The Color of Water Story
Centering the leadership of impacted communities is at the core of the work we do at the Water Hub, and we know that nearly all water issues–from shutoffs to access to contamination–impact people of color disproportionately in this country. With that in mind, in 2019, our team started to build a speakers bureau to elevate the voices of Black, Indigenous and people of color water leaders. Our media tracking and analysis found that water news tended to quote the same handful of mostly white male “water experts,” from the academic or environmental mainstream. Then Media Director Kimiko Martinez began working to connect reporters with people that held more varied expertise. As a champion for truth, Kimiko wanted to facilitate more inclusive water news that would help people understand the social and cultural dimensions of water issues, and highlight the intersections with core concerns like health, family, housing and more. That’s how the Color of Water was born.
In 2022, José Aranda joined the Water Hub to continue the vision put forward by Kimiko and the Water Hub team. Growing up in Mexico witnessing how the burdens of water pollution are often placed on the shoulders of marginalized communities, José realized that we need a deep cultural revolution that centers community voices to ground power for change.
Our shared dream
At the Water Hub, we believe there is an urgent need to change the dominant narrative around water because it often leaves out the stories from Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities on the frontlines of water and climate challenges. Water media both reflects and reinforces the elitism of the water space, often prioritizing credentials and publishing history over proximity to the issues.
The Color of Water initiative aims to change that by lifting up lived experience, traditional and ancestral knowledge as expertise, and highlighting intersections with health, farming, housing, forest management, urban development, etc. We want to build voice and visibility for people with deep knowledge to build a better water future for all. We aim to resource reporters with diverse experts in the water field and build capacity for these spokespeople to elevate their community voices. From water access and drought response in California, the Colorado River, and on the Navajo Nation; lead pipe replacement, shutoffs and affordability, and PFAS pollution in the Great Lakes; to recurring flooding and water infrastructure failure in the South — Color of Water members share their first-hand experience dealing with water challenges and are available to offer ideas for how to develop climate resilient, community-based solutions all across the country.
Our time is now
Since its launch, more than 90 experts have joined the Color of Water initiative from government agencies, Tribes, community based organizations, national NGOs, universities, and more. We have fielded dozens of media inquiries from outlets like CNN, Vox, PBS, KQED, and NPR. However, we still see news stories and social media content centering the same go-to sources despite the tremendous diversity of experts in the water movement. Our water experts and protectors are standing up to big oil, fighting for affordability programs, monitoring PFAS in water supplies, overseeing lead pipe replacement, growing native plants, praying for water protection, or participating in plans, policies and budget allocations. Theirs are the voices we need to uplift.
As we see historic investments in water infrastructure and climate change resilience by the government, it’s a crucial time to turn the tide on “water expertise” in the public opinion. That’s why we have built the Color of Water online directory featuring expertise and lived experiences to journalists so we can flip the script on who gets the mic in water media. Journalists can now more easily connect directly with people they’re looking for, Color of Water members have a tool to speak up, and the water field will be enriched with more voices and perspectives. We hope you’ll join us in co-creating this vision! See our joint statement to learn more.