Stories

The IRE Resource Center is a major research library containing more than 27,000 investigative stories.

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Search results for "water" ...

  • Water Watch Wisconsin

    Water Watch Wisconsin, a joint project of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism, Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television, is examining the quality and supply of Wisconsin’s water, which is increasingly subjected to human and climatic influences. A guiding question, throughout the project: Is this trend sustainable? Water is one of Wisconsin’s greatest treasures. The state is home to about 15,000 lakes, has more miles of Great Lakes coastline than any state except Michigan, and has underground reserves in four major aquifers.
  • Farmers vs. fish: Wisconsin's groundwater crisis

    Across central Wisconsin, in a region known as the Central Sands, residents have watched water levels in lakes and small streams drop for years. In a state with about 15,000 lakes and more than a quadrillion gallons of groundwater, it is hard to believe that water could ever be in short supply. Experts say, however, that the burgeoning number of so-called high-capacity wells mostly for irrigated agriculture, is drawing down some ground and surface water.
  • Botswana: Diamond Hopes, Diamond Blues

    After diamonds were discovered 50 years ago, Botswana transformed itself from one the poorest countries in the world to an “African Miracle,” complete with one of the highest GDPs on the continent and stable democratic governance. This allusion of harmonious prosperity, however, is threatened by drastic changes to its geography. Rapid development has led to rapid desertification, marked by eroded land, dried rivers, deep boreholes, and the expanding Kalahari. Semi-arid and landlocked, Botswana is no stranger to droughts and low rainfall. Soon, it will be one of the first countries to experience the evaporation of its already limited groundwater supply, according to the World Economic Forum. What exhausts the water supply and threatens Botswana’s fragile ecosystems are exactly its most vital economic sectors. Livestock production, communal and commercial, expands further and further into the Kalahari Sandveld, uncontrolled and often encouraged by the government. As a result, boreholes are drilled 200 meters deep across the desert landscape of overgrazed vegetation. Meanwhile, Botswana’s diamond mines, accounting for more than a third of the national GDP, extract great amounts of water at no cost. Unrestricted, the mines continue to drain the aquifers and, in the process, limit the access rights of small farmers and minority tribes.
  • No Small Thing: An investigative series on Lyme disease

    This series – testament to the power of a small newspaper, the Internet and analytical reporting -- is viewed widely as an influential force and agenda setter for Lyme disease nationwide. In eight installments in 2012, No Small Thing delineated problems of testing for and treatment and tracking of Lyme disease. In 2013, the newspaper, using 3,000 pages of government emails obtained under FOIA, exposed ties between government officials and outside scientists that influenced Lyme policy and limited debate – the installment submitted here. In 2013, the series also reported evidence that physicians are rejecting controversial guidelines, documented the death toll from Lyme disease using a database of deaths covering 13 years and drove a watershed year in the endemic. In 2013, the CDC revised contested annual case counts tenfold; investigated long-ignored deaths, and invited reform advocates to an unprecedented, high-level meeting. Three Lyme-related bills are pending in New York, where a task force has been convened. Another is pending in Congress.
  • Chemical Drift, the Second-Hand Smoke of Big Agriculture

    This series documented the dangers posed by agricultural chemicals which are applied both aerially and by land equipment. Some estimates show up to 90 percent of applied chemicals fail to hit the targeted site and drift hundreds of miles in the environment, contaminating people, water systems, air and animals. The series revealed that current safety standards were based on old theories of toxicology, which assume that the danger of chemical exposure is based on the dose. “The dose makes the poison” was the theory. That is not true with endocrine disrupting chemical pesticides that are non-monotonic, meaning that even at very low levels of exposure, significant damage can occur, especially if exposure is during childhood or fetal development. In “Pitchfork Rebels,” Howard wrote about organic farmers training to install environmental sampling devices known as Drift Catchers on their land. The resulting chemical analysis showed the presence of chlorpyrifos, an endocrine disrupting chemical insecticide linked to ADHD and autism, had drifted to their farms from an aerial application more than two miles away. The EPA banned all uses of chlorpyrifos in homes and daycare centers because of its toxicity for children, but it is still allowed in agricultural uses. This article documented the toxin’s drift to an organic farm where three young sisters live.
  • Injection Wells - The Hidden Risks of Pumping Waste Underground

    Over the last several decades, U.S. industries have dumped more than 30 trillion gallons of toxic waste – a volume roughly four times that of Utah’s Great Salt Lake -- into injection wells deep beneath the earth’s surface. These wells epitomize the notion of out of sight, out of mind, entombing chemicals too dangerous to discard in rivers or soil. The Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for overseeing this invisible disposal system, setting standards that, above all, are supposed to safeguard sources of drinking water at a time when water has become increasingly precious. Abrahm Lustgarten’s series, “Injection Wells: the Hidden Risks of Pumping Waste Underground,” lays out in frightening detail just how far short regulators have fallen in carrying out that mission. His analysis of hundreds of thousands of inspection records showed that wells often fail mechanical integrity tests meant to ensure contaminants aren’t leaking into water supplies and that companies repeatedly violate basic rules for safe disposal. EPA efforts to strengthen regulation of underground injection have been stymied time and again by the oil and gas industry, among the primary users of disposal wells. As the number of wells for drilling waste has grown to more than 150,000 nationwide, regulators haven’t kept pace, leaving gaps that have led to catastrophic breakdowns. And Lustgarten’s most surprising finding was that the EPA has knowingly permitted the energy industry to pollute underground reservoirs, handing out more than 1,500 “exemptions” allowing companies to inject waste and other chemicals into drinking water aquifers.
  • Semper Fi: Always Faithful

    Marine Corps Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger was a devoted marine for nearly 25 years. As a drill instructor, he lived and breathed the Marine Corps and was responsible for training thousands of new recruits. When Jerry’s nine-year-old daughter Janey died of a rare type of leukemia, his world collapsed. As a grief-stricken father, he struggled for years to make sense of what happened. His search for answers led to the shocking discovery of one of the largest water contamination sites in US history. For thirty years, unbeknownst to the Marines living there, the Marine Corps improperly disposed of toxic cleaning solvents that contaminated the drinking water at North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base. It is estimated that nearly one million Marines and their families may have been exposed to high levels of carcinogens through the water. 25 years after the wells were finally closed, only a fraction of former residents know about their exposure to the toxic chemicals. In the process of investigating the Camp Lejeune contamination, a larger issue comes into focus - the abysmal environmental record of the military. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Defense is the United States’ largest polluter, which raises grave questions about environmental conditions at other bases across the country. “Semper Fi: Always Faithful” is a timely and sobering story of the betrayal of US soldiers and is a call to action for more environmental oversight of military sites.
  • ICIJ: Plunder in the Pacific

    "Plunder in the Pacific," an eight-country investigation, revealed how Asian, European and Latin American fleets have devastated what was once one of the world’s great fish stocks. Jack mackerel in the South Pacific has decreased from around 30 million tons to less than three tons in just two decades. We found that national interests and geopolitical rivalry for six years blocked efforts to ratify a regional fisheries management organization that could impose binding regulations to rescue jack mackerel from further collapse. Bound only by voluntary restrictions, fleets competed in what amounted to a free-for-all in no man’s water.
  • Fast Money

    The Baltimore Sun's Fast Money series exposed inaccuracies and systematic flaws in Baltimore's automated speed cameras. By compiling and analyzing a database of more than 1.6 million tickets issued over three years, and contacting drivers through social media, The Sun was able to show that automated speed cameras are often wrong and the process of issuing tickets unfair. In one telling example, reporters found a Mazda minivan issued a speed ticket while stopped at a red light. Since the story's publication, Baltimore City officials have announced plans to scrap the entire network of 83 cameras because of the deficiencies revealed by The Sun. And Maryland's governor and legislators have promised a "speed camera day" in Annapolis to consider reforms.
  • The Fracking Boom: Missing Answers

    Is hydraulic fracking for natural gas safe? That’s one of the big questions surrounding America’s fracking boom. Homeowners with these gas wells literally in their backyards have complained of contaminated drinking water wells and noxious fumes. The natural gas industry has said that except for the occasional accident, fracking is not to blame. The American Petroleum Institute, the trade group for the natural gas industry, says fracking is safe and there’s no proof that the practice causes significant damage to the environment or human health. In our series, NPR decided to investigate the evidence the industry bases its safety claim on, and we found something astonishing. Despite some 200,000 fracked wells, very little data have been collected and few rigorous studies have been done to show whether fracking is safe, or whether it is dangerous. Not by local officials, state officials, universities or federal agencies. Essentially there is a data void on this issue. The type of scientific work that tied lead, tobacco smoke and smog to health problems, or that exonerated vaccines as the cause of autism, has not been done. With its safety claim, the industry is actively misleading the public into believing its practices have been solidly vetted and found untarnished. As we show in our seven part series, this is far from the truth.