KUNC Wins Sigma Delta Chi Award From The Society Of Professional Journalists
Sigma Delta Chi Awards honor exceptional journalism in print, radio, television and online. The current program began in 1939, when the organization awarded the first Distinguished Service Awards. These later became the Sigma Delta Chi Awards. There were more than 1,200 submissions for work done in 2020.
KUNC won in the Investigative Category for Cash Flows: How Investors Are Banking On the West’s Water Scarcity. It is a collaborative series reported and produced by KUNC (Luke Runyon), Aspen Journalism (Heather Sackett), KJZZ (Bret Jaspers) and The Nevada Independent (Daniel Rothberg). Runyon and KUNC Director of News Brian Larson handled the broadcast editing. KUNC Digital Editor Jackie Hai edited the web post for the series.
In the arid West, scarce water supplies are growing scarcer. Climate change is shrinking snowpack in river basins throughout the region, leaving the future water supplies for cities, industries, and farmers uncertain. The tightening water supply has recently attracted the attention of a new actor in some water-stressed pockets of the West: the private investor.
As we found, investors are writing multi-million dollar checks in heavily-irrigated farm communities. We focused on case studies in Colorado, Arizona, and Nevada to make clear that this is a region-wide issue with implications for farm communities, state legislators, federal regulators, municipal water providers and everyone else who relies on water in the West.
In western Colorado’s Grand Valley, reporters Luke Runyon and Heather Sackett honed in on the activities of one hedge fund, Water Asset Management. By collecting and analyzing property records, and making at least four reporting trips to the area, Runyon and Sackett revealed for the first time the extent of the hedge fund’s holdings in an important agricultural hub, and that the fund had become the single largest landowner in one prominent irrigation district. Reporters also were first to detail how a former state water policy director who played a role in crafting a potential water market had been hired by the hedge fund as its lawyer.
In Arizona, reporter Bret Jaspers dug into how the investment firm Greenstone had been quietly making purchases of agricultural land and associated water rights on the Arizona-California border, intending to flip that water for a fast-growing Phoenix suburb hundreds of miles away. In Nevada, reporter Daniel Rothberg investigated another Water Asset Management scheme to turn floodwaters in the Humboldt River basin into a literal underground water market.