Jennifer Wilson’s novel “Water” is an easy way for Iowans to learn a lot about a complicated subject quickly.

And there is sex.

The 226-page book is a love story/mystery wrapped in the professional and personal tragedies of Freja Folsom, a local affairs reporter at the failing Des Moines Tribune.

The plot involves a thief who is taking water from a backup aquifer that the city of Des Moines uses when its normal water supply becomes too polluted.    

Wilson said her inspiration came from ongoing news stories about water quality, including beach closings and concerns that farm chemicals are creating a “dead zone” in waters off the coast of Louisiana. 

“Regular people were not talking about it,” Wilson said, “probably because they don’t understand the depth of what is going on.” 

As a travel writer who grew up in rural Iowa and has visited nearly every park in the state, Wilson wanted to do something to help Iowans understand the problem. As a former middle and high school teacher of science and English, she believed she could create “an accessible explanation.”

“I wanted to make the teaching tool as pleasant as possible,” she said.

So she wrote “Water,” an easy-read novel that sells for $15 at RayGun, the T-shirt and anything-Iowa gift shop at 505 E. Grand Ave. and online at 

“Water” is RayGun’s first publishing venture. It’s also Wilson’s first novel and second book. (She also wrote “Running Away to Home: Our Family’s Journey to Croatia in Search of Who We Are, Where We Came From and What Really Matters,” published in 2012.) 

The book’s action moves through Des Moines and rural Iowa, as various characters explain how Iowa’s water problem became an issue that is tearing the state apart.   

We learn that reporter Folsom has been sleeping with Tom Vilmain, the hunky director of the Des Moines Water Works, who shares attributes with real-life Water Works chief Bill Stowe. But Vilmain is no more Stowe than “Water’s” female governor, Ronnie Pavetti, is Terry Branstad although like Branstad, Pavetti has closed down mental hospitals and shuttered a home for troubled girls.

The aquifer mystery leads Folsom deep into farm country where she is told: “We think if we keep quiet about everything, somehow our problems will go away,” even as nitrate-ridden water is quietly launching an epidemic of Parkinson’s disease among older farmers. 

Getting farmers to talk is not easy, but Folsom eventually finds a family that is experiencing a generation gap.  

“I don’t believe in government regulation,” an older farmer tells her. “I believe people will do the right thing.” 

His daughter responds: “You personally might be doing good things, but not everybody does. ... It only takes a few farmers doing the wrong thing to make a terrible impact on our water.”

Other characters offer additional bits of wisdom. 

“It’s the renters you have to look out for,” says one. “They’ll farm every square inch of a place.” 

Only political leaders can solve the problem, says another. 

“If it wasn’t required by law for you to abide by the speed limit, would you?” he asks. “Nobody follows volunteer rules closely, including farmers, even when it’s for the health and safety of all living things.” 

For most of the book, Folsom’s career and love life are spiraling out of control, not unlike Iowa’s dirty water.   

In the end, though, the many threads of her life and Iowa’s water problems come together. 

As one of the water thieves puts it: “We want clean water. And by God, if the state isn’t going to do anything to help us, we’re going to get it ourselves.”