“Troubled Water” is a Carnegie-Knight News21 multimedia, investigative project produced by 29 investigative journalism students from 18 universities. They began their reporting during a seminar course in Spring 2017 with broad questions about drinking water in the United States: Are there areas of the country that don’t have safe drinking water? If so, why? To what effect? And what can be done to fix it?
Over the course of seven months, students reviewed 680,000 water quality and monitoring violations from the Environmental Protection Agency, and they found that as many as 63 million people – nearly a fifth of the country – were exposed to potentially unsafe water more than once during the past decade.
Their reporting traced how six decades of industrial dumping, farming pollution and water pipe deterioration have taken a toll on local water systems. Much of the country’s aging distribution pipes delivering water to millions of people are susceptible to lead contamination, leaks, breaks and bacterial growth. Students also found that many local water treatment plants, especially those in small, poor and minority communities, cannot afford the equipment necessary to filter out contaminants.
News21 journalists dove deeply into the industries responsible for the most water pollution: manufacturing, mining and waste disposal. In addition, at least 149 current and former military bases across the United States have been designated Superfund Sites by the EPA – meaning they are among the most hazardous areas in the country requiring cleanup.
The News21 fellows traveled across the country to interview people in communities that are still struggling for safe drinking water. They integrated text, photo, video, animation, data visualization and a documentary film to produce powerful, nuanced storytelling that engaged a variety of audiences.
The project demonstrates that depth of reporting and sophistication of multimedia storytelling that is possible when students from across the country collaborate on one investigation.