Oregon Capital Chronicle environmental story wins international journalism award
Reporter Alex Baumhardt won a top honorable mention in the Society of Environmental Journalists annual contest. (Amanda Loman/Oregon Capital Chronicle)
After winning first place in a national journalism competition and a top award in a regional contest, an Oregon Capital Chronicle environmental series garnered top mention in this year’s highly competitive Society of Environmental Journalists’ contest.
The competition draws hundreds of entries every year from around the globe, with nearly 600 journalists entering the contest this year.
Reporter Alex Baumhardt, with help from then-interns Cole Sinanian and Jael Calloway, submitted a series published in 2022 that tracked the state’s failure to protect people in Morrow and Umatilla counties from polluted drinking water.
Baumhardt was the lead writer or only writer in the five stories submitted, with Sinanian and Calloway contributing to the first two – “Powerful port pollutes water for years with little state action” and “Water contamination worsened as DEQ went easy on Port of Morrow.”
Baumhardt wrote the third in the series, “Troubled by inaction, Morrow County commissioner makes safe water a top issue” and two follow-ups:
The judges noted that the reporting produced results: “The state’s environmental agency knew groundwater was contaminated by agricultural waste and runoff for 30 years, but never took what they knew to (4,000) immigrant-residents who rely on the contaminated water supply. A five-month effort of poring through testing reports and documents produced results: federal and state grants to test wells and provide safe water, and increased fines to polluters.”
The series also won first place for investigative reporting in the online category for National Headliner Awards, one of the oldest national competitions, and second place for investigative reporting in the Society for Professional Journalists’ five-state regional contest.”
The plight of residents in northeast Oregon affected by nitrate-laced well water absorbed a lot of Baumhardt’s time last year – and the story is not over. She has continued to track the state’s slow response. Just this month, Baumhardt wrote about the Oregon Health Authority’s testing of residential wells. Gov. Tina Kotek had promised that the testing would be finished in September. But by early October, the agency had only tested about one-third of the 3,300 residential wells at risk.
The health authority declared its program a success, saying it was only required to test or offer testing, not ensure that tests were completed.
Gov. Tina Kotek released a statement saying the work would continue.
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