I’ve been working on water for most of my career, and my family knows this, but they rarely ask me about it. Maybe because they know an innocent question could elicit an 18-minute rant about the Bureau of Reclamation’s dam-glorifying propaganda, or the folly of pursuing new water at any cost rather than making the best use of what we have.
But this year has been different. My in-laws asked me about the feasibility of a transcontinental water pipeline over sandwiches this summer, and, this weekend, my dad wanted to know the real story behind the “stop the state water grab” op-ed he read in the Merced Sun-Star. From lead pipes to 500-year floods, I’ve had more conversations this year about water safety, affordability, and access than I can ever remember.
That’s partly because the confluence of climate change and COVID-19 brought increased urgency and attention to long-standing water challenges. But it’s also the result of decades of research, organizing, and outreach by groups across the country.
The Water Hub exists to serve those groups, and we’re grateful to have had the opportunity this past year to work on some impactful efforts. Below I highlight eight of our proudest moments from 2021.
Water communications highlights from 2021
- Advancing water affordability: In January, we helped water justice partners publicize a report on water debt in California. We landed more than two dozen news stories from The Guardian to the Sacramento Bee and NBC. That attention helped them secure $1 billion dollars in debt relief in the state budget, and now we’re helping to ensure the funds reach families in need. At the federal level, we’ve been helping the Water Equity and Climate Resilience caucus keep pressure on Congress to create a permanent water bill assistance program.
- Meeting this moment of opportunity: Just as federal leaders began negotiating infrastructure priorities, the Water Hub released The Opportunity on Water report emphasizing the bipartisan support for water investments (we have a version for policymakers, as well as one for funders and NGOs). The report argues that water is key to COVID relief and recovery, climate action, and racial justice. It outlines steps we can take together to win on projects and policies while building power for deeper change.
- Making a jobs case for water infrastructure investment: Our public-facing contribution to the infrastructure debate was a Water at Work website and digital campaign that showed the jobs and economic benefits of investing in water. This creative campaign highlights multi-benefit projects across the country that can put people to work while boosting water justice and resilience. #WaterAtWork had over 300,000 impressions across social media platforms and our digital ad campaign was seen over 60,000 times on Facebook and Instagram by decisionmakers and “on the fence” voters.
- Lifting up emerging leaders: This summer, we launched a Rising Voices column in Maven’s Notebook to highlight organizers, researchers, policy analysts, and other close-to-the-ground experts often left out of news stories. To date, we’ve interviewed people working on stormwater, soil health, water debt, and drought. This column is just one small part of our growing Color of Water Initiative. Read more about that program’s 2021 progress here, and keep an eye out for a new online directory in 2022.
- Supporting the campaign to #StopLine3: Starting in March, we stepped in to support water protectors working to stop a tar sands oil pipeline under construction in the treaty territory of Anishinaabe peoples. The pipeline would cross more than 200 bodies of water, including the Mississippi River. We created videos shared by celebrities like Mark Ruffalo, and engaged other influencers to help generate more than 175,000 actions. While the pipeline was completed, the fight continues, bringing light to Indigenous rights, climate concerns, and the water risks of new fossil fuel development.
- Helping partners get camera-ready: Polling shows that many people rely on TV or social media for water news, but many cause communicators focus media outreach efforts on newspapers. Our skill-building workshops are designed to help partners reach people where they are, and this year, we offered trainings on how to look good on video, crafting soundbites that stick, and interview skills. We also hosted a safe space roundtable discussion for BIPOC partners on working with the press.
- Using images ethically: We know that visuals are vital for online outreach: they draw the eye and touch the heart. But how do we ensure we’re respecting the people pictured, and using imagery to heal rather than harm? To help inform our own visual storytelling and that of our partners, we worked with Survival Media Agency (SMA) on a Practical Guide to Ethical Imagery, and hosted a live Q&A with SMA’s Ritu Bhardwaj and Resource Media’s Marcela Gara to talk about everything from budgets to image attribution and model releases.
- Equipping allies with relevant research: The Water Hub produces both media and public opinion research to help partners make the wisest use of communications resources. This year, we did two rounds of media analysis, a Western regional scan in February that looked at water affordability, quality, and supply stories, and a deeper dive into water shortage news in the Colorado River Basin in October. We also conducted a national poll in March to explore voter’s water priorities for stimulus spending. We recently wrapped a California drought poll, and will host a research briefing early next year to share toplines from that survey as well as recent polls in Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico. To stay in the loop on our research, please sign up for our newsletter here.
Thanks to everyone that invited us into your campaigns this year, attended one of our workshops, downloaded a resource, or otherwise connected. Wishing you health and rest over the holidays, and looking forward to pushing together for more progress in the year to come!
[Image] Nicole Lampe talking water with family during a hike alongside Oregon’s Sandy River.