The value of water

“Until you actually know what it means to take care of water, you won’t know the value of it. We need water. There isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t need water.”

So says Texas resident Carlos Yescas in a new interactive film at produced by students in Carolina’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication. The website explores the human connection with water from life to death.

Named “100 Gallons” for the amount of water the average American uses daily, the project examines water topics across the United States, including the New York sewer system, controversial natural gas drilling in Ohio, bottling rainwater in Texas, the search for water in space and other topics.

“100 Gallons” is a continuation of the school’s award-winning Powering a Nation project that provides energy news through innovative storytelling. The launch of 100 Gallons coincides with “Water in Our World,” a two-year UNC academic initiative to encourage interdisciplinary study of water.















Laura Ruel, UNC journalism professor and Powering a Nation executive producer, said the goal of 100 Gallons is to open the viewer’s eyes to how much people depend on water to power their lives.

“The project creates a visual experience that informs viewers of the universality of our relationship with water,” Ruel said. “The site’s main video is unique in the sense that it is artistically filmed while adhering to journalistic principles with no staged shots.”

Users can choose to experience 100 Gallons as an interactive film, navigating through the opening video to access content that includes videos, graphics, articles and more. Or viewers can watch the opening video as a whole before exploring the in-depth content through an interactive mosaic.

“Fractured,” a video and text story, explores hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, through the eyes of Christine Moore. Moore is an Ohioan who fears the water on her farm has been contaminated by the natural gas drilling practice. In “A Beautiful Waste,” viewers follow urban explorer Steve Duncan through the New York City sewer system. 100 Gallons also features videos about the only man in America licensed to bottle rainwater; a Native American tribe in Washington whose sacred river is being undammed; and Las Lomitas, a development outside of Austin where residents, including Carlos Yescas, have no running water.

Motion graphics and interactive graphics present facts and statistics about water in accessible ways, allowing viewers to visualize different volumes of water, calculate water costs around the world and estimate the weight of clouds. The project contains pieces that address scientific aspects of water, including a question-and-answer piece with water experts on the state of water, a look at the search for water and life on other planets, and explanations about why pure water tastes bad and rain smells the way it does.

A team of nine UNC students and recent graduates completed 100 Gallons in 10 weeks. Students traveled all over the country to gather footage and conduct interviews, providing a national perspective on the topic of water. Students also completed programming and design of the website.

Powering a Nation launched in 2009 with startup funding from News21, a national initiative of the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to train a new generation of journalists. The UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication also funded 100 Gallons.

Published August 20, 2012.