The Texas Tribune’s five-part “Undrinkable” project exposed and explained the near third-world conditions in which tens of thousands of people along the Texas-Mexico border live — without reliable access to safe, clean water.
The four communities featured in “Undrinkable” are emblematic of a widespread indignity: Despite the state’s development and economic progress, some Texans hold a more tenuous grasp on a civilized life.
Among our project’s findings: Nearly 90,000 Texans on the border, most of them impoverished Latinos, live without running water. An untold number more — likely tens of thousands, but no one is sure — often have running water of such poor quality that they cannot know what poisons or diseases it carries.
The reasons the Tribune outlined in a thoughtful, explanatory series include sloppy development, political infighting, lax enforcement and environmental hurdles. The demographic makeup of these communities — where many lack English proficiency and distrust government — has curbed their ability to defend themselves.
Our reporters and photographers told eye-opening and gut-wrenching stories, from the school children in Vinton pleading with local officials for clean water rid of dangerous contaminants like arsenic to the elderly couple living in a remote colonia who have no running water and are forced to live off a few days’ worth of water they haul from miles away.
Work on the series was led by reporters Alexa Ura and Neena Satija, who traveled the 1,200-mile length of the border to tell the unbelievable stories of Texans living without this basic necessity. Illustrating their reporting involved several Tribune staffers, including designers, photographers and developers who built interactive tools to help contextualize these hardships in a rich, elegant way.
Newspapers and TV and radio stations across the state published elements of the series by way of our free syndication arrangement. Several news outlets along the border and in major cities used the Tribune’s reporting to pursue related stories in their own communities. And the Trib developed several special segments in Spanish with Univision, which aired “Undrinkable” in Texas and worked with Ura, a fluent Spanish speaker, to translate all of our stories into Spanish for both our and their readers.
The Tribune has kept the conversation alive — demanding answers from lawmakers during the current legislative session and reporting on other low-income communities beyond the border that can’t count on reliable access to clean water. Tribune reporters continue to look for ways to explain the dire circumstances in which so many Texans still live, exposing the inequality and injustices faced by people who lack an essential resource most take for granted.