successful. 

Did the survey stay with the oceanography program? 

No. In other words, their collaboration with Woods Hole ended 
shortly, I think, after I no longer was chief. It was dropped 

What happened with the glacial program? 

The glacial program always remained small but very successful. 
Dr. Mark Meier, whom I hired to run that, turned out to make a 
big reputation in glaciology. He had only one important 
assistant, Dr. Post, and I don't know whether they had any 
technicians or not, but the two of them really did it, and they 
were very successful at what they did, but it always remained 
small. I had always hoped that that program could be expanded, 
but you can't do everything. After I left, the organization 
didn't choose to try to expand Meier's program. 


Influence of Western Irricators on the Research Program 

Lage: You had mentioned, I think, in the video that one of your 

attempts was to broaden the scope of the research program beyond 
the interests of western irrigators. I can see that all these 
programs did that. What did you mean by the interests of western 
irrigators? Did they exert influence on the survey program 

Leopold: I see what you mean. A large proportion of the gauging stations 
were run by the Geological Survey when I came in. They were in 
the first place in the Vest, and mostly for purposes of 
irrigation. Not entirely, but there was quite a concentration of 
gauging stations in the western United States. Without question, 
the work on the quality of water was really directed entirely 
toward irrigation matters because they were interested, 
basically, in the salts dissolved in water which affect 
irrigation. In other words, how much calcium carbonate, how much 
iron and silica and the other things. That's why there was never 
any consideration of all the other kinds of pollutants, such as 
heavy metals themselves, things like arsenic, like boron, like 
fluorine . 

And then the whole business of the biological aspect of 
water pollution. That was not part of the water quality program, 
so you might say the water quality measurements were indeed 
directed entirely at the kinds of things that irrigators want to 
know. But with this expansion of water use everywhere and the 
pollution problems recurring throughout the United States, I 
said, "For goodness sakes, let's go beyond that and start 
biological studies and studies of the trace elements and the 
other things that are likely to affect water quality." 

Lage: Did the irrigators represent an interest group? 

Leopold: They represented the people who were putting up the money. 

Lage: Through the states? 

Leopold: Yes. It was done through the cooperative program. 

Lage: So they may have had the influence on the states as to what the 
state requested? 

Leopold: Yes, indeed. Oh, yes. Look at California. I mean, look this 
week and see what's happening. This morning's paper said that 
the state is going to pay people two and a half times their 
normal income for each acre to take it out of cultivation in 



order to save water. Irrigated agriculture is a dominating 
political force in many of the western states. A dominating 
force . 

So as you can see, the problem was to expand the view of 
what hydrology was supposed to do. In that we were really quite 
successful, and less successful in some other aspects. We 
certainly did expand into a lot of things that the Geological 
Survey didn't do before. Many of these things are being carried 
on in ways that we couldn't have foreseen. As I said with regard 
to the biology program, there are something like forty biologists 
now overseeing the water quality program. 

Good things were going on also with regard to 

instrumentation. I told you that under the influence of Rolland 
Carter and Joe Wells, who was the branch chief of the Surface 
Water Branch, we got into new kinds of instruments for recording, 
so a lot of progress was being made on that. Now, with the 
influence of computers and radio, it's again changing in a very 
progressive way. 

Any other programs that we should talk about, or specifics of 
research and data collection? 

Leopold: I'll have to think about that. [tape interruption] 

Cooperation with the Geologic and Topographic Divisions 

Leopold: One of the things that had been true of the survey in general is 
that the Geologic Division not only had a different subject 
matter, but a different way of handling their personnel, as I've 
told you before. The man might be assigned from geologic work in 
the field to two or three years being an administrator, and then 
was put back into the scientific work. That was entirely 
different than what was done in the Water Resources Division. 

In many respects, I tried to emulate that in our procedure. 
But because I'm a geologist as well as a hydrologist, I have a 
lot more appreciation for what the Geologic Division is trying to 
do, so there was a much larger amount of interest and cooperation 
between our divisions when I became chief than had been the case 
in the past. The oceanographic program was an example of that. 
And then I was also trying to move our division much closer to 
the Topographic Division, which made maps. 


One of the things that interested me was the fact that as 
geomorphologists, we're very much interested in how the river is 
designated on a topographic map, and the blue lines on a 
topographic map representing rivers had no real scientific basis. 
So I went to the chief topographer and said, "I wonder if we 
could collaborate on the idea that we might try to work out a 
scheme which would tell you under what circumstances you put a 
blue line down and some circumstances when you don't, because the 
blue line ends at some place that's really quite arbitrary." 

"Yes," he said, "that would be a very good idea, but you 
have to keep in mind now that the people who put the blue lines 
on the map, they're GS-2s, and they have no technical training 
whatsoever, and therefore, really, the blue line on the map is 
simply an artistic--." 

Lage: That's not very encouraging. 

Leopold: I said, "That I would like to change. Let us try to devise a 
scheme." My scheme was basically this: "I'll try to design a 
scheme so that the blue line ends at the place where the water is 
in the stream a certain number of days each year. So it's a very 
specific, a statistical measure of how often the stream is dry." 
Well, we did. Walter Langbein and I came up with a tentative 
plan of how this could be done from our statistical 
relationships. None of them suited the Topographic Division at 
all. It was all too complicated because the people that did the 
actual drawing of the blue line were simply such low- level people 
that they had a very hard time following detailed instructions. 

Lage : Did you have enough data? 

Leopold: We were trying to explore it. In other words, yes, we could have 
done it, all right, but the question was, in what form do you 
give this to the topographer who's going to draw the blue line? 
And that's where we never had a chance to develop it to such 
detail that it became a practical matter. It was completely 
turned down because it was just too complicated in their view. 

Lage: So we can't count on the blue lines when we're looking for water 
on our hikes. 


How about the Division of Conservation? 

Was there any overlap 

No, the Division of Conservation was something we were always 
very chary about because they did not do any scientific work at 


all. The word "conservation" should not have been used at all. 
They were the people that took in the money in gas royalties for 
the federal government. That's all they did. In relatively 
recent years that has been taken out of the Geological Survey and 
put under the Interior Department itself because it was not the 
kind of work that the Geological Survey should be doing. 

Lage: Did the budget of your division grow in relation to the other 

divisions during your years? Was there a concerted effort made 
to increase the size of the Water Resources Division? 

Leopold: I simply don't remember, with regard to that particular 

comparison. We did very well because our cooperative program 
kept growing, and there was never any question about the Congress 
being willing to give money to match state money. We never had 
any trouble with that. The matter of federal funds, I am told 
just in the last year that the level of federal funds for our 
research effort is exactly the way it was when I first put it in 
the budget. It hasn't changed at all. 

Lage: It has not changed in all these years? 

Leopold: No. I may be not entirely correct on that. That's my 

recollection of what I was told within the last year. Somebody 
said to me, "Do you know that the amount of money that we use for 
federal research is the same as the amount of money you put in?" 
and I said, "No, I did not." 

Relations with Congress: The Senate Select Committee on Water 


Yes. In many respects, yes. Generally, our director, Director 
Nolan, was so good at dealing with that kind of matter that 
although we accompanied him to the hill, usually we did not 
actually speak to the congressional committees ourselves. In 
some cases we did, but it was not a very important part of our 

On the other hand, when Senator [Robert S.] Kerr started to 
hold hearings of what they ended up by calling a Senate Select 
Committee on Water, then I got busy immediately. I was asked to 
testify before the Kerr people on the Hill. I said to the staff, 
"All right, now, we're going to have to do this. I'd like to 


develop very simple statements of water facts so that Congress 
can really understand every bit of it." We got a lot of people 
to work on it in a very short time and came up with a series of 
slides called the Senate Select Committee slides that were used 
over and over again, and tried to explain to people the water 
facts about the United States. It was very successfully done. 
[Water Facts and Problems," U.S. Senate Select Committee on 
Water Resources, 1959.] 

But then when the Kerr Committee, after we'd made our 
testimony, then they went on to do a lot of things that were 
perhaps less than useful, and ended up by setting up this 
business of grants for water resources research which were to be 
administered not by the Geological Survey but by the Interior 
Department. They set up a special organization in the Interior 
Department to give this grant money away. 

Lage: To give it to universities? 

Leopold: Yes. Well, every state was to have, at the agricultural 

university, a program comparable to the agricultural experiment 
station, and that was to be called the Water Resources Center. 
The Water Resources Center in California now is at UC Riverside. 

Lage: And the survey wasn't tied into it in any way to coordinate- - 

Leopold: No, unfortunately they were not. Now they are, because now it 
has been taken out of the Interior Department specifically and 
given to the survey, and now the survey has to have an 
organization to give the money away to the water resources 
centers . Some of the centers did very good work and some of the 
centers were less successful. Organizations that had strong 
interest and scientific work in water such as the University of 
California, were very successful, and they set up good schemes 
for determining what research they were going to finance. 

Unfortunately, in my opinion- -and a lot of people will 
disagree with this- -a large amount of money was set aside and 
still is set aside to work strictly on desalinization. I would 
consider desalinization one of the small problems. There are not 
very many places in the United States where desalinization plants 
are terribly important. Santa Barbara is apparently coming up 
with plans to have such a plant. There are at least one or two 
in Texas. How this program has contributed to the desalinization 
that goes on the Middle East, for example, in the desert 
countries, I simply don't know. But I felt that that was not a 
high-priority matter for our water resources research. 


Lage: Do you know what the impetus was for that Senate Select Committee 
on Water Resources? 

Leopold: Yes. Senator Kerr wanted to set up something in Oklahoma that 
would bring a lot of money into Oklahoma, which he did. He set 
up a very large research facility in Ada, Oklahoma, which is now 
run by the EPA. At that time it was being run by the Public 
Health Service, as I recall. But he was a very powerful man in 
the Senate, and was responsible basically for the great dredging 
program of the Missouri River, one of the great boondoggles of 
all time, it seems to me. There was a time, 1 know, when the 
barges of the Corps of Engineers, going up and down the river for 
the river dredging, constituted practically all the commerce 
there was in the river, and the big dredging program was supposed 
to increase the boat commerce in the system. 

Lage: Did that happen within your program at all, where Congress would 
look at your budget closely to see how they could benefit their 
states? Did they try to get your labs put in certain districts, 
for instance? 

Leopold: No, our operation was just too small to monkey with, really. 

Lage: They were going for the Bureau of Reclamation, the Corps of 

Leopold: They were going for something much bigger. 

Lage: So you didn't have this kind of oversight of your budget in great 
detail from Congress? 

Leopold: Congress has become more and more directive, writing into law 
that this agency will do that, or the National Academy of 
Sciences will do such and such. It's much more directive than it 
used to be. 

Lage: When you talk about the program being driven by the budget now, 
what do you mean by that? 

Leopold: Remember, now, I'm far enough away from it that what I say is my 
opinion, but it may not really be the truth and the whole truth. 
The tendency is presently, in my opinion, to see how the wind is 
blowing and put in the budget things that they think Congress 
might want, whether you want it or not. There's this very large 
program developing, a lot of money behind it, to put in the 
gauging station water measurement program a large number of 
parameters, and they're all to be put on computer. It's a very 
large expansion in the nature of what is to be measured in the 
gauging station network. I'm simply far enough away from it that 


I don't know, but It just seems to me that that is a proposal 
that was made not because it's scientifically needed but because 
that's what they think the Congress wants. 

Lage: So they don't think in terms of what the science requires. 
Leopold: That's my opinion. 

Lage: Did you ever have to do what 1 hear the Forest Service does --a 
lot of building local support for projects in order to get 
congressional support? Was there that much politics involved in 
your division? 

Leopold: The main thing was to find out what the states really wanted. I 
set up an advisory committee consisting of a large number of 
people from various states that met in our office in Washington 
to discuss our program with us and see what they thought we 
should be doing, to make sure we were not simply getting too 
provincial as far as what we thought the states needed. That was 
again discontinued after 1 left. But this was not a matter of 
coercion, this was a matter of asking them to advise us. Some 
advisory committees, you see, are useful and some are not. 

Lage: Was that one useful? 

Leopold: It was useful in a certain way, that the states that were putting 
up money at least felt that we were trying to be responsive to 
what they considered to be their needs. So that yes, I think it 
was modestly useful, yes. I think, however, the director's 
advisory committee that met in the director's office once a year 
to advise the director, I thought that was a waste of time. 

Lage: What groups were they from? 

Leopold: These were prominent people in science and academia, and 
consulting people. A small group. 

Lage: And then would they meet with all the division heads? 

Leopold: Yes. Then the division heads told them what they'd do and that 
sort of thing. 

Lage: You didn't get any valuable input there? 

Leopold: I never felt that we did. Every year I made a big presentation 
to the committee as to what we were trying to do, and I never 
felt that they told me anything that I wanted to know. 


Interazencv Conflicts over Water Quality 


Leopold: Oh, brother. 

Lage: That sounds like a big topic. 

Leopold: Yes, that's a big topic. The conflict was, is, and continues to 
be in the matter of water quality. In those days, the Public 
Health Service was manned by a group of people that were bound 
and determined that they were going to take all the water 
pollution problems under their own wing. The question is, what 
do you need to measure? Clearly, we were the ones that measured 
the water, and they felt that they were the ones to measure the 
quality of the water. But somehow or other, to separate the 
quality of the water from the water itself seemed rather 

So there was continual pressure at the interagency 
committees and that sort of thing. Really fights, if you like. 
Disagreements among these agencies as to who should do what. 
That's where Senator Kerr came in. A lot of these people were 
very political, and they had very close contacts with people on 
the Hill, and we did not. One thing Director Nolan was insistent 
upon, and that is that we had no contact with the Congress at 
all. Now, good, bad, or indifferent, that was his policy. 

There were times when I went to him and said, "Look, we're 
losing out. Why don't we invite Congressman So-and-so to come 
and talk to us, and let us show him in our laboratories what we 
do and why it's important?" "No," he said, "I don't want it done 
that way. I'm going to make the presentation to Congress, and 
they're going to do what they're going to do, but I'm not going 
to appear to cater to Congress . " 

Well, these other agencies did not feel that way. They 
went, and they had these congressmen all lined up. The Public 
Health Service had Senator Kerr, one of the most important people 
in this area. Therefore, they got a lot of money. They got 
facilities, they got buildings, they got a lot of things that we 
didn't get. 


Then when the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] was 
formed, many of these people who were antagonists of ourselves 
vent over to the EPA. 

Lage: From Public Health? 

Leopold: Yes. And people that I know tell ne that EPA would like very 

much to take over the Water Resources Division of the Geological 
Survey. Whether that's true or not, I don't know, but there's 
that fear. It simply is a continuation of this long fight about 
what are the important parts of the water field? 

I'll give you an example. I got in great trouble with the 
White House because I was the chairman of a committee, an 
interagency committee dealing with certain aspects of water. 

Lage: This is water quality again? 

Leopold: A lot of things about water. Water quality would be involved. 
We were trying to advise the president's office with regard to 
certain aspects of what we thought the policy of the government 
ought to be with regard to certain aspects of water. I've 
forgotten what these aspects were. 

In one of these meetings, I said to the representatives from 
the commerce department, the Army, the Public Health Service, 
Agriculture, the other representatives, "There often is a 
difference between how we, as scientists and as professionals in 
the water field, think things ought to be done, and how our 
departments or our organizations think. What I think we ought to 
do is to advise the White House of the difference between what we 
think and what our ostensible departments are saying, because in 
many cases the departments are thinking politically and not 
scientifically." That was the gist of it. Everybody said, "Yes, 
that's absolutely right. Let us try to write into this report 
those things that we ourselves conclude from our own professional 
experience are the right things to say." 

The Public Health Service man said, "I have no intention of 
doing that. I will give you the line that is dictated by my 
director, and I will not give you anything else." I said, "Look, 
that undercuts the whole thing. That's not what we're being 
asked for. They know what the line is that the bureaus want. 
They want a scientific opinion." He said, "I won't do it any 
other way. " 

Lage: These were scientists from the agencies? 

Leopold: They were professionals. They weren't necessarily scientists, 
but they were the professionals, the top professionals. 


So I vent to the scientific advisor to the president, Jerome 
Weisner, there in the executive building. I said, "Dr. Weisner, 
I am going to have to resign from this committee. The. committee 
refuses to do what I think you are telling us to do, and that is 
to write a report which represents our best idea, because you 
don't have to be told what the departments want." Veil, he was 
very angry. 

Lage: Angry with you? 

Leopold: Yes. 

Lage: What was his reasoning? 

Leopold: I don't know. I never found out. 

And then there was another place 1 got in trouble right at 
the same time. The politicians decided that they were going to 
try to tell the country of Pakistan what they ought to do about 
the groundwater problem. They asked me to be on this committee 
to go to Pakistan, and I said, "I know what these people are 
going to say to you. They're going to talk about drilling more 
wells. I don't agree with that, and I don't think that you're 
going to get the thing that's needed. I said, "No, I don't want 
to be on the committee." The White House was mad at me about 
that, too. So anyhow, I had my troubles with some of those 
people up there. 

Lage: It sounds like you made a few waves. 
Leopold: Oh, yes. 

Battling the Bureau of Reclamation over Colorado River Water 

Lage: What about the Corps of Engineers? Did the two agencies have, or 
you yourself have, differences of opinion with the Corps of 

Leopold: We went up and down. We went definitely up and down, and also 

with TVA [Tennessee Valley Authority] . We were very influential 
in some of the joint projects such as the sedimentation survey at 
Lake Mead in which the Navy, the Commerce Department, and 
ourselves made this very successful survey. The big problem that 
we had was basically with the Bureau of Reclamation. 


Lage: And what was the core of that? 

Leopold: The core of that was that the Bureau of Reclamation did not want 
the public to be told in any way or form that irrigation makes 
the water quality deteriorate by the addition of salts, despite 
the fact that everybody knows about it. 

Lage: Why were they-- 

Leopold: Because, you see, they were building all these big dams, and they 
weren't about to tell anybody that the irrigation water that they 
were putting on the land was going to deteriorate the water 

1 had a contingent of people from California representing a 
certain aspect of water users, and they came to me and said, "We 
will back a bill in Congress to direct you to make a study of the 
water quality of the Colorado River and the effect of irrigation 
on it, if you do--" what? And I forget what. Or something like, 
"If we went and got this money for you, would you make such a 
study?" I said, "You're darn right we'll make such a study. 
That's exactly what we ought to be doing, controversial as it 
will be." 

So they got the money and we were ordered by Congress to 
make a study, a complete study of the water quality and the 
effect of irrigation on water quality of the whole Colorado 
system from the headwaters down to the Gulf of Mexico. So we put 
some very competent people on this, and over a period of three 
years they came up with this thick report. But in order to 
publish it, the question was, it had to be reviewed. The Bureau 
of Reclamation stopped it on every count again and again. It 
took two years. 

Lage: It had to be reviewed by the Bureau of Reclamation? 

Leopold: It was going to be an Interior Department report, you see, so 
that the Interior Department went to the secretary and said, 
"Look, you can't let the survey say these damn things." All we 
were doing was taking one irrigation project after another and 
making an estimate on how much water was put on, how much 
rainfall, how much evaporation, and measured the increase in 
salt, because we know that the salt increases so much that when 
you get to Yuma, Arizona, it now has something like 365 parts per 
million, just on the edge of whether it can be used for 
irrigation. Gradually, as you go down the river, this salt 
coming from the irrigation project gets larger and larger. The 
Bureau of Reclamation didn't want us to say that. 



When would this have been? Do you remember? 
controversy about damning the Grand Canyon? 

Was this before the 





It was still before Glen Canyon was closed. Hoover Dan was in, 
Glen Canyon was not. I was still chief, so it must have been 
about 1965. I put one of our most distinguished people on this 
report review. They went over the thing with this fine -toothed 
comb to find out every damn place that the Bureau of Reclamation 
wanted changed. This went on for two years, and finally I went 
to the director and I said, "Look, director, this is a bunch of 
stuff. Here's a scientific report that's ready to be published, 
and we've checked with all this very great amount of effort. 
Let's publish it." He said, "Okay, go ahead." So anyhow, it was 
published. A very important report, and should be done again. 

What was it called? Do you remember? 

When we get back to my office, I'll look it up for you. 

Did it have an impact on congressional discussions of Glen 
Canyon or the Grand Canyon Dam, do you remember? Or did 
conservationists pick it up? 

I don't think it did have much of an impact, unfortunately. The 
big impact came in another way. The Bureau of Reclamation, in 
trying to develop an irrigation project, put in a series of wells 
in a place not far from Yuma, Arizona, called the Velton Mohawk 
project. They were going to irrigate a large expanse of land 
down there in the desert near Yuma. I don't remember the details 
of how this worked, but I recall that they had to pump water out 
to lower the water table in order to get the drainage system to 
work. The water table was too high; therefore, by pumping the 
groundwater table down, then the irrigated water that was put on 
the land from the Colorado River would have a place to drain out 
of the drains back into the river. But in order to lower the 
water table, they had to pump an aquifer that was salty. They 
started to pump this into the Colorado River right there at Yuma, 
and of course put Mexico out of business because the water was 
all salty. Veil, that caused a hell of a big stir. 

They called a secret meeting, and no one was supposed to 
know about it, in the Bureau of Reclamation offices in Yuma, I 
guess it was. 1 went down there, and there was a big discussion 
among all of us about the groundwater and the effect of the 
pumping and that sort of thing. 1 said to the Bureau of 
Reclamation people, I said, "Look, haven't you made a statistical 
analysis of what is the effect of this pumping?" No, they didn't 
make such an analysis. 1 said, "Damn it, I'll do it." So I went 


out in the hall and I took the doggone data that they had, and I 
came back in a half an hour and handed this to them, and I said, 
"Here are the answers to the things that you should have done two 
years ago." Well, anyhow, it was very bitter. 

So inmediately after that, President Kennedy flew to Mexico 
for a big discussion with the president of Mexico about this. 
The president of Mexico was very, very angry, you see, because 
here was the salt water coming into Mexico. Kennedy agreed to 
build a multimillion-dollar bypass to take the salty water past 
the irrigated fields of Mexico and dump them into the Gulf of 
California. All caused by one of our government agencies doing 
something they never should have done in the first place. 

Lage: I bet there are a lot of stories like that. 
Leopold: Oh, yes, there's plenty of them. 

Professor John P. Miller at 
Chadron, South Dakota, 1951. 

Robert M. Myrick at 
Seneca Creek, 
Dawsonville , 
Maryland, circa 1960 

opold points to 
leoindian hearth 
ried in valley 
luvium, Coyote C. 
royo, New Mexico, 

Leopold (left) and 
Engineer W. L. 
Heckler, at rock 
group , Arroyo 
Frijoles, near Santa 
Fe, New Mexico, circa 

Leopold on the East Fork River, Wyoming, circa 1980. 

Above: Leopold-Nelson cabin in Wind 
River Range , Wyoming 

Right: After-class party, Teton 
Science School, Wyoming, 1990. 

River trip down the Salmon River, Idaho, 1990. 



[Interview 6: March 5, 1991]## 

The Pick and Hammer Show 

Lage: Ve have been talking before we turned on the tape recorder about 
the fact that our interviews have missed a lot of the fun that 
comes through so much in your journals that I've been reading. 

Leopold: One of the things that we should mention is the Pick and Hammer 
Club of the Geological Survey, something that was started soon 
after the survey was organized. It must have been going- -I don't 
know the beginning, but at least at the turn of the century. 
It's a show, a whole evening's show, written by and acted by 
members of the survey, and the whole purpose is to throw jokes at 
each other and to make fun of the people, particularly the people 
at the top. Some of the shows were sort of written after well- 
known musical comedies. We had a show of Peter Pan, for example, 
with all the subjects were changed, and all these people 
represented the director, and the chief geologist, and so forth. 
Then, often the club spent a whole show taking off on one person. 
It was very complimentary in a way-- 

Lage: Someone in the division? 

Leopold: Yes. In other words, it was complimentary in a way, but also 

very critical in a way. One of the best--. Let's see. I could 
never forget it. In the first place, you remember that these 
people are very clever. They have big laboratories and they know 
how to do things properly. This Pick and Hammer show was about 
my friend Meyer Rubin. Meyer is a very good-looking man who is a 
geologist who runs the carbon- 14 laboratory, which has all kinds 
of glassware and beautiful things in the laboratory, you see, and 
he always wears a white coat. 

The second scene goes up, and the stage is perfectly dark. 
Then all of a sudden you see coming up in a piece of glassware a 


yellow liquid which is now starting to go through the glassware. 
It goes around until finally it circles a woman's body, and then 
two red lights go on, and then the curtain goes up. Absolutely 
marvelous . 

And then there was a show partly devoted to me. Much of the 
program was that they were kidding me about my wonderful office. 
I had my office redone. The show was Camelot. and oh, gee, what 
they did to some of that. The songs were just marvelous. 

Lage: What were they picking on in your office? 

Leopold: Veil, because 1 had a very large office and a beautiful new blue 
rug and new furniture, and everything was really slick, even 
better than the director, you see. Boy, they could really make 
something out of that, 1 could tell you. 

Lage: Who were the people who put them on? Was it the same group each 

Leopold: Everybody. No, all of us. 
Lage : Everybody? 

Leopold: Oh, yes. Everybody. Everybody wanted to. You could write 

music. You could play, or you could be in the chorus, or you 
could do the stage scenery. You could do anything you want, but 
the point is that everybody pitched in because it was fun. 

Lage: And it was once a year? 

Leopold: Once a year, yes. In the spring. It was a terrific show. 

The Geologic Division pretty much had run the Pick and 
Hammer Show for a long time, and the man who directed the show 
for many years was a very talented geologist in the Geologic 

Leopold: Then there was always some person in the survey who played the 

piano to provide the music. We had nothing quite like it in the 
Water Resources Division. We all contributed to and acted in the 
Pick and Hammer show, although it was primarily run by the 
Geologic Division. 

Lage: That must have created kind of an esprit de corps in the 


Leopold: Oh, yes, you bet. Particularly when they take off the big guys, 
you see. You felt pretty good when they took you off, because 
they're paying attention to what you're doing. 

Lage: Did they ever border on the unkind? 

Leopold: Yes. They often did. 

Lage: So sometimes there were people -- 

Leopold: Some people didn't like it much, but in general, people just 
laughed like the dickens. Oh, they did one to me that was 
absolutely wonderful. In the show that was mostly about me, 
there was an intermission. While they were changing scenery, 
they put on this movie. The movie was a take-off of an instance 
that happened in the field. 

It was about mid- afternoon, and 1 had a plane to catch 
someplace in central Wyoming. 1 looked at the clock and 1 said 
to these guys, all of my young colleagues, I said, "My goodness, 
there's still two and a half hours to work. Let's go do 
something." So we all piled in the car and we were traveling 
across the desert, and we came to a great big wash and got stuck. 
We were a mile, two miles from the highway, I could tell you. 
There must have been eight or nine of us, 1 suppose, and 
everybody hopped out and tried to get the car out. The car 
wasn't going to get out, that was quite clear; nor was 1 going to 
make my plane. So 1 said, "What we'll do is I'm going to go to 
the highway, which was only a couple of miles away, and I'll 
hitch a ride into town and have a tow car sent out to help you 
out with the thing. In the meantime, then I'll get on the 
airplane. " 

So some of the guys said, "Okay, we'll go with you." So 
everybody ran for the two miles, and everybody was trotting 
along. When we got there, here with all these guys, I said, 
"Hey, I'll never get a ride with all these people standing 
around. You guys hide in the bushes." I went out there and 
started to thumb a ride. 

Well, you can imagine what they did with that. I'll tell 
you, when you got through with that, that was the funniest show 
I've ever seen in my life. Then they had me running for the 
airplane and all this sort of--. But to see these guys on the 
stage looking out from these artificial bushes [laughs]--. God, 
it was funny. It was absolutely a tremendous thing. 

Lage: I think you wrote that incident up in your journal. 


Leopold: Did I? 

Lage: I read that. The Jack wasn't adequate in the truck, and then you 
put on-- 

Poems. Sones. Literary Allusions 

Leopold: What they did in the Pick and Hammer show was absolutely 

wonderful. Veil, then we used to write poetry to each other. 
Every time that you got an opportunity, you wrote a poem. 

Then we had little procedures, or little sayings, most of 
which I invented, of course. For example, we would start out in 
some place in camp, and I would say, "All right, everybody." The 
idea was you took your hat off, you see, and hold it down like 
this and say, "Hats off to science!" Everybody yells, "Hats off 
to science!" and off we go. Little things of that kind that were 
really a lot of fun. 

And then, of course, there was a lot of music. 1 always had 
a guitar, and we would often play these Pick and Hammer show 
songs that were very funny. 

Lage: So the Pick and Hammer show songs lived on, it sounds like. 
Leopold: Oh, yes, you bet they do. 
Lage: Did people write them down? 

Leopold: They were all published, but many people forgot. Very few people 
remember back that far to be able to sing them, but they were 
really wonderful. 

1 got a letter just yesterday from a man that 1 had brought 
over from England to work for the Water Resources Division. 1 
have told you that I always wanted someone from Europe or from 
another country to be on our staff at all times. 1 wrote him a 
few weeks ago --he's now re tired- -and I said, "Say, what are you 
doing about literary allusions?" He knows exactly what I mean, 
because what we used to do is this: 1 would send him notes about 
things you picked up in your reading that were little quotes from 
the literature that you read that had something to do with 
hydrology. For example, I can remember very well finding one of 
the best ones 1 know in Shakespeare. I was writing, you see, 
about water in channels. Here's one from Gertrude Stein, for 






example, that we quote here. This is one of the literary 
allusions, and here's another one. 

You quote them in one of your journal articles? 

No, they were really put together for this kind of thing. 1 was 
writing a book and I wanted to include them under the chapter 
titles. Here, for example. Under the title of the chapter is a 
quotation from Shakespeare. This is about channels, you see. 
Shakespeare wrote on Venus and Adonis, and you can imagine what 
he was writing about. "Rain added to a river that is rank, 
perforce will force it overbank its bank." You see what 1 mean? 

So you traded those? 

We traded those, you see. They were referred to in my stuff as 
"literary allusions." Allusions to something that you're 
thinking about. Well, George knew exactly what I was talking 
about. He said, "I'm still collecting literary allusions." 

And then there was one poem that 1 wrote that had to do with 
a field trip that 1 took with two geologists and a very famous 
soils man. Some friends were writing a kind of a little memorial 
to one of these people that were on the trip. They wrote to me 
and said, "Have you got anything to add?" I said, "Sure, I'll 
send you a copy of the poem that I wrote about this trip," again 
kidding ourselves. 

Then there was a Pick and Hammer show about a canoe trip 
that I took. I took one of my botanist friends. I said, "Okay, 
we're going to do a canoe trip on the Shenandoah." We drove up 
to some of the middle parts of the Shenandoah. Four or five 
days, we floated down the river. 

Well, apparently there must have been some things that 
happened that I didn't remember at all. It had something to do 
with my drinking, it had something to do with my wanting to sit 
on a stool or on a log or something. But boy, when they got 
through with that at the Pick and Hammer show, they really made 
something out of it. 

And you weren't even sure it ever happened. 

I didn't remember all these details that this other fellow had 
recalled, that you could make sound very funny. And they did, 

Do you think that still goes on? 
continuing tradition? 

Is the Pick and Hammer show a 


Leopold: I understand that the Pick and Hammer show these days are 

sometimes good, but not as uniformly good as they used to be. 
The Menlo Park office tried to pick it up, the Denver office 
tried to pick it up, and it Just never stuck in those offices. 

Lage: You need some talented people, it seems to me, to really put it 

Leopold: Oh, they were very talented people. My God. Oh, yes. Some of 
the songs that were written were just absolutely terrific. 

Oh, and there were little things that you'd never hear 
about. For example, I had a practice over twenty years: every 
time that I published a paper, 1 brought my secretary a box of 
candy. Just a little thing, but there were customs that we 
developed that were very nice. 

Field Trips: Canoeing. Surveying. Mapmaking 

Lage: Anything in general on your field trips that you'd want to 
mention? Sort of the fun side of it? 

Leopold: When we were in Wyoming for a good long time, after we worked all 
day we practically always--. When we were working on the eastern 
side of the Wind River Mountains, and it was always springtime 
when the water was high, we would run the rivers in the canoe. 
We nearly lost a couple of guys on one of these trips, but that 
was the fun. When you got through working about four o'clock in 
the afternoon, then you'd go about and put the canoe in, and 
somebody drove around and picked the people up down below. 

Lage: You keep referring in your journals to "the river boys." 

Leopold: Yes. Because we did a lot of canoeing. Even the bow of the boat 
had the label "River Boys" on it. 

Lage: Were they the same people that went over and over, basically? 

Leopold: To some extent. Bob Myrick and Bill Emmet t and 1 were the 

principal ones. And then there were people that joined us at 
times. But these were the two people that had been my assistants 
for a long, long time. Bill Emmet t was one of the people I sent 
to school to get a Ph.D. , so he and I had been working together, 
oh, for thirty years I guess, something like that. Later on, of 
course, he was no longer my assistant but my equal colleague. 











It sounds as if there was a mix of fun and a lot of observation. 

Yes. And there was an awful lot to be learned because both of 
these aen, particularly Bill Enmett, were fantastic in surveying, 
and levelling is a lot of what we did. Surveying. Bill is 
extremely good on the plane table, but surveying was really what 
we did. I introduced the idea, for example, of everybody carries 
the same kind of notebook, and this has spread through all my 
colleagues and all y students. Everybody carries the same kind 
of notebook that's done in a certain way. 

How did the journals and the notebook relate? 

The notebooks are completely technical, and the journals are 
simply a personal story, if you like. 

But you do have, in the journals, some sketches of how the river 
is laid out, and a bit about what you're doing. 

Yes, but the technical data, all of our surveying data, are in 
the notebooks . But the kinds of things that we did- - . Did I 
ever show you any of the maps? 


They're really beautiful things. [takes out maps] Here's one. 

Would you tend to be the mapmaker, or did everybody get in on 

No, 1 tended to be the mapmaker. The other boys were rodmen 
for me. But 1 have always felt that mapping is one of the most 
important things that we do. So John Miller and I pretty well 
got this started. This is the kind of stuff that really has to 
go with the notebooks, because the notes that go along with this 
are there in the notebooks, you see. This just gives you an idea 
of the kind of stuff that we did. 

You must have quite a collection, 
already named places? 

'Forsaken Gully." Were these 

Oh, no, many of them I named myself. Oh, no. You ought to see 
the one in the Czechoslovakian journal. You read this article in 
Czech; it says, "Dumb Cowboy Wash." [laughter] Another will 
say, "Meet Mustache Wash." Oh, on and on and on. We made up 
names for these things. 1 always told people you shouldn't 
number things; you should name them. Name them something that 
reminds you. "Aching Back Wash," for example. 


Lage: You'll never forget it. 

Leopold: You'll never forget it. But if you had labeled it a number, 

you'll forget it immediately. But I can tell you about every one 
of these places where we were, because they've all got names that 
I know exactly what they meant. 

Lage: No wonder you tried to get out in the field frequently. 
Leopold: Oh, yes. That was a good time. 

First River Raft Trip: Down Lodore Canvon with Herb Skibitzke 

Lage: You took a lot of river trips, it sounds like, on rafts. 

Leopold: Later on. 1 told you that Herb Skibitzke was one of my closest 
friends who taught me to fly. He has been an expert pilot all 
his life. He flew in World War II for the Navy. When he got 
through, there just wasn't anything he didn't know about flying, 
and he also knew a hell of a lot about the Navy. 

I decided we were going to take a river trip about 1963 so I 
picked one of the trips on a commercial expedition. I'd never 
been on one before, never on a commercial expedition. We'd 
always just used canoes. But we were going down Lodore Canyon, 
which is one of the places that John Wesley Powell really lost 
his shirt. The first part he called Disaster Falls, where he 
lost a boat relatively early in his trip. And then there 
followed below that what he named "Hell's Half -Mile." I wanted 
to see this thing. 

So anyhow, we went down there. I had recently sent a team 
to the Amazon to make the first measurement of the Amazon. They 
had just gotten back, and they had this big machine that was an 
echo depth- sounder. I said, "Fine. I'm going to take the echo 
depth- sounder with me and we're going to measure the depth of 
this river as we go." 

Lage: As you go down Disaster Falls? 

Leopold: Yes. So we started out on the trip, and I took this depth- 
sounder out, and Herb Skibitzke was with me. After that he never 
wanted to go on a river trip again. We tried to run the machine 
and it wouldn't run. Well, Herb is an absolutely superb 




electronics man, a real expert, so I said to him, "Herb, this 
thing isn't running. You'd better take it apart and fix it." So 
at camp that night he took the damn thing apart. It had all this 
wonderful inside of it that I'd never seen before. He said, 
"Gee, Luna, without tools I can't fix this thing." He reached in 
his pocket and he pulled out a little piece of wire about that 
long, and something that he was holding in his hand like this. 
He held it to his mouth and he said, "I wish you would send me by 
parachute" a certain this and that, and then he named the tools 
that he wanted. He said, "I want them to come into this canyon 
at 6:15 tonight. He put this thing away. 

And, at 6:15, here in this big box canyon, I saw this little 
airplane come in and I saw the flaps go down, and here it came 
right over the top of the trees , and out came a parachute with a 
little box in it. The parachute was made out of a sheet off the 
motel bedroom. So 1 walked over there, 1 picked up the box, 
brought it back. Herb took the tools out, and he started fooling 
with this thing. He said, "Luna, it's incredible. This thing 
will never work. As a matter of fact, 1 don't think any of this 
thing is going to work." 

The next day, we started down through Hell's Half -Mile. The 
main boatman, who was supposed to be a real expert, lost the 
motor, and then he lost an oar, and all of a sudden we were at 
the mercy of the river. There were two of us at midship. Herb 
Skibitzke was a great big man, and he and 1 grabbed the oars, and 
we started pulling the damn oars. You ought to see the movie of 
it. My God. 

There's a movie of it? 

Leopold: Yes, because at that moment, when we grabbed the oars, the movie 
camera was still running, and it dropped on the floor of the boat 
and was still going. You see this thing with the movie camera 
jumping up and down. It looks up and you see us at the oars. 
I'll have to give you one of these tapes; it's absolutely 

Well, we got past this terrible rapid, and Herb said to me, 
"This will never do. Why don't you leave it up to me? I'll get 
you some boats and we'll run our own." 

He didn't like the way that the outfit ran the boats. 

Leopold: No, he didn't like any part of it. But we liked one of the 
boatmen . 


Was this the Hatch company? 


Leopold: It was the Hatch company. 

Lage: They did all the early trips, I think. 

Leopold: Yes. 

At the end of the trip, I went to Smuss Allen, who was our 
boatman on this trip, and I said, * Smuss, how would you like to 
run a boat trip for Herb and me? I will try to straighten it out 
with Hatch." He said, "I've worked for Hatch for a long time, 
but you straighten it out with him, and if he'll let me go, I 
will." So I went to Hatch and I said, "I'd like to hire Smuss 
Allen when you don't use him, and I would like to work out with 
you your schedule, so that during times when you're not using him 
at all, then I will hire him." 

Well, Hatch wasn't very happy about this, but he said, 
"Okay." But after the first river trip that we took, then all of 
a sudden Herb had these boats. Everything was surplus, you see. 
Everything was surplus. He got everything from the Navy. We had 
airplanes, we had boats, we had everything, and now we had a 
boatman. After our first trip, Smuss decided he didn't want to 
go back to Hatch, so we hired him permanently. So he worked for 

Lage: You could keep him busy enough? 

Leopold: Oh, God, yes, because he had to fix the boats. For example, when 
we went to Alaska, he hauled the whole thing from Phoenix, 
Arizona, to the North Slope of Alaska with the boats and 
everything, for us to take our trip. Herb and I flew up there, 
you see, but hell, look at how much there was to do. We had to 
carry all this equipment up there and carry it all back. 

Lage: You did a lot of trips in the sixties, it seems from your 
j ournal . 

Leopold: Oh, yes, you bet. So anyhow, that got us into the boating 

business. So then we made the thing work, you see. We got a 
depth sounder that really worked, a nice, simple one. The stuff 
that we got was just marvelous. 


Research on the River Trips 













No one had ever measured the depth of these rapids. No one knew 
how deep they were. No one had ever really taken the trouble to 
study them, so that on that big trip down the Grand Canyon of the 
Colorado (that was ay biggest expedition), I think I made six 
thousand measurements of the depth. 

How did you do that while you were going through the rapids? 

I'll show you how. Turn that off for a minute. 

Okay. [tape interruption- -shows aerial photographs] 

These are all depths. 

So this is the Green River. 

This is the Green River. It had never been measured before. 
What we did was, one person kept track of where we were, and the 
other person wrote down the numbers that were being read off the 
machine . 

How did the machine function? 

what's that? 

How did the machine function? 
going down quickly? 

1 mean, are you in the boat, and 

You're going down, and it's sending an echo signal off the bed. 
A radar type of thing. Then it measures the depth, you see, and 
it was showing on the dial so that we could read it. I said, 
"We'll just keep reading it." So they kept reading it about 
every fifteen seconds or ten seconds. But what we did when I had 
my air force is Herb went out and photographed these rivers . 
[shows photos] 

I see. 

So we'd simply unroll the photographs as we went. We could tell 
every rock. You could see every bush, so you knew exactly where 
you were all the time. 


Leopold: Then written on here--. You can't see them yet, but open up a 
few. This is what I'm giving to the Bancroft. [unrolls photos] 

Lage: Wonderful. Would these also be of interest to study how the 
river changes over time? 

Leopold: Yes. Now, here, those photographs were taken in the field. 

Those are the depths, and you can see how quickly we were reading 
them. And now I've transferred all of those onto another big map 
that they've made for me. 

There's so much duplication because the airplane has to fly 
around. It's really quite continuous, as a matter of fact. 
There. You see you pick it up again on the next photograph. 

Lage: Yes, I see. 

Leopold: But to have our own airplanes, you see, and then Herb set up a 
wonderful photographic laboratory in his own office , so these 
were made in Herb's office. 

Lage: And then you got your pilot's license. Did you do a lot of 

Leopold: Yes. Yes, we went to Alaska, we went to--. We went a lot of 

Lage: Which rivers in Alaska were you-- 

Leopold: We did a wilderness trip on the John River in the Brooks Range, a 
very uncomfortable trip, but a wonderful trip. We had a 
wonderful time. 


Leopold: After every river trip, I wrote a scientific paper about it, a 

procedure different from that of most field people. For example, 
this paper is a comparison of two rivers that we ran. One was 
the John River in Alaska, and one was the Middle Fork of the 
Salmon in Idaho. This paper, which I called "Observations on 
Unmeasured Rivers," is to check out to see how much information I 
could get by simply taking a river trip without any data except 
what I could observe. I compared that on the Middle Fork of the 
Salmon, where there's lots and lots of data, but I didn't look at 
the data until I came back, and I made a comparison between what 
I could do just going down the river, and what I could do with 
many, many years of record, and showed that I did very well 


Lage : Which helped you validate- - 

Leopold: Then you could validate some of the flow characteristics of the 
Alaska River, where there were no records now, but might be some 
time in the future. 

Lage: You say that you differed from others-- 

Leopold: Veil, because most people go on a field trip and they don't write 
a paper about it; it's just for fun. When 1 went on a river 
trip, 1 wrote something about it. Here, for example. Yes, 
here's a comparison of river trip observations against gauging 
station observations, and you see how close they are. They're 
really very close indeed. 

Lage: Yes, very much so. 

Leopold: The purpose here is to show what 1 could do on a river trip, just 
going once. 

Lage: It sounds like a very valid thing to do when you really have no 
idea how good your data is. 

Leopold: And then our expedition down the Grand Canyon. I wrote this 
paper about the Grand Canyon. 

Lage: "The Rapids and the Pools: Grand Canyon." 
Leopold: Here's a picture of one of our boats, you see. 
Lage: Yes. "Types of waves and causes of rapids." 

Leopold: And then in this paper I discuss the question of what forms the 
rapids, which 1 try to describe here. Again, you see, we had an 
airplane flying over us all the time. Here are the depth 
measurements in one section of the river, you can see. This 
diagram shows different kinds of rapids. What forms the rapids 
under various circumstances. 

Lage: How much of the time were you on the side of the river making 
these observations? The thing that comes to my mind is what a 
quick observer you are, because I think of the boat just moving 
down the river and you're picking up all this information. Did 
you get out and observe? 

Leopold: Yes. But for the most part, in Alaska, every time we crossed a 
tributary we got out and measured it. Now, that took us several 
hours, but to a great extent there were all kinds of observations 
that I was making. For example, I was trying to compute the 


speed of the water, you see, at different places. There were 
only a few places in the Grand Canyon where that had been 
measured. So we learned a lot from our river trips. 

John Weslev Powell and the Intrigue of Unanswered Questions 

Lage: This is a wonderful book, The Colorado Region and John Weslev 

Powell . Was this trip made with the idea of contributing to this 

Leopold: No. As a matter of fact, later on, some years afterwards, Mary 
Rabbit, who is a geological historian in Washington, had been 
working for a long time on Major Powell's life history. She and 
the director, I think, decided that it would be good to publish a 
book to commemorate the founding of the Geological Survey by John 
Wesley Powell. So that this book is the commemoration of the 
foundation of the survey, and it is really a tribute to John 
Wesley Powell from the survey. 

Lage: 1 notice that you, in your journal, were bringing up some of 

Powell's observations and trying to prove or add to them. What 
did you think of his observations after you went down the 
Colorado River yourself? 

Leopold: The paper I'm writing right now goes back to John Wesley Powell 

and what the geologists have done with his ideas since then. Not 

Lage: They haven't done much with his--? 

Leopold: Well, there are some very important problems in geomorphology 
that people have skipped over, that were brought up by Powell 
when he went down the Grand Canyon. The problem of base level, 
primarily. This is the matter that I sort of followed up, off 
and on at various times in my life. It's greatly oversimplified 
in geologic teaching, greatly oversimplified, and nobody- - 
students are not even told how complicated the matter is because 
nobody puts it in quantitative terms, which I've tried to do. 
This is my 150th paper, I guess- -the only time I ever wrote a 
scientific paper in order to say that I don't know how to answer 
the question. 

Lage: That's a good one for your 150th. 
Leopold: Yes. I don't know how to answer it. 








But you think it's a question that needs to be examined? 
Oh, I should say so. A very important question. 

Do you give some guideposts on what directions to take towards an 

Yes. The problem basically is this. The reason I got into 
geology is because of this question. When 1 was about fourteen 
years old, I was working as a field assistant to a scientist on 
the Navajo reservation. I was working under an engineer who 
said, "If we take these gullies that are cutting in this 
landscape, and we build a check dam, behind the check dam the 
sediment will accumulate and it will go all the way up the wash 
until the whole thing is filled up." I said to him, "That's not 
what you observe. What you observe is that it goes up a little 
ways and stops." "Well," he said, "you haven't got time. You 
give it time . " 

So I put in a check dam myself, and we surveyed it over 
years . 

Where did you put in your check dam? 

In New Mexico. John Miller and I put in these check dams, and we 
surveyed them over a period of years. And then finally I wrote a 
paper about that several years ago. But we had observed for only 
fifteen or twenty years, so I went to Israel for the purpose of 
looking at the dams that were built two thousand years ago by the 
Nabateans. 1 showed that they're exactly the same as we saw in 
New Mexico after five years . 

The same pattern of sedimentation? 

Exactly the same pattern. That's what I'm writing about now. 
This is what happens; there was no question about that, and 1 
proved that time is not the problem. The hydraulic problem 
basically is why the gradient of the deposition is so small. Why 
is it so small? Fifty percent of the original slope. So that's 
what I'm writing about, and I'm simply saying, "I don't know." I 
s imp ly don ' t know . 

So what we did is this: several years ago I asked Bill 
Emmet t to help me. We went to one of my friends in Wyoming and I 
said, "I'd like to divert one of your irrigation ditches and make 
a little channel and put in a check dam so I can get some real 
measurements. Not just what happened; I want to make 
measurements of velocity and depth and width." He said, "I've 
already got one in. Why don't you go measure that?" So we went 




over there. We now have a set of very carefully done 
observations on a little check dan, and what I'm writing about 
now is I 'a saying, "Here are the observations, but they don't 
answer the questions.* In other words, I have all the 
observations I made on this little check dam, but I still can't 
compute what the slope of the river ought to be. 

So you can't find a pattern that would predict another- - 

No, there's no formula that predicts it. Something is going on 
that we don't understand. Don't understand at all, and that's 
what I'm writing about, in the hopes that I can get some young 
geomorpho legist to pick up the problem and say, "I know how to do 
that." Because I can't do it. I've spent thirty years at it and 
I still don't know. I've got file after file of studies of this 
matter, but until we went to this little dam in the field in 
Wyoming, there weren't any measurements at all. There weren't 
any measurements of velocity or the depth. 

But a friend of mine has a larger dam in southern Colorado, 
and I'm going to go down there this summer, and we're going to 
make the same kind of measurements as we did in Wyoming, on a 
little larger place. It's a very subtle problem, but we simply 
don't know why it does what it does. 

I suppose that's what makes it all very intriguing, 
questions that can't be answered. 

It's very intriguing, yes. 


Choosing the Important Problems in Geomorpholoev 

Lage: Did this kind of study about the sediment have something to do 
with the dams on the Colorado? Does it relate to the problem 
that you did get somewhat involved in, of should there be dams on 
the Colorado? 

Leopold: No. That's another problem that's closely related, and still an 
unsolved problem. Back when I was first with the Bureau of 
Reclamation, as a matter of fact, there was started this very 
intensive study of the sediment in Lake Mead after the dam had 
been built about ten years. When I went down twenty years later, 
when I went down the Colorado, we came into Lake Mead. I said, 
"By George, I'm going to see what the delta did," because we 
studied it years ago. So I made measurements all the way down 
the river as we went over the delta. 


Lage: The delta? 

Leopold: The delta is the underwater deposition, which also turns out to 
have a gradient about 50 percent of the original slope of the 
river. The tope of the delta is underwater. So really, nobody's 
measured that either. Nobody's even taken the trouble to make 
these measurements . 

Lage: And they seem so crucial. 

Leopold: They Just don't seem to be able to pick important problems, in my 
opinion. That's in geomorphology. Though 1 found that the 
sediment had indeed, the front had moved down the Colorado River 
about twenty miles, 1 guess, something like that. But 1 mapped 
it all the way to the end. And no one's ever taken velocity 
measurements to see what happens. And again, no one's asked the 
question, why should the deposition be at that gradient? Nobody 
knows . 

Anyhow, there are some very important problems in 
geomorphology. For example, 1 have said to all my students--! 
don't think anyone's ever done it- -I said, "I would like to 
suggest that you do the same thing I do and have a private file 
in your office that's labeled "Idea File," in which you keep a 
record of what you currently think are the most important 
problems of your science. Every once in a while take that file 
out and ask yourself this question. Keep in mind what I'm 
telling you, that you can waste your life on three small 
problems. Every once in a while you ought to go back and say, 
"What do I think is really important to work on?" Here are two 
problems that I have in my file , and have had for thirty years . 
No one's ever worked on them. So it's peculiar. 



Basic Hvdrological Research and Environmental Problems 

Lage : Do you pick problems at all because they relate to, say, 

environmental issues, or is that not the reason? I mean, is the 
reason not that practical? 

Leopold: No. Some of the things that I've done for the environment are 
simply outgrowths of something I've done elsewhere. It really 
works the other way. You can't solve environmental problems 
without knowing something about basic process. My job has always 
been basic process, and I can then apply our findings to things 
of an environmental manner. 

Lage: But the basic process is the main-- 

Leopold: That's the difficulty. You take the problem of global warming, 

you take the problem of the ozone layer, weather forecasting, you 
name it. We were wonderful at now being able to make 
observations, but we may not be keeping up with our theoretical 
knowledge of why this phenomenon is as we see it. I just 
mentioned in my field two of the phenomena which are simply not 

We still argue about global warming. We've had beautiful 
observations on the increase of carbon dioxide, but we are not 
really quite sure now how our mathematical models of the climate 
take that piece of information and turn it into a result that you 
can operate on. As you know, there's a lot of discussion, and 
the present administration doesn't want to pay any attention to 
it. They say it's like acid rain; we need more research instead 
of going and doing something about it. 

Lage: You mentioned the global warming in one of these Sierra Club 

papers I looked at, in one of the Wilderness Conference books. I 
hadn't realized that people had been talking about it that far 
back. You were asked a question about the effect of man on 


climate, and mentioned the increased carbon dioxide back in, oh, 
it must have been '59, 1 think. 

Leopold: You see, practically my whole life in geomorphology hag 

concentrated on the effect of climatic change, what's happened to 
rivers as the climate changed. That has been a very large 
influence on my scientific work. So as far as I know, and I 
don't nean to claia credit for it, as far as 1 know, I was the 
first one who ever brought it up. 

Lage: Brought up the global warming? 

Leopold: No, the question of what would you do with the water supply 
problem if you had a change of climate? 1 said this in a 
conference at La Jolla, back in about 1956. Now lots of people 
have gotten on top of that, but as far as I know, 1 was the first 
one who asked that question. 

Lage: The question that we're dealing with in California now? 

Leopold: Yes, exactly. One short piece that you might be interested in 
reading is the one that I called "A Reverence for Rivers . " Did 
you ever see that? 

Lage : No . 

Leopold: It's a little, short paper. I was asked by Governor Brown to 

give the keynote speech at the governor's drought conference in 
1977. He sent Stewart Brandt to talk to me, and I asked Stewart, 
"Why does he want me to do it?" "Because he knows that you'll 
say something that he would like you to say but he won't say it." 
So I said, "Don't build any more dams. Start conserving your 
groundwater , " and a few things like that. Of course, nobody paid 
any attention to it. It's only a one-page paper. It might be of 
interest to you. 

Aeencv Politics and Dams on the Colorado River 

Lage: Let's talk a little more about your relationship with the 

environmental movement. I came across something in the Sierra 
Club Bulletin (1967) where David Brower, in an article or maybe 
it's a speech about the Colorado River, says that he was told 
that the USGS couldn't make sedimentary projections on the 
Colorado. They were forbidden to make them. Is that anything 
that rings a bell? 


Leopold: Yes. You're quoting David Brower? 

Lage: Yes. Who was quoting Hugh Nash. 

Leopold: Who was quoting me. 

Lage: Okay. What was that all about? 

Leopold: The problem was, you see, that again and again, the Geological 
Survey is pointing out scientific facts that the Bureau of 
Reclamation doesn't like because it was going to interrupt their 
development plan. You know the story of the Teton Dam. A year 
before the Teton Dam failed, where they had $3 billion dollars in 
loss, there was a memorandum written by more than one geologist 
which was aimed at the Bureau of Reclamation saying, "Look, this 
is wrong. You're putting that dam in a very unsafe place." 

This always happens in a department such as Department of 
Interior. There's always a tendency to, at the top level, not to 
allow the bureaus seem to compete with each other, nor to be 
critical of each other. 

The problem came up in this way. Dave Brower finally 
agreed, and he's been very unhappy with it ever since, that if 
they would not build the dam at Echo Park, in Dinosaur National 
Monument, that he would not have the Sierra Club object to 
building one at Glen Canyon. And of course, we've been sorry 
about that ever since, but anyhow, that's what we knew at the 

Lage : Do you know anything about why he made that agreement? Were you 
involved in that at all? 

Leopold: Yes, because we were all very much interested in saving the 

national monument, but no one had ever thought what would happen 
if you put another dam in the Grand Canyon. Then later on, when 
they saw what was going to get flooded, then everybody was sorry. 
But there were a lot of other reasons --legal reasons and 
administrative reasons- -why the dam was probably going to be 
built no matter what any of us said. 

Lage: Did you advise Dave Brower in the matter of Glen Canyon Dam? 

Leopold: No. Anyhow, as the water rose in Lake Powell behind Glen Canyon 
Dam, the water was going to come up practically to the base of 
Rainbow Bridge, the great sandstone arch, the most famous in the 
world. Dave Brower was looking for ways to- -and Rainbow Bridge 
was a national monument again- -for ways to protect it. He came 


In the first place, in some manner or another, a geologist 
was sent by the Geological Survey to look at it, and he wrote a 
report, again which the Bureau of Reclamation didn't like. That 
was kind of squashed. There was some talk about whether they 
ought to put a dan in the canyon downstream from the arch to keep 
the water from going up to the base of the arch. The question 
Brower brought to me was, what would happen if we put a dam 
there? I replied to him that I couldn't do this officially. So 
this was all done sub rosa. 

Lage : You couldn't comment officially? 

Leopold: No. I couldn't make an official statement because the Bureau of 
Reclamation would raise hell with the director and all that sort 
of thing. By private communication, I told Brower what my ideas 
were so that he was getting a certain amount of information from 
the survey. The directors of the survey have always been very 
squeamish about facing 'off other bureaus in the Department of the 
Interior even for good scientific reason. Unfortunately, you see 
that there's an awful lot of things that go on in government 
where even agencies in the same department are really doing 
opposite things and they're doing things that are clearly 

So I made an estimate for the Sierra Club in an unofficial 
way on the Rainbow Bridge matter, and it didn't come out in the 
way that all this trouble has come out recently. The Geological 
Survey got themselves in a hell of a spot, you know, a year ago. 

Lage: Regarding Rainbow Bridge? 

Leopold: No, no. Regarding advising organizations on scientific matters. 
There's a member of the Geologic Division whose name is Howard 
Vilshire, in Menlo Park, and as I understand the story, he had 
been working, as many people had, on the question of off -road 
vehicles and their effect on the desert. Someone in one of the 
conservation groups asked Vilshire to go on a field trip for one 
day, which he did on a weekend, on his own time, to talk about 
the problem of what his research had shown. 

I think it was the Forest Service that brought the matter up 
to the director of the Geological Survey. The director ordered 
Dr. Vilshire to not only cease and desist, but he was going to 
take him off the payroll for a month and give him an official 
letter of reprimand, so this has become a great issue now as to 
what is freedom of speech. So now within the last couple of 


months there now la an underground letter formed in the 
Geological Survey to report on this whole matter of freedom of 
speech and what you can and can't do. Boy, the scientific 
community went up in smoke about it. They said, "Look, the man's 
giving his discussion on his own time on things that are not 
affecting the Geological Survey." The director never did back 
down, but he got in a hell of a lot of trouble. 

Testifying in Arizona vs. California 

Lage : Did things like that come up with you also? 

Leopold: It did in one respect, but that was a little bit different. 
About 1958 I was asked to testify before the United States 
Supreme Court in the case of Arizona versus California, the most 
famous law case ever tried in the field of water. 

Lage : What was that about? 

Leopold: The case concerned what water in the Colorado system was to be 

included under the 1922 compact, what water rights do the Indians 
have, what water in ephemeral streams is included, and other 
issues . 

1 was asked by California to appear, and I said, "I will 
appear but it may not help you at all. I will talk about the 
facts as I know them, but whether it hurts California or helps 
California, or hurts Arizona or helps Arizona, I'm not able to 
say." But I said, "Further, everything that I say I'm going to 
publish in the scientific literature, and only on that condition 
will I appear." So I did, and the paper which I wrote in that 
testimony is called "Statistical Methods applied to a Water 
Supply Problem." 

This raised a hell of a big to-do because the Salt Lake City 
paper had a banner headline saying, "Leopold Takes Two Million 
Acre-Feet Out of the Colorado River." The governors of several 
states sent delegations of their state engineers to Washington to 
talk to the secretary of the Interior about discharging me. 

Lage: What was the gist of your testimony that was so controversial? 

Leopold: That the Bureau of Reclamation should have known that their 

estimate of the amount of water in the Colorado might have been 
wrong, as it turned out to be wrong. I said there was a 
reasonable chance that the figure was 13 million acre -feet or 17 


million, rather than the 15 million acre -feet the Bureau was 
estimating. So the Salt Lake City newspaper said I took 2 
million acre -feet out. 

I was telling the Supreme Court that the numbers could be 
wrong, you see. Everything that the Bureau of Reclamation had 
argued about was dependent upon their estimate of how much water 
there was. But the records have shown gradually that they were 
wrong, that they were overestimating. So that when I said to the 
Supreme Court, "Look, the number is probably not right and that 
can make a lot of difference," well, they had this conference 
with the secretary of the Interior. 

Lage: It was Fred Seaton at the time, as I recall. 

Leopold: Seaton, yes. In the next couple of days, Seaton came out with a 
press conference in which he said- -and no one's ever said it 
before or since- -"The Geological Survey is a scientific agency in 
which they're supposed to give their best opinion. That's what 
Leopold did, and I'm backing him. You're not going to fire him." 
A very clear statement about what that secretary felt the survey 
ought to do. 

Lage: Was there support to get him to make that statement? Did you 
yourself have to appeal to him, or your director? 

Leopold: I don't know. 

Lage: You yourself didn't? 

Leopold: I did not, no. 

Lage : But there may have been someone behind the scenes . 

Leopold: I don't know the details of how that came about. 

Lage: I would think that kind of pressure would create an atmosphere in 
the agency that would really stifle intellectual freedom. 

Leopold: That, of course, was one of the things that I was fighting for 
all this time, to see to it that people were given a chance to 
write what they thought, regardless of what the department said, 
and for the most part, it was very successful. 


Pressures for River Development vs. Scientific Fact and Public 

Lage: Did you get any acre involved in advising the Sierra Club on the 
Colorado River issue? 

Leopold: Yes, indeed. We weren't advising the Bureau of Reclamation, 1 
can tell you. We were writing scientific papers. Yes, indeed. 

As a result of ny testimony, my friend Walter Langbein 
continued to work on that same problem, and he wrote a paper that 
was a real eye-opener to everybody. He showed, from scientific 
analysis, that by continuing to build more storage dams you don't 
increase the amount of water at all, but you decrease the amount 
of water, which was the opposite of what everybody thought. The 
reason is that in the problem of providing storage, the purpose 
of storage, as you imagine, is to smooth out the record so that 
in dry years you can take some of the stored water and increase 
your supply. You store it in wet years, water that you don't 
really need now. Now, as you make more storage, then you are 
basically increasing your supply by storing water so you can use 
it in a later time, but the more storage you build, the less 
efficient it is. 

Lage: The more evaporation? 

Leopold: And you get to the point where the slight increase in the amount 
of water is balanced by the evaporation, so that you start losing 
instead of increasing. No one ever said that before. Here was 
something that really flew in the face of the Bureau of 
Reclamation, you see. 

Lage: Isn't that point something that Brower used rather extensively in 
his arguments against Grand Canyon dams? 

Leopold: Yes, that certainly came up. 


Lage: Did you have any dealings with Floyd Dominy [Commissioner of 

Leopold: Oh, yes. Not personal dealings. I can remember one time I was 
on the airplane, on a commercial airplane, and close by me was 
sitting the famous Congressman Aspinall from Colorado. He was 
traveling with Dominy. I heard them say, "Oh, yes. There's that 
son of a bitch Leopold." They knew that what we were doing at 


the survey was not to their liking at all. Personally, I had 
practically nothing to do with him. 

Lage: You didn't have a professional contact? 

Leopold: No. I met him in meetings and that sort of thing, but no, it was 
not that. 

Lage: There was no love lost, it sounds like. 

Leopold: Veil, because people like that, you see, don't want scientific 
facts, because it gets in their way. You can see this all the 

Lage: Dominy seemed to have kind of a crusading spirit about all of 

Leopold: Indeed, yes. A hell of a lot of those reclamation people did. 
Lage: What was their- - 

Leopold: Veil, because there was a group of western congressmen who really 
wanted money spent in their state, and the one way you could get 
money, of course, was to build dams, and you'd get a lot of 
money. So that a tremendous amount of federal money was put into 
states in the water program that was running between about 1960 
and 1975 or 1980, and as it gradually became clearer that there 
were a lot of troubles with doing this, then the Congress began 
to back away from this. They thought, "This is not really as 
good as we thought it was going to be." With the environmental 
movement, even the Corps of Engineers got backed up to the wall. 

But when you had people like Senator Kerr and Congressman 
Aspinall, people like that who are really getting a lot of 
mileage out of federal money spent on water, the Corps of 
Engineers was going wild and so was the Soil Conservation 
Service, so was the Bureau of Reclamation. It took a while to 
find out that this had many disadvantages. 

Then as the environmental movement got under way, and this 
came more to the public's attention, the public began to perceive 
that this is not the way they really wanted to spend their money, 
just as now in the question of timber harvesting the public is 
beginning to see that if you chop down all of the old- growth 
forest in the Northwest, that there's going to be a tremendous 
loss to the public in some manner or another, even if people 
can't quite see exactly what that loss is going to be. That's a 
big shift, you see, in the public attitude. 


Advice to Secretary of Interior Udall 

Lage: You had some discussion with Secretary of Interior Udall, you had 
mentioned, regarding the Grand Canyon. 

Leopold: Yes. 

Lage: Tell me a little bit about how you came to know him and what-- 

Leopold: In the first place, you understand that my father's writings were 
very famous, he was a famous man, and Stewart Udall felt that he 
was going to be the conservation secretary of the Interior, and 
indeed he was. He did some wonderful things. Later on Mo 
[Morris] Udall more or less took it over, and he became the 
conservation spokesman in the Congress. But because they're both 
from Arizona, they both, as well as Senator Goldwater, were 
backing a dam at Marble Canyon in the Grand Canyon, and they were 
going to push it through. It was about 1966, it must have been. 

Lage: Were you still chief? 

Leopold: Yes, I was still chief. It was rather embarrassing. I think I 
told you that Udall knew me, but he didn't know my director. I 
would often get a call from his office saying, "Come on over for 
lunch," or something, but then I had to rush up to the director 
and say, "I don't know what he's going to talk about but here's 
what I think, and I'll be back immediately and tell you what 
happened. " 

Lage: So what kinds of things would he talk to you about? 

Leopold: Well, this was one. I came into his office and he had his feet 
up on the desk and he was chewing an apple. He said, "Luna, 
you've been down the Grand Canyon. Is it worth saving?" I 
looked at him and said, "Well, Mr. Secretary, if you want to save 
it for a bunch of damn tourists who are going to mess the place 
up," I said, "no, it's not worth it. But if you are going to 
make a real name for yourself as a conservationist, which I know 
you'd like to do, the one thing that will make you famous for the 
rest of time is if you come out against the dam in the Grand 
Canyon." Then we talked a little about it, and sure enough, two 
weeks later he came out in public and said he was against the 
dam. That killed it. Without the secretary of the Interior in 
favor of it, it was not going to go. 










I talked to him about quite a- - . That was certainly the 
most dramatic, and I'm not sure how much say I had. Maybe he was 
leaning to it, but there was no hint up to that moment that there 
was anything except complete support for the dam. I think that I 
may have just pushed him over the edge, that he saw that that was 
not going to be to his credit. 

Can you remember other things that he'd call you in about? 

[laughs] I can remember more than once I got a call that he 
wanted to have lunch with me. He had a lunch room that was a 
very, very large room with a very, very long table, and very 
often we would be served alone in this very large room. The next 
day I got a bill: $2.20 or something like that, for lunch. 

You're kidding. 

I couldn't believe it. I don't know. For some reason. The 
things that happen in the government are just-- 

[ laughing] That's wonderful. 

Did you get so that you felt friendly with him, or was it 
always kind of a formal-- 

No, he certainly felt very friendly to me, called me by my first 
name. I never felt like I could talk to him by his first name. 
I talked to Mr. Secretary. But I had lots of contact, of course, 
with people on his staff at lower levels. Immediately below him, 
and his personal staff, and the undersecretary, and the deputy 

Yes, sure. Nathaniel Reed from Florida, of course. I'll think 
of some other names. One of my own staff, Frank Clarke, a very 
close friend of mine, was asked to be the deputy undersecretary, 
I think it was under Nat Reed, as a matter of fact. 

Which actually was later; Reed was there under the Nixon 

Yes, of course, and that's when I got into the Everglades 

Yes, which we're going to talk about, but let's finish up on the 
Grand Canyon. On kind of a personal note, I notice that your 


daughter had given congressional testimony about the Grand 

Leopold: Yes. She made a big impression. She had been down the Grand 

Canyon. Not on a trip with me; on another trip. She was about 
thirteen or twelve or come thing like that, and she took it on 
herself. She got admission to this hearing, got a place on the 

Lage : On her own? 

Leopold: All by herself. I remember a couple of days after that- -I didn't 
hear her talk, I read her talk- -I was flying with Herb. We 
landed at Edmonton, Canada- -we were on our way to Alaska- -and I 
heard my name called on the paging system. I went to the 
telephone, and a person said, "Senator So-and-so wants to talk to 
you." I said, "Very well, put him on." So he said, "Are you the 
father of that girl that I heard a couple of days ago testify for 
my committee?" I said, "Madelyn? Yes." "Well," he said, "that 
was very impressive. She must come from somebody who knows 
something. I wonder if you'd give me some advice," and on and on 
and on. 

Lage: He probably didn't realize she'd done this all on her own. 

Leopold: 1 don't know, but 1 made it pretty clear that I had nothing to do 
with it. 

The First Environmental Impact Review: Everglades Jetoort 

Lage: Shall we talk about the Everglades jetport? That sounds like a 
very interesting tale involving a couple of different government 
agencies. That was in 1969. 

Leopold: Yes, that must have been about '69. I knew very little about the 
Everglades problem, very little indeed. 1 was in Pinedale 
[Wyoming] and 1 got a call from the undersecretary saying, "I 
want you to do a job for me. 1 want you to go to Florida and 
look into this whole business that we're very concerned about. 
The Department of Transportation wants to build a big jetport 
there which is going to be larger than John F. Kennedy jetport in 
New York. We don't know what our position ought to be. We'd 
like to have some advice." I said, "I'm busy, but if you'll wait 
a week or two, I'll get over there." 

Lage: Was this Russell Train, by chance? 


Leopold: Yes. So I was told then by the deputy undersecretary that this 
was going to be a Joint report between the Department of 
Transportation, which was really behind the Jetport, and the 
Department of Interior. Interior was involved because it was so 
close to their land. 

Lage: To the [Everglades] national park. 

Leopold: Yes. Veil, a couple of weeks later I arrived there in Miami. 

They took me to the park and flew me around in an airplane. They 
put me in a jet boat, and we went all through the Everglades. 
Then I sat down and talked with all these people that knew 
different things: the Fish and Wildlife people who knew about 
birds, the Fish and Wildlife people who knew about big game, some 
of them who had experience with fire, and then there were people 
who had experience with the whole business of water. I wanted to 
know about alligators, I wanted to know about the special species 
that occur only there, like the Florida kite and things like 

So I said, "Very well, I see now what we should do. I have 
to go back to Wyoming, and since all of you are really the 
experts, I'd like to have you do this. I'm going to assign 
portions of this to you, and when I come back in about three 
weeks I want you to have written something on the order of three 
pages on these things on which you are specialists." And I 
assigned all these things. 

Lage: Did you get to choose these people, or were they-- 

Leopold: They were all the people that were there. The people from the 
Interior Department, people from the Park Service, people from 
the Fish and Wildlife Service, people in transportation. I 
wanted to know, for example, about the chances of killing birds 
with an airplane. Not only killing birds but killing people, if 
a big bird got in the engine. So I assigned these things. I 
said, "Here's what I'd like to have you do." All these people 
were experts, you see, so there should be no problem. 

I came back in three weeks. I got them all together and I 
said, "All right, now if you'll just hand me everything that 
you've written, then I can start discussing with you how we're 
going to edit it." I looked around, and nobody had written 
anything. I said, "Wait a minute. This is August, and do you 
know that the report is due on October 15 or something like that? 
We only have six weeks to go to write a major report." I said, 
"You haven't done anything?" No, they hadn't done anything. 


Lage: Did they have a reason? Was there something behind it? 

Leopold: No. Simply they Just didn't get to it. So I turned to the chief 
man and 1 said, "All right. I want three secretaries full time. 
I want a dictating machine. I want typewriters. I want an 
artist. I'll write the report." So I sat down with a dictating 
machine and I wrote a report. 

Lage: Based on the verbal- - 

Leopold: --most everything they told me. And, I'd seen a lot of stuff. I 
remember I was in the middle of writing this, and everybody else 
was looking at the television in this motel room. I walked up to 
the room where they were watching, and I saw Neil Armstrong 
taking the first step on the moon. I said, "I haven't got time 
to look at that." I went back in the room and continued my work, 
and in a day and a half I had a report written. 

The wife of one of the men was a graphic artist, so I said, 
"Okay, I'm going to make some sketches. Here is what I want to 
illustrate. I want to illustrate fire and its relationship to 
alligators, relationship to deer." I made out these sketches, 
and I said, "I want you to put these in final form. Redo them 
but in a nice way." She was very good; she did a good job. 
Within three days, I had a report written, so I got back to 

Now, I had written a report but I had nothing about 
transportation. I had lots about airplanes and lots about 
pollution and lots about water and lots about birds and wildlife, 
but nothing about how many airplanes, how much transportation, so 
I called a representative of the Department of Transportation and 
said, "Well, you know, now, we're only two weeks away. I've got 
to have your input so I can work it into this edited draft." 

Nothing happened, and nothing happened, until I made several 
telephone calls. Finally the day arrived when the report was 
due. The day before, I called this guy. I called him into my 
office and I said, "Look, you have on my desk, tomorrow morning 
at eight o'clock so I can do it tomorrow morning, whatever you're 
going to submit. If you're not going to give me anything, I'm 
going to take your name off the report. It's not going to be 
your report at all. It's going to be my report." Eight o'clock 
came and nothing happened so I took his name off the report and 
had the top cover page retyped and sent it in to the secretary of 
Interior. Well, this was the first environmental impact 
statement, and it made quite a hit. 


Here's where Nat Reed came in. Nat Reed at that time was 
the scientific advisor to the governor of Florida [Claude Kirk] . 
I think I told you that without the backing of the governor of 
Florida, we would have gotten nowhere. Nat Reed persuaded the 
governor that he was going to be smart to go along with this 
report and say, "No, we're not going to have this jetport here," 
and he did. So there Nat Reed was very important in utilizing 
our report to persuade the governor, "Don't fight it. Go with 

Lage: Was there any such thing as an environmental impact statement, 
then? That was just about the time that NEPA had been passed. 

Leopold: No, that was it. That was the original. 

Lage: So that was found to be useful as a model, then. 

Leopold: And was useful as a model. As a matter of fact, that's one of 
the problems, is that they copied my report. The Council on 
Environmental Quality required thereafter that everybody use the 
same format that I used. 

Lage: Russell Train then became head of the Council of Environmental 

Leopold: I'd forgotten that. Previously, he was head of the Conservation 

Lage: Yes. Did you use the method of looking at the relative impact of 
different alternatives courses of action? 

Leopold: Yes. Definitely. Yes. Exactly. [tape interruption] 
I must have bound it in here. Yes. 

Lage: "Environmental Impact of Big Cypress Swamp Jetport" [U.S. 
Department of Interior, September 1969] 

Leopold: And that was where the name came from. 
Lage: Even the name "Environmental Impact." 
Leopold: Yes. 

Lage: That's fascinating. Do you know the path by which this became 
the model? 

Leopold: No, I don't. No, except I know that the CEQ had a lot to do with 


Lage: They were probably bustling around trying to think of how to deal 
with NEPA. 

Leopold: Probably. 

Lage: Did you have a model as you went through this, sitting down and 

dictating the report? What was your conception of what it should 
be, or how did you-- 

Leopold: 1 was simply trying to write a report on what 1 thought the 

jetport was going to do, what were the advantages, what were the 
disadvantages, and what was going to be the final outcome. The 
main thing is that the final conclusion was picked up by the 
newspaper, you see, and spread all over the map in Florida. 
Those were the drawings that 1 made that I asked this lady to 
prepare in a little better form for me, but 1 made the original 
drawings, showed her exactly what 1 wanted, and 1 had her just do 

Lage: [Looking at report] From what I've seen of your drawings, I think 
they're the equal of these. Graphs. It sounds like the jetport 
would have been a real disaster. 

Leopold: Yes. Oh, it would have, no question about it, yes. 

Lage: And you hadn't been that aware of it before you were called down 
there . 

Leopold: No, no, I learned everything that had to be learned when I was 
there, in just a short time. 

Preventing an 111 -Conceived Trans -Alaska Pipeline 

Lage: Just before this, you got involved in the Alaska pipeline. How 
did that happen, and what did it involve? 

Leopold: That was even worse. Alaska was required by law to prepare a 

plan of the whole route of the pipeline, which was to go up the 
John River, which was the river that 1 had taken this expedition 

Lage : Had you taken the expedition on the John River for this reason? 
Leopold: No, not at all. 


So they had taken all these survey maps, and they showed the 
route of the pipeline, and all these maps had to be folded. When 
they got done, there was a stack about this high [indicates]. 
There was an assistant to the director of the Geological Survey 
that I didn't know very well, who was kind of a liaison for the 
director with the Department of Interior across the street. He 
had been following this matter, and apparently he brought it to 
the attention of the secretary that the Geological Survey better 
review this report before the permit was given for the building 
of the line. 

All right, this is what happened. He phoned me from the 
director's office and said, "They've got this report and I'd like 
to have you read it for us and tell the director's office what 
you think. Should we make any objection to the issue of a 
permit?" I said, "Send it over." Well, I didn't know what the 
report was going to look like, but they brought on a cart like 
this and stood it in my office. It stood about this high 
[indicates height]. 

Lage: Three feet. 

Leopold: Oh, at least. More than that. Four and a half feet. So I said 
to the man, "How much time am I given to review this report?" He 
said, "Fifteen minutes." I said, "All right, sit down." So I 
took the top volume off and opened it up, and the only thing I 
wanted to see was a cross section as to what they were going to 
do with that pipe. The cross section in it was about this large 
[2 inches] and it showed a circle for the pipe, ground surface, 
and some dots showing gravel, and that was it. No dimensions, 

So I said, "Thank you. I've reviewed the report." I put it 
back, and I said, "You can take it back to the secretary." So I 
went up to the director's office, and I said, "This is one real 
disaster. They have never heard about permafrost. They have not 
even thought about how they're going to cross the river." I 
said, "I've been on this river. I know what this river looks 
like. It's going to be a mess." 

Lage: You could tell just from this quick look that it wasn't- - 

Leopold: Well I mean, if that's all they had, they didn't know what they 
were doing. 

The director then said to me, "Very well. You'd better go 
take a look at this if it's that serious." I said, "All right, 
I'll take a look at it, but I'm going to choose the people to 
write the report with me, and we're going to do it on our own. I 


want Herb Skibitzke on our own airplane, and I want Bob Curry." 
Bob Curry was a friend of mine who had a degree from this 
department [UC Berkeley Department of Geology] , who was teaching 
at that time at Santa Barbara. Bob had written his thesis on the 
High Sierra, so he knew a lot about ice and he knew a lot about 
frost action and he knew a lot about permafrost and that sort of 

So anyhow, Herb and Bob and I got in our own airplane and we 
flew up there. Veil, you ought to see the pictures. We were 
flying over the places where the bulldozer was making the track 
there that ran up the river. 

Lage: They were already started? 

Leopold: Oh, they were started, all right. You could see the bulldozer 

come up to the river. It wouldn't know what to do, so you'd see 
a bulldozer knocking down trees over here and knocking down trees 
over here until he found a place to cross. He'd cross the river 
and then go on. Here was this bulldozer track going on and on 
and on up this river. 

Lage: And you were taking photos from the air? 

Leopold: Oh, you bet. We had started out from a place called Crevice 
Creek where we had met a man who was from the eastern United 
States who had gotten tired of civilization. He moved up there 
in the middle of the wilderness in the Brooks Range near this 
river that I was talking about. He married an Eskimo girl, had 
two little children that they were teaching themselves, and he 
was making his money by taking people in his little light plane 
to go hunting up there. 

So at this little airstrip, just a little gravel strip in 
his front yard, we landed our airplane there and we went to see 
Bill. We said, "The damn bulldozers have gone through your place 
a couple of days ago." "Yes," he said, "they went through my 
back yard and they didn't even stop to say hello. I was at least 
going to go out and say, 'Come in and have a cup of coffee,' but 
they bulldozed my trees right down, right through my back yard." 
I looked out, and sure enough, that's what they did. 

So we flew then up over to Anaktuvik Pass. We went out onto 
the ice toward Prudhoe Bay. We could see where the bulldozers 
were still working at the present time. Then we came back to 
Fairbanks and I started this series of conferences with different 
peoplepeople who represented the Bureau of Reclamation, the 
people who represented the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the 
Bureau of Land Management. The Bureau of Land Management had a 









big stake in it because they controlled a lot of land up there. 
We were appalled at how all these local people, they thought this 
was just fine. 

All these people you conferred with were for it. 

Very few people were against it, and they didn't want to say if 
they did oppose it, because everything was for, you know, "We're 
going to get a lot of money out of this . " 

So I came back and I sat down and wrote a report that really 
told them where to step off. For example, 1 recommended--. I 
made certain specific recommendations: first, that certain parts 
of the pipe had to be elevated above the ground. 


Oil is hot, you know, and I didn't want it to go through the 
permafrost and melt the permafrost. I recommended that there 
would be a mile on either side of the road as a reserve with no 
hunting. I didn't want people shooting as 1 saw them doing there 
on the ground where they'd lean out of the truck and shoot things 
from the road that they were building. I wanted a stop on the 
killing of wolves, and several other recommendations of that 

So when the director read my report, he got pretty excited 
about it. This was a new director. This was when Pecora had 
just moved in, just before I quit. 

Now, you say he got excited, 

Was it good excitement or bad 

He could see that this was a disaster. 
It was hot. 

Yes. It turned out this just coincided with the Santa Barbara 
oil spill. 

Good timing. 

As soon as the oil spill happened, there was Bob Curry at the 
University of California in Santa Barbara. He got all of his 
students together and they were out there walking the beaches 
making notes on everything that was happening. When the people 
finally woke up to the fact that this was serious for the tourist 
industry and that sort of thing, the only person who had any data 
was Bob Curry. 


The secretary of the Interior decided he had to go take a 
look at this. 

Lage: Now, this was Hickel, was it not? 

Leopold: This was Hickel. The director, now, was Bill Pecora, Just newly 
appointed director. 


Leopold: They got to Santa Barbara, and there were lots of things 

happening right then and there. First, no one seemed to know 
anything except Bob Curry. He was the only one that had any 
data, the only one that had really been out there looking. And 
then it turned out that all the people that were supposedly 
knowledgeable, they didn't even know where the oil was. 

Veil, apparently in the hearing that was held, Curry was 
saying effectively to the Geological Survey, to the director, 
"You people better get on this because this is an important 
geomorphic, geologic matter." He made the director very angry. 1 
don't know how exactly it happened, but the director was very 

The director got back in town, and about that time my report 
was on his desk. It said, "Leopold, Skibitzke, and Curry." He 
looked at that and said, "Is that the same Curry I met in 
California?" "Yes, sir, it sure is." He said, "Well, take his 
goddamn name off of that, because I won't have it around." 

Lage: You're kidding. 

Leopold: I said, "What?" I said, "I wrote the report, but they were 

people on my team." I took the name off. The report then went 
from the director to the secretary, and then they began to see 
that it was very serious. 

Lage: Was this a report of the same thoroughness as the Everglades? 

Leopold: No, no, this was much shorter. 

Lage: Much shorter. More of a recommendation? 

Leopold: "For God's sake, don't give them a permit," is what I was saying. 

Then at that time, because we were always causing trouble 
anyhow, the new director said, "You keep that Skibitzke out of 
that oil spill business." I told Herb, "You just hang on. The 







time will come when your talents will be needed." Veil, they 
couldn't find the oil. They had ships out there, great navy 
ships going back and forth, and they couldn't map the oil slick. 
Finally the director called and said, "Skibitzke says he can find 
that oil for me." I said, "You're damn right he can." He said, 
"Well, get him out there." [laughter] 

So as usual, Herb had obtained one of these radar units, a 
big disk, you know, about six feet in diameter, sitting up on top 
of a truck. It was for tracking some kind of airplane. No one 
knew how to run this, but Herb took the thing apart, and he 
taught himself how to run it. He rewired the whole thing and got 
it running so that he then could pick up one of our little 
planes. So he rolled this damn machine out there to Santa 
Barbara and set it up on a cliff, and flew one of our light 
planes out there, and told my friend Howard Chapman, Chappie, who 
was one of our boatmen, "All right, you fly out there and you 
find that oil, and we are mapping it in this machine as the radar 
picks it up." As the airplane flew, a map of its course was 
automatically made in this trailer accompanying the radar disc. 

So Chappie got out there. He called back and said, "Okay, 
I'm on the edge of the slick. Now I'm going to go flying around 
it. Now, you start mapping." So here was this great big slick, 
here came a little airplane. All those Navy ships down there 
couldn't find it. The little airplane flew all the way around. 

He flew around the circumference of it? 
traced where the-- 

And then the radar 

Yes. So in an hour we had a map of the whole thing, you see. 

Herb sounds very clever. 

Oh, God, he's clever as hell. 

So within an hour we had the whole thing mapped. That 
settled that matter. The survey had shown that we knew how to do 
things that nobody else could do. 

How was the report on Alaska received? 

The Alaskan report was in the director's hands. He essentially 
told the secretary of the Interior, "You can't use that route and 
you can't build it. We're not going to give you a permit because 
you don't--" 


So USGS had the right to give the permit? 


Leopold: USGS had enough influence to say, "Look, here are the problems." 
They were quoting my report. Here are the things that they 
hadn't thought about. If you melt the ice, then what happens to 
the pipe? Does it move downhill? It will break. How fast is 
the ice going to be melted by this hot oil? What about the 
caribou? On and on and on. 

Lage: In every area. 

Leopold: Yes. Because those are all the things that I was talking about 
in my report. Well, anyhow, it stopped them. The Interior 
Department didn't give them a permit, so for five years the 
consortium had to start a big research program, which they did 
very intelligently. They set up a model pipe of the same 
diameter, a great big thing, up there at the University of Alaska 
at Fairbanks, and they put hot oil through the thing, measured 
the temperatures, and then they had a buried section, so they 
really learned a hell of a lot. So when they got through, they 
knew quite a lot about how to build that pipe so that it was 
worthwhile, but it cost them millions, of course, to be stopped. 
But it would have cost them millions if it hadn't been stopped, 
as a matter of fact. 

Lage: And it would have cost more than that in damage. 

Leopold: Yes. 

Lage: Those are great tales. 

Leopold: Yes, they are. 

Lage: And important. 

Recommendation on Redwoods National Park 

Lage: What did you have to do with the Redwoods National Park? Did you 
make a report of the same type about that? 

Leopold: No. When the secretary's office finally got onto the fact that 
the highest trees in the United States are in Redwood Creek, and 
the National Geographic Society wanted, what?- -to buy it--? Or 
maybe--. Anyhow, there was something that came up about the 
National Geographic Society and the two big trees. 

Lage: They funded a study, I think, and gave it publicity. 


Leopold: It became quite clear that this was a serious matter, that the 
river was going to hell because the upper part, you see, is all 
cut over. There's nothing but this little strip of redwoods down 
the center of the creek, and all the rest of it is devastation. 
It's Just devastated. 

That was when Nat Reed was undersecretary (about 1974) . He 
called a meeting here in San Francisco in which he asked various 
people to get up and discuss the whole matter of what do we know 
about what's going on, how serious are the floods, where is the 
sediment coming from, how fast is the river building up its bed, 
and what are the chances of destroying the trees, and on and on 
and on. Veil, this went on for a day. I just was listening. I 
didn't know anything about it. I was learning a lot. Right at 
the end of the day I was sitting next to the secretary, and he 
turned to me and he said, "Very well, Luna, you summarize the 
whole thing and tell us what we ought to do." 

Lage: That's quite a compliment. 

Leopold: So I said, "All right, 1 will." I got up and I said, "Here's 

what you need to do. You have to set up gauging stations, you've 
got to make measurements of this and measurements of that." I 
said, "I'll even tell you the people who ought to do it. My 
first choice is Ed Helley, my second choice is Richard Janda." 
They're all survey people. They will do the job for you." The 
secretary said, "Fine." 

So we immediately set up a program in which there were very 
competent people from the survey assigned to work with some of 
the National Park Service people, and over a period of several 
years they did a hell of a good job. They got all the 
measurements they needed and wrote a lot of reports, published 
the reports. 

Lage: But you didn't have anything to do with-- 

Leopold: No, they wanted me to run it, you see, and I said, "No, I won't 
run it." 

Lage: That was about the time you were leaving the survey. 

Leopold: Yes. I said, "No, that's really not what I want to do. We've 

got lots of younger people that can do it just as well, and here 
are their names." The leader is one of the people that I 
recommended. Richard Janda was appointed by the secretary and 
did a very first-class job. My goodness, it took him- -he must 
have worked five or six, seven years on it, and ran it very well, 
so the survey did itself proud on that job. 



It's a good example- -and you mentioned five or six years of how 
long these things take. It's not overnight. 

Leopold: No, you bet. 

Lage: This took place after the Redwood Park had been established but 
before it had been enlarged. In '78 it was enlarged. Did you 
have any thoughts about the wisdom of where it was established? 

Leopold: That was long past. In other words, we all knew at that time 

that the Sierra Club was really suckered into this thing. It was 
true we need a national park, but they would have, in my opinion- 
-and a lot of people feel this waythey would have been far 
better to have said, "Give us a very small park consisting of 
virgin, uncut forest, and we'll stay with that," but because the 
big trees are out along the creek, the Sierra Club went for this 
little strip that has been called the worm, with all this 
devastation on either side, for the whole purpose of saving some 
of the big trees. In my opinion, it was a great mistake. 

But anyhow, that's what we were stuck with, and therefore we 
couldn't do anything about that, but we could then start to talk 
about what's causing the problem, what are the dangers to the 
trees, and that's what the survey people did. 

Scientists as Consultants on JSnvironmental Issues 

Lage: Do you think overall the environmental movement has used 
scientists well? 

Leopold: Yes, in lots of respects they've used the scientists very well, 
but the scientific community simply is a poor match against the 
big money people, the developers and those groups. The 
environmental movement, after all, has very little money. They 
are beginning to get political clout, but not because they've got 
money but because they have standing. 

This is one of the other things that's happening. There are 
an awful lot of people in this world, professional people, who 
are willing to sell their souls for money, and we see this all 
the time. Probably the best example that I know of is the delta 
of the Sacramento River. Several of my friends and I testified 
before Bay-Delta hearings of the California State Water Resources 
Control Board trying to point out to them what the dangers are. 
All these people, these big agriculturists in the central part of 


the valley, have all kinds of money and all kinds of lawyers, and 
they have a lot of people who are willing to get up and swear 
under oath things that I think are simply clearly not true. 

Lage: They hire scientists? 

Leopold: They hire pseudo-scientists, not people with scientific 

reputations. They hire consultants, and there's the difference. 
Usually scientists stay away from consulting. The only 
consulting 1 ever do, except for one occasion which I got sort of 
caught in, are for places where 1 think that the environmental 
issue is so important that I have to get in and pitch. But 
ordinarily I'd just as soon not turn my scientific knowledge 
into--. In a lot of cases consulting is very traumatic. 

The Forest Service and the Denver Water Board 

Leopold: So this past year I've been completely tied up in this big ruckus 
in Colorado. It's not fun, but we used our science very well. 
Ve started out with considerable disadvantage because of things 
that had been written prior to the time that we all got in it. 

But yes, I think science is used very nicely, very well in 
environmental causes, but science doesn't take the place of 
money, really. It's not very often, for example, that you have 
the money to pay the consultants that went into this law case in 

Lage: This is the Denver water board case? 

Leopold: Yes. The U.S. Forest Service requests the water court in 

Colorado to give the government a water right for instream flow 
in basins within the national forests of Water Division No. 1. 

Lage: And who was paying you? The government? 

Leopold: Yes. The Justice Department and the Forest Service. The Forest 
Service was putting up most of the money. The Justice Department 
was putting up the rest because the Justice Department was having 
to support its own lawyers. I think that most of our salaries as 
expert witnesses, came from the Forest Service. 

Lage: Is there a whole group of you? 


Leopold: Oh, yes. Most of them people I picked out. I was probably the 
one that pretty much laid out what we were going to try to do, 
and a lot of my friends were in it. One of my colleagues, David 
Dawdy, a former survey man who now is a consultant here in San 
Francisco, is a very important man in the case. We had some very 
good help from the Geological Survey. Dr. Richard Madole was our 
geologist, wonderful testimony. My friend Dave Rosgen, who was 
fired from the Forest Service and is now a consultant, was a very 
important person. One of my students, Dr. Ned Andrews, who now 
works for the Geological Survey, was extremely important, so all 
these people had to be paid. 

Lage: Give me, just so we have this in the record, what the case is 
about . 

Leopold: The case is about instream flow. It happened this way. About in 
the early 1980s, the Indian tribe on the east side of the Wind 
River decided that since a lot of water came into the Wind River 
from their reservation, they felt that that water belonged to 
them, because it originated on their reservation. So they asked 
that a water right be given to them for water which originated on 
their reservation. 

At that time the Justice Department was involved in that 
case, and they went to the Forest Service. A friend of mine in 
Denver went to the Forest Service and said, "Look, if the Indians 
can do that, why in the world doesn't the Forest Service do it? 
Why don't you go and say, 'We don't want people diverting all the 
water out of the forest land, drying up all the rivers'? Why 
don't you ask for a water right?" Well, the Forest Service took 
them up on it. 

So right at that time, one of the Justice Department lawyers 
and two of the Forest Service men, Lee Silvey and my friend Dave 
Rosgen, the two hydrologists for the Forest Service, were 
involved in trying to advise the Justice Department what the 
Forest Service ought to ask for and how to compute how much water 
they would like. Remember, now, they're not going to divert it. 
They asked for a water right to leave the water flowing in the 
stream on Forest Service land. Below the Forest Service boundary 
you can do whatever you want to. If you wanted to use it for 
urbanization, that's all right. 

Lage: What area were they working on? 
Leopold: This was Wyoming. 
Lage: Still in Wyoming. 


Leopold: Yes. 

They settled out of court, and then several years later, the 
Supreme Court said we were right, and they gave the Indians a 
hell of a lot of water, because it was taken all the way to the 
Supreme Court. Well, then we knew that the situation in Colorado 
was not going to be so easy; they weren't going to settle, they 
were going to fight it. So the Forest Service asked the court, 
the water court in Greeley, Colorado, to give them a water right; 
they applied for a water right through the water court, which is 
according to the state rules. And then the other side, the 
developers, particularly the attorney general of Colorado and the 
Denver Water Board and a whole lot of little irrigation districts 
on that side of the mountain, they all got together to fight it. 

Lage: Because they had been using water that originated in-- 

Leopold: No, they were afraid that they would be prevented from taking 

additional water out of the forest. They were already taking a 
lot, but they were talking about the future. And of course, we 
were saying, "We're not preventing you from developing. Our 
argument is, we want only enough water to see that the streams 
don't go dry, that the streams maintain themselves." Our 
computations ended up by shoving that if the streams were allowed 
to keep half of the water divided in a certain way, that that 
would be sufficient to keep the streams operating as usual. But 
the other side is not interested in half. They want all. They 
want to dry it up. They really want to dry up every stream on 
the mountain. That's what we were fighting. 

We were in very bad shape because the Forest Service years 
ago, soon after the Wind River case in the early eighties, had 
already made a claim, and now we came in here ten or more years 
later, and we said, "We don't like the way that was computed." 
So three times since the beginning, the Forest Service claim was 
changed. The last was changed two weeks before the court case 
ended. The judge said, "That's enough. I won't allow that." 
But we were stuck with things that had been done earlier. The 
state said-- 

Lage: Before you came on the case? 

Leopold: Yes. Things that were done before we had anything to do with it. 
I think that we would have been better off if Justice had 
decided, "No, even though that may be better from the standpoint 
of you hydrologists, from the standpoint of winning this court 
case, we'd better not ask for any more change." But they did. I 
didn't have anything to do with that decision. I had a lot to do 
with what was going to be recommended, but the decision was made 






by the Justice Department as to what they thought they could do. 
So it set us back a lot, and we don't know how the outcome's 
going to be. 

Is it in front of the court now? 

Yes. Ve don't get an opinion until next December. 

But the work on it is finished. You're Just waiting. 

And I'm sure it will be appealed. 
Supreme Court. 

It's going to go to the 

It would set quite a precedent in many, many places. 

That's the reason we're fighting, because we'll have the same 
problem in- - . 

The Forest Service has made some tremendous mistakes in 
this. The most important mistake that hurt us the most was in a 
case in southern New Mexico on the Mimbres River. There were 
objections to the Forest Service asking for water, and it was 
taken to the court. The Forest Service really didn't call in 
experts and say, "This is an important matter. We'd better do 
this carefully." They got licked. The Supreme Court said this: 
"We think you deserve some water, but you cannot claim it for 
anything other than what was written by the Congress in the time 
the Forest Service was formed in 1897. You cannot claim Fish and 
Wildlife, you cannot claim recreation, you cannot claim 
aesthetics, you cannot claim anything else" except the two things 
that the Congress said, that "We will set up the Forest Service 
reserves for two things: one, to grow timber, and two, 'for 
favorable conditions of streamflow. ' " 

Well, at least that was in there. 

All right, but the whole court case hangs on what those words 
mean. Everything hung on those words, because we couldn't use 
anything else. So we were trying to prove from the geomorphic 
standpoint what the Congress must have meant. 

Even though so many things have intervened since then that give 
the Forest Service jurisdiction or protection. 

The Supreme Court said, "No, you can't claim it for any other 
purpose than the original purpose of the Forest Service as stated 
by Congress, because we were asking for a priority date of 1897. 


Oh, I see. 


Leopold: Ve were asking for a priority date. Now, one of the things that 
I recommended, and I don't think that they're doing, is I said, 
Look, if we don't win this case, go in and claim a 1990 date. 
Go in and ask for the same thing with a 1990 date.* I don't 
think they've done that. Ve have already decided not to impinge 
on any present rights. We're only talking about future rights. 


So you'd asked for the amount of water that they have now. 

Leopold: Yes. Ve were not asking for what they have now. Ve were asking 
for the stuff that they haven't yet used. 

So as I say, there have been a lot of things that have been 
decided but have not boded well for us. But it's very early to 
tell. I haven't any idea of what's going to come up. 

Lage: Did you spend a lot of time on this? Has this been a major 

Leopold: Oh, yes, a lot of time. 

A Turbulent Time on the Sierra Club Board of Directors. 1968- 


Lage: 1 wanted to talk about the Sierra Club and your service on the 
board of directors. 

Leopold: That's not a very important story, actually. 

Lage: I've done a lot of interviewing of Sierra Club people, and you 
brought kind of an outside perspective to the board and to the 
turbulent time in the club that you were plucked down into. How 
did you happen to run for the board of directors? 

Leopold: Because one of my friends in the UC Department of Geography had 
been very active in the business. He said, "I wonder if you 
would be willing to run for the board of directors?" 

Lage: Who was this? 

Leopold: It was Dan Luten. I said, "Sure.* I ran for the board never 
thinking I was going to get on it. Veil, anyhow, I got on the 

Lage: It wasn't Dave Brower, then, who asked you? 


Leopold: No. 

Lage: So this was 1968- -from '68 to '71. 

Leopold: Yes. There was plenty to argue about, because Dave had greatly 
expanded the publication business, especially overseas. His 
original idea of having these coffee-table books turned out at 
first to be very successful, but then he had other ideas that 1 
can't renember in detail that were expensive ideas that just 
didn't seem like they were going to be as successful. The 
financial way in which the Sierra Club was going was very 
troublesome, and Dave was essentially embarking on one rather 
questionable ventures. 

Lage: In the financial field? 

Leopold: In the financial field, yes. Primarily in publishing. Then 

there was the other thing. It appeared to people who had worked 
with him over a long period of time that he tended to pretty much 
do things his own way, even when the board was essentially 
warning him not to do it. So even the people that admired Dave a 
lot, like Ansel Adams, were just tired of having the financial 
thing so really out of control. 

Lage: You came in at the point where Brower's opposition was starting 
to bring charges, formally. 

Leopold: Yes. Right at the time that they were basically bringing charges 
against him. 

Well, when the thing finally came down--. After lots of 
discussion, the thing finally came down to a vote, and only three 
of us voted on Brower's side. 

Lage: This was after the May 1969 election [when Brower and a 

supporting slate of candidates ran for the board of directors and 
were defeated by an ant i- Brower slate] . 

Leopold: This was when the question was, were they going to fire him, is 
really what it amounted to. In effect, that's what it amounted 
to. Eliot Porter and Martin Litton and I were standing up for 
Dave. Phil Berry and Ansel and Dr.-- 

Lage : - - Wayburn . 

Leopold: --Dr. Vayburn and Will Siri as well as a couple of other people 
were on the other side. 









How did you make your choice? 

I felt that the thing that the conservation movement needed was 
to keep this very flamboyant, well -recognized man as our 
spokesman. I felt that we should be able to find some other way 
to curb the problems that we were having with money in order to 
maintain the charismatic leadership that Dave was furnishing to 
us. Furnishing to the whole movement. I still say I would have 
voted the same way. I'd still feel that, although I think that 
Dave got even more difficult to work with, because, you see, they 
had this breakdown in Friends of the Earth, so it is true that 
Dave is a person that people find very hard to get along with. I 
don't know the details of what happened at Friends of the Earth, 
but the fact that it happened again indicates that something 
similar must have been going on. 

After he left, you were still on board for a couple of years. 

Did you see a change of direction or a great loss in any 
particular way? Phil Berry became president. 

Let me give you an example. Dave felt that the Sierra Club 
should be completely against the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, and 
1 definitely agreed with that, for a lot of different reasons. 
But I got in a big argument with one of the persons on the board 
about the question of what would happen to the cooling water. 
The argument that I was given was, well, the water will come out 
hot, but it will be good for the fish. I said it may be good for 
increasing the number of fish, but if you start changing the 
character of the ecology of the coast, I would say that's really 
not the way that the Sierra Club ought to go. 

Then the fact that we weren't just talking about Diablo 
Canyon, we were talking about cutting these swathes across the 
whole Coast Range for the transmission lines, that's one example 
of the place that I supported Dave in this, and most people were 
on the other side. 

Were you concerned about nuclear power at that point? Or not? 

1 don't think anybody was as worried about nuclear power as the 
question of disposal of wastes and the question of water. That's 
where the big argument was. 

And the scar on the land. 


Lage: Fred Eissler, if you remember him, was on the board. I think he 
was the only one who was bringing up the question of the safety 
of nuclear power per se, but 1 Just wondered if you'd had a-- 

Leopold: I don't remember that. No. I remember that at a meeting in 

Greece of the International Association for the Conservation of 
Nature and Natural Resources in 1958, there was introduced a 
motion saying that what we ought to do is to go for- -how was it 
first stated? It was a question of hydroelectric power versus 
nuclear power. I said, "Gee, you don't seem to understand that 
there are great difficulties with each of these two things. For 
goodness sakes, don't land on one as better than the other." 
Anyhow, I cut that one down to size. 

But there were a lot of things that had not yet surfaced at 
that time. The whole question of nuclear accidents was not the 
thing that was the most important. My recollection is the things 
that were primarily the problem was disposal of waste and the 
question of water and also the whole question of earthquakes, 
which was why they stopped the nuclear power plant at Bodega Bay. 

Lage: Did you get to know Martin Litton on the Sierra Club board, or 
had you known him before? 

Leopold: I hadn't known him before, but I've been down the Colorado with 
him since, so that I've always been an admirer of Martin. 

Lage: He's a pilot also. 

Leopold: Yes, indeed, he is. As a matter of fact, when he left Sunset 
Magazine, he unfortunately had to leave his airplane. 

Lage: He seems like a man who will always find a way. 

Anyone else on the board that you'd want to comment on, or 
qualities about the club? 

Leopold: I've worked with Phil Berry since then very closely. I'm a great 
admirer of Phil's. 

Lage: On what did you work with him? 

Leopold: I was one of his expert witnesses on a trial that we had a couple 
of year ago down in Orange County, where we tried to save the 
islands on Newport Bay. I didn't know Phil very well when we 
were on the board together, but much later, when Phil asked me to 


join him on this lav case and 1 pitched in and did it, I became 
very fond of Phil. I had never met Michele [Perrault, Phil 
Berry's wife and also a former president of the Sierra Club] 
before that lav case either, but I'm a very great supporter of 
both of them. 

Lage: Was this a recent lav case? Because when he vas president, there 
vas a lav case he got involved in in Newport Bay. 

Leopold: That vas it. 

Lage: But that vas vay back at the time you vere on the board. 

Leopold: No, no. No, that's another one then. This is one about five 
years ago. We enlisted a lot of university people on our side. 
It's my personal opinion that no one could vin a lawsuit against 
the Irvine Company in Orange County. Just the vay the judge 
ruled and the words that were used in the ruling make me think 
that we didn't get a fair trial at all. 

Lage: So it wasn't a successful suit? 
Leopold: No, we lost the suit. 

Lage: During the time you were on the Sierra Club board, the club, or 
at least the club president, took stands and testified against 
the nomination of Secretary Hickel and then Rogers Morton, for 
secretary of Interior. Would you have gotten any flak in the 
USGS about membership on the Sierra Club board? 

Leopold: Yes. This comes up again and again. I don't know of any law 
cases I was ever in but what they brought it up. 

Lage: In law cases they bring it up as if this were a disqualifying 

Leopold: Sure. Oh, you bet. No, I can think of at least two--. I'm sure 
I'm right about this. Yes, I have a very definite recollection 
that this is brought up against my record, that you have been 
connected with the Sierra Club. I said, "Sure, I've been 
connected with the Sierra Club. I'm very glad to do it." My 
testimony and my opinions have mostly been shaped by my 
scientific work. Yes, that has not been a useful qualification 
in some of these things where we have really big fights about 

Lage: I see. Because you're being presented as a scientific witness, 
an expert witness. 


Leopold: Yes. And of course, they're trying to make us sound biased, you 
see. I said, "You don't have to be biased to be a 
conservationist.* As a natter of fact, one wonders how anybody 
can know anything about science and not become a conservationist 
in trying to protect some of these things that are under siege. 
In other words, I never tried to make out that there was anything 
wrong with that. One wonders how you can deal with scientific 
matters and not see the need for the protection of some of these 
natural values . 

Lage: Did the USGS object to your being a member of the Sierra Club 
board of directors? 

Leopold: It was never brought up for discussion as far as I know. 

Importance of Aesthetic Values: Hells Canvon 

Lage: You'd also been part of the Wilderness Conference presentations 
before your board service. Were those something that stand out 
in your mind at all? The Sierra Club Wilderness Conferences? 

Leopold: Well, I gave papers there. I haven't read those papers for a 

long time. I can't even remember. One was called "The Dragon to 

Lage: Right. It seemed like one of the themes- -maybe in both of them 
that I read- -had to do with the importance of the non-monetary 
aspect of wilderness. 

Leopold: Well, of course, that's what I worked a lot on. That's been a 
very important part of what I accomplished, I think. 

Lage: Your paper on Hells Canyon [of the Snake River], is that an 
outgrowth of this concern with the aesthetic, non-economic 

Leopold: Yes. ["Quantitative Comparison of Aesthetic Factors among 
Rivers" (USGS Circular Series, 1969).] 

Lage: How did that come about? You did that while you were with USGS. 
Did that come about in response to the effort to save Hells 

Leopold: It came about because there was a hearing before the Federal 

Power Commission on whether they were going to grant a license 
for another dam in Hells Canyon. Alan Kneese was working for 


Resources for the Future. He and another well-known economist 
were going to give testimony before the committee on the 
economics of recreation. In some Banner or another, Alan Kneese 
got me Interested In looking at other aspects of It. I said, "It 
seems to me that one of the things that Is most Important Is to 
recognize that they are undervaluing the aesthetic aspect of the 
canyon In Its original condition." So I made a trip to Idaho and 
learned a lot about Hells Canyon. I wrote this paper on how one 
might compare different scenic areas. That made quite a splash 
but I don't think we won the case at that time. 

Lage: You talked about quantifying the aesthetic features. 

Leopold: Yes. It was a way of trying to deal with non- quantifiable things 
to put them into forms that people could see. 

Lage: Did that get taken up at all, do you know, say, in making EIR 
[environmental impact review] statements? 

Leopold: It was certainly taken up in Canada. I was invited to go to 
Winnipeg. I was teaching for a semester at the University of 
Ottawa, and the Canadian Park Service asked me to go with them to 
Winnipeg and talk to them about how they might use my scheme in 
the choosing of areas to be protected as wild rivers and national 
parks. So they probably did more with it than anybody here has 
done with it. I heard later that indeed one of the places that 
Herb and I flew to was, because of the scheme, turned into a 
national park. 

Lage: That's gratifying. 
Leopold: Yes. 


[Interview 7: March 12, 

Resigning as Chief Hvdrologist and Subsequent Changes in the 

Lage : You mentioned earlier that when you left the position of chief of 
the Water Resources Division, they made a lot of changes. 

Leopold: Yes. 

Lage: Did they change your policy of sending people to school? 

Leopold: Yes. For a long time there was nobody sent to school after that. 
I don't know. They kept me so far away from it that I really 
couldn't tell you very much about what the operation was. 

Lage: So when you left the directorship and became senior hydrologist 
[1966], you were no longer involved in the management arena? 

Leopold: They prohibited people from talking to me. 

Lage: Tell me about that. We haven't recorded anything about that. 

Leopold: They appointed my assistant chief as chief. 

Lage: You decided yourself to resign? 

Leopold: Yes, well, that happened this way. After I had been in the 
chief's job for some time, I went to a man in the Geologic 
Division whose name was Dr. Pecora, who was a well -thought of 
geologist in the Geologic Division. Ue had been talking about 
the survey, and I said to him, "What do you think? In your 
experience with the Geologic Division where you trade people, how 
long should a man keep his job?" He said, "I'd say five years 
because that's what we do in the Geologic Division." He said, 


"On the whole, we trade people in and out of the administrative 
jobs about every five years." 

I'd been in this job for ten years, and now this man, 
Pecora, was just Bade the director. I went to him and said, "Do 
you remember that some years ago, you and 1 had a discussion 
about this matter about trading? I think that we need some new 
thoughts and some new ideas. At that time you suggested to me 
that five years is what you did in the Geologic Division. I've 
been here ten, and I think it's time for me to move." He said, 
"Yes, I think that's a good idea." But the people that took 

Lage: Who was appointed to replace you? 

Leopold: The man who was my assistant, Roy Hendricks. I had not 

recommended him for that job, but anyhow, that's what the 
director decided. The main difference was, or the thing that 
precipitated it--. Well, there were a lot of other things, too. 
I was very unhappy at home and was to get a divorce after a short 
time, so I wanted a change anyhow. 

But right at that time, I started to enforce for the first 
time, against anybody's will, the idea that I wanted people to 
move. There was a man in my office that I wanted to move. I'd 
set up good jobs for these people. He's the first one that said, 
"No, I won't do it." It had always been the custom in the survey 
that when they asked you to move, you moved. But on the other 
hand, there was also the custom in the survey that they treated 
you very well, that the move was always to your advantage, not to 
your disadvantage, but the point is that you were moved at the 
discretion of the organization. 

There was some kind of a pressure being brought in the 
director's office against this decision that I'd made. I'd 
worked this out very carefully with the assistant director. 
Well, it was at a GSA [Geological Society of America] meeting, 
and I happened to bump into the new director. He pulled me aside 
and said, "Hey, what the heck's going on? I hear all this 
trouble that you're causing." I said, "What trouble?" He said, 
"You're trying to transfer Mr. So-and-so and he didn't want to be 
transferred, and they're objecting to my office that you 
shouldn't do this." In effect, he was saying, "You're 
embarrassing me." 

I said, "Director, that isn't true. I've been working for 
months on this problem, and I have it all straightened out with 
your assistant director. I have his approval. It's been worked 


out with your office over a long period of time." "Oh," he said, 
"I didn't know that." I said, "That's the way it is." 

Veil, right after I left my job, it was decided that the man 
need not move. From that time on no one has ever been moved 
against his will. It changed the whole character of the organi 
zation. It made a lot of difference because people could say, 
"You didn't move him. He objected, and you didn't move him." 

Lage: Were there other aspects of your policies that were rescinded? 

Leopold: Well, you see, anybody who is trying to do things in a new way-- 
and we've spoken before about the fact that they thought I gave 
too much attention to research and not enough attention to basic 
data, so I made a lot of people unhappy. The man who took my 
place came up through that line of work, you see. He had all 
these friends in the field, and therefore all these things that I 
was doing were now considered to be the wrong things to do 
because I had paid too much attention to the young research 
people and not enough attention to the old guard. So it changed 

Lage: You said that they sort of kept you separate. 

Leopold: People in the organization were advised not to talk to me. In 
something like four years in the Washington office, only one 
person walked in my office in four years. They were enforcing 
it. They didn't want anybody to talk to me. 

Lage: It gave you more time for your work. 

Leopold: Yes, but the point is, you see, what they were afraid of is that 
I was going to mess in their business, which I had no intention 
of doing, but that's what they were fearful of, apparently. 
Anyhow, the word went around that that was not acceptable; they 
couldn't talk to me. 

Anyhow, a lot of things might have been done differently. 
One would suppose that the new administrators might seek the 
advice of more experienced people, but the idea that you were 
actually prevented from saying anything was really too bad, I 
thought . 

Lage: I would think so. Would you say that certain of your programs 
have survived? Surely the ten years that you were there must 
have made a difference in the organization. 

Leopold: Oh, it changed everything. Now people look back at it, you see. 
"Those were the halcyon days of when things were really going." 


Many things that I started that they didn't like at the time now 
have been expanded greatly. For example, I finally decided 1 was 
going to hire one biologist. There was not biologist in our 
whole division of 3,000 people. Now they have forty biologists. 
Many of the prograns I started they found were darn good programs 
that they've expanded all over the place. 

Lage: And just the whole building up of the research division certainly 
didn't change. 

Leopold: Oh, yes. They never added to that, in fact, but that's one of 

the big problems they've got now, is that they've not added to it 
except very incrementally, in very small amounts. I was told a 
short time ago, within the last year, that the whole research 
organization is still running on the money that I got the first 
year, which is twenty- five years ago. With everything else 
expanding, you'd suppose that they'd have expanded that, but they 
never have. 

Problems of Maintaining Productivity in a Research Staff 

Leopold: And now many of the people I hired are now not very productive 
because they're of such an age that production goes down, of 
course, but they won't be moved. In other words, once they 
didn't do what I said when we were going to move people- -and 1 
was putting myself in the same position- -now they're stuck with 
overage people, and they don't know what to do with them. As a 
matter of fact, one person that I hired, 1 saw some years ago, 
not very many years ago. I happened to drop into his office--! 
forget where he was- -and I said to him, "What do you do with your 
time?" He said, "I come to the office to draw my pay. I sit 
here and carve with my pen knife on a piece of wood. That's what 
I do." I said, "You're serious?" He said, "Yes, I'll show you." 

Lage: He sounds very bitter- -or very cynical. 

Leopold: Both, I think. I don't know. I think he was one of the kind of 
people that I thought was doing very interesting work that was 
different than most people did, but I suspect that he was not 
much appreciated by the new outfit. 

About four or five years ago, I guess it was --this is now 
twenty- odd years later--! was asked by one of the research men to 
come to Denver and give a talk to all the research people for all 


the western states, which I did. There were a lot of people that 
didn't care much for what I was saying, either. 

Lage: What was your talk about? The survey? 

Leopold: I was saying about the research organization, I said, "The main 
problem that you've got now is that you have a bunch of people 
that are overage, and they're not as productive as they used to 
be. You ought to find some way to change it. I suggest you do 
the following. First, set up a senior- -I'm not sure what to call 
it. Send them to school. Send the senior people back to school. 
Let them come to universities and get retreaded with new ideas. 
Meet some younger people, meet some different people, get the 
heck out of the office. That's going to take money, but get hold 
of some travel funds and send people back to school." 

Lage: Were you suggesting this for the research people in particular? 

Leopold: Yes. 1 said, "These people now, that 1 hired," and I was talking 
to many of them, 1 said, "you guys are just overaged. What you 
need is some refurbishing. In the university, boy, you'd get 
refurbished in a hurry because you meet young people with lots of 
ideas, people who want to do something, and they will keep you on 
the ball. I think that what would do us a great deal of good 
would be to give our people a chance to go back to school . " 

Then there are other problems: the problem of promotion, the 
problem of direction, the problem of judging scientific 
productivity. I think that improvements could be made in all of 
those things . 

They didn't go for these ideas, but last year I was at a 
meeting, and 1 met one of the young people who was in the 
research organization and moved up to being kind of a supervisor. 
He was complaining to me about how things used to be and how 
things were now. Now, this was a younger man who actually worked 
at one time under Tom Haddock. I said to him, "I think you've 
already now been in administration too long. You went from 
research into administration, you've been there, you've tried to 
do a good job. You need refurbishing. I'll tell you, you come 
to Berkeley. You come and share my office with me. All you have 
to do is sit and go to the library and think and write and do 
what you want. You don't have to work for credit, you don't have 
to try for a degree, you don't have to do anything. Just come 
and meet some of the young people that come through the 
university, and sort of get some new ideas." 

Well, nothing happened with that, but later last year, in 
the fall, the same problem came up with the Forest Service in 


connection with a court case. I was dealing with all these 
Forest Service people and 1 could see that--. Because, you see, 
I'd been giving courses for Forest Service people last year. I 
gave eight courses last year. 

Lage: For hydrologists in the Forest Service? 

Leopold: For trying to give some up-to-date hydrology or some detailed 
hydrology to Forest Service officers. 

They had just appointed a new hydrologist- -the regional 
hydrologist in the Denver region. His name was Jim Maxwell, and 
he was very impressive young man. Ve were talking about the fact 
that the Forest Service had run out of hydrologists, and we were 
now trying to bring it up to date with the courses that we were 
giving, and 1 said the same thing to him. 

I said, "Say, Jim, why don't you do this? Why don't you 
promote in your organization what I suggested to the Geological 
Survey? Set up a sabbatical leave." He said, "That's a 
wonderful idea." I said, "1 will assure you that if you do so, 1 
can get you places at Johns Hopkins, at the University of 
Washington, the University of Arizona, Berkeley, and possibly 
other places. We would be delighted, and I would be delighted to 
make arrangements for you to have your people welcomed in the 
office of some hydrologist in one of the good universities where 
you'd have no responsibilities except to just participate as you 
wish, to write and think and read." So it may turn out that 
maybe somebody will do something about it. 

There are two parallel problems that have to be addressed by 
a supervisor in a game of this kind. First, as people get older, 
they lose the sort of intuitive ability to keep going at a rapid 
pace. Secondly, there's so much literature to read that unless 
there's some very specific way that people have seminars where 
they have students, they have weekly meetings, they trade ideas, 
they soon are not following the science. Those two things are 
parallel and they have to be attacked simultaneously. In fact, 
so rapidly does the literature grow that no one can really keep 
up with the literature of the whole field that you might be 
interested in. Therefore a lot of it has to be seeing people and 
talking to people and finding out what other people do, which 
will stimulate you to do things. 


Deficiencies in University Reviews for Promotion and Ph.D.'s 

Lage: Has there been a tendency towards more specialization all along, 
in order to cope with all this literature? 

Leopold: Yes. I would say ouch nore subtle and much more serious is that 
we have now in science in general, at the universities, in 
university departments, in research units, the idea, the crazy 
idea, that the way you get ahead in this game is to write a lot 
of short papers so that you actually have- -you' re just counting 
numbers of things you've published- -not the content, but how many 
papers you published. 




Now, this is serious because, in fact, the way promotion is going 
on nowadays in university departments--! can tell you in the 
departments 1 know in this university, as well as in government 
agencies, they are paying attention primarily to how many papers, 
not what the paper says. Now, this simply has to be reversed if 
we're going to maintain our ability to do science. Far better, 
there are several ways we can do it. 

One, when a person comes up for promotion, the thing 1 would 
recommend is that the nominee should pick out for the visiting 
committee or the committee who's judging him three to five papers 
that he considers the most important work he's done. Let them 
judge on that, but do not let them see the great number of papers 
one paragraph long that were published in a fancy journal. 

Because do you think they only look at the titles and don't 
review the papers themselves? 


I can assure you they don't. I can assure you that's 

It's such an important process, this review of people-- 

1 can tell you that that's what happens. As a matter of fact, 
there are good reasons to believe that supervising professors are 
not really making a real study of the Ph.D. theses that their 
students produce, that they kind of take an overall look at it, 
but not the same kind of careful review they would make if they 
were working in that subject themselves. 

I think that that's a very harsh thing to say, but I think 
it's true, even, as I say, when a supervising professor is not 


actually understanding the details of what a student of his is 
saying. That's a pretty serious matter. 

As a matter of fact, this is a procedure that I'm describing 
so prevalent that the young people talk about it. "Oh, well, the 
way to get ahead is I'm going to write a lot of papers, even if 
they ' re only one paragraph long . " 

Lage: It's a real career ism attitude, instead of a professional 
attitude . 

When you were chair of the Geology Department here at 
Berkeley, did you try to address this? Or at other times, have 
you tried to address it here? 

Leopold: Yes, there were a lot of times. Yes, there were things that 

happened that were so unbelievable that--. That's another whole 

Lage: Shall we talk about that now? 

Leopold: I was on a Ph.D. committee in another department; I was one of 
the outside examiners. This person was in the middle of the 
examination. It turned out to be a field in the field of water. 

Lage: So this was an oral exam? 

Leopold: An oral exam. This was a Ph.D. oral. I said, "This proposal 
that you're making to do this research, how much water is 
involved?" The student said, "I don't know." I said, "Can you 
make some kind of a guess?" "No." I said, "How would you 
measure the amount of water?" "I don't know that." I said, 
"You're writing a paper on water? We're talking about amounts of 
water, and you don't even know what the units are?" I said, "You 
flunk." The chairman of the department, at the end of the 
examination, turned to me and said, "Well, Luna, you're going to 
keep us honest, aren't you?" I said, "You're goddamned right." 
At this university. 

Lage: Did you sense resentment on the part of the chairman of the 
department? Would they have let that go by? 

Leopold: They would let it go by. As a matter of fact, that student took 
another two years, I think, to finally change thesis subjects and 
do something else. So it goes. 

Then there was another Ph.D. oral, same kind of a problem. 
Anyhow, I'm absolutely convinced that there are many real holes 
in the way students are being handled at the universities and the 



way research is being handled throughout the whole system. I 
think it's a very serious matter. 

Is it based on this sort of careerist attitude? 

Leopold: I'm not sure that's the right word. 
Lage: What word could we use here? 

Leopold: Lack of objectivity on the part of supervisors, and peer review. 
Lack of objectivity. There's an awful lot of personal chumminess 
that goes on in these matters- -promotions, for example, in 
government agencies. Now, in universities it's being done 
correctly and incorrectly. It depends upon where you are. The 
best systems for promotion that I know were the systems that I 
experienced that were going on at Harvard. In my opinion, 
they're far better than what I find here at Berkeley. 

For example, there was a time when a friend of mine at 
Harvard was up for promotion. This was John Miller. One of the 
most famous geologists in the world came to see me in Washington 
and said, "I am on the committee that has to do with the 
promotion for John Miller, whom you know." I said, "Yes, John 
Miller and I worked together very closely." He said, "We're 
having a hard time because we're not sure, on your joint papers, 
how much he did and how much you did." I said, "Let me try to 
explain to you." I did my best to explain what each of us did, 
what our contributions were, for several of the papers we'd 
written together. Then they turned him down, temporarily, you 

So next time I saw John, I said, "John, you and I have to 
stop working together. We'll have a lot of conversation, but 
we're not going to work together and publish papers together 
because you have to do some of these things on your own and prove 
to these people that indeed your contribution is certainly equal 
to my own, and that's what we're going to do." 

After several years I had another caller, and this time who 
was it but McGeorge Bundy, the famous man who at that time, 
before he was on the president's staff during the Vietnam War, 
was the dean of graduate studies at Harvard. He came to see me. 
He said, "We have a proposition for promotion for John Miller." 
I said, "Let me explain to you what happened in the past. For 
the past four years, as you know, we haven't worked together so 
that he could prove to all you people that he really is a man of 
great competence in his own right." He was immediately promoted, 
but that kind of care that Harvard was taking in this particular 


case that I know about was in my opinion far different from what 
I see go on here. 

Lage: When you read about the process here, it sounds extremely 

careful. For instance, I was Just reading the controversy about 
the woman mathematician. I don't know if you've heard of that. 

Leopold: No, I don't know. 

Lage: There was a recent article about a woman in the mathematics 

department who was not promoted. Hers, in fact, was a case of 
working on what's considered an important problem, but she had 
one important problem. Anyway, as they described the process, it 
sounded very careful. You know, the ad hoc committee that 
reviews it, and then the department chairman, and then the 
College of Letters and Science dean, and then it goes to the 
Academic Senate Budget Committee. 

Leopold: Yes, that sounds great, but there's only one level at which the 
actual production of the person is actually reviewed. 

Lage: Where they actually look at the work. And which level is that? 

Leopold: That's the level of the ad hoc committee. And then you're not 

sure how much care the ad hoc committee took itself. When 1 was 
in the Department of Landscape Architecture one of the things 
that I was very firm on- -and they never followed my advice --was 
that I suggested to them that since many of the people in our 
department were coming up for promotion to an ad hoc committee 
made up of scientists, that their artistic work was not judged 
properly because they say, "This is a piece of art," despite the 
fact that it says artistic production, music, poetry, all these 
things, they all count. But the fact is that so many ad hoc 
committees on this campus are made up of people that come from 
the sciences that they look at these things and say, "How am I 
supposed to judge this?" 

Lage: You mean a committee with scientists would be judging landscape 

Leopold: Yes. So 1 suggested that we all work together to prepare a kind 
of a model to show how to present a piece of artistic work, 
original artistic work, to a committee that has really no way of 
judging it. I saw one man turned down; I saw what they had 
presented to the committee. It had been reduced in size from 
some large panel to something that was page size. You couldn't 
read the doggone thing. It wasn't in the proper color. It was 
poorly prepared, despite the fact that his work might have been 







Well, I thought that was just plain--. Well, it was 
inexcusable, because the fact is that the artist ought to be the 
one who knows how to present things so that you really -make an 
impression, so 1 wanted a sort of a model in that department. 
Well, they never did it. And there were a lot of people that 
were turned down because they didn't make the grade in the ad hoc 

Have you served on the ad hoc committees yourself? 
Oh, yes, indeed, I certainly have. Yes, many times. 

For people in various departments. Is it hard to judge the work? 
They wouldn't put you judging a mathematician, surely. 

No. Nor would I accept it if they did. But things that I can 
judge, yes. For example, forestry, soils, engineering, landscape 
architecture, geology- -I've served on all of those committees. 
And physics. 

Yes. One is lucky if there's one man on the committee that 
really sits down and does the homework. 

Is doing the homework most often to the individual's advantage or 
his disadvantage? Are you more often to find fault or to-- 

To his advantage. Very definitely to his advantage. No, I would 
say without question to his advantage. 

Trend toward Unimportant Problems and Short Research Papers 

Leopold: We've gotten onto a subject that goes to the totality of one's 
experience dealing with scientific matters and organizations. 
The other thing I want to say about this whole field is that I 
find that the people that I know, many of the people I know, are 
concerning themselves with problems that I consider so small and 
so relatively unimportant that it's neither worth their time nor 
the department's time. I think I've said to you that I've urged 
people , both when I was in the Geological Survey and when I was 
here, that I suggest to all people who are in science that they 
should keep in their private file a little folder called "idea 
file" which deals with their ideas of what are the most important 




problems in their science. I said, "Look at it once in a while. 
Here you've thought about these as really important problems. 
Are you the right one to do it? Can you do it? If you do it, 
it's worth it." 

Secondly, the Geological Survey people fall in the same trap 
that the university people are in, and for the same reason. 
They're led that way by the promotion route. What the people 
look at is how many papers? Not what the papers said. The idea 
of writing a thick tome on something that you've spent ten years 
on, people nowadays say, "That's not worth it to me. I can't get 
promoted on that," when the fact is that the detailed work 
usually turns out to be much more significant than just a whole 
series of short papers. Much more. 

When you say 

'short papers," you're really talking short- -half a 

I'm saying that I've heard the younger people in this department 
say, "The way to get ahead is to write a paper that's less than 
one page long, and publish it in Nature . and do it five times a 
year. That will get you ahead." 

So the idea of writing a book--. Well, there hasn't been a 
book written in this department since [Howel] Williams and [Ian] 
Carmichael, and [Charles] Gilbert on petrography [1958]. The 
[John] Verhoogen book was quite some time ago; my book. The idea 
of compiling something of some detail. 

And of course, the book is not necessarily the way to deal 
with new ideas. It's really the difference between compiling a 
lot of things and striking out on absolutely new ground. So 
forget about books for a minute, but I'm talking about papers 
prepared over a long period of time that result in a Ph.D. 
thesis. For example, I will warrant you that most people that I 
know have never and probably will never write anything as 
detailed as their Ph.D. thesis. But after they get their Ph.D., 
then "We're going to go to the short paper stuff, and we can't 
waste three or four years on anything." 

Lage: Does the Ph.D. thesis get published in an article form? 

Leopold: As a matter of fact, to my knowledge mine was the first one that 
ever was done that way. The professors at Harvard didn't like it 
at all, but I said to my professor, "Look, I'm dealing with four 
different subjects, very different, and I would suggest that I 
publish this as separate papers and that each paper is written 
for a particular journal." He said, "That's fine. Let's just do 


It." Then I heard later that the rest of the department didn't 
like that at all. 

Lage: The idea of breaking it into four papers? 

Leopold: Or five or whatever it was. They wanted the same old thing where 
you wrote a great tome and everything was tied together. 1 have 
the same problem with one of my Ph.D. students here. One of the 
other people on her committee, in another department, my lord, 
went back to the old idea that you have to spend the first year 
on studying the bibliography, and then your thesis has to start 
with a review of the literature, and then you go on to the method 
of research, and then you go on and on and on- -things that were 
outmoded fifty years ago. That's really not the way modern 
science is done. 

Lage: Why do you suppose her professor brought that up? 

Leopold: I don't know. I said to the student, "Okay, if that's what is 
required, you just do it, but keep in mind, now, that you're 
going to break the thing down into the units that you can publish 
separately. All you want to do is get your degree. 1 don't care 
how you do it. Get your degree. This is a bunch of nonsense." 
The thesis itself was one of the longest theses I ever read, and 
the reason it was so darn long was that another professor had 
forced that student to really make one great big tome out of it 
when it should have been, in my opinion, divided up into units 
that were logically publishable. But these long tomes- -which is 
another problem in science. 

In the Geological Survey, as I've told you, in some of my 
publication policies, the one thing that I guaranteed was that 
people could publish what they wrote with a minimum of careful 
review, and that there would be no limit on length. Now, the way 
science is going now, there aren't very many places in the world 
you can publish a long paper anymore. I'm told that even the 
Geological Survey now is getting unhappy about publishing papers 
that I used to think were the right size- -fifty or a hundred 
printed pages. 

Lage: Is this a cost consideration? 

Leopold: That's partly cost, yes. Partly cost. For example, you hear 

again and again of important journals that will send a manuscript 
back to the author and say, "This is an interesting paper, but 
cut it to two -thirds of its length, or cut it in half." Well, 
you can't cut a paper in half and still have what you originally 
sent in. 


Lage : You also don't give the reader quite as much background on how 
you came to your conclusions and your methods of research. 

Leopold: Another thing that is very hard to do now, which I insisted on 
doing in the Geological Survey, is publish your data in tabular 
form. I said to my people, "What you say is going to run out of 
date, but the numbers that you produce will never be out of date. 
They can always be reanalyzed by somebody. The ideas that you 
got from your numbers may turn out to be subject to 
interpretation by somebody else later, but your numbers won't be. 
You try putting a long series of tables into modern scientific 
journals, and they're simply not going to take them. There are 
very few journals, very few journals indeed, who will publish 
detailed tabulated date. The American Philosophical Society is 
the only journal that I know which, if you're a member, will 
publish what you write, period. 

Lage : Of any length? 

Leopold: Yes. 

Lage: Well, they must review it in some way. 

Leopold: I think it will be only an editorial review because there are only 
five hundred members, for goodness sakes, in the whole society. 

Lage: You've already passed muster. 

Leopold: Yes, you've passed muster. By the time that you get there, you 
already know something about publication. 

Encourazine Careful Acknowledgment of Ideas 

Lage: Do you see a problem with honesty in research techniques in 

Leopold: Only in this regard. No, not in publications. No, the thing 

that bothers me the most is the matter of acknowledgement. 1 say 
to my students all the time, "You will never hurt yourself by 
being extravagantly thankful for the people that helped you, and 
you'll kill yourself if you don't." 

Lage: Acknowledging who influenced your ideas? 

Leopold: Now I say to people, "In science, for goodness sakes, we're 

always building on somebody." After all, we don't acknowledge 




Mr. Newton anymore but you use the Newtonian thinking no matter 
what you do, so that you're building always on somebody else's 
shoulders, and everybody knows that. 

A recent example. One of the people in the Geological 
Survey that 1 hired quite a few years ago, presumably because of 
jealousy published a paper in which he was compiling some 
material from quite a few authors. Of the many things that I've 
published, he chose that one portion of our data that didn't have 
my name on it. That's ridiculous. Of all the things that he 
could have chosen, he chose the one in order to see to it that he 
didn't have to refer to me. This happens in science. This 
happens . 

Then, oh, 1 practically always have had something to say 
about how people acknowledge something, to try to make it a 
little bit more pleasant, a little more gracious. But that's a 
troublesome matter. 

I'm not sure what you mean by that- -how they acknowledged people. 
The actual wording of the acknowledgment? 

The wording. Yes. In other words, you can say things in a nice 
way that really is complimentary to the person that you're 
acknowledging, and there's some can be very brusque and as if you 
were doing this under pressure. I'm trying to teach people how 
you do things in a nice way. How do you be a scientist, for 
goodness sake? 

UC Graduate Seminar in Geomorphologv 

Lage: Are these matters that you take up- -you mentioned that you taught 
ethics to graduate students. 

Leopold: Yes. The class that I gave at home, these were the matters, the 
kind of thing we dealt with. This was certainly the best class I 
taught. Later on I took only nine students. It got to be as 
high as eighteen. 

The purpose of the seminar- -it was started by Kirk Bryan in 
1925, and I computed one time how many seminars there had been. 
It was carried on by all of his students up until the time that 
mine stopped, up until 1987. 

Lage: His students, wherever they went, continued to teach it? 


Leopold: Yes. But I always followed what he did more closely than other 
teachers. The way it started was that when you went into 
Professor Bryan's office, he had stacks of literature. He could 
read three or four languages, and he had stacks of literature. 
He would keep on talking- -he was one of the most garrulous men 
I've ever heard- -and he would grab something off the list and 
hand it to you, and say, "You report on this at seminar." 1 was 
there, for goodness sakes, 1 was there two weeks and 1 had a pile 
of five things in four languages that I was supposed to report at 
the seminar. It took me a half a year to find out he really 
didn't mean that. He wanted you to read them, but he didn't want 
you to report in the seminar on every one of the papers. 

But anyhow, in my seminar 1 did something similar. Each 
person was to report on something that he or she read. 1 would 
usually try to find out what the student was interested in, and 
then help him or her pick out something that would either be 
right smack down his line, or something completely different than 
anything he knew about, so that he both had to do things that 
were right in his immediate interest and things that were quite 
far afield. 

There was an oral report and a written report. 1 would say 
to everybody, "Your oral report must be exactly twenty to twenty- 
two minutes, not shorter and not longer, because that's what you 
do in a scientific meeting. If you say 'ah' or 'oh' or 'okay' or 
'you see,' you're going to be stopped and you're going to start 
over again. I will not have any such cliches." And then I give 
them ideas about how to do this properly. 

Well, I've had people, before they came up, go into the 
kitchen and throw up in the sink, they were so scared. I said to 
them, "Look, it's lots easier to have eight of your peers hear 
you, however well or badly you do, than to do it in a scientific 
meeting of 150 people." 

Lage: You held this at your home? 

Leopold: Yes. 

Lage: And what was the title of the class? 

Leopold: Geomorphology . A seminar in geomorphology. They learned a hell 
of a lot, and I heard people say, "How in the world do all of 
your students speak so well? They're the best speakers we ever 
hear at a scientific meeting." I said, "They've been taught how 
to speak well. They've been very carefully monitored to see to 
it that they were learning. Some of them have fallen by the 
wayside, I know, but they sure got it once and for all." 



Then they would turn in a written report on the same thing. 
On those sorts of things, any misspelled word was ten points off 
before you began. A lot of students didn't like that very much 
either. I've always said I taught more English than I taught 

The things that I learned from Professor Bryan's seminar at 
Harvard was he did too much talking. He was a very garrulous 
an, as I said, and the student wasn't given very uch chance to 
talk. But in my seminar, after listening to the student make a 
presentation, then I would talk about the history of this idea; 
who had done what in the past, which is what Bryan used to do, 
too; speak about the problem of presentation, of ethics, of 
responsibility for your data; this kind of thing. So they 
learned a lot in addition to their learning how to present a 
subject orally. They learned about a lot of other things too. 
It was a very successful class, 1 thought. 

Vas there a separate class that you gave in scientific ethics? 

No. It was in this class. 

You immersed it in the seminar on geomorphology. 


Bitter Experience at the Survey after Leaving Chief's Job: 
Isolation and Vindictiveness 

Lage: I see. Okay. We don't have kind of a bridge of how you left the 
survey and came to the university. 

Leopold: Very briefly, I'd gotten simply tired of being all alone, that's 
all, and they were causing a lot of trouble with some of my close 
friends like Herb Skibitzke, with whom I flew, who suffered the 
most degrading kind of things, all because he was a friend of 

Lage: Gosh, this sounds like a real terrible situation. 
Leopold: Oh, God, it was absolutely awful. 


Leopold: Herb Skibitzke was In charge of a very small office in the 

Phoenix area, on groundvater. Being a very experienced pilot, as 
I've told you, he just thought that people who were doing the 
kind of work that we all do, they had to learn to fly. So he had 
a group around him that were all flyers --pilots --and as I told 
you, he had a wonderful photographic laboratory that he had made. 
He had this young woman who was about the level of a mid- career 
stenographer in the government service, and she turned out to be 
one of the best women pilots in the country. She was the first 
woman that ever flew an army jet all by herself. Amazing 

When I first found out about what Herb was doing, I went to 
visit his office and looked it over. I came back to Washington, 
and I said, "I want to give a cash award to Skibitzke for what 
he's doing in this wonderful laboratory that he runs." 

Lage : This is while you were chief. 

Leopold: Yes. I got a reply from him saying, "I can't accept it because 

the only way I can do it is if you divide it equally among all my 
staff, including my secretaries." And then since I recognized 
he was a genius, 1 said, "Herb, forget about organization. You 
want something, you phone me." So he'd pick up the telephone, 
and of course the intermediate people got very angry at this. I 
said, "Look, Herb's different than the rest of us. Herb is a 
genius. He just doesn't operate very well in this kind of a 
hierarchical thing. This is the way we're going to do it." 

Herb came to me and said this young woman that was one of 
his pilots, "I would like to see her promoted to" --what? GS-11, 
or anyhow, something that was like a high-paid secretary. Not 
even as high. No, about a GS-9. About as high as a first-year 
graduate would enter the government service in a scientific 
position. I said, "Fine." This was stopped by the intermediate 
levels in Denver. I spoke to these guys, and I said, "Look, I 
don't give a damn what you say. That woman deserves to be 
promoted. I'm going to promote her, regardless of what you 
people say. I promote her." 

Well, apparently, the day I left the chief's job, I am told 
by people who were there, that there was a big cocktail party 
given to celebrate my leaving. When they all lifted up their 
glasses, they said, "We're going to get Skibitzke." 

Lage: It's so petty. 
Leopold: And they did. 


Lage: So they got him-- 

Leopold: Oh, they got him, I'll tell you. 

Lage: Now, how would they operate on him? 

Leopold: Because of things of this kind. They accused Nary Lou, the one 
that I promoted. Herb had an airplane that the government had 
bought. He borrowed it from the army, and after we flew it for a 
long time- -after all, these were all surplus airplanes --the army 
sold it, and Hary Lou bought it. She paid by check for the whole 
airplane, and then she went and she had it repainted and the 
engine fixed up. She was accused of stealing government 
property. Well, she went back to her checkbook, and she produced 
the check. She said, "What are you talking about? Here's the 
check." So they dropped that. 

Then they accused her of having the thing painted at 
government expense, on and on and on. And then what happened was 
that because of all of the stuff we had- -we had four airplanes 
and two helicopters and river boats and all kinds of equipment, 
and it was all on Herb's personal checklist, you see. For 
example, if you have a calculator, that's on your checklist, and 
when you leave the service you have to give it back. You have to 
account for it. 

They were trying to get him to resign, or trying to fire 
him. They couldn't fire him because he was a civil service man, 
so they were trying to get him out. Herb said to me, "Luna, 1 
can't get out. On my personal list I've got a million dollars 
worth of equipment. I'm going to make them sign for every gosh 
darn bit of it." I said, "You're darn right you do. Don't you 
do anything until they sign the whole thing over." So finally- - 
it took them about three years --they finally agreed to, one by 
one, they took over the airplanes, they took over all the things. 

The last thing they did was--. Of all these trips that Herb 
and I had taken, we had piles and piles of photographs and 
negatives from all of our river trips and all our trips to 
Alaska . One day when he was out on a trip for a couple of days , 
they took all this stuff and burned it. 

Lage: Oh, what a loss. 

Leopold: Those photographs I showed you are the only thing that was left. 
The negatives are gone. They destroyed them in order just to 
spite me and Herb. That's the kind of stuff that went on. 


Now, this goes on in a government agency. The point is that 
these things were known to the supervisors. They would do 
nothing about it. They were part and parcel to what was going 
on. Anyhow, I'll tell you, it was a very bitter experience. 

Lage : What about other people you'd worked with, like Raymond Nace? 

Leopold: Ray was a wonderful man, excellent administrator. Ray retired. 
He died very shortly after that. He had emphysema; he was not a 
well man. 

Herb finally got out after working for, as I say, several 
years to get them to take this equipment on his list. When he 
was running his laboratory after I left, administrators would 
come out to inspect him and they were saying this and that about 
him, Herb said, "Look, if you want this organization to run, 
we're doing things that are very valuable. But if you don't want 
to spend the money, just say so and we will shut down." 

For example, they were making infrared pictures of the 
Everglades that were needed by a lot of people in the survey. 
One of the girls in his off ice- -or two girls, as a matter of 
fact- -they were flying helicopters, as I told you, in the dark, 
from Fort Barrow out into the Arctic Ocean to supply people on an 
ice floe that nobody could see because it's all dark in the 
middle of winter. They were using a hand calculator that Herb 
had fixed up. The radio was getting a fix from Australia and 
some other place in Brazil and Herb's calculator could tell them 
when they were a couple of yards of where they were. They were 
flying across the Arctic in the dark with nothing but this hand 
held calculator and Herb's program. 

So anyhow, Herb would say to them, "Look, if you want this 
operation to run, and we're doing things that are worthwhile, it 
costs you this much. If you don't want it to run, I'll fold it. 
But tell me. Don't just cuss me out and say that I'm spending 
too much money. I'm telling you this is what we do and this is 
how much it costs. If you want to close it up, close it up. I'm 
not arguing to keep it open, but if you're going to keep it open, 
this is what it will cost you to do it." 

They got mad, for example, because Mary Lou flew an 
airplane- -she was the girl I was talking about, Mary Lou Brown- - 
flew an airplane to an air base in North Carolina, I think. She 
and Ruby, the two girls, got angry at being treated as if they 
didn't amount to anything. They had made for themselves a little 
uniform with the Geological Survey patch on it, you see. By God, 
they'd step out of an airplane, particularly if it's an army 
airplane, you see, and they'd walk across the field, and boy, 


there's somebody. They've got a uniform. [laughter] She made 
arrangements with the arny to sell gasoline for the airplanes at 
something like one -tenth of the cost it would cost everybody 
else. Instead of being glad of it, they were angry about it. 
She didn't go through channels, you see, to--. It was a bitter 
experience for me, really bitter. 

Lage: That was about five years? 

Leopold: I resigned as chief in 1966. Yes, about that long, because I 

resigned from the survey completely in 1972, so that is about six 
years. Herb got out about the same time. It took about that 
long. Because things were happening to Herb Skibitzke and my own 
experience, I simply was fed up with it. And besides, I wanted 
to do conservation work, and I knew that to engage in lawsuits 
and that sort of thing and to help conservation organizations , I 
could never get approval. So I resigned. 

To UC Berkeley in the Departments of Geology and Landscape 
Architecture. 1972 

Lage: And then did you come straight to the university? 

Leopold: No. I had an offer. I was making arrangements to go to Boulder, 
Colorado, to join the geology department there. Then my wife and 
I were not getting along at all, and she heard that Boulder had a 
lot of wind, and so she made me cancel that, and that's all right 
with me. But then I came here to give a lecture, and [Robert] 
Bob Twiss and Don Appleyard of Landscape Architecture called me 
and said, "You've written papers on landscape aesthetics which 
everybody's quoting, and I wonder if you'd join our department 
here." I said, "That's awful kind of you, but I'm not a 
landscape architect. I couldn't possibly join your department 
and claim to be a landscape architect. But if you want to make 
an arrangement with geology, I'd be glad to consider it." 

Well, immediately they made an arrangement here, and through 
Clyde Wahrhaftig and Garniss Curtis they welcomed me here. So 
that's how I happened to come here. 


Herb Skibitske and His Crew: Brilliant Iconoclast. Disturbing to 
the Survey Hierarchy 

Lage: Is there more you want to say about the survey? 

Leopold: As I say, it was very disappointing that all the things that we'd 
accomplished- -many of those things were reversed, and the thing 
that hurt me the most was the way they treated my friend. That 
just made me so sick that I said I'd had enough. 

Lage: Were there other friends that they bore down on also? Or 

Leopold: No. It all originated with the fact that I was treating this man 
of great capability in a manner which didn't suit the hierarchy. 

Lage: What was his position, actually? What job did he hold? 

Leopold: He was a mathematician on my research staff, and he ran a small 
unit. But because we had so much fun, you see --we all flew 
airplanes, the two girls -- 

Lage: Everyone was envious, most likely. 

Leopold: Probably. Oh, yes. They were indeed, yes. We ran river trips. 

Lage: Flew to Alaska. 

Leopold: We went to Alaska a lot. They were very competent people. For 
example, after many years, a couple of years ago, Ruby Shelton, 
one of the two girls, finally won the Women's Powder Puff Derby, 
flying across the United States. She's the only woman in the 
world who ever was granted an instructor's license to fly a 
helicopter under instruments. The only woman who ever did that. 

Lage: Was she also promoted from stenographer or something like that, 
or did she come up through a-- 

Leopold: It was worse than that. She had had an even lower position than 
Mary Lou. Oh, I know what happened. Ruby was the only woman in 
the Southwest who had such a reputation with the Federal Aviation 
Administration- -FAA- -that she was not only instructor, but she 
was also a reviewer for FAA. But in order to try to get rid of 
her, to make Herb and me mad, they sent some nincompoop from 
someplace out to test her. 


Test her flying skills? 





Test her flying. Veil, Herb had equipped a Mohawk. A Mohawk is 
an airplane, a propeller airplane, that was used primarily for 
remote sensing. Herb had himself inventedor let's say did the 
programming, all the electronics, to produce in his airplane the 
ost advanced side -looking radar of anybody in the world. He had 
taken little bits and pieces that the army was discarding from 
their very highly secret stuff and he put it all together, and he 
had one that was better than the army's. And he had it in this 

Veil, this nincompoop came out and he was ostensibly going 
to give Ruby a test. They were up in the air, Ruby was flying, 
and 1 don't know what he did, but he pulled a lever someplace and 
it opened the hatch under flying conditions, and both of them 
were nearly thrown out of the airplane. She suffered a very 
severe back problem, and they never would pay her for it. 

Anyhow, she said that it was absolutely incredible this guy 
did something so unsafe. To pull a lever in an airplane that he 
had never flown himself, that he didn't know what would happen, 
in an airplane under her control--. And he did something that no 
flyer with any sense would ever think of doing, and he was 
supposed to be testing her. Then, as 1 say, they never would 
acknowledge her injury as in line of duty. 

Both of the girls quit. When Herb finally quit, they both 
quit. Ruby never had been with us long enough to get a full 
retirement. She's just been struggling along. Mary Lou had been 
with us a long time and she also had some money of her own so she 
was quite well off. But 1 always felt so damn sorry for Ruby 
because she--. You see, if I had been chief, it would have been 
entirely different. And they would never acknowledge that this 
thing had been done to her and that it was an accident in line of 
duty, so she never got any compensation for it. That's the kind 
of thing that happens. When I start thinking about it, it makes 
my blood boil. 

You probably put it out of your mind for quite a while, 
it back like this must be painful. 

What did Herb go on to? 


Herb is way and away the most talented consultant in advanced 
groundwater hydrology in the world. Last time I saw him, in his 
office in Tempe, Arizona, he said he had just finished a job. He 
writes these computer programs to describe a groundwater system. 
He said that the last job he did, the program that he just wrote 
was six thousand lines, if you can imagine keeping in your head 
the sequence of six thousand items. 


Lage: He sounds like a fascinating person. 

Leopold: He's fascinating. The University of Arizona has really been 
pretty good to us. They finally gave Tom Haddock an honorary 
degree, and they finally gave Herb an honorary degree. Herb 
Skibitzke didn't have a degree at all. I was trying to get him 
up into a higher grade, and they wouldn't promote him because he 
didn't have any degree. So 1 said to him, "Well, Herb, you're 
going to have to get a degree." And I've forgotten what we went 
through, but I told him to study certain things. Somehow or 
other, he worked very hard and got a degree. 

So then when he got into this groundwater consulting work, 
he found that the people that really were getting most of the 
work were engineers, so he decided he was going to be an 
engineer. So he sat down and studied for a couple of months and 
he took the written examination for civil engineer and passed it, 
Just without going to school. He passed it. Hell, I couldn't 
any more pass that test. I couldn't possibly pass it. 

Lage: Amazing. Do you see him often? 

Leopold: I try to. I certainly phone him rather often. He's an awful 

good friend. When 1 was in the hospital for my hip operation, I 
didn't even know anybody knew about it. Herb flew from Phoenix 
to come and say hello to me for a day. Just a couple of hours, 
just to be thoughtful. 

Leopold: I can remember on the great Alaskan river expedition, Herb was 

flying over the boat a couple of thousand feet high, and he said 
to me, "Say, Luna, there's a great big moose over there on the 
right, just about a quarter of a mile ahead of you." I called 
him back and I said, "That's swell. We'll go look at the moose, 
but I don't want anybody shooting anything around here. We're 
not going to shoot any moose or any bear or anything." 

So we all got out of the boat and we went sneaking through 
the timber until finally we came to a great meadow. I could see 
Herb flying over me. We walked across that darn place, and we 
didn't know what that damn moose was going to do. He was the 
biggest moose I ever saw in my life. 1 had my rifle at my 
shoulder like this, you know. The moose just looked at us and he 
wandered off. He didn't care about anything. [laughter] We 
used to have a lot of fun with the airplane flying over, and he 
could tell what everybody was going to see. 


[Interview 8: May 9, 1991 ]#// 

Overview of Contributions to Geological Survey and Field of 

Lage: We were going to talk today about some of your most important 
papers, those we haven't yet discussed. 

Leopold: Before talking about individual papers, I think it would be 

worthwhile to say a few words. You asked me in your last outline 
request about what I thought were the important things that 
happened. I would say the most important thing was exactly what 
we just spoke about, and that is the changes in the Geological 
Survey, the transformation of this important organization from 
one that was very restrictive in its viewpoint to one which now 
has expanded its research outfit into a much larger unit than 
even I had imagined. That was an important and lasting 

The second, and we've mentioned this before, is the training 
of individuals, which has turned out to be important to science 
and important to universities, because many of them have gone to 

Lage: To teach, you mean? 

Leopold: Yes. And then again we've mentioned, but we'd just as well 

summarize here, the idea that I had of the long-term recording 
stations, which we called the benchmark gauging stations and the 
benchmark basins. In combination with that, the vigil network, 
which is again the accumulation of long-term records. 

Now, to my great surprise and disappointment, the university 
at Berkeley has dropped the rain gauge which was on this building 
since 1886. I wrote a long letter to Chancellor Tien and said, 




"This is the kind of thing that represents the heritage of 
Berkeley, and it's a shame after all these hundred years." 

It has been 104 years that the station was run without a 
break. And now all of a sudden the university said, "It's not 
important." And then to see that the people upstairs in the 
Department of Geography don't think it's important, and they are 
the ones who are responsible for it. And we who are on the 
outside must turn and try to persuade the administration. This 
is exactly the opposite of what we tried to do in the Geological 
Survey, and somehow or another, the idea of having no value 
attached to long records of something of real interest--. It's 
the longest rainfall station in California. It's a shame. 

I couldn't imagine that it's terribly expensive to maintain it. 

No, they've been spending $6,000, and I asked the chancellor if 
he would put up $5,000. He said no. On the other hand, the 
chancellor had somebody else write to me. He didn't call me 
himself, which I'm sorry to say. I asked for an appointment, and 
failed. Anyhow, that's the kind of thing that is too bad, 
because all the things that I have been talking about as 
important in the Geological Survey now are demonstrated to be 
unimportant to this university. 

That's very disturbing. 

Changing Geomorphologv to a Quantitative Science 

Leopold: Now, turning to one other thing that is important and that 

relates to the problem of the papers that I wrote, I don't think 
there's any question about the fact that my first series of 
papers in the Geological Survey changed the field of 
geomorphology from essentially what we called an arm-waving 
pastime to a quantitative science. It started the quantitative 
geomorphology that we know today along quite a different route . 

Lage: Now, which papers were these? 

Leopold: There were a series of papers. In the first place, you remember 
I told you that no Water Resources Division employee had ever 
published a paper in the professional paper series. After having 
looked up the purpose of the series, I went to the director and 
said, "That's silly because the series is open to anybody in the 
Geological Survey, and this is a paper written for geologists to 
explain something about water." 


So we started, then, the idea of publishing scientific 
papers in either the professional paper series or the water 
supply paper series. So the first three papers I published in 
that series were the paper on the hydraulic geometry of stream 
channels in which I was showing how we could use quantitative 
data collected by the Water Resources Division to see new things 
about river channels. The second paper was a quantitative study 
of the characteristics and hydraulics of ephemeral streams in the 
Southwest- -streams that flow only a few times a year when it 
rains. The third was a paper on stream channel patterns, which 
included the laboratory work 1 did when I was a visiting 
professor at Caltech. 

Those three papers really got the thing started. In other 
words, this was really the first of the long series of 
quantitative reports on hydraulics and geomorphology that were 
published by the Geological Survey. So 1 would say that those 
three papers were important in several ways . They represented a 
variety of viewpoints . 

This brings up a matter of importance. I recognized very 
quickly when 1 started to send people to school that one could 
expect that any person just getting a Ph.D. is going to want to 
spend a year or two extending the work that he did on the Ph.D. 
But the test of a person's scientific breadth is going to be 
what else he does. The people who stick strictly to the things 
that have been the subject of the Ph.D. or Master's thesis are 
too restricted. What one looks for, you are looking for people 
who begin to spread themselves out into various aspects of their 
science, and that, 1 think, is one of the hallmarks of what 1 was 
trying to show, that actually you could do many things. 

Lage: Did these three papers grow out of your Ph.D. work, or were they 
totally- - 

Leopold: They were totally separate. The only thing that grew out of the 
Ph.D. work was my first paper in the water supply paper series on 
what 1 called the post-glacial chronology for some alluvial 
valleys in Wyoming, which was a study of terraces. And again, 
this kind of broke some new ground in the Geological Survey. 
Here was a paper that dealt with geology. It was published in 
the water supply paper series. I was trying to show that 
geologists should be writing for hydrologic engineers. My first 
paper in the professional paper series, which was read primarily 
by geologists, was a paper on water. I was trying to show that 
there has to be greater cross-connection between geomorphology 
where it's an aspect of geology, and hydraulics. And of course, 






everything that's happened in geomorphology since has been a 
melding of those two subsciences, geomorphology and hydraulics. 

Is it correct that there really was not a science of hydrology 
until you brought it together? 

No, there was a science of hydrology, but hydrology was not 
considered to be related to geomorphology. In other words, 
hydrology was the science of building reservoirs and dams. 

Which is more like hydraulic engineering. 

It's hydraulic engineering. The great textbook that was written 
in the late twenties by Daniel W. Mead, called Hydrology, was 
everything that we do in hydrology today but it was directed 
specifically to the engineer who was developing water supplies or 
flood control works. But it was not related to geomorphology. 
It was not related to the processes on the earth's surface. It 
was related to engineering matters. 

Similarly, preceding my book on geomorphology was the great 
addition to hydrology written by Ray Linsley, who was with the 
Weather Bureau and then at Stanford. That was again simply a 
furtherance of the Mead idea of hydraulic engineering. 

How about hydrology in Europe? 
engineering aspect? 

Was it slanted towards the 

The Europeans were very skilled in their work on rivers, and that 
is hydraulics, but again, toward hydraulic engineering. But they 
were not in general relating earth surface processes to 
hydraulics. There were some very important things that came out 
of the Europeans in the latter part of the nineteenth and early 
part of the twentieth century. The great river study in France, 
and some extremely important work going on both in Switzerland 
and Germany. But again, they were not related to earth surface 
processes. Really, what geomorphology is about is the earth's 
surface. So that was really an American direction, which was, of 
course, immediately picked up by the Europeans, and they've done 
extremely well with it. 

One of the things Dave Dawdy [see appendix for interview with 
Dave Dawdy] mentioned was your continuing influence by 
influencing the development of university programs. Did this 
idea of hydrology sort of become institutionalized through 
developing university programs as well as through the Geologic 


Leopold: Yes. The university programs for the most part developed In the 
direction of hydrology, not geomorphology. Geonorphology really 
picked up later. Geomorphology really didn't begin until some of 
the people that I had hired who worked for the Geological Survey 
had left the survey and gone back to the university. 

Lage: Who would be the most important people there? 

Leopold: M. Gordon Volman at Johns Hopkins, one of the men that was 

associated closely with ae and worked with me for some time and 
then went to go to Hopkins and has been chairman of the 
department there for more than twenty years now. 

If you look at the first training school that we set up at 
Arizona, it was primarily groundvater and surface water 
hydrology, with a great emphasis on groundwater hydrology. The 
Geological Survey had always been the premier organization 
dealing with groundwater. That resulted from several individuals 
over quite a long time. Because I'm not a groundwater 
hydrologist, I can't say very much about that except that it 
appears to me that the real advances of the last two decades have 
been made by university people, not by Geological Survey people, 
although they're always building on the great work of Meinser and 
Theis, both Geological Survey people. 

But going back to individual papers , another thing that was 
moderately influential at the time were the general essays 1 was 
writing on the subject of water in general. Unfortunately, that 
has not been followed up very much. The survey has not recently 
been a spokesman in the general field of water and water 
development. That has been really taken over, if you like, by--. 
Well, the people who have emerged in the last forty years have 
been people like Gilbert White at Chicago and later at Boulder, 
and then especially Europeans. 

Lage: Which papers would these have been that you wrote in the general 
field of water and water development? 

Leopold: It started out with the series called "Water and the Conservation 
Movement." There was a series of essays about that. 

Lage: Right. 

Leopold: The work that my associate, Ray Nace, did on the Hydrologic 

Decade was very influential, especially in Europe and in other 
countries. But that was not as much my work as Nace's work, but 
he being my associate chief, he simply took that on as one of the 
main contributions he wanted to make, and everything that I could 
do to support him was what was done. But it was primarily his 




work and was very Influential in furthering hydrology, especially 
in other countries. It made less difference in the United 

What was the nature of the Hydrologic Decade? 

The Hydrologic Decade was a ten-year emphasis by UNESCO on the 
question of water in the world. There were a great many things 
that were done under that decade. There was, for example, 
surveys made partly under the auspices of the Geological Survey 
of the flows of the great rivers of the world, the sediment 
content of the great rivers of the world, the chemistry of the 
rivers of the world. Those were important contributions to the 
knowledge of water in the earth. In that connection and as part 
of that decade work, Ray Nace himself made a tabulation of, 
collecting from all over the world, the flows of all the rivers 
of the world, which has not been changed very much from what he 
did then. So that was an important contribution made by the 
survey . 

Shortly before I became chief hydraulic engineer, I was 
approached by the Conservation Foundation of New York. The 
Conservation Foundation was hiring authors to prepare a series of 
books on various parts of hydrology, land management, and water 
in general. They'd just finished supporting a scientist who was 
working basically on infiltration and run- off. They came to me 
and asked whether I would do a book on flood control, because at 
that time there was a lot of controversy in the Congress and 
around the United States on the matter of the work of the Soil 
Conservation Service and the work of the Corps of Engineers. 

After some discussion I said I would do it, but I wanted a 
co-author, and this will bring up another thing I'll mention. So 
I enlisted my friend Thomas Haddock, Jr., and we did this book on 
the flood control controversy. [The Flood Control Controversy: 
Bi Dams. Lit^l* pps . and Land Management (New York: Ronald 

Press Company, 1954).] 

Did you take a leave to do that? 

Yes, I took a leave from the survey to do it, yes. 

Was there a reason for taking the leave? 

A government officer can't accept money from anybody, and in 
order to- -and I didn't get any more money than I would have 
gotten from the survey, but I had to separate myself from the 
survey. I took leave without pay and was paid for a year by the 
Conservation Foundation. 


Well, that book certainly held a lot of truth. It had some 
impact. I remember the chief of the Corps of Engineers saying to 
e one tine, "I don't Bind you being so critical of the Corps of 
Engineers as long as you're equally critical of the Department of 
Agriculture . " [ laughter ] 

Lage: So there was a lot of interagency rivalry going on there. 

Leopold: Oh, yes, there was indeed. Actually, you could read that book 
now- -what, 1954- -fifty years later, and it's just as true as it 
was then. As a matter of fact, everything we've said is even 
worse, perhaps, than it was at that time. 

Lage: Were the recommendations you made controversial at the time? You 
did come forth with some public policy recommendations, one being 
that those who benefit from flood control should pay the cost. 

Leopold: And that has gotten nowhere. Or only until recently, until in 
the budget crunch of the last five years. Then the Corps of 
Engineers started to change their tack, and it's much more 
difficult to get straight-out government grants, which used to be 
in the order of 92 percent. Ninety- two percent of the money was 
carried by the taxpayer, and the recipients were paying only 
upkeep, operation maintenance, and the cost of the right of way. 
That, of course, got much more stringent on that, but that took 
fifty years before it changed. 

We recommended flood insurance. Veil, that took many years 
before that got going. Again, I'm far enough away from that 
program I really can't say how successful the flood insurance 
program is. 1 told you that Langbein and I had tried to devise a 
hydrologic scheme to divide the cost on the basis of risk, and 
that was not accepted. 

One thing that we did show- -and after that, nobody ever 
argued about it again- -was that the small dams upstream can't 
take the place of the big dams built by the Corps, that they do 
different things. That was quite unclear at the time, so in that 
respect, that was an education that the American public needed. 
Now, how much of the public, I don't know, but for the people 
that were interested in that subject, that problem was laid to 
rest by that book. 

Lage: Was that something that the Department of Agriculture and the 
Corps of Engineers had been battling about? 

Leopold: Yes. You see, there were a lot of people who said, "We don't 

need any big dams at all. Ve're building hundreds of dams in the 







upstream parts of the watershed, and if you build enough small 
dans upstream you will solve the flood problem." But the book 
also brought out some very disheartening things going on in 
public policy that really weren't corrected for a very long time 
afterwards. The problem was that a lot of money was spent on a 
few individual farms, and a few people got the benefit from a lot 
of money. 

On flood control for these few farms? 


How did you go about your research on this? 
lot of individual projects? 

Did you look at a 

No, no. when I took the job on, I had one thing in mind: I was 
going to make a study of what had been found out by the dozens of 
experiment stations that had been running all over the United 
States for many, many years. No one had ever attempted to find 
out what the experiment station data really showed. So I made a 
survey of all of the experiment stations and their data from all 
over the United States, and came to some very disheartening 
conclusions. One was that much of the data went to waste. I 
forget what the numbers were, but not more than 10 percent of all 
the data had ever been published. Half of the data had never 
been looked at or analyzed, and a tremendous lot of money was 
going into data collection for very good purposes, but no one was 
doing anything with the data. 

These are agricultural experiment stations? 

Well, the second thing 1 wanted to do was to actually make 
hydrologic and hydraulic computations to show what would happen 
from a series of dams, and that has been reproduced many times 
over. That turned out to be a very successful study shoving how 
a series of small dams operating under different conditions of 
rainfall had different flood effects downstream, all of them 
dying out rather quickly, so that people immediately downstream 
from the dam got a lot of protection. A little farther 
downstream, they got no protection whatsoever. 

Then there was the problem of general education, which I 
attempted to do something about. I guess I told you the story 
that I wanted somebody to write a primer on water. Nobody did 
it, so I did it, and it turned out to be extremely successful 
because it was a way of educating people by writing a simple 
story about water. 




Was that used in the educational system? 
audience it ended up with? 

Do you know what 

It did, but I couldn't tell you in any detail. It sold more 
copies than anything the Geological Survey had ever published. 
Not sold, it was distributed. It vas free. 

Oh, I see. 

And then later I revised it somewhat and turned it into a small 
book after I left the Geological Survey, f Water: A Primer 
(Freeman series on geology, 1974)] 

Entropy and Landscape Evolution 



What about "The Concept of Entropy in Landscape Evolution"? 
vas 1962 [USGS Professional Paper Series]. 


That undoubtedly vas the most important idea I ever had. It's 
still so difficult to understand that it's not either very much 
read or much understood. But in the long run, science is going 
to have to come back to something like this. The idea is that in 
the hydraulic system of a river, everything, of course, is 
governed by physical lavs. The physical lavs describe 
interaction between various parameters such as depth and velocity 
and roughness and sediment load, but it turns out that, as in 
many other cases in the vorld, the physical relationships do not 
handle all the variables. 

Therefore, in many things in life and many things in the 
physical vorld, it turns out that probability has a great effect. 
The example ve give to make it clear to people about entropy is 
that entropy is simply a statement of organization. Ve said in 
that paper that if you distribute your material on your desk, it 
gets more scattered and therefore is increasing in entropy 
because there's no organization. 

So entropy is lack of organization. 

Right, lack of organization. And then when you take the time to 
organize your letters and put them in files, you're having to 
expend energy to do that. But what you get through this is an 
organization, a segregation, the differentiation. But in order 
to get differentiation, you had to put some energy into it. You 
had to take time to do this. So that the more organization you 


have in your files, the more work you had to put into it. If you 
don't do that, the thing goes into a more and more disorganized 

Now, because of that general principle, it turns out that in 
the river system, there's not just one answer. If you had all 
the equations that are needed, then you would say, "If you're 
given these set of circumstances, the river must do thus and so." 
And that's not so. If you're given certain circumstances, the 
river has several choices, and that choice can be dictated by 
chance, and indeed is dictated by chance. Now, that is a very 
important idea because it means that the river has a lot of 
internal flexibility, all governed by physical laws, but the laws 
don't make it clear that the river has to do certain things. It 
can get wider, it can get narrower, it can get faster or slower, 
it can carry more load or less load. 

Lage: And this is all chance, not the physical characteristics- - 

Leopold: The physical characteristic does not dictate that it has to do 
only one thing. 

Lage: We talked about random walk. Is that what this-- 
Leopold: That's right. That's exactly it. Yes. 
Lage: This is such an interesting concept. 

Leopold: Yes, that's a part of it. It turns out that the organization of 
the river in that work is random. It's not dictated, it's 
random . 

Well, this led to a lot of things that have been picked up. 
The easy parts have been picked up and have become very useful. 
The idea that we could develop a river network by throwing dice, 
or turning cards. Now this has been done by computers, and 
people have done this all over the world. By the introduction of 
the most probable case. 

Leopold: The most probable case can be described in general terms in this 
manner. When you have a scatter diagram of X against Y--for 
example, what is the relationship between a person's height and 
his age as he grows, and you get an increase in height as the 
person increases in age. Given the scattered data that we have, 
let's draw a smooth line through it. What is the line of best 



The line of best fit is called the line of least variance. 
Least variance is a very specific, statistical statement. It 
says that if you take the deviations of each individual point 
from the main line, and square those deviations, the sums of the 
squares of the deviations is minimum, and that is the best line 
of best fit. So the line of best fit is the minimum variance 
line, the line that minimizes the variance between the scattered 
parts and the smooth line that you draw. 

Now, it turns out that that's exactly what happens in 
rivers, that what you have is that the most probable case is the 
case where the variance among the variables is minimum, and 
that's what we had to prove. And it turned out that the variance 
indeed was the exponents of these parameters that I proposed in 
the hydraulic geometry equations, that the exponents themselves 
were the variance. The measured variance. 

Does this work that you did relate to broader ideas in science? 
You hear a lot about theories of chaos now. 

Leopold: This is all just an example. This is very closely related to 
chaos . 

Lage: But was chaos that big a concept at the time? 
Leopold: No, chaos followed this. But there are a lot of-- 

Lage : Were a lot of different fields coming to the same conclusions at 
the same time? 

Leopold: Yes. They used different words, but in many cases they are 
comparable. Now this famous man, Benoit B. Mandelbrot, who 
developed the idea of these beautiful fractile patterns, had 
another idea that I worked on for many years and I never was able 
to do anything with, all related to the same thing, and that, 
again, a distribution. He was discussing a general problem in 
distribution of numbers that seemed to me very closely to fit 
certain river data that I had. 

A lot of these things are all operating together. Fractiles 
and chaos and entropy are all--. You're using different words, 
but you're really coming to something very similar. Chaos simply 
says entropy. Disorganization is what it's about. Therefore, 
there are certain things that happen in disorganized states that 
actually have an appearance of being organized, but I don't know 
enough about chaos to speak about that. 

But you are correct in saying that there's a very close 
analogy between a lot of things that are going on in the physical 


sciences and in the mathematical sciences, and they all relate to 
this general idea of the interrelationship between organization 
and disorganization, which means organization and chaos, 
probability and improbability, and what happens in nature, which 
is not entirely deterministic. Nature is governed by laws of 
physics and chemistry but the outcome is not deterministically 

Lage: Do you think these ideas come up in the different areas of 
science at a similar time because of cross -fertilization? 

Leopold: Yes and no. I'll give you an example. I've always felt that the 
way to get ahead in my field is to search other fields and see 
what ideas you can pick up, because you're going to find 
something that you can use if you knew something enough about 
somebody else's field. And entropy was one of them. Entropy is 
something well studied in physics. No one had ever applied it to 
hydraulics. Now they talk a lot about it. 

Lage: But why did it appeal to you at that time to apply it to 

Leopold: Because that was a general point of view that 1 had, is that I'm 
always going to find something that 1 can use from somebody 
else's science that will apply to my science, if I know how to 
look. You just have to keep looking. As 1 told you, the way I 
arrived at this was out in the field, where I made an observation 
in meanders that no one had ever seen before, and 1 said, "The 
river's trying to do something. What is the word to describe the 
river trying to do something?" Well, it's trying to organize, 
isn't it? It's trying to balance something. Veil, that balance 
is entropy. As I explained to you, the river is attempting to 
balance the tendency for least work against the tendency for the 
most uniform work. That's a balance, and that's a statement of 
entropy . 

Lage: You mentioned that somebody suggested this idea of the random 
walk in a discussion with you. 

Leopold: Yes, I was talking to Harold Thomas from Harvard. 

Lage: What field was he in? 

Leopold: He was a former professor of mine. 

Lage: He was in geology? 

Leopold: No, he's in the field of hydraulics. But he happened to be using 
that idea of random walk to study the movement of water through 



sand, and I thought, now that you Mention that, I can use that 
idea. In other words, it came from another science, but you've 
got to keep always looking for things that you never thought of 
before that might be applied to your science even if you don't 
know exactly how to do it yet. 

Somehow it seems that some of these ideas not only fit the 
science but they fit the philosophical outlook of the times. I 
wonder if that has any relation to why people pick up certain 
scientific ideas to apply. 

Leopold: I'm not sure exactly what you mean. 
Lage: Well, I'm not sure either. 

Leopold: But you can say this, that there are people who are trying to 
influence the thought of the times, and these are how these 
influences operate. You pick up something that no one ever 
thought of before, and then all of a sudden it spreads out, and 
then it becomes the idea of the times . 

Lage: Right. That's very exciting. 

Hydrology in Urban Areas: Study of the Brandwine Basin 

Lage : I made a note here to discuss "Hydrology for Urban Land Planning" 
(1968), because we really haven't talked about your work relating 
to the urban end of things. 

Leopold: Yes. Veil, that came up--. And then again, this is jumping into 
fields that don't belong to you when opportunity arises. Some 
people from the University of Pennsylvania came to me in the 
office one time and said, "We've been going all over government 
trying to get somebody to help us in the problem of land planning 
that we are trying to get started near Philadelphia." I said, 
"Wonderful. Let's do it together. I'll furnish the hydraulics." 

So anyhow, I immediately became involved in this large 
planning effort for the Brandywine basin near Philadelphia. We 
worked very hard at it for several years, published a big report. 
The Ford Foundation was going to put up the money to buy 
easements in order to protect the land from overdevelopment. As 
usual, a group of people thought that this was imposing on their 
individuality, and they started a newspaper to knock us down. 
When it came to a vote, we were defeated. Now, twenty- five years 
later, they're trying to do exactly what we were doing and, of 





course, by now urbanization has gone on at such a rate that the 
thing is much more complicated, and furthermore, they don't have 
money behind it like we did. It was very, very frustrating. 

So which ones objected to the purchase? 
conservancy idea? 

Vas this sort of a 

Yes, it was a kind of conservancy idea. What we were trying to 
do was to say, "We're going to have some rules about how 
development is going to proceed.* These are rules, many of which 
I had to devise and my friends had to devise; we didn't know 
exactly what the rules ought to be. How close to a stream 
channel would you be allowed to build? I said, "Three hundred 
feet." This had come back to haunt me again and again. People 
come back years later: "How did you decide it was three hundred 

How did you? 

1 said the literature showed that in soil that has a certain 
amount of clay in it, pathogens moving with the water are 
absorbed by clay within a distance of between a hundred and 150 
feet. I said, "Let's just be a little safer than that and let's 
make sure that any pathogens that come from housing do not get to 
the stream channel but would be absorbed." So I said just 
arbitrarily, "I'm going to choose three hundred feet." It turns 
out it was a very good rule. 

Well, then we had rules such as on steep slopes, you could 
not clear the timber or build buildings on slopes that had 
certain characteristics, including their steepness. We were 
concerned with where to put roads. In that particular type of 
topography, we felt it would be far better to put the roads up on 
top of the hilltops, not on the hillsides, and not down near the 
channel. They were perfectly simple things of this kind. 

In order to accomplish this, we were going to have the local 
people--. I forget exactly how the thing worked. We were going 
to have the local people sell some of their rights in order to be 
members of this plan, but the rights they would sell were for 
their own protection, but they would get money for them. 

But it would protect their property? 

Yes, and it would protect the region or their community. We 
figured at that time that a scenic easement, for example, should 
not cost more than 50 percent of the land value. I heard last 
week in Philadelphia when I was there that in the same area, the 
local people are asking 95 percent. So if your land is worth 


$10,000 an acre, in order to sell you a scenic easement, for 
God's sake, they want to charge 95 percent of that. Veil, that's 
ridiculous. In other words, they still have the land. They're 
not giving up the land. 

Lage: Right. And actually, their land will probably go up in value as 
a result of the scenic easement. 

Leopold: Veil, anyhow. So that involved, then, developing some hydrologic 
procedures for land planners, so 1 wrote a paper called "A 
Handbook on the Hydrology of Land Planning." 

Lage: Did you work with somebody on that? 

Leopold: No. That was my own paper. That, of course, has been now 

expanded by quite a few hydrologists , too. The latest one, I 
Just received a reprint of the paper that I just published in 
Germany on the effect of urbanization on the campus here in 
Berkeley. I spent ten years studying that and it's just now been 

Evaluating Non- Economic Values 

Leopold: Well, then, the other thing that I did that was really quite 

different was the problem of aesthetics. That really broke a lot 
of new ground. 

Lage: Let's talk about that. 

Leopold: I was very disconcerted that in the planning that I saw going on 
in government agencies, there was a tendency to always want to 
put a monetary value on everything. A goose was worth $4 and a 
mallard was worth $1, and this sort of thing. Well, my father 
became famous in trying to get away from the same thing, trying 
to say that it has an intrinsic value of its own. So 1 wanted to 
do something to develop a procedure by which we could make 
relative evaluations from the purely human point of view without 
having to put dollar signs on them. 

Unfortunately, in many instances, the reaction of the 
readers came out to be, "Well, you've gone that far. Why don't 
you put dollars on them?" I said, "That's exactly what I'm 
trying not to do. I'm trying to rank them so that you'll say, 
"This is better than that' for very objective reasons." So I 
wrote a paper on how this might be done. 



Vas that your paper on Hells Canyon? 

Leopold: No, that came later. This paper was the first paper on 
attempting to do this in a quantitative manner. 

After that had been published, some very prominent planners 
and people in Resources for the Future came to me and said, "We 
need the kind of help that you've been working on, on this Hells 
Canyon problem, because the Federal Power Commission is going to 
have a decision as to whether they're going to allow a dam to be 
built.* They asked if I would consider the matter. Veil, since 
1 already had started out on this thing, 1 said, "Here's an 
example of how we can put it into practical use. Let us make a 
study and make some kind of a relative comparison without money 
attached to it of what is valuable in the way of wild country." 
Well, that ended up in that Hells Canyon paper. But that hasn't 
been much followed up. 1 guess 1 told you that the general plan 
was used explicitly by the Park Service of Canada, when they were 
laying out national parks in Canada. 

Lage: Another one was "A Procedure for Evaluating Environmental 
Impact," [Leopold, Frank, Clarke, (USGS,1971)] 

Leopold: That again, that followed the same kind of thing, where after I 
wrote the paper on the Florida Everglades, which was the first 
environmental impact statement ever written, then there became a 
great hue and cry about environmental impact statements, and the 
question is, can we give people any advice as to how an 
environmental impact statement might best be done? The feeling 
that several of us had was that the people writing environmental 
impact statements were not really considering the interaction of 
man's activities. 

So we prepared a great checklist which was similar to the 
kind of thing I'd used in the previous papers. A checklist where 
you say, "Here are some items, and I'm going to evaluate them. 
I'm going to give them some numbers, some relative ranks." So we 
tried to show that if you made up a very large matrix of causes 
and effects, that there were certain combinations that you could 
say, "These combinations apply to this particular job. This is 
what's happening here." We gave them some general hints as to 
how they might evaluate these kinds of combination. 

In one example I recall, we pointed out that these ranks 
have a lot to do with Just how you see the issue. One example we 
used was the question of mining down in the California coastal 
mountains where the condors were. The example I used there was, 
there isn't anything more important than the condors. In other 
words, this is a species nearly extinct. All these other issues 


become subsidiary. This is the kind of decision you have to 
make. If you're going to rank things, you have to state what 
your ranking is. 

What I object to, and have done so in many papers over a 
long period of tine, I object to people saying, "This is the most 
important consideration,* when they don't tell you why they 
arrived at that. What I've tried to say in that paper that you 
speak of is, "I don't care what your answer is. Please tell us 
how you got there." In other words, "You think that this is the 
most important thing. All you have to do is say, 'This is what I 
think is most important, and I rank this number one.' At least 
then we know how you got there." But just to try to tell the 
public that this is the most important, that such-and-such is the 
most important thing, without explaining how you got there or why 
you think so, seems to me is not supportable. 

Lage: Has that trend continued, or have we gone to putting dollar 
values on aesthetics? 

Leopold: I'm afraid that we continue to put dollar values on-- 

Lage: There's a whole field of resource economics now that seems to be 
working at that. 

Leopold: Yes. And there have been some very clever ways of trying to make 
estimates of dollar values, which is all to the good. But as 
soon as you do that, you're making the implicit statement that 
everything can be reduced down to dollars, and that, at this 
point, isn't true in the human condition. There are certain 
things that simply are not valued in terms of dollars. 

Lage: So the resource economists are comparing these aesthetic values 
to production values or other resource values, and you're saying 
no, they-- 

Leopold: Yes. In other words, the criteria really should be different. 
There are certain things that are simply not of that order. 
They're not of the same nature, and in my opinion, therefore, you 
should have different ways of evaluating them. 

Lage: But then how do you compare them with each other? 

Leopold: Then you can say all right, now, given a set of values, then we 
can start talking about what's gained and what's lost in some 
relative terms. Have you read the paper by my father on the land 


I have. 


Leopold: All right. Now, that's the kind of thing we're talking about. 
Humans place value on some things just because of our innate 
feelings. In other words, you have to feel that there's value in 
the different parts of the biota. Whether or not you either 
understand it or whether you find it economically valuable in 
monetary terms, that's really Just the thing we're talking about. 
We're talking about a set of values for humanity that simply are 
not going to be measured in economic terms. Once you admit that, 
then you are going to have to say, "All right, if that's so, then 
how do we go about doing it? How do we make evaluations?" And 
that's what I'm trying to do. 

Lage: Are there other areas of your research that we should discuss 

that we haven't? Or another approach to this would be, when you 
get the transcript of these interviews, if you think something's 
missing, we can add it in. 

Leopold: Yes. 

Lage: I think we've gotten a pretty good overview, but we may have some 
gaps that we could fill in later. 

Leopold: Right. 

Famtlv and Familv Values 

Lage: Now, let's see. I had wanted to ask you more about the personal 
side of life, like the building of your cabin on the New Fork, 
and family type of things. Your own experiences in passing on 
some of your feelings and values to your own children. Is this 
something we could talk about? 

Leopold: I was married for many years to a girl that didn't like this 
business of field work. She really prevented my two children 
from going out in the field with me, so that-- 

Lage: It looked like you took Bruce along a lot, from the journals. 

Leopold: At one stage, yes, but not as much I would like. My daughter, 
Madelyn, came along on her own very well. She has a very good 
sense of values now, but-- 

Lage: But she didn't go out in the field with you? 


Leopold: No, she was prevented. My wife simply never let her go out in 
the field with me at all, which was a real shame. 

Lage: And what about Bruce? Did he develop along the lines that you 
and your father-- 

Leopold: No, he didn't. Bruce is a real hedonist. He's very much 

concerned about his own joy and welfare. That's just a personal 
way of looking at it. 

Lage: Like so many people are. 
Leopold: Yes, so many people are. 

Lage: It's a very hard thing to pass on, 1 think, and your father was 
extra successful at it, for whatever reason. 

Leopold: For whatever reason. And of course, 1 don't think any of us 

really understand what these reasons were. It just turned out 
that way. 1 don't know. That's been discussed ad infinitum. I 
really can't make any general statements about that. One thing 
is that it requires a certain amount of humility to admire 
somebody without being jealous of them and not trying to 
necessarily either equal or outdo them, but to gain what you can 
as best you can. I think that the five of us really looked at 
our father that way. We knew that we were never going to be able 
to write as well as he did, yet we were going to try. We were 
admiring without being envious. I think that's a very important 
matter, but somehow that's got to be built into you. 1 don't 
think that's something that you get taught. 

Lage: No, I don't think so either. 

I saw a mention in your journal, about a trip that it seemed 
a lot of your brothers and sisters were on, in Desolation Canyon 
of the Green River? 

Leopold: Yes. 

Lage: How did that come about? 

Leopold: 1 simply asked whether anybody wanted to take a trip. It was 
after I was no longer with the Geological Survey. One of my 
rivermen, Smuss Allen, still had a boat, so I hired him to use 
his boat to take us down the river. Ve had a good time. 


Who all came? 







My brother Carl, Estella, my wife Barbara, Rett Nelson and Carrie 
Nelson, my wife's children, and one of my close friends from 
Canada, Denny St. Onge, a geologist. 1 don't know. I get many 
of the trips mixed up. It was a family trip. 

The photo I saw had Starker and Estella and Carl, 
different trip? 

Was that a 

That was another trip. 
Desolation Canyon. 

In '65. 

That was a hunting trip. It also was the 

That's right. And that was Frank Clarke from the Geological 
Survey. That was when I was still with the survey, and I had a 
lot of survey people. I wouldn't do very well in the present 
administration because if you look back at some things I did, 
this business of Mr. John Sununu [chief of staff to President 
Bush, criticized for using government travel for personal 
business], they would have-- 

[ laughs] They would have gotten you, huh? 

They would have clobbered me, yes. They could have said, "You 
know, you're doing this for your personal use." As a matter of 
fact, one of the interesting things is that when I was with the 
survey, no river tripand we loved the river trips, of course- - 
no river trip was taken, but what I wrote a technical paper about 
it. So that there were real scientific things that came out of 
it, but I think you'd have a hard time selling that to the United 
States Congress if somebody started to object. 

You're not supposed to have too much fun. 

You're not supposed to have too much fun. Exactly. 

Building Cabin and House in Pinedale. Wyoming 


Okay, let's see. What about your cabin on the New Fork? 
long have you had that, or is it a house? 


I've got two. I've got a cabin and a house. First John Miller 
and I camped on Pole Creek for quite a few summers. We were 
young then and we had no tent; we just had a little piece of tarp 
for a lean-to. It was pretty rugged. Well, Reds Wolman and I 
camped on Pole Creek a couple of summers. By this time, it was 


getting pretty difficult. It was great fun, but I wanted 
something a little bit ore convenient. 

It happened that I was visiting my sister, Estella, in 
Denvershe worked for the Geological Survey- -and we went up to 
picnic or something at a cabin not far from Denver, and I was 
inquiring about this cabin. They said, "This is Forest Service 
land.* I said I never heard about that. 

Leopold: I got back to Washington and went to the Forest Service and I 

said, "Please tell me, in all the states in the western states-- 
Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, and on and on and on- -tell me where 
there might be places where the Forest Service has summer home 
areas." They looked it up and said, "There's only one place now 
available, and that's at Pinedale, Wyoming." To my great 
surprise, Pinedale, Wyoming, was my back yard. 

Lage: Is that Pole Creek, at Pinedale? 
Leopold: That's where we camped. It was Pinedale. 
Lage: What a coincidence. 

Leopold: A great coincidence. So I got in an airplane and I went to 

Pinedale. I walked to the Forest Service office and I said, "May 
I see a map of the summer home area?" "Yes, here are the lots 
that are available." So I walked up in the country and I looked 
around at what was available. There were quite a few cabins 
there. I wanted the one farthest away, up against the forest so 
nobody could be my neighbor and nobody could be above me. So I 
went down and signed up for the lot. It cost $35 a year. 

So we were at the Forest office, and I said to Bill Emmett, 
my friend, my assistant, "At $35 a year, why don't you get one?" 
So he said, "Okay, I'll split with you." We took two adjacent 
lots. We came back the next summer and we started to build. 

Lage : When was this , by the way? 

Leopold: This was in 1964. There's a long story about this, but the next 
year- -it must have been the next year--I got a letter from the 
Forest Service saying, "If you don't build in your lot, we're 
going to take it away from you." I said, "What the hell? I've 
got a cabin." Bill Emmett said, "No, you built on my lot." 
[laughter] So I had built my cabin on his lot. I said, "The 
hell with that. We're going to build another cabin, but this 
time , I want an old log house . " 


So I vent down to town. We spent so much time in the 
Highland Lumber Company there, where my friend was the owner, 
that they put in a telephone for me because 1 kept getting calls 
from Washington, and it interrupted their business. I went in to 
see my friend, the owner, and I said, "I want to buy a hundred- 
year-old log cabin, one room, the kind the settlers made." 
"Well," he said, "I think we can find you one. By the way, 
there's somebody right out here right now. Go out and talk to 
him." So I went out into the center part of the store, and here 
was this man I'd never met. I said, "1 understand from Jim 
Harrower that you've got a log cabin you're about to burn down." 
He said, "Yes." I said, "Sir, let me go look at it before you 
burn it down. I'll give you $50 for it if I can use it." He 
said, "That's fine." 

I saw him about a year later, or two years later; I met him 
by chance. I said, "Do you remember me? I bought that log cabin 
from you." "Oh, yes, I remember you very well. I thought I 
gypped the hell out you." [laughs] I said, "I thought you gave 
me a great bargain." You couldn't buy one now for $500. 

So Bill and I went there and it had this much dirt on the 
roof. It was a dirt roof. 

Lage: How far was it from where you-- 

Leopold: About twenty miles. We marked every log and we took the thing 
down. We hired a truck and we put all the logs in the truck. 
Then we drove up to the place where my lot was, and we built a 
cabin. Then later on, when Bill Emmet t got married, his wife 
found this much too primitive. When I wasn't there Bill started 
to fix up the first cabin, and all of a sudden there was a 
bathtub in it. Okay, well, I went to Bill and said, "Look, I 
think it's time for us to split. I'll take the little cabin and 
you take the first cabin." So we did. He keeps it up just 
beautifully; everything is perfect. But it's kind of--. It's 
not quite to my taste. 

Lage: This is the first one you built on his land? 

Leopold: Yes. Our cabin is just one room with logs, and I built a 
fireplace in all of them. 

Lage: So it's those original logs in the same plan that it had been? 

Leopold: Yes. I enlarged the windows a little bit, that's all. But there 
was no stream, there was no river. There was no place to have 
horses and stuff. So I started looking for some land. 


A rancher, Jin Noble, whom I didn't know at the time, came 
up to my cabin one day, and he said, "There's going a 
public meeting in which we're going to argue with the state 
engineer about water in this area, and 1 wonder if you'd speak on 
our behalf." I said yes, I would. Veil, I made quite an 
impression on them, apparently. After I got to know Jim, they 
realized that nobody there could have done quite what I was able 
to do. 

So Jim went to his father and he said, "I can't sell Luna 
any of my land because of my mortgage situation." But he said to 
his father, "You know what we need around here is a technically 
trained conservationist. Why don't you sell Luna some land?" 
And his father said, "Good." This was only a couple of months 
before his father died. It never would have happened if his 
father hadn't been there. 


So Jim took me out some time later, and he said, "Let's go 
look at some land." So we went to this place and that place, and 
I was given a choice in this 3, 000 -acre ranch, I could take any 
damn place 1 wanted. So I said, "I want that place down there." 
He said, "That's fine." So we went to his father and said, "We 
found a place that you didn't mention, but maybe you'd sell this 
one to Luna." So anyhow, they sold me this little piece of 
property. So I'm in the middle of this very large ranch, you 
see. I have fourteen acres right on the creek. 

And this is on Pole Creek? 

Leopold: No, this is on the New Fork. Pole Creek is where we camped. New 
Fork is where we live now. 

Lage: Are they near each other? 

Leopold: They're about ten miles away. So now we have this big house, and 
now, when it came to that house, that was a little different. I 
went to Jim and I said, "I want to buy some old log cabins, and I 
have a plan of my own, but I need old logs." So Jim scratched 
his head and he finally said to me, "Yes, let's go see So-and- 
so." So we went, and I bought a pair of log cabins that were a 
hundred years old. Vith Jim's help, we moved all the logs down 
to my property. So my family built this house. It's a big 
house. In a week and a half, that's where we'll be. Barbara 
said this is the twentieth year that she's been in Pinedale. 

Lage: Now, has this become an area where you've done a lot of research? 





Yes. That's the whole reason why Pinedale was so important. 
Because of all the places I ever worked with John Miller, this 
place was one where we could reach all the different kinds of 
rivers that we wanted to within a short distance, and that's why 
we chose that area. 

So when you've gone up there for the twenty years, it's been a 
research center for you. 

Veil, certainly in the early years, yes. It's been more than 
this. We've had the house for twenty years. I've been going 
there for twenty, for thirty years, something like that. That's 
important, because to build a house of your own with your own 
hands makes a lot of difference. There, Barbara's children 
learned a lot and contributed a lot because the four of us really 
did it together. 

Okay, so they've been involved with it. 
kind of-- 

Oh, she loves it. Yes. 

And Barbara enjoys this 

Since Retirement: Seminars in Hydrology 

Lage: We haven't talked too much about what you've done since 

retirement. I know there are a lot of things, but I was going to 
ask you about the Water, Science, and Technology Board. 

Leopold: Oh, that's not important. 
Lage: Is that not important? 

Leopold: No. I think what I'm doing right now for the Forest Service is 

probably much more important. I'm giving two courses this summer 
for the Forest Service personnel. 

Lage: Where do you give the courses? 

Leopold: Well, I've been teaching at Teton Science School in Jackson, 

Wyoming, every year for the last fifteen years, and I'm giving 
that up. But when I saw that the Forest Service was not sending 
the young people that helped us the most in the field to take our 
expensive course in Pagosa Springs, I said, "I'm going to give a 
free course just for them," so that's what I'm doing. I'm 
dividing this course between Teton Science School where I already 
have maps and a whole lot of things that I know about the area, 


and then we're going to nove to my front yard in Pinedale, and 
all the young people will camp outside in my yard, and we'll work 
on my river. So I spend half the time at Teton Science School 
and half the time down in Pinedale. This free course is a one 
time deal. 

Lage: These are Forest Service Personnel learning about hydrology? 

Leopold: Yes. 

Lage: And do they come from a variety of backgrounds? 

Leopold: Last year we taught sixty people from all over the United States, 
yes. They came from every state in the Union, and they're going 
to send another thirty people to take the Pagosa Springs course 
in October again. 

Lage: What is their technical background? 

Leopold: Mostly fish. A lot of them are called hydrologists but don't 

know much hydrology. A lot of them come from fish and wildlife. 
We've had some people from range, and some from silviculture. 
But the kind of hydrology they're getting from us is somewhat 
different than what they're used to. 

Lage: And the Forest Service is happy with this? 
Leopold: They're very happy. 

Lage: Are they open? I always had a stereotype of the Forest Service 
being kind of closed. 

Leopold: Well, they were, but the thing is that this current court case 
has cost them so much money and they had to call in all these 
consultants like Dave Dawdy and me, people like that, they 
realize that they're very short of hydrologic talent. The top 
people began to see, "Look, we're just not up to snuff on this 
game . " So 1 went to one of the chief people in Washington and 
said, "My suggestion to you is that you've got to build your 
staff. We've shown you that your people are way behind. Let me 
teach a course for them. I'll get Dave Rosgen, who formerly was 
with the Forest Service, and we'll teach a course together. I 
will teach the theoretical part primarily, and he'll teach the 
practical part." They said, "Fine." 

So it cost them a lot of money. We had to give two courses, 
each lasting one week. They came from all over the United 
States. We put them up at a very nice condominium kind of a 
place not far from where we were going to work. We spent a half 



a day in the office, in the lecture room, and then a half a day 
seeing things in the field. They were so delighted with it that 
practically all of the people said it was the best course they 
ever took in their life. So they wanted us to train some more 
people. I said I wouldn't do another set of two courses. We 
taught them back to back, and it was very stressful. Ve decided 
we'd teach one course, again lasting a week, the same place, 
Pagosa Springs. Pagosa Springs because Dave Rosgen has been 
doing river restoration work there, and we can take the students 
out and show them what actually can be done in the river. 

Where is that? Pagosa Springs? 

Pagosa Springs. It's in southwestern Colorado. It's right where 
Rosgen lives. 

"Ethos. Eouitv. and the Water Resource" 

Lage: Your recent Abel Wolman Distinguished Lecturecan you tell how 
that happened to come about? 

Leopold: Abel Wolman was a very famous water man, primarily in public 
health. He was M. Gordon Wolman' s father, you see, one of my 
close friends. When he died, the Water Science and Technology 
Board, set up a lecture series in his honor. It was decided by 
the board to ask me to give the first lecture. 

Lage: And how did you pick this particular topic? ["Ethos, Equity, and 
the Water Resource," published in Environment, volume 32, number 
2 (March 1990)] It made quite an impact, it seems. 

Leopold: Apparently so. 

Lage: Are these things that had been troubling you? 

Leopold: Yes, because with long government experience, I've seen the 

bureaucracy operating, I've seen the special interests that are 
so prevalent in what government does for us. The resource field 
in particular has been pressed by special interests, and 
therefore I want to say something about it. And I think this 
whole business that you saw yesterday of the NRA and the gun 
control bills, special interests are really pushing us around in 
a very serious manner. 


Lage: You make a remark in that lecture about public servants being 
captured by the history of the organization. That's a very 
interesting concept. 

Leopold: You see, the Corps of Engineers started out, as you know, being 
primarily concerned with large rivers and harbors. The Congress 
then expanded their work after the great flood in the Mississippi 
in 1936. That was the passage of the first flood control bill. 
The Corps of Engineers was given by Congress the responsibility 
of starting a much larger flood control program. As a result, 
therefore, we have the most expensive flood control project in 
the world on the Mississippi River, much more grandiose than 
anything that has ever been done elsewhere, but with costs that 
are not appreciated. 

There are several kinds of costs. In the first place, the 
taxpayer paid for it but the benefits are not equally 
distributed. I guess I told you that when you build levees, you 
make your floods higher by confining the water. And the Corps, 
by the legislation, was paying 90 to 91 percent of the cost. 
And, then, the Corps expanded out into not only doing that but 
straightening rivers elsewhere. 

So here, now, we've got the agricultural interests just in 
the state of California, the agricultural interests want more and 
more, you see. So that there's a heck of a lot of places in the 
resource field where we're being driven not by the social good, 
nor even by the economic good, but by special interests. Special 
interests, such as people who obtain monetary rewards from 
government projects, develop an historic tie to an agency. The 
Corps is an example. They get much congressional support from 
members who want money spent in their area. Now you see people 
trying to break out of this point of view, and it's doggone hard. 
It's very difficult. 

Lage: The Forest Service certainly has this history. 
Leopold: And the Forest Service, the same thing. 

Lage: Did USGS have a constituency like that, a historic tie to special 

Leopold: Yes, in this respect: that the survey, through the cooperative 
program, has been doing the stream gauging for the states, in 
which the states pay 50 percent. But that's different. The 
states are paying 50 percent. In that regard, therefore, they 
have an interest, but these are not for individual people. 
Irrigation districts, cities, and the states need data for 
project design, and they pay the USGS to collect the data. It's 


not what I would call special interest. Yes, it is a 
constituency, but the constituency, since they're paying half the 
bill, they're also saying to the survey, "We want gauging 
stations at these places because this is the place that we want 
the measurements made." The survey often says yes, and sometimes 
the survey will say, "I think it would be better if you did 
something else." But that's an entirely different constituency 
that I'm talking about. 

Lage: I notice in this essay and in "The Alexandrian Equation," you had 
the classical references framing the essay. Have you done a lot 
of reading in classical history? 

Leopold: Sort of, yes. 

Lage: It puts such an interesting feel to the work. 

Leopold: 1 think you always can catch attention, if you like, by doing 
something a little bit different, by referring to another 
example, not drawn necessarily from modern times. 

Lage: And it makes it more universal somehow, too. 

Leopold: Yes, I think so. In going to Europe--! went quite often when I 
was with the survey--! usually made it a point to concentrate on 
one thing. One year, for example, I read everything that I could 
about Michelangelo, and then I went to Rome and I didn't do 
anything but look at Michelangelo's work. Another time, I wanted 
to do just Napoleon, and another time I wanted to do Madame 
Stael. The ordinary tourist gets lost in the complexities of 
history, and I think it's much better to pick out something 
you're really interested in and do it in a more concentrated way. 
So that way, when I went to Greece a few years ago, I was really 
dealing only with Alexander, and it was very interesting. 

Lage: And another time, you tracked down the Lunas in Spain. 
Leopold: Yes. [laughter] 

Lage: Okay, well, I feel as if we've come to a good place, and if we 
need to add something, we can do it after you've seen the whole. 

Leopold: That's right, Ann. 

Transcriber: Elizabeth Kim 
Final Typist: Christopher DeRosa 


Interview 1 

, May 15, 1990 

Tape 1 

, side A 

Tape 1 

, side B 

Tape 2 

, side A 

Interview 2 

, May 30, 1990 

Tape 3 

, side A 

Tape 3 

, side B 

Tape 4 

, side A 

Tape 4 

, side B 


from Tape 5, , 

TAPE GUIDE- -Luna B. Leopold 




side B 63 

Insert from Tape 3, side A 68 

Interview 3, June 6, 1990 72 

Tape 5, side A 72 

Tape 5, side B 82 

Insert from Tape 7, side A 86 

Tape 6, side A 91 

Tape 6, side B 99 


Interview 5, February 6, 1991 133 

Tape 9, side A 133 

Tape 9, side B 143 

Tape 10, side A 151 

Interview 6, March 5, 1991 162 

Tape 11, side A 162 

Tape 11, side B 173 

Tape 12, side A 185 

Tape 12, side B 197 

Insert from Tape 14, side A 206 

Tape 14, side B 209 

Interview 7, March 12, 1991 213 

Tape 13, side A 213 

Tape 13, side B 219 

Tape 14, side A 229 

Interview 8, May 9, 1991 237 

Tape 15, side A 237 

Tape 15, side B 246 

Tape 16, side A 257 

Interview 4, 
Tape 7, 
Tape 7, 
Tape 8, 
Tape 8, 

January 17 , 
side A 
side B 
side A 
side B 



Regional Oral History Office University of California 

The Bancroft Library Berkeley, California 


David R. Dawdy 


Interview Conducted by 

Ann Lage 

in 1991 

Copyright e 1993 by The Regents of the University of California 






Field Assistant with a B.A. in History, 1951 270 

To Washington, on Flood Frequency Analysis 271 

Walter Langbein, a Genius 272 

Papers on Sand Channel Streams 273 
Higher Degree in Statistics through the Government 

Training Act 276 


Hiring Ph.D.'s 277 

Administrative Reorganization and the Old-Boy Network 278 

Reeducating the Old-Line Staff: Rolland Carter 282 

Luna's Shoot -from- the -Hip Style 284 

Resistance to Change in the Bureaucracy 286 
A Permanent Change in the Orientation of the Water Resources 

Division 288 

Building Programs: Looking at Systems and Processes 290 

Reorganizing the Research Unit in the 1970s 291 

Pink Terror Memos 293 

Leopold's Contributions to the Publications Program 294 

Review of Policy Statements in Research Papers 295 

Political Pressures on Research 297 

Leopold's Treatment after Resignation as Chief Hydrologist 298 

The Maverick Herb Skibitzke 301 

In Summary 304 




During our extended discussions of his leadership of the U.S.G.S. 
Water Resources Division, Luna Leopold suggested that I speak 'also with 
David Davdy. As a hydrologist who had worked for the Geological Survey 
before, during, and after Leopold's tenure as chief of the Water 
Resources Division, Dawdy had been well placed to observe the far- 
reaching and sometimes controversial changes he made to its program. 

I net with Mr. Dawdy on May 3, 1991, in his San Francisco home. He 
spoke very candidly and directly about the changes instituted by Leopold 
and the reaction of an entrenched bureaucracy to a man who "turned things 
upside down," sometimes in a "shoot -from- the -hip" style that could 
alienate the "old-boy network." He also provided a valuable assessment 
of Leopold's importance to the science of hydrology, through his 
transformation of the Water Resources Division and contributions to 
university programs in hydrology, as well as through the impact of his 
own research and his application of science to public policy matters.. 

Mr. Dawdy reviewed the transcription of his interview session, 
naking only a few minor corrections. He also donated for deposit in The 
Bancroft Library a tape recording of an interview he conducted with Luna 
Leopold on their colleague, Walter Langbein, whom Dawdy describes in 
these pages as "the only genius I have ever known." 

Ann Lage 

January 26, 1993 

Regional Oral History Office 

The Bancroft Library 

University of California, Berkeley 


Regional Oral History Office 
Room 486 The Bancroft Library 

University of California 
Berkeley, California 947: 


(Please write clearly. Use black ink.) 
Your full name *T>AY\t> 

Date of birth 

Father's full name_ 

Mother's full name 

Your spouse 

P eg t 

Your children 

) /? 26 

Birthplace 5&J 



t ft O- 


Where did you grow up? 
Present community 

Occupation (s) 


Areas of expertise 

Other interests or activities 

Organizations in which you are active fj &i/ A$ Cg , /?/ H .M/V5. /} S 


[Date of Interview: May 3, 1991 ]## 

Field Assistant with a B.A. in History. 1951 

Lage: Today is May 3, 1991, and I'm interviewing Dave Dawdy as part of 
the Luna Leopold oral history. Mr. Leopold suggested that I talk 
with you. I think he wanted to be sure that we got an 
understanding particularly of the tumultuousness of the period of 
his leadership in the USGS. So I hope that we can really speak 
freely. He thinks it's important that that story be recorded. 

He mentioned that after he resigned as chief of the Water 
Resources Division that he was very isolated. 

Dawdy: Oh, yes. That's quite true. But there was tumult during his reign 
also [laughter] because he turned things upside down. He changed 
the whole organization. That was his purpose when he came in. 

Lage: Before we start, let's just learn a little bit about you, something 
about your background and when you came to the Geological Survey 
and that kind of thing, to give us a reference point. 

Dawdy: Okay. I started off as a field assistant in the California 
district in '51, January of '51, right after the 1950 floods. 

Lage: And what was your educational background for that? 

Dawdy: I had a history degree. A bachelor of arts in history. I found 
out that, although I was working with a bunch of engineers, 
engineers are really afraid of mathematics. 

Lage: That's interesting. 

Dawdy: So because I wasn't afraid of mathematics, I became essentially the 


Lage: With your history degree? 

Dawdy: With my history degree. [laughter] Well, I had taken a lot of 
mathematics when 1 was in college, in addition to history. 

Lage: Where had you grown up and gone to college? 

Dawdy: 1 was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, and I ended up 
graduating from Trinity in San Antonio. 

Lage: So then you became a field assistant for the Geological Survey in 
'51, did you say? 

Dawdy: Yes, because we had a big flood in 1950, December of '50. Because 
of that, all of their people were out in the field. They didn't 
have anyone in the office so they went down on skid row and picked 
up some people to do things in the office to keep the records 
going, and I was one who got hired for working up their records. I 
was a field assistant but 1 wasn't really in the field; 1 was in 
the office. Everybody else was in the field. But over time, I 
ended up becoming an engineering aide, and then actually a 
hydraulic engineer. 

Lage: 1 see. 

Dawdy: The U.S. Geological Survey, the Water Resources Division, started 
setting up a research program in about 195-5, '56. 

Lage: That's about when Luna came in. 

Dawdy: It was before Luna became the chief [of the Water Resources 

Division] . He was in the Geological Survey but he was not chief. 
He was in some sort of a branch. What did they call that thing? 
General hydrology branch or some such thing. 

To Washington, on Flood Freauencv Analysis 

Dawdy: But anyway, because of my work on the '55 flood, a second big flood 
in California, I was the one who was actually in charge of all the 
office work for determining by indirect methods the floods of 1955. 
One of the people who was in from Washington to do the overall 
technical review was a guy named Manuel Benson. Ben was at that 
time being selected to start a research project in the Surface 
Water Branch on flood frequency analysis, unbeknownst to me. 


But soon after, perhaps while this still was going on, Holland 
Carter from Washington, who had been appointed to head up the 
research program in the Surface Water Branch, came through looking 
for people. And he interviewed several people, including me. 1 
was the one who was picked to go back to Washington, I'm sure 
because of having worked with Manuel Benson on that flood. 1 
worked in Washington as Manuel Benson's research assistant in 
developing the methods that are now presently used in flood 
frequency analysis in the Geological Survey. So-called state-space 
methods . 

Lage: This is a mathematical-- 

Dawdy: Yes, you take all the data and treat it statistically to come up 
with a regional flood frequency analysis. 

I went in to Washington in August of 1956 and was working on 
the flood frequency analysis for not quite two years. During that 
time, Luna came in as the chief. When the organization decided 
that 1 should move off and become a project chief of some sort, 
they took me off the flood frequency project and put me over in the 
office with Walter Langbein for a summer. At that time, Walter and 
Luna were working closely together. Luna had just become chief. 
And Tom Maddock was sharing the office with Walter Langbein. Tom 
Maddock was a new hire in the Geological Survey, but he had been 
Luna's first boss when Luna first got out of college. So I got to 
know Walter Langbein quite well, and Tom Maddock, and of course 

Walter Langbein. a Genius 

Lage: And what were your impressions? 

Dawdy: My impressions? 

Lage: Your first impression. 

Dawdy: Walter Langbein was the only genius I have ever known. A really 
amazing person. He assigned me about six problems to think about 
during the summer, and we produced something like four papers. I'm 
sure that he knew the solution to all those problems he asked me 
about before we ever started, but he always sort of pretended to be 
naive; he wanted you to help him understand these things. It was a 
very, very stimulating summer, and after that was over with, I went 
back to the Surface Water Branch while they tried to figure out 
what to do with me. 


Lage: Were you still in Washington? 

Dawdy: Oh, this was in Washington, D.C. , yes. It was all in Washington, 
D.C. The branches were all in Arlington, Virginia, whereas the 
headquarters was in Washington, D.C., in the old Interior Building, 
so I Just moved across the river to the Surface Water Branch in 
Arlington. Holland Carter and Walter Langbein and Luna were trying 
to figure out what project I should work on. 

Paners on Sand Channel Streams 

Dawdy: While I was waiting, there was a so-called Operations Research 
Project in the Surface Water Branch where they were trying to 
figure out how often to gauge streams. In other words, what was 
the accuracy trade-off in frequency of stream gauging? A guy by 
the name of Andy Anderson who had been district chief in 
Mississippi was in charge of this project. I started playing 
around with his data and came up with an interesting relationship 
that I thought was quite different. I'd never seen--. Well, I had 
seen it before too, but it was very remarkable in this particular 
stream in that it was a large stream that went from very small 
flows to very high flows. It was the San Juan River at Shiprock 
[New Mexico] and because it had a snow-melt component it would get 
up to high flows and stay there; and because it shifted around, 
they had a person who sat there and measured it every day. That's 
why they picked this to study, because they had so many discharge 
measurements . 

Lage: To see how frequently it was necessary to measure? 

Dawdy: Yes. Whether they can get it equally accurately with fewer 

measurements. Well, I found out that the shifting of the stream 
could be explained and took this thing and showed it to Rolland 
Carter, who got very excited because the people in our research 
group in Colorado State University had been getting these same 
sorts of results in the flume, but everyone was trying to explain 
it as a flume effect, rather than a real physical effect. 

Lage: When you talk about the shifting of the river, do you mean the 
river bottom? 

Dawdy: The bottom. The bottom goes up and down, so therefore when you 
plot--. The way you usually get discharge measurements is to 
measure periodically and then plot the stage, the elevation of the 
water, against the discharge, and you get a relationship so you can 


determine the discharge at any time. But if the bottom keeps going 
up and down, it's very difficult to get that relationship. 

So what I did was very exciting to Holland Carter. .He took me 
over immediately and we had a meeting with Luna Leopold, and they 
laid this out in front of Luna, and Luna got very excited about it. 
The result was that 1 was shipped off to the western United States 
for six weeks to go around looking for other sites where this 
occurred. Before I went there, I took a bunch of stations and 
worked up their ratings to check and see whether I thought that 
they would fit this relationship, and then I went all over the West 
visiting those sites and looking at them and getting bed material 

Lage: Did you have a team to go with you? 

*. _ _ . -r _ rm . _ ^ * ^ _ ^ _ . 

Dawdy: No. The only team was my wife. Doris went. One of the funny 
stories on that was that I was just shipped out with a general 
travel authorization. When 1 got to Denver, 1 went and asked for 
an automobile to go around for six weeks. They said finally, 
"What's your charge number?" And of course, I had never heard of 
this so I didn't know what they were talking about. So I said, 
"What charge number?" They said, "It's a seven- digit number." I 
said, "Oh, that." I gave them seven digits, and they wrote them 
down. He had given me enough of a hint so at least I had a 
rational number. It turned out that it was a balancing account in 
the director's office, meaning that it was one of those accounts 
where they transferred money in and out temporarily. So there were 
all these transactions that nobody knew why they were going in and 
out. So this charge on this car was lost forever. Nobody ever 
asked why the car got into that account. [laughter] 

Anyway, I went around doing this analysis and ended up writing 
a water supply paper on that, which became the basis for the way 
resistance to flow in sand channel streams is done. Now it is 
written up in the U.S.G.S. procedures [USGS Water Supply Paper, 

And at about that same time, I got involved with the 
Albuquerque district on analysis of all their data on the middle 
Rio Grande, because they'd been collecting a lot of data and they'd 
tried to write a report which had really bounced, and very badly, 
and they were in some deep trouble over this . And I , on this trip 
when I went around, passed through Albuquerque and ran into the 
people that were working on this report. Jim Culbertson was the 
senior author on the report and, in fact, the only one left. The 
other author had left the survey over this report. 

Lage: Because of having so much difficulty with it? 


Dawdy: Yes. It bounced, and there had been so much repercussion I guess 
he just said, "To hell with it." But anyway, I didn't know all 
this background, so when I saw the stuff, I naively volunteered to 
help out. This got great approval in Washington because Luna very 
much wanted these data to be analyzed, so I ended up spending some 
time in Albuquerque and in Santa Fe, working with the local people 
on working up their data, that ended up in another water supply 
paper [USGS Water Supply Paper, 1498-F] . 

Lage: So were you able to figure out what the problem was then? 

Dawdy: Oh, yes. It was that they hadn't really known how to look at the 
data. It was sort of the same approach that I was developing as a 
result of this paper that ended up in front of Luna before I went 
on the trip, so I was enthusiastic about looking at their data in 
that light. And it turned out, of course, all these were sand 
channel streams and they all fit that general relationship. 

Lage: So this really explained a great deal. 
Dawdy: Yes, quite a bit. 

Well, anyway, this got me started as one of the researchers in 
sand channel streams and in sediment transport in general, and 
therefore brought me to some attention with Luna and Walter and the 
whole crew. 

Lage: Luna seems to appreciate that kind of scientific advance, new ways 
of looking at things . 

Dawdy: That's right. He likes to see people who can understand how things 
operate, or think about how things operate, how the system works. 
I worked on sand channel streams for a couple of years out of 
Washington. And then they were beginning to think in terms of 
computers. The Groundwater Branch was pushing at that time 
something called analog computers. 

Lage: This was the early days of computers? 

Dawdy: Yes, before digital computers took over. And I was shipped off to 
Phoenix, Arizona, to this ground water lab to investigate the 
utility of using analog computers in surface water work. Well, 
there was a lot of utility in that, with lots of potential, but 
because the digital computers took over very quickly, it became 
obvious that it was much cheaper and easier to use digital 
computers, so that whole area of effort, area of research, sort of 


Lage : There was no transference between what you developed for an analog 
computer and-- 

Dawdy: An analog coaputer used resistors and capacitors to build the 

equation and solved it all simultaneously and rapidly. The digital 
computer takes that equation and turns it into a mathematical 
iterative solution. So it's a step removed from the analog 
computers but it gives you more precision, and because of the 
advances in speed and everything that have taken place in digital 
computers, they very rapidly overtook analogs, because almost 
anyone can learn to use a digital computer, whereas it took a 
little more knowledge to use the analogs. 

Lage: Had you still done all this with just your history degree? 

Dawdy: Yes. 

Lage: So this was all on- the -job training? 

Dawdy: Yes. All of my hydrology has been on the job. On- the -job 
training. And all of my research was also on the job. 

Higher Degree in Statistics through the Government Training Act 

Lage: And your mathematics? 

Dawdy: Well, when I was in Washington, because of all of this, I started 
taking math in graduate school at the American University. I was 
fairly well toward a master's degree in mathematics when 1 left 
Washington and went to Phoenix. I was in Phoenix about nine 
months, and Roy Hendricks came through and told me --asked me, 
depending on which way you want to put it- -to go up to Stanford and 
get a master's degree in statistics. 

Lage: Now, who is Roy Hendricks? 

Dawdy: Roy Hendricks was the associate chief under Luna, and he was the 
one who became the chief hydrologist after Luna. So he was in on 
all that turmoil. 

So I went off to Stanford under the Government Training Act. 
I think I was one of the first ones to go under the training act. 



Hiring Ph.D.'s 

Dawdy: Luna jumped on the concept of the Government Training Act to start 
in-house training for his people. One of the first things that 
Luna did when he came in was to start- -well, he did several things. 
He reorganized the whole administrative outfit. He started 
stressing the research program. We had started a research program 
within the survey in the Water Resources Division before Luna 
became chief, although he may have been involved in the thinking 
behind getting it started, before he was chief. But Luna 
emphasized the research program much more, as a support for the 
program as a whole, and he started hiring Ph.D.'s. In fact, it 
became almost impossible to hire anything but a Ph.D. for a while. 

Lage: And that was a new development? 

Dawdy: Very new. There were a few Ph.D.'s when I went into the research 
group. To the best of my knowledge, there were no Ph.D.'s in the 
Surface Water Branch. There were several people with master's 
degrees. A guy by the name of Nick Matalas was one of the first 
ones who was hired as a Ph.D. , but I think he was hired after Luna 
became chief, and Nick was put in our research group. 

Lage: Was this something that was resisted, the hiring of Ph.D.'s? Did 
it make people feel threatened? 

Dawdy: Yes. Most of the people were involved in the data collection 

program. This was stressing the research program over the data 
program, and the limitation on hires put a lot of pressure on the 
districts to try to keep the data program going, and they felt that 
Luna was hiring all these Ph.D.'s that were not helping them 
getting the daily work done. 

Lage: At the same time- -I'm just guessing from what you said- -was the 

division thinking of ways of reducing the number of times they had 


to collect the data, or was that not connected to a reduction in 
data collection work force? 

Davdy: That was not connected. That was generally just trying to do a 
more efficient job. They did things like, how accurate does a 
discharge measurement have to be, how many times do you have to 
measure a stream in order to gain a certain level of accuracy on 
the annual record? 

Lage : So some of the research went towards making the data collection 
program more efficient and more accurate. 

Dawdy: Yes, that's correct. 

Administrative Reorganization and the Old-Bov Network 

Lage: We're getting at the sources of some of the tension here. 

Dawdy: Part of the main tension within the district program was that Luna 
upset all the old-boy network. He came in and started stressing 
that the way you become a district chief is to have a publication 
record; you have to have done something besides just rise up 
through the ranks by running the data program. He, in addition, 
started taking people from district A and making them chief in 
district B, whereas in many of the districts there was an heir 
apparent, and the district chief had complete control over who was 
going to get promoted and who was going to follow him. 

Lage: So the districts had been their own little fiefdoms, then. 

Dawdy: That's correct. Very much so. The district chiefs were gods. 
That was changed when Luna came in, and there was lots of 
resistance to that. 

In addition, Luna took the branches at the field level and 
combined them. We had three operating branches: the Surface Water 
Branch, which gauged streams; the Groundwater Branch, which went 
out and measured wells and determined how much groundwater there 
was; and the Quality Water Branch, which measured the chemical 
constituents in the water. These three were completely independent 
and quite often didn't talk to each other. 

Lage: And they had separate offices? 

Dawdy: They might have offices right next to each other, but they weren't 
allowed to talk to each other in some cases. 


I remember when I was involved in--. After I'd gone to 
Washington, I guess probably while 1 was in Phoenix, the state of 
Arizona asked the USGS to design a program. They had some problem; 
I forget what it was. But I sat in on this planning session, and 
each of the district chiefs- -there were three district chiefs: the 
groundwater, surface water, and quality water- -sat in on it. They 
all went back to design a program. It was very funny because the 
state told them how much money was available, and they came in with 
three programs . The Surface Water Branch came in spending all the 
money on stream gauges. The Groundwater Branch came in with all of 
the money being put into drilling wells and collecting groundwater 
data. The quality water guy came in measuring chemical quality all 
over the state. There was no way that they could compromise on 
this thing; there's no one to tell them to coordinate this. 

So anyway, Luna, seeing problems like that, combined the three 
branches and made a district chief rather than a district chemist, 
a district geologist, and district engineer. There was just a 
district chief over all three branches, and that eliminated a lot 
of positions. A lot of people who were in line to become district 
chief or district engineer or district chemist or district 
geologist were now eliminated from consideration. And a lot of the 
people that thought they had a sure idea of what their future was, 
suddenly didn't have, and this created some uncertainty. 

Lage : Did it also threaten their having a job at all, or were they-- 

Dawdy: No, no, but quite often they were not the jobs that they thought 
they were going to get. They weren't the controlling jobs; they 
were staff jobs rather than line jobs. Also, quite often they were 
asked to transfer. Whereas they were expecting to inherit a 
particular state, they were asked to move off and be a minor 
position in some other state, which quite often they didn't like. 


Dawdy: Partly, I guess, but mainly I think it was that Luna saw the need 
for coordinating the programs in the organization. You couldn't 
have these people competing in every state and not being able to 
build an integrated program that solved the problem. So in order 
to do that, you had to put all these people together and make them 
talk to each other. 

Lage: I may be not understanding the organization completely, but how did 
these district organizational programs fit together with the data 
collection organization? 


Dawdy: They all collected data. 

Lage: So they were all part of data collection? 

Dawdy: And they all did interpretive reports. For instance, in the 

Surface Water Branch you would have a data section that took care 
of all the stream gauging. And you would have an analytic group 
that might be called the hydrologic unit, and they might have a 
hydraulic unit. They solved different sorts of problems, but they 
would do analytic reports. 

Lage: But they were all organized through this district system? 

Dawdy: They were all through the surface water district chief, who 
reported to the surface water chief in Washington, who then 
reported to Luna. In the Groundwater Branch, you would have a 
similar thing. You'd have a data unit which went out and measured 
all the wells, and you would have an analytic unit that did the 
groundwater analysis for the different basins. They would report 
to a district geologist, who would report to the chief of the 
Groundwater Branch, who would report to Luna. The Quality Water 
Branch is the same way. They'd have a group of people who'd go out 
and collect the data, a group of people who would do reports, who 
report to the district chemists, who reports to the chief of the 
Quality Water Branch, who reports to Luna. But the only person who 
could bring all these together would be the chief, Luna, and he 
couldn't solve all these problems at the district level. 

And prior to when Luna came in--. Although, some time around 
the early fifties, the need for this integration started becoming 
apparent . 

Lage: It wasn't only Luna who observed- - 

Dawdy: I think that everyone realized some of the problems. It's just 
that Luna saw that the solution was changing the whole 
organizational structure. He made the branches so-called staff 
branches rather than supervisory, and took the management away from 
the branches and set up a separate organization for managing the 

Lage: Was it integrated on the district level? 

Dawdy: Yes, it was integrated on the district level, and then all district 
chiefs reported to regional hydrologists who could coordinate a 
regional program, so sometimes you could even get states to talk to 
each other. 



Dawdy : 

What about the research branch? 

Was that ordered by districts 

No, that came up entirely separately, and it was organized 
originally at the regional level. Each of the regional offices had 
a research group who reported to a--. Well, it started offlet's 
step back to before Luna came in. The research program was 
organized along the branch lines, and the research people were 
mostly in Washington or in Denver. 

Dawdy: They reported to the branch structure. For example, I was in the 
research section of surface water, and our chief, Rolland Carter, 
reported to the chief of surface water, and then he reported to 
Luna. So the research people were pretty well unrelated. The sort 
of interesting thing was that I was in the Surface Water Branch, 
but I got very much involved in sediment transport, and this was 
quality water. It created some consternation, because when I went 
to Albuquerque I worked for the Quality Water Branch on their 
report on the Rio Grande.' The realization within the Surface Water 
Branch that the sediment had something to do with their game, which 
was resistance to flow, was a very radical idea. So the dichotomy 
between branches went over into the technical end of the game. 

Lage: I see that. It kept them from looking at the problem as a whole. 

Dawdy: That's correct. In fact, when I got started in this sand channel 
stream stuff, there was a file cabinet in the Surface Water Branch 
hydraulic section which handled resistance to flow, and they had a 
group of stations for indirect determinations which they had 
segregated, and the reason for this was because they were sand 
channel streams, and the resistance to flow was much too low, so 
therefore the Surface Water Branch would not accept those numbers. 
And even though they measured the discharge and computed the 
resistance to flow, so therefore that was what it was, they had 
notations on there that these numbers could be used for that 
discharge, because they had the discharge measurement with the 
current meter, but they could not be used for any other purpose. I 
sort of died laughing over that, spread the word around [laughs], 
which probably wasn't appreciated very much, even by Rolland 
Carter, who was a good, loyal surface water man at that time. 


Reeducating the Old-Line Staff: Holland Carter 

Dawdy: It was very interesting, because Holland Carter was reeducated by 
Luna. This was sort of one of the symptoms, or whatever you want 
to call it, of Luna's approach. Holland Carter was a very sharp 
guy, one of the smartest people in the organization. 

Lage: And he'd been there for a while. 

Dawdy: Oh, yes, he was an old-line technical person in the organization. 

He was about, I guess, ten years senior to me, and he was the chief 
for our research group in surface water. He had gotten his 
master's degree at Georgia Tech, and he had gotten two gold medals 
for papers from the ASCE [American Society of Civil Engineers] so 
he was really a very sharp person. 

But he very much was not interested in sand channel streams 
and the difference in how to approach hydraulics. The hydraulics 
of sand channel streams and movable boundary streams was quite 
different from rigid boundary hydraulics, and Carter, along with 
everyone else in the Surface Water Branch, were very oriented 
toward rigid boundary hydraulics, and that's what our research 
group at Georgia Tech was studying- -rigid boundary flumes. We had 
a small research group doing hydraulic research at Georgia Tech 
from the early fifties. 

Lage: But they were Geological Survey people? 

Dawdy: Yes, they were Surface Water Branch people who reported to the 
chief of surface water in Washington. When we finally set up a 
research section, they then reported to Holland Carter, who was the 
head of the research section. 

Luna, seeing this in Holland, and after several knock-down, 
drag-out discussions, which we had quite often with Luna around on 
technical matters --he periodically would call meetings and get 
everybody together to discuss particularly sediment transport and 
hydraulics and resistance to flow in sand channel streams. 

Finally, he took Holland Carter, removed him from chief of the 
research section, and put him in a small room. It was very funny 
because it was a small room with a great, big, square column in the 
middle of it, so that Holland's desk was right up against that 
column and there was hardly any room to get around in there. 
Holland was given the job of coming up with a planning document for 
research in sediment transport, because they'd had so many 
arguments that Luna said, "The only way to educate Carter is to 
make him tell the organization what the research problems are . " 


So Carter spent about three or four months just reviewing all 
the literature describing what all the problems were, what wasn't 
known, what was known. 

Lage: In this one area? Sediment transport? 

Dawdy: Yes, that one area. He came up with a really magnificent summary 

which should have been published and distributed to all researchers 
everywhere, but it was just internal. The main purpose of it- -and 
Luna didn't care what the damn thing said [laughs] --he wanted 
Holland Carter to find out what the problems were, and he did. 

Lage: So he was reeducated through this process? 

Dawdy: Oh, completely. Rollard was completely reeducated by that. He 
became a very knowledge <ble sediment transport person. 

Lage: And he was willing to look at the movable boundary streams as well 
as the rigid- - 

Dawdy: Yes, look at the movable boundary streams and, of course, to bring 
in all this knowledge that he had of the hydraulics, which was 
based on the rigid boundary knowledge. 

Lage: Was his background as a hydraulic engineer? 

Dawdy: Yes. 1 was going to say Georgia Tech. I know he got his master's 
at Georgia Tech, but I don't know where he originally came from. 
Somewhere down south. In the Surface Water Branch, most of the 
leadership in the forties and early fifties was Southerners. 
Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. 

Lage: Was there a reason for that? 

Dawdy: They were much more cooperative with each other. They organized 
sort of a regional exchange of information, and they transferred 
among districts quite often, and they helped each other out. So 
they sort of became the technical leaders in the Surface Water 
Branch, where Holland Carter came from. That's where our branch 
chief, who was Melvin Williams, came from. He came from Alabama. 
Carter came from Georgia. This Andy Anderson I was talking about 
came from Mississippi. Even though he was a Swede from Minnesota, 
he was a good Southerner. 


Luna's Shoot -from -the -Hip Stvle 

Davdy: The way that Luna worked was to sort of shoot from the hip, to an 
extent. He was known for shooting from the hip quite often, and 
sometimes that worked out well, and sometimes that didn't work out 
so well. 

Lage: Do you have an example there? He was following his instincts, do 

Dawdy: Yes, he would talk to someone in the field, and they would--. 

Everyone tried to influence the chief, so they would get his ear 
and explain how they had the solution to something. Luna would 
say, "Fine," and he would pick them out and say, "There. That's 
solved." Quite often, they could talk better than they could do, 
and they would end up not living up to the expectations, because 
Luna had very high expectations. If he thought you could solve the 
problem, you'd damn well better solve it. 

Lage: So then what would be the consequences? 

Dawdy: The consequence was that people would be pulled out of what they 
were doing a good job in and put into a situation they couldn't 
handle, and then they would be shunted aside, and their career 
would be at a dead end. And there were several examples of that. 

And there were other sorts of things too. Luna very much 
wanted to change the way the organization operated. I remember, 
for example, one case that everyone was quite upset about was this 
Andy Anderson, who had been district engineer in Mississippi, moved 
into Washington and did this operation research study, and then he 
was moved up to be an assistant chief hydrologist under Luna. He 
was sort of the administrative head of the organization. 

Luna, in those days, as always, liked to keep his hand in 
doing field work. He thought that every technical person should be 
a manager during part of his career, and every manager should keep 
his technical competence. 

Lage: Was that well accepted, that idea? 

Dawdy: It was well resisted. [laughs] Luna went off into the field each 
summer to do various research projects he was interested in. One 
glimmer he went off, and he left very definite instructions about 
some decisions being made right at the end of the fiscal year. At 
the end of the fiscal year there was always chaos, because money is 
coming and going, and all sorts of decisions have to be made. Luna 
was gone, and Andy Anderson was left in charge. Luna had given 


very specific instructions on one item; I don't remember what it 
was, but I know that when this decision came up, he disagreed with 
Luna's decision, so he made his own decision. When Luna came back, 
he went through the ceiling and just forthwith removed Andy from 
his position. He at that point was acting assistant chief 
hydrologist, and he ceased being acting much of anything. This 
upset the troops, the old guard. 

Lage: Was Andy Anderson popular with the old guard? 

Dawdy: Oh, yes, he was popular. He was a real nice guy, lots of friends, 
and as I say, he was one of these people who had helped keep this 
Southern group organized and doing things and all. He was a doer. 

Lage: And you don't remember what the decision was? 

Dawdy: No. It had to do with some millions of dollars that something was 
supposed to be done with it. And Andy did something else with it. 
I forget exactly what the difference in the decision was, but I 
know it was sufficient so that Luna removed him. In later 
discussion, when everybody was discussing this, my feeling was, 
"Wasn't he told? Didn't he disobey?" 

Lage: He was insubordinate. 

Dawdy: He was insubordinate, yes. What would you do if your people did 
that? But the trouble was, see, the good old boy network didn't 
like it to happen to one of their favorites. And he was a good 
friend of mine. He still stayed around Washington and did staff 
work, but he was no longer as influential as he was. 

And there were several other people that ended up in similar 
sorts of situations where Luna would make firm decisions and carry 
them out regardless of consequences, and particularly regardless of 
his particular popularity in doing it. He felt that it had to be 
done, so he did it. And that wasn't the way the organization 
worked. The organization was very paternalistic, and that was 
quite different. As I say, there were a lot of people who were 
waiting to inherit positions that they had worked to achieve for 
twenty years, and then suddenly Luna decided they should be in 
Timbuktu instead of Kalamazoo. 

Lage: He mentioned, without mentioning a name, but a particular case 

where he wanted somebody to move, and insisted that they move, and 
then when he left the chief's office, it was all shifted. The 
person was not moved or was brought back, and the policy about 
moving was changed. 


Resistance to Change in the Bureaucracy 

Dawdy: That's probably true. Many of Luna's policies were sort of 

rescinded after Roy Hendricks took over, because Roy was part of 
the good old boy network. He came out of the South, and he was 
part of that crew. He very much didn't want to rock the boat. 

Lage: But he was associate chief under Luna. How did he work that 
closely with him, and-- 

Dawdy: As long as Luna was in charge, he was a good second man and did 

what he was told. It was only when he saw that Luna's position was 
in difficulty that I think that he started thinking aboutwhat 
would you say? --building friendships for the future. [laughter] 
And that didn't include Luna, because he could see Luna was going 

1 was at the meeting in Columbus, the district chiefs' 
conference in Columbus, where all this interplay was going on, 
where everybody but me knew what in the hell was going on. I 
didn't know. I knew something was going on. 

Lage: Now, when would that have been? 

Dawdy: That was just before Luna stepped down. 

Lage: Were the district chiefs kind of mounting a rebellion? 

Dawdy: No. Luna didn't get removed because of the district chiefs. Luna 
didn't see eye to eye with the guy who came in as director, a guy 
named Pecora, and I think that was the biggest reason he stepped 
down. But the word was out that Luna was of limited tenure when 
this meeting took place in Columbus, so there was lots of jockeying 
around, and that's when--. I forget now even what the argument was 
that took place, but I know that Rolland Carter and Melvin 
Williams- -one was the chief of the Surface Water Branch and the 
other was the chief of the research section under him- -stood up and 
said opposite things at this meeting and almost wouldn't speak to 
each other afterward; I know because I was in the corridor 
[laughter] after the meeting, and Rolland was just livid with rage. 
He thought that they had agreed on whatever the hell it was. 

Lage: Was this argument related to Luna's stepping down? 
Dawdy: No. It was related to how the division should be run. 


So anyway, the district chiefs were all trying to figure out 
what was going on and how they could fit into the old boy network 
and how they could reestablish it under Roy, which they did. 

Lage: Because the district chiefs were the creatures of Luna. 

Dawdy: That's right, but they all were people who had been in the 

organization before Luna. Many of the district chiefs were very 
anti-Luna, even though they benefited from Luna's legacy. 

When 1 got back to California, there was still grumbling about 
Luna and what he had done. This was long after Luna was gone, and 
Lee Peterson was the district chief. 1 was the assistant district 
chief. We were all sitting over lunch one day and discussing 
things, and he was talking about Luna and his program. 1 said, 
"You're district chief. Do you believe we should go back to three 
districts?" "No." I said, "Well, then you're in favor of that." 
"Yes." I said, "We did it! But you wouldn't change it, would 
you?" "No." I said, "Would you tell me anything that Luna did 
that you would change? What is it that--?" Well, he couldn't 
really think of anything .in particular. The problem was that Luna 
changed the way things were done. He upset everything. 

Lage: It's a great study of change in a bureaucratic organization. 

Dawdy: Oh, yes, quite. And almost everyone resisted. But everyone agreed 
that what was being done was being done for the better. That was 
the odd part about it. And it was done so slowly- -not because Luna 
wanted to do it slowly, apparently, but it took something like four 
years to switch them from the three branches to the district chief 
set-up, I understand mainly because Nolan didn't want to put up 
with all the ruckus all at once. 

Lage: But Nolan, apparently, was in favor of all of this. 

Dawdy: Yes, he was in favor. He very much wanted Luna to do things, but 
then when Luna started doing them, apparently he wasn't interested 
in doing them too fast. He didn't object to them getting done; he 
just didn't like the ruckus that was generated from Luna doing what 
he wanted done . 

Lage: Were there other major things, in addition to the change in the 
district set-up, that were disturbing? 

Dawdy: Yes. The whole research game, the whole idea that the district 
chiefs or any administrator should be judged by their scientific 
skills. The other thing that Luna pushed which was resisted by the 
researchers was he tried to get the researchers to move in and take 
administrative positions. He essentially said, unless the 


researchers move in and run the organization, take their turn, 
they're going to be run by these people who don't understand 
research. Everybody agreed to that, but none of them wanted to go 
in and do that job. In fact, one person that I particularly 
remember was a guy named Stan Schumm, who was also in quantitative 
geomorphology , as it's called, which is the area that Luna was most 
interested in. Luna tried to get him to transfer into Washington 
to take over some position for a period of time, promising that it 
would be a limited time. Stan, rather than do that, quit and went 
off to Colorado State University on the faculty, and is still 
there . 

A Permanent Change in the Orientation of the Water Resources 

Dawdy: The general things that Luna changed was the whole orientation of 
the organization. If you looked at the Water Resources Division 
today, the things that Luna did, still, because they achieved a 
life of their own, are still there. Nobody wants to go back. The 
research character is still very strong and they are still hiring 
good people. 

Lage: They still have Ph.D.'s? 

Dawdy: Oh, yes, they still stress the Ph.D.'s. They've got probably as 
good a research group as there is in any one country or in the 
world, as far as that goes. That came about purely because of 
Luna, and with lots of resistance. But Luna for a period of time 
emphasized Ph.D.'s for research, and he emphasized people at the 
district level getting their master's degrees, going back, and he 
stressed the government training program. 

In fact, after that was under way for a couple of years, he 
came around discussing it. When he came to Menlo Park where I was 
at that time doing research, two of us voiced some complaints. As 
Luna usually did- -this was his "shoot from the hip" thing I was 
talking about- -when we disagreed with what he was saying- -he was 
painting a rosy picture and we said it wasn't as rosy as he was 
painting it- -he said, "All right. You, Dave, and you, Ivan" --Ivan 
Barnes being the other person--"! appoint you a committee of two to 
review this whole program and tell me what's wrong." Which we did. 
We spent a couple of months looking at all the applications, what 
had happened to them. 

Lage: Now, this is a program for further education? 


Davdy: Yes, that sent people back to graduate school. GS [Geological 

Survey] paid people to go back to graduate school. When I was at 
Stanford, I was on full salary, full tuition paid, all books paid, 
anything 1 wanted was paid for. 

Lage: And what did you find from your survey? 
Davdy: Ve found out that what we'd said was correct. 
Lage: Oh, really? 

Dawdy: Yes. Many of the districts were not in favor of this, and we 

pointed out that there were certain district chiefs who had turned 
down every application. No matter who applied, they said no. And 
other district chiefs who believed in it always said yes. The 
success of people getting into graduate school once they got there 
didn't have much to do with the recommendations of the district 
chief, and yet it was going through the district chief. 

Lage: 1 see. So you weren't objecting to people going back to graduate 
school, but to the way it was administered. 

Dawdy: No, we were objecting to the way it was administered, yes. So Luna 
then took the program and put it under a national coordinator, with 
a little more control at the national level. 

Lage: So that people would apply not through their district chief? 

Dawdy: They still had to go through the district chief. You always have 
to go through your own administrator, but the people were chosen 
less on the recommendation of the district personnel and more on 
looking at the person and what he had accomplished and what he 
wanted to do. 

Lage: Now, how did your experience of going back to school work out? 

Luna made some reference to that. They wanted you to take a class 
in something that you'd practically written a book on. 

Dawdy: Not quite. 1 was sent back to get a master's degree in statistics, 
and 1 had worked a lot on statistics, but not nearly the way that 
Stanford teaches statistics. So 1 went back and had to run real 
hard with those young punks to get the master's degree in 
statistics. But it turned out to be a good pay-off. I resisted. 
I told them that what they should do is go hire a statistician, but 
they said no, what they really needed was a hydrologist to learn 
statistics, and that was easier than getting a statistician and 
teaching him hydrology. And I think that was true. It turned out 
that way. The hydrologic background was very important. 


Building Programs: Looking at Systems and Processes 

Dawdy: Let's see. What other sorts of--? Luna was very influential in 
building certain programs within the survey. He of course was 
personally interested in quantitative ge morphology. He pushed the 
sediment program very much. The sediment program is almost defunct 
now in the Water Resources Division. 

It's very interesting because nobody really thought in terms 
of systems. I'm now involved in a National Academy [of Sciences] 
committee --National Research Council- -on Glen Canyon environmental 
studies. One of the interesting things is that when Glen Canyon 
Dam was built, they discontinued almost all the data collection on 
the Grand Canyon. 

Lage: Just at the time when they should have been following- - 

Dawdy: Just at the time when they should have been emphasizing it, they 
eliminated it. 

Lage: The survey did? 

Dawdy: The survey. Because the Bureau was paying for it-- 

Lage: The Bureau of Reclamation. 

Dawdy: --and the Bureau didn't want it. And the survey didn't have enough 
insight to stress that they needed to know what was going on in 
order to study the result of the dam downstream from the Grand 
Canyon . 

Lage: That's incredible. 

Dawdy: So now they're going in on a real intensive ten-year study the 

Geological Survey is proposing to measure sediment movement through 
the canyon. It's the sort of thing Luna would have said had to be 
done if he had been in. In fact, before the dam was closed, Luna 
organized a trip through the canyon to get a background state of 
the canyon just before the dam was closed, because he thought it 
should be done. That way of looking at things in terms of process 
just hasn't been in existence in the leadership of the division 
since Luna left. 

Lage: So the leadership in choice of research projects --significant 
research projects --is this one of Luna's contributions? 


Dawdy: No, not that so much. The research program has built up a life of 
its own from the organization. When Luna started off the research 
program, what he did was to hire people and sort of assume that if 
you hired the right people, that they would choose the right 
problems, and you let them prove themselves. 

Lage: But he didn't choose or encourage certain problems. He must have 
in some way. 

Dawdy: Oh, he did, in the sense of how he hired people, yes. 
Lage: In which field he hired people? 

Dawdy: Yes. If you hire a geochemist, he's going to study geochemistry or 
something. And if you hire a quantitative geomorphologist , he's 
going to study quantitative geomorphology. So in that sense, Luna 
picked the areas by picking people, but he didn't manage the 
program in the general sense. He got a group of people together 
and he had a regional research hydrologist who sort of did 
supervisory stuff but didn't really micro-manage the research 

Reorganizing the Research Unit in the 1970s 

Dawdy: This was a necessary stage for research. After Luna was gone a few 
years later, they started organizing the research program, trying 
to figure out who was doing what and why, and trying to Judge the 
people in terms of their productivity. So this structure was set 
up within the organization and managed through the regions , and 
now, apparently, has become independent of the regions and is 
managed separately. 


Dawdy: So research has become an integral part of the organization. It is 
sort of independent of the chief hydrologist that happens to be 
around at the time. The first to follow Luna really didn't do very 
much in the sense of changing the research program. It just 
continued, and they had so many slots, and when somebody moved out, 
somebody was hired to come in. 

Lage: In that same field? 

Dawdy: In that same field, and it sort of went on by itself. And then, 
sometime just before I left the organization, which would be in 
'75, we set up this structure or procedure to sort of manage 


research. They started trying to figure out who was doing what and 
how they fit into the overall program of the survey, and tried to 
influence people into different directions, and tried to set up 
priorities for who to hire and what skills and such. 

That has been set up in such a structure that now the chiefs 
who came in later --or the only one; there's only been one more --is 
presented with a structure which he accepts, and the research 
program carries on through inertia. [laughter] So 1 think even 
though there's pretty low morale in the Water Resources Division 
these days for various reasons, that the research program that Luna 
instituted is still a strong component of the organization. 

Lage: That continues, but people at the top don't necessarily have the 
understanding and enthusiasm that he brought? 

Dawdy: Well, they don't have the understanding or enthusiasm, and they 
don't direct it very much. It's sort of self -directing, in that 
they do appoint an assistant chief who is over the research 
program. These people generally come out of the research group, so 
they sort of keep things going along. 

Lage: Are people assigned to research tasks, or do they have the ability 
to pick their own area? 

Dawdy: Generally speaking, they pretty well pick their own area, at least 
when I was in. I think it's still that way. Periodically, you 
wrote a proposal saying what you were going to do and how you were 
going to do it and requesting funding. These then were judged at 
the regional level. This was transferred over to this management 
group- -what do they call it- -deputy assistant chief of research, 
who had under him these research advisors, and all of these people 
together came up with assessment priorities in establishing budgets 
and that sort of stuff. So the only thing the chief sees is the 
total budget for research, which he can then say, well, it should 
go up 5 percent or down 5 percent. Because everything is done 
marginally. It's never done-- 

Lage: But nobody says we really need to be studying the effect of dams on 
the Grand Canyon. 

Dawdy: In general, no. 

Lage: That would be a public policy issue. 

Dawdy: It's a little specific. What I was thinking more there is saying 
that there would be processes happening in the Grand Canyon where 
you should be studying that process. 


Lage : Not for political reasons. 

Dawdy: Not particularly. Just because it's going to change, which it has. 
Now we know it's changed. Now we're trying to figure out how to 
explain it. So they're going in with a big thrust now. 

It seems to me that they're more liable to look for short-term 
gains, but that was not particular to the people who followed Luna, 
who sometimes wanted things done overnight too. It's a 
characteristic of the man on top. He always thinks that things can 
be done immediately. But quite often, the people in Washington who 
are running the organization will run into a congressman or a 
senator or the secretary of the Interior or something, who wants 
something and they promise on the spur of the moment, and then the 
poor people down at the bottom have to produce. Sometimes they 
can't produce. 

A good example of that was this Kesterson problem that 
occurred in the Central Valley, where apparently the chief 
hydrologist was under a lot of pressure politically, so he quite 
often promised things because he thought they could be done . 
Sometimes they could be done, but they couldn't be done in the 
framework that he had to produce them in. 

Pink Terror Memos 

Lage: I heard reference to the Pink Terror memos. 

Dawdy: Oh, yes. 

Lage: What were those? 

Dawdy: When Luna came in, he wanted to put forward some of these ideas we 
were talking about, about professionalism in the organization and 
about how people should keep up their technical competence and all. 
So anyway, he came out with policy memo number one, which was a big 
joke in the organization because it was distributed on pink paper, 
and that was the Pink Terror. [laughter] And everyone joked that 
it was about time that they finally had a policy in the 
organization that had been around for eighty years without one; it 
was about time they had a policy. 

But anyway, if you re-read that today, it's still very 
appropriate. In fact, it's still in effect, I understand. 

Lage: What was it in reference to? 


Dawdy: It was in reference to the professionalism in the organization and 
how the organization should conduct itself, and how everyone should 
be expected to keep technically competent in his field. 

Leopold's Contributions to the Publications Program 

Lage: Did this include administrators continuing their research and doing 

Dawdy: Yes, stuff like that. And then another interesting thing was, 

there was a big backlog of publications, and Luna said his first 
priority was to eliminate that backlog. So he came to the 
different branches and asked them how many papers they had in 
process, how much it would cost to get them published, and he gave 
them a deadline: you will publish all of these within a certain 
period of time. Many of those papers shouldn't have been 
published. [laughs] 

Lage: Were these interpretive papers or research papers? 

Dawdy: They were mainly interpretive papers. Not research papers. They 
pre- dated the big research program. They were techniques papers. 
For instance, each of the branches had their techniques for doing 
their work in the field. Luna said, "These will be published." So 
everyone had to either develop one or publish it. What resulted 
from that was a great big series of papers on techniques in water 
resources investigations, which finally forced the organization to 
put down on paper how they did their work. They'd been going along 
sort of ad hoc. 

Lage: Now, when you say that some of them shouldn't have been published- - 

Dawdy: There were some papers in these techniques manuals which were in 
the process of being outdated by the research program which was 
just getting under way. Luna said, "Is that how you're doing it 
today?" "Yes." "Publish it. We'll revise it later." So that's 
what they did. But they still are now official publications of the 
Geological Survey, and sometimes I see them quoted all over the 
world. [laughter] 

But his point was that there was no excuse for ad hoeing in a 
scientific organization the way they were doing, that there was no 
reason to have a backlog of publications. It was a matter of 
priorities, so he got the things done. 


Lage: It must have forced some rethinking on the techniques at the same 

Dawdy: Yes. In fact, all the techniques manuals were rewritten. It was 
very good, Luna's forcing them to get them published. Because 
these techniques were developed at the district levels, there might 
be six different techniques manuals in different districts. When 
there had to be one published, the branches had to take over and 
determine what should be published. So they assigned some of their 
better people to give a synthesis of these things and put out the 
techniques manuals. Yes, it was a big step forward to get that 
down and get it coordinated. But as usual, it created 

Lage: What about research publications and control over quality? 

Dawdy: The GS always had the review process, colleague review, and Luna 
strengthened and stressed that. But every research chief was 
expected to publish, and every paper that you published had to get 
colleague review, and you had to answer all the criticisms. That 
procedure was in effect before Luna came in, as I said. 

The survey has always had publications of authors; most 
federal agencies have publications of the agency. So it's the U.S. 
Corps of Engineers, the Sacramento District, the San Francisco 
District, but it doesn't say who wrote it, whereas the U.S. 
Geological Survey always had "by So-and-so, U.S. Geological 
Survey," so that the author was responsible in the survey. 

But his work was always reviewed and had to go through a 
fairly rigid review process. First colleague reviews; then these 
were sent in with the paper to a regional office or district office 
or whatever. It went through the district office to the regional 
office. The research papers went straight to the regional office, 
who then would check it over to see whether, in fact, the author 
met the arguments of the reviewers. And then it was sent to 
Washington and reviewed for "policy," whatever that review was, but 
also to make sure that there was an adequate technical content to 
the paper. 

Review of Policy Statements in Research Papers 

Lage: Did the policy review come into play often? It seems to me in some 
of my discussion with Luna, he implied he'd publish anything that 
was good research. What was the policy review? 


Dawdy: This usually applied to the reports that came out of the district, 
rather than from the research. But in research, even, if you came 
up with a conclusion where you used field data and you then came to 
some statement about what should be done about a problem, this 
might or might not be-- 

Lage: It might conflict with the Bureau of Reclamation. 

Dawdy: Well, it might conflict with what someone else in the organization 
thought, as far as that goes. 

Lage: So what would happen then? 

Dawdy: If it were a policy statement, it would either be watered down or 
eliminated. For example, I can remember writing a letter to a 
cooperator when I was assistant district chief, in which I was 
supposed to be telling about the progress on a research project 
being done within the district, where we were collecting a lot of 
data to study the effect of urbanization in San Diego County. I 
put in some interpretive reports that essentially said the data so 
far had shown such and such. 

This went out to the district chief, and he wouldn't sign the 
thing. I was doing it for his signature. He bounced it and he 
said, "You're coming to a conclusion. You can't do that. You 
haven't been reviewed. We don't know that it's correct," all this 
sort of stuff. 

Well, that's the sort of thing they look for in Washington, if 
you were coming up with a conclusion that wasn't based on the facts 
and evidence. Or if you were coming to a conclusion about 
something that wasn't part of what you were supposed to be doing, 
then they would bounce it and have you eliminate it. It never 
happened to me, but I do know that there were other people who got 
into trouble on policy matters, particularly when they were 
interagency things. 

I know there was a study on the reservation in Arizona, where 
because of the political implications of the clearing of pinon and 
juniper and its effect on hydrology, that this paper, which was a 
research project on precisely that matter, kept getting bounced 
around because the authors kept wanting to make conclusions about 
what should be done rather than what happened when we did it. In 
fact, they never could understand why Washington was bouncing their 
papers. I don't know if we ever published that paper that kept 
getting bounced. 

Lage: You seem to see this as legitimate. It was where the researcher 
was stepping beyond his bounds some? 


Dawdy: Oh, yes, it's legitimate, sure. But the problem is that, for 

instance, let's say we're working on Kesterson, and the conclusion 
of the researcher is that it's the drain water that is cheating the 
problem, therefore the solution is get rid of the drain water. 
Well, that gets rid of the irrigation. So therefore we should 
retire lands from irrigation. That may be a perfectly valid 
conclusion, but it doesn't have anything to do with his research. 
That's a decision for someone else to make besides him, someone in 
Washington to make, not the guy in the field. 

Lage: So his job is just to say the problem is the drain water? 

Dawdy: To identify what the elements are, where they come from, and what 
will happen if they go somewhere. The other implications of that 
at that particular time were beyond the secretarial level. They 
were at the political level. 

Lage: Did Luna make any change in this kind of thing during his tenure? 

Dawdy: No, I don't think so. That's-- 

Lage: That's pretty standard. 

Dawdy: --pretty standard, yes. 

Political Pressures on Research 

Dawdy: I think that one of the differences today is that the politics have 
been pushed further down in the organization, that there's more 
political influence on the program of the Water Resources 
Division, even at the research level. I think this was evident in 
the Kesterson- - 

Lage: You mean congressional pressures? 

Dawdy: Congressional and whoever it is that influences the secretary of 
the Interior. Probably the Bureau of Reclamation, who is 
influenced by their water users. The water users go to the bureau, 
the bureau goes to the secretary, and the secretary comes to the 
survey, and the director [of the survey] goes to the chief 
hydrologist, who then makes decisions about the program down at the 
field level. 

Lage: Would this be in choice of what to study, or in publication of what 
has been studied? 


Dawdy: Pretty much choice of what to do, in other words influencing the 
program. The sort of thing that I was saying, where the chief 
hydrologist will react by saying, "Yes, we can do that, and we will 
do that." And then some guy out in the field has to do it. 
Although there was, I'm sure, some of that which Luna was in. If 
he could see he could get some money from somebody to do something 
he wanted to do, I'm sure he would take the money. 

I know Pecora started a program within the Geologic Division 
called the heavy metals program because Lyndon Johnson was having a 
gold crisis during the Vietnam War. Pecora was at some sort of an 
awards thing at the White House and happened to talk to the 
president who, when he heard he was director of the Geological 
Survey, said something about gold, and Pecora said, "Sure, we'll 
find gold for you." [laughter] So with that, he got $25 million, 
or whatever it was, and he set up a program to go find gold. I 
don't think they found it. 

Lage: Veil, he got some gold for the agency. [laughter] 

Dawdy: Yes, that's right. I think that's the main gold he found, because 
there were all sorts of weird programs developed. One of them was 
analyzing all of the sands along the California coast to see how 
much gold was in the beach sands . 

Lage: How much gold had washed down through the delta? 

Dawdy: Through the ages, yes. Apparently, there is a lot of very fine 
gold. In fact, during the Depression, out on the beach in San 
Francisco, a lot of people set up rockers and mined the beaches for 
gold in the thirties. So there is gold. 

Lage: With some success? 

Dawdy: Oh, yes. 

Lage: Enough to make it worthwhile? 

Dawdy: You didn't have to get much gold in those days. [laughs] Almost 
anything was a success. 

Leopold's Treatment after Resignation as Chief Hvdrologlst 

Lage: Another thing that's maybe a small matter, but Luna mentioned 

something about things that he wasn't aware of that were creating 


ill will, and he thought you might be aware of them. The thing he 
mentioned was a protective secretary. 

Dawdy: Oh, yes. 

Lage: I don't know how important that is. 

Dawdy: I told him about that. 1, and probably others too, would go in to 
see Luna, and his secretary was very protective of Luna. She also 
wanted to impress, I guess, on us, just how important he was, so 
she would have us sit and cool our heels while Luna was not aware 
that we were being made to wait an hour or two. I Just got up and 
walked out. 1 wasn't going to do that. She, I'm sure, antagonized 
a lot of people by her protectiveness. But that was a pretty minor 
thing, although I'm sure people thought it was Luna who was doing 
that, that it was his sense of self-importance that was doing it, 
where it was her sense of his self-importance that was doing it. 

Lage: Or her own. Her own power. 
Dawdy: Yes, her own power too. 

The other thing was when he was removed- -you mentioned this-- 
he moved to an office on, let's say the Water Resources Division 
was on the third floor and he was put in an office on the fourth 
floor. The order was essentially given that no one was to speak to 

Lage: How did that come about? How can an order come down like that? 

Dawdy: It wasn't written. It was just that it was let known by the chief 
that it wouldn't be appreciated if people were seen talking to Luna 
too much, because he was afraid that Luna might start a counter 
revolution or something, I guess. So there were just a very few 
people who continued seeing Luna. He was isolated from the 

Then, after a couple of years of that, he moved out to Menlo 
Park, and in fact occupied the room right next to me with just a 
chest-high partition between us. Our desks were back to back, and 
his phone was right there and my phone was right there, so I heard 
him. When everyone found out that he had left Washington and moved 
to Menlo Park, they assumed that he was leaving the survey, so they 
started phoning him and offering him positions. The first several 
days that he was in that office, he was turning down positions. It 
seems to me that as soon as he stepped down, he came out here, and 
then he moved back to that floor, that office on the fourth floor. 


Lage: Were you out here when he stepped down? 

Dawdy : Yes . 

Lage: So you didn't see him so much in Washington. 

Dawdy: Well, yes, quite a bit, because I was commuting to Washington. I 
was back and forth all the time. 

Lage: Is that a very unusual thing, this kind of isolation in the 
government service? 

Dawdy: Very unusual. It was sort of a crime, I think. They should have 
used him as a resource. I'm sure Luna wanted to get back into 
research and he wanted to do his thing, but they should also have 
seen to it that he helped on the guidance of the organization. 

Lage: He did not describe himself as being removed. He described that 
he'd been there ten years, and-- 

Dawdy: When he came in, he said he was going to stay for three years, then 
he was going to stay for five years, then he was going to stay for 
seven years. I think what really caused him to step down--. Yes, 
he wasn't removed, but the reason he finally stepped down was 
because Pecora came in, and he and Pecora were not what you would 
call copacetic. They didn't see eye to eye on how to run things. 
Pecora was very political. 

Lage: And where did Pecora come from? 

Dawdy: He was the chief geologist. 

Lage: The chief geologist. 

Dawdy: He moved up to be the director. 

Lage: And was he a scientist himself? 

Dawdy: Oh, yes. 

Lage: But he was political. 

Dawdy: Very political. And he and Luna apparently clashed when he was 
chief geologist and Luna was chief hydrologist, although I don't 
know anything about that. That was only a rumor that I heard 
later. But Luna didn't feel that he could work under Pecora very 
effectively, and I don't think Pecora thought Luna could work under 
him very effectively, so it was a mutual parting of the ways. When 
this became apparent was when this meeting in Columbus took place, 


and Roy Hendricks started playing politics to become the next 
chief. I don't think Luna had any influence over who replaced him 
as chief hydrologist. 


Dawdy: No, that's not very usual. Usually the person at least has some 

influence in recommending his successor because he knows the people 
in his organization better than anyone else, or should. 

The Maverick Herb Skibitzke 

Lage: Was there any resentment of these wonderful research trips or river 
trips and trips to Alaska and that kind of thing? He mentioned 
that Herb Skibitzke got a lot of flak also. 

Dawdy: Oh, yes. That's a little different. Herb was just a different 

sort of a person. Herb, you should probably interview him on his 
reactions to Luna, too. Herb was the type who made up his own 
rules as he went along, so therefore if there was anyone who was 
bureaucratic in the organization, he would have a run-in with Herb, 
or Herb would have a run-in with him. 

I remember someone telling about an apocryphal trip of Herb's 
one time , where he took off in his own personal airplane and flew 
to somewhere in Iowa, caught a train into Chicago, caught a 
commercial flight to New York, and rented a car and drove to 
Washington, D.C., and then somehow got back to Iowa to pick up his 
airplane and fly back. He turned in a travel authorization; his 
trip was to go to Washington, D.C. [laughter] 

This was apparently one of the historical documents that was 
floating around Washington forever, trying to figure out how in the 
world to pay Herb his travel expenses for his trip. And of course, 
he had a book of transportation tickets, so anything that was 
public transport, he could pay for with these things. But he still 
had to be reimbursed for the part where he was off flying around 
and wandering around. 

There was a similar trip to Africa one time that he went on 
with a guy by the name of Russ Brown, who was stationed in Phoenix 
for a while. He was also in Washington in the Groundwater Branch. 
Russ Brown went on this trip to Africa with Herb. And they flew 
over there. Herb decided, well, since we're in Chad, we should go 
to Rwanda or something, so he jumped on an airplane and flew over 
there, and then, "Gee, the guy that really knows about this is in 


Rome, so let's go up to Rome," so they went to Rome. They went all 
over like that, all over Europe and Africa, and then finally got 
back to the United States. They turned in their travel vouchers. 
Years later, Russ Brown was still complaining he hadn't been paid 
yet for that trip, [laughter] 

Herb, of course, did this every trip, so he had a big stack of 
these things in Washington that people were trying to figure out-- 
people who were trying to make Herb obey the rules. Herb was 
always in trouble with someone over something, but Herb also had 
some very good friends. His family was an old family in Phoenix, 
so he grew up with politicians who became senators and congressmen 
in Arizona. They had gone to school together and his father had 
gone to school with them, or something like that. So he had direct 
access to the congressmen and the senators, and ended up using that 
influence at times . 

Lage: That wasn't appreciated- - 

Dawdy: It wasn't appreciated by some of the people that were involved in 
the organization. 

Lage: Now, Luna seems to have supported him. 

Dawdy: Oh, yes, very much so. So did the secretary of the Interior and so 
did the director, because Herb did things for people. Herb had his 
own private air force, which bugged a lot of people. He went out 
and got military surplus airplanes and trained all his people to be 
pilots. It's very funny because as I remember, Herb got a 
complaint for sex discrimination against him. There was a woman 
who was a secretary from one of the offices in Phoenix that got cut 
out because the guy was very dissatisfied with her work. Herb 
found a position for her doing very routine things in his office. 
Herb at that time was getting all of his people to get their 
pilot's license because he had the feeling or the theory that if he 
was somewhere a thousand miles away and he wanted something done 

Dawdy: --he needed someone in his office to fly. A couple of the people 
he hired were already hot-shot pilots. Two of them were two women 
who were pioneers in aviation. He hired as his chief technician a 
guy who had been part of the Blue Angels for the Marine Corps, so 
he was a hot -shot pilot. He owned a crop -dust ing plane. But 
everyone else in addition, he made them take flying lessons so that 
they could get a pilot's license and fly. And he had three 
airplanes and helicopters and all sorts of things there that were 


available for these people to do things --official things, for the 
U.S. Geological Survey. 

Lage: Was he in a special office? 

Dawdy: No, this was just his research project. His research project was-- 

His philosophy on research was, the advice he gave to me was, 
"The way you do it is you always overspend. What they do then is 
they write you a letter reprimanding you for overspending your 
budget. The next year, they start you with the amount you 
overspent." So each year, you determine how much you want your 
project to grow, and you overspend by that amount. So his was a 
project that just kept growing. Of course, the people who he 
upset, I guess, never caught on to what he was doing, but they 
complained, so he had all sorts of reprimands and he was always in 
trouble with people in Washington, but he always went on 
obliviously doing what he thought had to be done. 

So he ended up being the person who, when the secretary of the 
Interior wanted a tour, we had an Interior airplane and he could 
fly around anywhere with a pilot who knew the area and knew geology 
and all that sort of stuff. So when the director wanted to do 
something like that, he'd call on Herb, and Herb was willing to 
drop everything and go. And similarly, Luna used Herb's facility 
quite a bit. In fact, Luna took lessons from Herb, I think. I 
think that's where he learned to fly. 

Lage : Yes , I think so . 

Dawdy: In fact, I was there when he was getting some of his lessons, and I 
was one of Luna's first passengers. 

Lage: A brave man. 

Dawdy: Oh, I figured that he could take care of himself. I flew a lot 
with Herb. In fact, we were the crew that went out looking for 
Luna and the crew when John Miller got the bubonic plague and died 
in Boston. 

Lage: Oh, way back then? 

Dawdy: Yes. In fact, that may have been 1967. It may have been-- 

Lage : So you went out and found Luna in the field? 

Dawdy: We went looking for him. Ve didn't find him. He was picked up by 
the Colorado Highway Patrol. There was a general all-points 
bulletin out for this whole group of people who had been in the 
field together. 


Lage: Fearful that they also had bubonic plague? 

Davdy: They wanted them to get to the doctor and find out whether they had 
it, see whether they had any symptoms and to make sure that they 
were aware that they'd been exposed, because Miller had died and 
all these other people were missing. They all had gone out in the 
field, and none of them were anywhere. Ve didn't have any 
itinerary for anyone. So Herb and I flew around the Navajo 
Reservation looking for them. It turned out that the crew we were 
looking for had parked their truck under a tree so we couldn't see 
them. [laughter] We flew over them a couple of times, but we did 
leave word at Chinle that they were exposed, and they got to the 

Lage: And did anyone else get exposed to it? 

Dawdy: No. Well, they were all exposed, but nobody else got it. John 
Miller was the only one. 

In Summary 

Lage: Two more questions, to wind up today. Did you have any sense of 
how being a member of the distinguished Leopold family might have 
affected either Luna himself in this situation, or people's 
reaction to him? 

Dawdy: What do you mean? 

Lage: Did the fact that he came from such a distinguished family- - 

Dawdy: Oh, yes, everyone was aware of that, sure. 

Lage: It sort of might have set him apart. 

Dawdy: It certainly made him a natural leader. I'm sure it had an effect 
on him. He was very sure of himself and did things the way Luna 
wanted to, but other than the fact that I was aware and I guess 
others were aware also, I don't think that made much difference in 
what he did and how he did it. But everyone was aware of who his 
father was and who his brother and sister were. His sister, of 
course, was in the Geological Survey. But other than that, I 
didn't see any great influence myself, from my point of view. 


Lage: This is a broad question, but as a wrap-up to this discussion, 

would you in a nutshell be able to describe Luna's importance in 
the science of hydrology? 

Dawdy: Veil, certainly he's been instrumental in quantitative 

geomorphology and in pushing the science of sediment transport, but 
more than that, I think his major impact came in his role in the 
Geological Survey. He started the real research program in the 
survey, which has really contributed to hydrology. He started 
essentially the Office of Water Resources Research and the emphasis 
on hydrology in the universities. That has now certainly a life of 
its own. It's hardly even recognized that that's where it came 
from. He saw an immediate need to set up hydrology as a separate 
study in the university, and he helped set up the hydrology program 
at the University of Arizona. He pushed for the Office of Water 
Resources and Research in Interior, which became OWRT and then died 
and was reborn again. But it was a means for getting research 
money into hydrology in the universities. So I think all of those 
things together. 

His own personal impact in his research has been his wide- 
ranging interest in process -oriented problems and his interest in 
the application of these things to public policy matters. He's 
been very involved in trying to introduce science into decision- 
making, and involved in all sorts of environmental matters because 
of that. 

Lage: Well, that's a very good summary. Thank you so much. 

Transcriber: Elizabeth Kim 
Final Typist: Christopher DeRosa 


TAPE GUIDE --David R. Dawdy 

Date of Interview, May 3, 1991 

Tape 1, side A 270 

Tape 1, side B 281 

Tape 2, side A 291 

Tape 2, side B 302 


INDEX- -Luna B. Leopold 

Alaska oil pipeline, 193-199 
Anderson, Andy, 273, 283, 284-285 
Arizona vs. California. 183-184 
Amy Corps of Engineers, United 
States, 47-48, 158, 186, 263 

Bagnold, Ralph, 145-147 

Berry, Phillip S., 208, 209-210 

Big Cypress Swamp jetport, 189- 

Brandyvine Basin land planning, 

44-45, 249-251 
Brower, David, 180-182, 185, 206- 


Brown, Mary Lou, 230-233 
Bryan, Kirk, 31-32, 37, 54, 63, 

66-67, 92, 96, 227-229 
Bureau of Land Management, United 

States, 195-196 
Bureau of Reclamation, United 

States, 51-53, 87, 158-161, 

181-186, 290 

Carter, Rolland, 121, 272, 273, 
274, 281-283 

Colorado River water issues, 158 
161, 177-178, 180-189, 290 

Congress, United States, Senate 
Select Committee on Water 
Resources, 152-154. See also 
Geological Survey, Water 
Resources Division, relations 
with Congress and federal 

Coon Valley Experiment Station, 

Curry, Robert, 195-197 

Davenport, Royal, 87, 104 
Dawdy, David, 90, 203, 266-306 
[interview with] 

Denver Water Board, 202-206 

Department of Transportation, 
United States, 189-191 

Department of the Interior, United 
States, 181, 182, 184, 187-188, 
189-192, 194, 197, 198-199 

Dominy, Floyd, 185-186 

Dunne, Thomas, 39-40 

Emmett, William, 167-168, 176, 

environmental impact reviews, 

189-193, 252-254 
Environmental Protection Agency 

[EPA], 157 
Everglades, Florida. See Big 

Cypress Swamp jetport. 

Fiedler, Albert, 112 

Flood Control Controversy. The. 

Fluvial Processes in 

Geomorphologv. 100-101 
Forest Service, United States, 

125-126, 202-206, 217-218, 260 


Gallistel, Bert, 16-17, 22 
Geological Survey, United States 
director's office, 194-199. See 
also Pecora, William; Nolan, 
Division of Conservation, 151- 


Geologic Division, 150 
Pick and Hammer Show, 162-167 
Topographic Division, 150-151 
Water Resources Division 

administrative changes under 
Leopold, 104-108, 111-113, 
130-132, 278-281 


Geological Survey, United States 
Water Resources Division (cont.) 
beginnings of research 
program, 63, 86-87, 101, 


changes after Leopold's term 
as chief, 213-216, 229-233, 
285-286, 290, 291-293, 
data collection program, 133- 


new research programs under 
Leopold, 108-109, 137, 142- 
150, 237, 290-291 
personnel hiring and 

management under Leopold, 
108-111, 118-120, 122-123, 
129-130, 141, 150, 213-215, 
277-278, 282-290, 293-294 
relations with Congress and 
federal agencies, 152-161, 

publication policies, 92-93, 
121, 126-129, 139-141, 238- 
239, 294-297 

geomorphology, 38-39, 100-101, 
115-116, 142, 147, 177-178, 180, 
227-228, 238-241, 288, 290, 305 
Glen Canyon Dam, Colorado River, 


Grand Canyon dams, 181-182, 187- 

Harvard University, 37-38, 63, 


Hawaii, meteorology, 54-63 
Hells Canyon of the Snake River, 

211-212, 252 
Hendricks, Roy, 214, 276, 286, 


Hickel, Walter, 197 
hunting, and conservation, 17-19, 


development of field, 36, 237- 
242, 305 

hydrology (cont) 
education and training, 25-28, 

29-30, 123-126, 237, 260-262, 

276, 305 
and environmental issues, 179- 

193, 201-206 

See also geomorphology; Leopold, 
Luna, research and publications, 
field work 
hydraulic geometry, 91-96, 239 

Kazanski, Madelyn Leopold 188- 

189, 254 
Kerr, Robert S., 152-154, 156 

land ethic, 44-45, 251-254 
Langbein, Walter, 89-90, 101, 

108-109, 113-116, 118, 133-134, 

136-137, 139, 151, 272-273 
Leopold, Aldo (father), 1-2, 8- 

13, 15, 19-20, 26, 44-45 
Leopold, Aldo Starker (brother), 

5, 10, 15 
Leopold, Estella Bergere (mother), 

8-10, 13-14 

Leopold, Frederic (uncle), 15-16 
Leopold, Luna 

environmental issues, 179-212 

field trips, 164-165, 167-175, 

research and publications, 34, 
35, 62-63, 86-101, 113-118, 
138-139, 173-178, 237-254 

Wyoming cabins, 256-260 

See also Geological Survey, 

United States, Water Resources 
Leopold, Madelyn (daughter) . See 

Kazanski, Madelyn Leopold 
Luna family, New Mexico, 2-8 
Luten, Daniel, 206 

Maddock, Thomas Jr., 32-36, 52, 

106-107, 242 
meteorology, 49-50, 53, 57-62 


Miller, John, 87-88, 91-92, 94- 

100, 168, 176, 303 
Myrick, Robert, 167-168 

Nace, Raymond, 104, 111, 112, 

113, 241-242 

National Academy of Sciences, 103 
Nolan, Thomas, 102-104, 106-108, 

112, 140, 156, 287 

O'Brien, Deric, 142-144 

Paulsen, Carl, 87, 104, 106 
Pecora, William, 140, 196-197, 

213-214, 286, 298, 300 
Pick and Hammer Club, 162-167 
Pineapple Research Institute, 

Hawaii, 54-63 
Public Health Service, United 

States, 156-158 

Rainbow Bridge National Monument, 


Redwoods National Park, 199-201 
Reed, Nathaniel, 188, 192, 200 
Reiche, Perry, 31-34 
Rosgen, David, 203, 261-262 

Shelton, Ruby, 230-233, 234-235 
Sierra Club, 180-182, 185, 201, 

Skibitzke, Herb, 108, 124, 169- 

173, 195, 197-198, 229-233, 234- 

236, 301-304 
Soil Conservation Service, United 

States, 31-36, 42-43, 46-47, 53- 

54, 186 
Soil Erosion Service, United 

States, 5, 28-29 

Train, Russell, 189-190, 192 

Udall, Stewart, 187-189 
University of California, Los 

Angeles, 49-50 

University of California, Berkeley 
Department of Geology, 27-28, 

38, 219-220, 227-228, 233 
Department of Landscape 

Architecture, 222-223, 233 
evaluation of students and 

faculty, 219-223, 225 
School of Engineering, 25, 30 
University of Wisconsin, 22-27 

Vigil Network, 135-136 
Von Hagan, Leslie, 22-25 

Santa Barbara, California, oil 

spill (1969), 196-198 
Sayre, Nelson, 104, 112 
scientific research 

choosing significant problems, 

38-41, 175-178, 223-226 
and environmental issues, 201- 

and political pressures, 157- 

161, 182-185, 297-298 
See also geomorphology; 
hydrology; Leopold, Luna, 
research and publications 
Seaton, Fred, 184 

Weisner, Jerome, 158 
Wells, Joseph, 104, 112, 121 
Williams, Melvin, 283, 286 
World War II service, 48-51 
Wrather, William, 102, 103 


The following interviews have been funded in whole or in part by 
The Water Resources Center, University of California 

Banks, Harvey (b. 1910) 

California Water Project. 1955-1961. 1967 82 pp. 

Gianelli, William R. (b. 1919) 

The California State Department of Water Resources. 1967-1973. 
1985, 86 pp. 

Gillespie, Chester G. (1884-1971) 

Origins and Earlv Years of the Bureau of Sanitary Engineering. 
1971, 39 pp. 

Harding, Sidney T. (1883-1969) 

A Life in Western Water Development. 1967, 524 pp. 

Jenny, Hans (1899-1992) 

Soil Scientist. Teacher, and Scholar. 1989, 364 pp. 

Langelier, Wilfred F. (1886-1981) 

Teaching. Research, and Consultation in Water Purification and Sewage 
Treatment. University of California at Berkeley. 1916-1955. 
1982, 81 pp. 

Leedom, Sam R. (1896-1971) 

California Water Development. 1930-1955. 1967, 83 pp. 

Leopold, Luna B. (b. 1915) 

Hydrology. Geomorphologv. and Environmental Policy: U.S. Geological Survey. 
1950-1072. and UC Berkeley. 1972-1987. 1993, 309 pp. 

Lowdermilk, Walter Clay (1888-1974) 

Soil. Forest, and Water Conservation and Reclamation in China. Israel. 
Africa, and The United States. 1969, 704 pp. (Two volumes) 

McGaughey, Percy H. (1904-1975) 

The Sanitary Engineering Research Laboratory: Administration. Research. 
and Consultation. 1950-1972. 1974, 259 pp. 

Robie, Ronald B. (b. 1937) 

The California State Department of Water Resources. 1975-1983. 
1989, 97 pp. 

The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Cpnynpjf ?sion. 1964-1973. 

Interviews with Joseph E. Bodovitz, Melvin Lane, and E. Clement Shute. 
1986, 98 pp. 


B.A., University of California, Berkeley, with major 
in history, 1963 

M.A., University of California, Berkeley, history, 1965 

Post-graduate studies, University of California, Berkeley, 
1965-66, American history and education; Junior 
College teaching credential, State of California 

Chairman, Sierra Club History Committee, 1978-1986; oral 
history coordinator, 1974-present 

Interviewer/Editor, Regional Oral History Office, in the 
fields of conservation and natural resources, 
land use, university history, California political 
history, 1976-present.