The Society of Environmental Journalists has honored reporters Lance Williams, Michael Corey and Katharine Mieszkowski for their series titled “The Wet Princes of Bel Air,” which exposed the wealthy mega-water users whose thirsty landscaping guzzled millions of gallons while most ordinary Californians conserved during the drought.

In an award announced today, the series won first place in the organization’s 2017 Kevin Carmody Award for Outstanding In-Depth Reporting, Large Market.

The reporters wanted to know who was getting away with wasting water at home, despite the state’s drought emergency. They filed dozens of public records requests, but were faced with recalcitrant public officials who refused to give up the big users’ names. But the journalists didn’t stop there. Satellite photographs, vegetation algorithms and residential records helped the team identify the seven Southern California residents mostly likely to be guzzling almost 12 millions gallons a year.

The judges wrote: “A powerful combination of traditional shoe-leather reporting and cutting-edge data mining, this compellingly written series is an inspiring example for other journalists to not take ‘no’ for an answer when public officials hide behind a restrictive interpretation of public records laws.”

The series led to lasting change to California law, with state lawmakers instituting fines for excessive water use during a drought emergency. The SEJ’s Award’s for Reporting on the Environment is the world’s largest awards for journalism on environmental topics.

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