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‘Hell and High Water’ Wins the Knight-Risser Prize for Environmental Journalism

Hell and High Water,” a collaboration between ProPublica and The Texas Tribune, won the 2017 Knight-Risser Prize for Western Environmental Journalism. The project – by Al Shaw and Jeff Larson from ProPublica, Kiah Coller and Ryan Murphy from The Texas Tribune, and Neena Satija from The Texas Tribune and Reveal – exposes the bureaucratic nightmare that leaves Houston residents in serious danger in the event of a major storm and unprecedented floods.

The project consists of two stories. First, “Hell and High Water” reveals how Houston is failing to address the increasingly dire warnings of scientists that the region is at high risk of a devastating hurricane. Despite the risk of widespread destruction and a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars, efforts to protect the region have been glacially slow and marked by bitter infighting.

The second story, “Boomtown, Flood Town,” shows how Houston’s hyper development is creating short-term economic gains for some while dramatically increasing flood risks for everyone. Scientists warn that the loss of undeveloped prairie and wetlands is making areas that haven’t flooded in decades more prone to inundation.

The immersive, interactive series included accurate, playable storm simulations (with and without proposed protections), a lookup tool that lets Houstonians see how storm models predict how their own homes will be affected and maps that explain how the loss of prairie land endangers lower lying, often older parts of the city. It was published more than a year before Hurricane Harvey hit Texas last August.

Learn more about the Knight-Risser Prize here.

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