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US Water Prize for Outstanding Journalism: Ian James and Colleagues, The Arizona Republic

US Water Alliance | August 24, 2021

Journalist Ian James, along with colleagues Rob O’Dell, Mark Henle, David Wallace, Nick Oza, and editor Shaun McKinnon at The Arizona Republic, have devoted extensive work to spotlighting pressing water challenges in the state of Arizona. The high-volume portfolio James continues to build upon includes detailed stories on groundwater depletion, the overall lack of water regulation in large portions of Arizona, and promising water management solutions, which have spurred water-related policy proposals in Arizona’s state legislature. His reporting has also examined the widespread problems of inadequate water access in Navajo and Hopi communities, which are compounded by the impacts of climate change and the lasting effects of mining and water sources tainted with hazardous contaminants. 
 
In the groundbreaking series “Arizona’s Next Water Crisis” in 2019, James, O’Dell and Henle exposed the unregulated nature of groundwater pumping throughout rural Arizona, which permits large agricultural enterprises to deplete finite desert aquifers. This leaves growing numbers of homeowners with dry wells and threatens one of the Southwest’s last free-flowing rivers. Their research unearthed state records for thousands of wells and drilling operations, revealing irreversible water-level declines of 100 feet or more in about a quarter of wells across the state.  
 
In 2020, members of the Arizona State Legislature introduced a raft of bills to tighten groundwater rules in unregulated regions, crediting the series for uncovering the failures of the state’s outdated groundwater law and the harm inflicted on rural communities. Though these bills were blocked, several bills were again introduced in 2021 with similar objectives. If passed, these bills would implement the most significant changes to the state’s groundwater law since its adoption over four decades ago.  
 
In a separate series of articles published in 2020, James and colleague David Wallace reported on how the Hopi are struggling with a widespread lack of water infrastructure, the effects of climate change, and declining springs that they consider sacred. The series included a detailed examination of the declining aquifers on Hopi lands and the role of coal mining. Through this work, James and Wallace helped amplify the voices of Hopi community members who are still fighting for land and water reclamation. In another piece from 2020, James and colleague Nick Oza investigated the history of insufficient funding and systemic racism behind the lack of access for clean drink water in many areas of the Navajo Nation. James and Oza also featured the work of clean-water advocates in the Navajo Nation who are working with limited resources to pursue solutions to these water challenges. 
 
Ian James and his colleagues have worked to expose the causes behind Arizona’s declining groundwater and the reasons people in some communities continue to struggle without access to water. Through their reporting, they have ensured that the voices of those who’ve been harmed in rural and tribal communities are heard. 
 
The US Water Alliance is pleased to award Ian James and Colleagues at the Arizona Republic with the US Water Prize for Outstanding Journalism in recognition for their work advancing sustainable, integrated, and inclusive solutions to water challenges.