Pulitzer Center Update

Vanishing Groundwater Project Receives Knight-Risser Prize for Western Environmental Journalism

August 17, 2016|

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Dapegon

People in the Indian farming village of Dapegaon leave water jugs in line overnight and return at dawn to fill up before the daily supply of water runs out. The village relies on a single well, and shortages have worsened over the past several years as groundwater levels have declined. Image by Steve Elfers. India, 2015.

The Pulitzer Center-supported reporting project, "Pumped Dry: The Global Crisis of Vanishing Groundwater," received the prestigious Knight-Risser Prize for Western Environmental Journalism, awarded by the Knight Foundation and Stanford University. Through the project, grantees Ian James of The Desert Sun and Steve Elfers of USA Today, with help from Steve Reilly, a reporter and data specialist, identified a water crisis that exists not just in the West but across the United States and the globe.

The team investigated the consequences of the emerging crisis in several of the world’s hotspots of groundwater depletion. With stories from California, Kansas, India, Peru, and Morocco, they tell stories of people who are being forced to confront questions of how to safeguard their aquifers for the future—and in some cases, how to cope as the water runs out now. In addition to the Knight-Risser Prize, "Pumped Dry" received honorable mention for the Overseas Press Club's Whitman Bassow Award for excellence in reporting on international environmental issues.

Reflecting on class visits in Washington, DC, Elfers told an audience at the Pulitzer Center's 2016 Environmental Film Festival program, “The students understand the unfairness. Their perception is impressive…The common thread in this project was to find who is really affected by the dramatic decline of groundwater. We didn’t settle into a place until we found those families to tell the personal stories.”

Read more about the Knight-Risser Prize, which will be awarded at a 2017 symposium at Stanford.