In August, I had the opportunity to visit the Hoover Dam while in Las Vegas for the National Association of Black Journalists and National Association of Hispanic Journalists convention. Not only was this my first in-person conference in a few years, it was my first time at a communications-focused conference.
I had a great time meeting new people, learning what a “beat” is, immediately knowing someone was a news anchor when they started to speak with that very specific TV delivery voice, and seeing the Hoover Dam in all its glory up close. Best of all was the feeling of inspiration seeing and knowing that there are Black and Latinx communicators getting more interested in talking about the impacts of our changing climate on the communities we come from.
At the session, “It’s a Hot Mess: Examining the Real Front Lines of Climate Change,” with Climate Central, the team highlighted regions of the United States impacted by climate catastrophe. From hurricanes and flooding to drought and heat waves, along with the outdated infrastructure and data, the panel honed in on the fact that climate and equity are connected through the experiences of historically marginalized communities at the frontline of our changing climate. They reminded us that while all our stories are important to tell, including solution stories to avoid doomism is critical for the morale of humanity.
Aside from soaking up the conference, my fellow Climate Nexus colleagues, Marlene Peralta with our Broadcast team and Terran Kirksey, with Climate Signals, and I hosted a session about how to incorporate climate and water topics into reporting. A graduate student writing about community gardens in the Southside of Chicago asked, “is that a climate story?” Definitely! I explained to her how those community gardens are helping to build a more climate-resilient Chicago by adding green space to cement-heavy areas, allowing for more water retention and flood control when it rains. Community gardens also promote more sustainable agriculture practices by reducing dependence on industrial farming and the need for food to be transported long distances (less miles traveled means less greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere). These types of conversations reminded me that we each carry so much experience, information, and knowledge — the world needs us to connect the dots, to collaborate, and to make our stories heard. Shout-out to #NABJNAHJ2022!
It was an interesting time to visit the Hoover Dam for the first time as the water levels are the lowest in recorded history and the seven states along the Colorado River were expected to come to an agreement about water cutbacks. Quite a lot to think about.
While at the Hoover Dam, I took a tour 500ft below the surface! As we walked through tunnels, I noticed how water was seeping through some of the exposed rock walls and the turbines! They’re humongous. It really is an engineering feat that this dam was built over 100 years ago! The guide explained their procedures for managing and discharging water into the spillways when flows were too high (it happened once in the ’80s), but she did not mention what happens when too little water flows through, a looming concern.
Outlined by time, the reservoir behind Hoover Dam demonstrates a vivid declaration of the declining water levels in the South Western United States. Its stark white walls are a visual reminder of the climate emergency and need for action. Not just drinking water is at stake here, the hydropower plant at the bottom of the Hoover dam provides 2,080 megawatts of electricity for ~1.3 million people in Arizona and Nevada, including Native Tribes. This moment demands innovative and adaptive strategies quite like the spirit and ingenuity needed to build the Hoover Dam back in 1931.
Modern water woes have often been associated with overconsumption and poor water management. We often hear that the onus is on us, the individual consumers, to conserve our residential water use when in reality the biggest allotment of water rights along the Colorado River goes to farmers for industrial agriculture. While I agree that we should all play our part in being more water-wise and changes like banning ornamental grass in the desert will help tackle the problem, it’s important to recognize that individuals are not the root cause of the problem. The most efficient and equitable thing to do during a drought and as our climate changes, is to change our relationship with farming and water use altogether. Much of farming and water use metrics are based on inaccurate water data and reflective of a climate that no longer exists.
The Hoover Dam serves as a relic of what Americans are capable of achieving when it comes to adapting to change to meet the needs of the times. We are at yet another inflection point of change and Americans need to heed the call. Regenerative agriculture represents a stark contrast to what has been widely done in agriculture since the start of the century but is a promising example of new techniques that have a far-reaching and meaningful impact for both humans and the environment.
It’s great that talking about climate change is no longer taboo. As more folks are getting informed about and getting interested in how climate change is affecting their lives, it increases the likelihood of action. The latest Water Hub polling results shows 84% of voters across the country are concerned about drought in the Western U.S. — a promising signal for change. Changing what no longer works makes thinking about the future much more exciting.