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Two oft-quoted experts on weather, water retiring

I can’t tell you how many times in my reporting career I called State Climatologist Harry Hillaker — including nights and weekends — to tap his extensive weather knowledge and records for newspaper articles I was writing. 

Same goes for Susan Heathcote, who has been one of the state’s top water-quality authorities for more than 22 years.

Both oft-quoted experts are retiring this week. But we promise to keep their phone numbers handy nevertheless. 

Hillaker will retire Thursday after three decades of helping farmers, other businesses and reporters make sense of droughts, floods, severe storms and tornadoes, the Cedar Rapids Gazette reported.

Now 61, he took the job in 1988, and was only the second person to hold the position in the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. Among the big events about which he fielded questions: the drought of 1988 and the floods of 1993 and 2008.

Perhaps the most severe events in that time, in terms of fatalities, were the Little Sioux and Parkersburg tornadoes of 2008.

Hillaker expects his replacement to be hired within a few months.

Heathcote, who has been with the Iowa Environmental Council since 1996 and now works as water program director, plans to retire Friday.

A geologist, she has been in the center of debates over water standards, monitoring, hog confinement regulations and conservation efforts, advocating for both voluntary efforts and more regulation to improve Iowa’s waterways. She often has found herself negotiating with farm interests whose views varied from hers.

Heathcote considers her work on closing farm drainage wells, improving water quality standards, increasing state spending on water quality monitoring and protecting waterways from manure runoff among the highlights of her work. The council has begun its search for her successor. 

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