2019 The David Teeuwen Student Journalism Award, Small Newsroom finalist

Follow the Water: Hidden Cost of a B.C. Town’s Water

About the Project

UBC journalism student Joanne Pearce harnessed multimedia to offer a compelling work of journalism on an invisible but urgent environmental challenge for British Columbia and Canada. The investigative project explored the challenges faced by two towns in B.C. which rely on groundwater deep underground for drinking water and explored possible solutions. New housing, farming and animal rearing were polluting the groundwater, with severe consequences for residents.

The student project addresses an underreported but vital policy issue for the local community and Canada as a whole. It was the result of a six-month investigation by Joanne Pearce, guided by her faculty supervisor, UBC School of Journalism Associate Professor Alfred Hermida. She rooted her reporting in the scholarly research on the issue of groundwater pollution under the supervision of Professor Emeritus Hans Schreier, from the UBC Faculty of Land and Water Systems, a well-respected expert in this issue.

The reporting used two cities in the region of British Columbia to illustrate the many pressures on Canada’s freshwater supplies. The country only has 2.6 per cent of the world’s supply of freshwater. The actual number is about 2.6 per cent. Globally, the crisis over freshwater is growing, with more than half of the large aquifers around the world severely stressed by water depletion. The situation is so acute that in March the United Nations announced 2018 as the start of a new Decade for Action on water.

The project’s interactive storytelling presented the issues into three long-form articles combining drone footage, data visualizations and interactive timelines to immerse readers in the contamination of the water supply, cost to the environment and the policy implications. The story creatively offered a regional illustration of broader environmental and sustainability issues facing Canada where nearly nine million people rely on groundwater for use at home. Yet there are no enforceable federal laws on water quality or drinking water standards.