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Rachel Durkee Walker

Senior Environmental Scientist

Rachel (left) with Sarah Olson on a wild rice survey

Rachel Walker didn’t know where her undergraduate degree in political science and public policy would take her, but she just had a feeling it would all come together. And after living and working in Asia for nine years, it did. She saw the region’s challenges with industrial cleanup, environmental degradation, and stream pollution and decided to return to the United States to study water resources science.

Although she has worked on environmental permitting for pipeline operations and on a number of renewable energy projects, Rachel is known—both in- and outside of Barr—for her work with wild rice.

“It’s a complicated issue with a life of its own,” said Rachel. “Minnesota is the only state to regulate sulfate levels in bodies of water where wild rice grows, but the rule wasn’t enforced until 2011. Because there are so many questions about the science behind the 1973 rule, the state has funded laboratory and field research to examine the effects of sulfate on wild rice growth and production.”

Since 2009, Rachel and the Barr team have surveyed over 1,600 miles of Minnesota shoreline for mining clients to collect baseline data regarding water quality and wild rice distribution, particularly in waters downstream of wild rice beds.  But the sulfate issue brings into play more than just science; it also affects state policy and future rule making. And that suits Rachel just fine.

“I was always looking for a mix of disciplines with an overlap between science and policy,” said Rachel. “It’s important to navigate with grace the challenges of meeting a client’s needs while also respecting laws and rules. Being actively involved in decisions that affect mining as well as clean water rule making allows me to make a positive and productive contribution to policy.”

Along the way and in her free time, Rachel has also developed and nurtured relationships with people in tribal communities to learn more about the cultural and historical significance of wild rice.

“You need knowledge in science, engineering, policy, and history to address complicated environment problems in a way that is both wise and fair,” said Rachel.

When she’s not balancing those concerns, she’s unwinding with her family.

“I enjoy music with my kids: they play, I listen,” laughed Rachel.  “I also like going to the theater with my husband. Sometimes, we all go camping, but that doesn’t happen that often.”