Trump’s 97 Percent Cut for Great Lakes? That Was the Good News

By Jennifer Lu

About 90 civic leaders from the Great Lakes region rallied Wednesday on a snowy corner of Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., their voices barely audible above the 30 mph winds. They were there to express their concerns about a Trump administration proposal to reduce funding for Great Lakes improvement projects by 97 percent.  

The rally was barely over when the news began trickling in: The administration’s final budget, due to be released the next morning, wouldn’t just slash $290 million from the $300 million Great Lakes Restoration Initiative—it would cut the program entirely.  

Titled “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” Trump’s budget would make state and local governments responsible for regional environmental projects. That would leave the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to “focus on its highest national priorities,” the budget said.

“To suggest that our region is not of national significance is frankly an insult,” said Todd Ambs, director of the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition and one of the speakers who stood in the cold. “It’s astonishing. The White House needs a geography lesson.” Read more


Top to bottom: A boat travels through an algae bloom on Lake Erie near Toledo, Ohio. A 2014 toxic bloom left 500,000 residents of Toledo without drinking water for three days. Signs displaying warnings about algae were posted along Lake Erie and residents were given bottled drinking water. Photos by Aurora Photos/Alamy Stock Photo (top) and Reuters/Alamy Stock Photo

Why Water, Why Now?

Jennifer Lu's report on the Trump administration proposal to eliminate the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is one of the first articles in InquireFirst’s debut project, which in the coming months will explore a question that directly affects every American’s life: Will the United States continue to be a country where people can turn on the tap and assume the water that comes out is safe and affordable? Or do we face a future of ruptured water mains, boil water alerts and lead contamination scares?

The nation’s pipes and treatment plants have been neglected so long that one estimate puts the repair bill at $1 trillion over the next 20 years. Meanwhile, federal funding for water infrastructure has shrunk 74 percent in real dollars since 1977, leaving cities and towns with skyrocketing bills.

How can we repair and upgrade our deteriorating pipes and treatment plants without making water unaffordable to some? How can we make sure our water remains safe to drink, given the Trump Administration’s promise to cut back on regulations and shrink the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency?

Our stories will help you answer these questions and give you the information you need to take action. Please share them with your friends, family and social media connections. And please consider funding our work with your tax-deductible donations.

InquireFirst Journalism Symposiums

InquireFirst Executive Director Lynne Walker, left, instructs international journalism symposiums for reporters and editors from Latin America and the Caribbean. Photo by Luis J. Jimenez

19 Latin American journalists attend inaugural InquireFirst symposium

SAN DIEGO -- Journalists from Mexico, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Panama, attended InquireFirst’s inaugural international investigative journalism symposium Nov. 14-18, 2016, in San Diego. The program, organized and directed by InquireFirst Executive Director S. Lynne Walker and conducted entirely in Spanish, focused on investigative journalism in the digital age.

Nineteen Latin American journalists met with prestigious U.S. journalists and professors who offered in-depth instruction on digital reporting, data reporting and visualization of data, video reporting and economic models for conducting investigative reporting on a limited budget.

A panel discussion with Susan White, executive director of InquireFirst who has edited three Pulitzer Prize-winning projects at three U.S. media organizations, focused on techniques for reporting and writing a prize-winning investigative project. White was joined on the panel by Dave Hasemyer, an investigative reporter for InsideClimateNews who is a winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize and a finalist for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize.

Robert Hernandez, associate professor of professional practice at the University of Southern California and InquireFirst board member, instructed a three-hour workshop on digital journalism and low-cost and no-cost digital tools available to journalists to enhance their reporting and website presentation. Erik Olsen, West Coast video correspondent for Quartz and former senior video journalist for The New York Times, talked about techniques and equipment for producing visual news reports.

Danielle Cervantes, InquireFirst journalist and professor of investigative data journalism at Point Loma University in San Diego, taught a workshop on data research.

Eileen Truax, InquireFirst journalist and author of Dreamers, An Immigrant Generation’s Fight for Their American Dream, spoke with journalists about ways to conduct investigative journalism with limited resources.

Walker taught a half-day session that provided journalists with practical techniques to gain access to credible and confirmed information when official channels to information are blocked. This interactive session encouraged journalists to stretch beyond the typical search for news sources and to think analytically about ways to conduct investigations without putting their lives at risk.

During the workshop, journalists met in Tijuana with Adela Navarro, co-publisher of the weekly newspaper Zeta, and her investigative team to discuss freedom of expression and the risks and responsibilities of reporting in dangerous conditions. They discussed border issues with San Diego State University Professor Victor Clark Alfaro  Read more

Jennifer Lu awarded CASW
grant for data reporting

Jennifer Lu

WASHINGTON, D.C. — InquireFirst intern Jennifer Lu has been awarded a $5,000 special reporting grant by the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing (CASW) Taylor/Blakeslee Project Fellowship Program to report on the urgent problems created by the nation’s aging drinking water infrastructure.

Lu is completing her final semester of the University of Missouri master’s program in journalism, where she is focusing on investigative and data journalism. In awarding Lu the fellowship, the judges noted the urgency and importance of investigative science reporting on the drinking water contamination crises now facing many cities.  Read more

InquireFirst reporter Elizabeth Douglass, left, and Nick Janzen, energy & environment reporter with Indiana Public Radio, center, interview Bill Carroll, director of operations at Ace Hardware in Lake Station, Indiana. Photo by John Nelson

Elizabeth Douglass named 2017 Alicia Patterson Fellow

WASHINGTON, D.C. — InquireFirst reporter Elizabeth Douglass has been awarded a $40,000 Alicia Patterson fellowship to support her reporting on the nation’s deteriorating drinking water infrastructure. She has also received a $9,000 grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism to help cover the expenses of her work, including travel and public records requests. Nearly 80 journalists working in more than a half-dozen countries applied for Alicia Patterson fellowships. Read more