Most Americans take access to clean water for granted. But in some communities across the country, residents don’t have that luxury. It’s in these places that local radio and TV stations play an important role as a reservoir of vital information. Broadcasters are there to help people stay safe when the water supply is contaminated.
Reporting from stations in Detroit, Miami and the nation’s capital shows the passion and dedication reporters from across the country bring to covering this critical issue.
In Flint, Michigan, thousands of residents were exposed to high levels of lead in their drinking water, starting in 2014, because of poor water treatment and a well-documented failure of government. WDIV, a Graham Media broadcast station in Detroit, covered the story daily, helping to bring national attention to a local crisis. The station also produced two in-depth specials: “Failure in Flint: Inside the Water Crisis,” and “Failure in Flint – The Crisis Continues.”
“Almost three years of bottles and filters. Thirty-four months of worry and wondering what the water might have done to the children. 1,047 days. And while the water tests are increasingly in the clear, Flint families are not,” WDIV’s Devin Scillan reported at the opening of the second special.
In addition to reporting on the crisis, WDIV is working to support Flint’s families. It teamed up with three other stations, Sinclair’s WEYI-TV Flint, Gray Television’s WILX-TV Lansing and Media General’s WOOD-TV, to host a telethon. The event raised $1.1 million for the Flint Child Health and Development Fund, an organization dedicated to supporting the short- and long-term needs of Flint children exposed to lead. Local radio also supported charitable efforts, with WFBE-FM, owned by Cumulus, raising $14,000 for Hurley Children’s Hospital and Hurley Children’s Clinic and the Cromwell Group’s radio stations donating 178,000 bottles of water to the city.
A toxic algae bloom on Florida’s Treasure Coast caused a statewide economic crisis in 2016. With beaches closed, tourism rates fell and local businesses lost millions of dollars. The thick, putrid smelling, blue-green algae took over beaches, making the water unsafe for people and aquatic life. The algae bloom was caused by discharge from the polluted Lake Okeechobee. Miami’s WFOR News investigator Jim DeFede spent a year, at the CBS owned and operated station, exploring the causes of the algae bloom and the political response to it. An hour-long documentary, aired without commercials, laid out the scale of the crisis in devastating detail.
“You cannot survive as a community if you do not have a fresh source of water, and what happened in the algae crisis was a warning that if we don’t get that right, we could all be at risk,” DeFede said.
More than a decade after Washington D.C. residents learned their water was contaminated with lead, radio station WTOP, owned by Hubbard Broadcasting, reported a four-part series on the lasting effects of the crisis.
WTOP discovered that there were still 12,540 lead service lines in DC and about 16,900 are made of unknown pipe material. The station suggested ways residents can guarantee their water’s safety, including installing a water filter or having their drinking water tested.
More than 2.42 million American jobs depend on broadcasting, and the local broadcast radio and television industry - and the businesses that depend on it - generate $1.18 trillion annually for the nation's economy.