2017 Online - Gold

In a comprehensive, richly interactive story, ProPublica and The Texas Tribune reported that more frequent and fiercer rainstorms are likely in cities like Houston due to climate change, even as unmanaged growth and lack of zoning have made the city more vulnerable to risk of flooding. In a story that presaged the devastating impact of Hurricane Harvey on the Houston area, the reporters took a closer look at two previous storms ─ the Memorial Day Flood of 2015 and the Tax Day Flood of 2016 ─ and described how the loss of undeveloped prairie and wetlands has made areas more prone to flooding. The areas are outside official floodplains designated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. As wetlands have been lost, the amount of impervious surface in Harris County increased by 25 percent from 1996 to 2011. Scientists say the Harris County Flood Control District, which manages thousands of miles of protective bayous, should focus more on preserving green space than building its way out of the problem. Houston’s top flood control officials said their biggest challenge is not coping with rapid growth but retrofitting outdated infrastructure. John Jacob, a wetlands scientist at Texas A&M University, said there is no way engineering projects or flood control regulations have made up for the loss of wetlands so far. Rami Tzabar, development editor for BBC Radio Science and World Service, called the story “a forensic analysis of everything that is wrong with current (and past) attitudes to flooding, an innate misguided belief that every major event is a freak of nature and that we can engineer our way out of the problem whilst largely ignoring the cause.” Emily Ramshaw, editor-in-chief of The Texas Tribune, said: “We are so very honored to win this extraordinary award recognizing the prescient reporting and crucial explanatory journalism of our devoted crew.”