Update on Water Chemistry

or Bill and Pat’s Excellent Adventure!

Patrick Brezonik (Pat) and William Arnold (Bill) have updated their well-respected and widely used textbook, Water Chemistry. The first edition came out in 2011, and so many CEGE alumni—as well as water resource professionals around the world—learned their trade from this book. CEGE talked with the authors about the new book.


CEGE How did the book come about?

Bill      Back in 2007, I was on sabbatical and Pat Brezonik stepped in to teach Water Chemistry. He hadn’t done it for a few years. One day he stopped in my office and said “I don’t like the book we are using. We ought to write our own.” I said, “No, I’m too busy.” He kept on me and eventually wore me down. That is where the first book came from. 
            One semester I learned that the book was being used at MIT and CalTech. So, that’s when I thought we might have written a good book!

            The revision came along because a lot of work had been done in the past ten years, science had advanced, and there was new knowledge on topics like natural organic matter, photo-chemistry, and chlorination. Those topics needed to be taught in a new way.

CEGE   The title is pretty clear. Can you tell us who you had in mind as the audience?

Pat       First and foremost, the book was designed as a textbook for university courses on water chemistry, and thus it includes extensive end-of-chapter problems and many examples of how to solve problems within the chapters. I think the book is unique among other water chemistry textbooks in its breadth and up-to-date coverage. Stumm and Morgan—the classic text in this field—is comparable in terms of breadth. However, their third edition was published in 1996, 27 years ago, so it is not as current in its coverage. 
            Our book is designed for students in environmental engineering or environmental science programs, but it is highly pertinent to students in geology, limnology, public health, and similar programs.

Bill      It is targeted at first year graduate students, by and large. Although the class we teach is taken by both graduate students and senior undergraduates taking elective courses. Some schools will teach parts of it in undergraduate water chemistry courses. It could also be taught as a 2-semester course with advanced topics taught in the second semester.

Pat       I definitely see it being used by professionals as a reference, too. That is one of the reasons for the copious references in most chapters.

Bill      The number of citations it gets is largely from people using it as a reference book.


CEGE How did you work together on the book?

Bill      There was one chapter we decided should be split into two, making for an even 20 chapters in the second edition. We divided the chapters, each taking first crack at revising some of the chapters. Once we did the first revisions, we would pass them back and forth. Most of my chapters were a little more instructional because I had been teaching the course; I also took the chapters that were more in my area of expertise, photochemistry and organic contaminants. Pat tackled the early foundational chapters, surface chemistry, and nutrients and organic matter, which are his areas of expertise.
            We also added more problems to the chapter ends. We used the same approach; we each wrote and updated the problems and solutions, and then passed them back and forth for reviews.


CEGE The book came out in September. Is it being used for classes this fall semester? Or next spring semester?

Pat      Yes, definitely. It is being used at the University of Minnesota this fall.

Bill      I am guessing most professors used the older version this fall because the new one wasn’t quite ready. The e-book was available before fall, and the paperbacks were available about a week into our semester, which starts a little later than other schools. The hardbacks were not available at the start of the semester, due to supply chain issues, I think.
            We know of a lot of people using the first edition, and we hope they will transition to the second edition. It is a better book.


CEGE Talk a bit about how you approached updating what’s been happening over the past ten years.

Pat      One of the first steps was to contact some users of the first edition to ask them what they liked and didn’t like and what recommendations they had for changes and updating. Next, I did a thorough review of the literature of the past ten years.

Bill      Pat reviewed literature for each of the chapters and made sure that we brought that information in at the appropriate points. Pat compiled the studies and we both did the reading.
            For me there were a couple chapters that were updated a lot. I have my fingers in topics of photochemistry, oxidation, and organic chemistry, so I kind of knew what I wanted to do with those chapters. We know a lot more about what reactive species form in sunlight, and some nice compilation studies came out about the solar spectrum and how to model and predict the degradation of pollutants. The chemical treatment chapter was another as there was a lot of new information about water treatment chemistry and disinfection. The inorganic geochemistry chapter has new topics and information, and the organic chemistry chapters got big updates. The amount of new research on the characterization of natural organic matter led to a lot of information that needed to be covered. Sometimes when we sent chapters out for review, our colleagues would make suggestions or additions.


CEGE Who do you go to for critical feedback on your writing?

Pat      Most chapters were sent to knowledgeable colleagues for review before the whole manuscript was submitted.

Bill      For both editions, we sought out colleagues who had expertise in a particular area or who were teaching the class and using our book. We asked them to review chapters. They are all mentioned in the acknowledgements. Most chapters were looked at by at least two people; some reviewers looked at multiple chapters.


CEGE How did you fit textbook writing fit in with your other duties as a researcher and a professor?

Bill      Poorly! I used spare minutes here and there. COVID gave me some unexpected time to write, which accelerated the timeline, and I got done faster than I expected. That helped and so did having deadlines!

Pat      That was a much bigger issue for Bill than for me since I’ve been retired since 2010. However, I was extensively involved in several fairly large research projects from 2014 to late 2019. The timing of the ending of those projects and the start of working on the second edition worked well for me.


CEGE The two editions have similar cover art, the Stone Arch Bridge, a Minneapolis icon. However, the first edition is in daylight, the second edition in twilight. Do you see any significance in that?

Bill      Both cover photos were taken by Pat’s son, Nick Brezonik, who is a talented photographer. We wanted a picture that depicted people’s interaction with water, and picked the Stone Arch Bridge going into downtown. For the second edition, we added some photos of water in the natural environment and an engineered system on the back cover, to contrast the urban water environment on the front.

Pat      Mainly, we liked the cover of the first edition a lot, and to me the bridge is symbolic of the book being a bridge to knowledge and understanding. Not wanting it to be exactly the same, we chose different lighting. For me, personally, there are some deeper meanings that can be associated with the daylight to twilight change, specifically as this is almost certainly the last time I will be involved with revising the book.

CEGE Maybe it is too soon? We will check back with you later! Any last thoughts about the process of writing?

Pat      I enjoyed the writing and the associated research. Some of the literature searching was tedious but necessary to find so many new insights and developments that occurred in the ten or so years since we developed the first edition.

Bill      The second edition was not that much less work than the first! The whole process was longer than I expected it to be, but rewarding in that the book is now better than the first version!
            We hope it is helping people in their teaching and learning about water chemistry. We have gotten lots of positive feedback from our colleagues about the usefulness of the first edition, and we got a lot of feedback on how to make this second edition better. We really appreciate that feedback. And we appreciate our colleagues, those that teach new engineers, researchers, practitioners, and everyone who is helping us learn more about our water.

CEGE One last question. If your book was made into a movie, what genre would it be? Who would you like to cast for the lead?

Pat      Hopefully, it would not be science fiction! Seriously, it doesn’t seem suitable to be made into a movie. But thinking outside the box, I’d like to think it fits in the mystery category, specifically the solving of mysteries. I’d like to see George Clooney in the lead because I think he’s a good actor and a cool guy.

Bill      You have to think of films like Erin Brockovich or Dark Waters. It would have to be a thriller of some sort. You could use some of the core concepts for some kind of detective story, people getting poisoned by an unknown agent in the water and trying to solve it. Matt Damon would have to play me because he is very big into water. Maybe someone more distinguished could play Pat, maybe Morgan Freeman.