Best of the States


As wells dry up in parched US West, AP reports on residents now without running water

Misty Buckley carries dirty water from her animals’ pens to water plants in her front yard, in Klamath Falls, Ore., July 24, 2021. The family’s house well ran dry in May following historic drought in southern Oregon. Dozens of domestic wells have gone dry in the area near the Oregon-California border where the effects of drought have taken a particularly dramatic toll. (AP Photo / Nathan Howard)


The extreme drought in the American West has taken a dramatic toll. And now, near the Oregon-California border, dozens of homeowners’ wells have gone dry, leaving them with no running water at all. At least 120 — and probably several hundred — domestic wells have dried up in the past few weeks. Reporter Gillian Flaccus and freelance photographer Nathan Howard documented the residents’ plight and the challenges facing authorities responding to the situation.

The depletion of all normal water sources in the area is the latest example of the severe drought conditions in this parched part of the West and comes just a few months after the U.S. government shut off federally controlled irrigation water to hundreds of farmers in the area for the first time ever. Experts say the conditions point to the difficulties people elsewhere will likely to face on a larger scale as climate change makes matters worse.

Flaccus used sources she had built in months of reporting on the dire conditions in the Klamath River Basin, convincing people to let Howard depict their hardship over water in photos and video. Digital storyteller Samantha Shotzbarger then weaved all the elements — text, photos and video — into a compelling multimedia offering.

The story drew widespread play in the U.S., especially in the West. The Seattle Times featured the piece prominently and promoted the package through their social media accounts.

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Justin Grant prepares to move his cattle from a dry grazing field in Klamath Falls, Ore., July 24, 2021/ Dozens of domestic wells have gone dry in the area near the Oregon-California border suffering through historic drought. – AP Photo / Nathan Howard

Shortly after AP’s piece hit the wire,Howard received a text from from a former AP staffer now working in the Pacific Northwest for a national publication. AP had scooped the ex-staffer — he had been working on the same subject.

For continuing to shine light on the effects of the drought afflicting the U.S. West,Flaccus, Howard and Shotzbarger win this week’s Best of the States award.

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