Project VITAL will engage journalism students in the exploration of a significant environmental issue.  It is a fact of life that North America’s near 500 million people must have clean, safe drinking water. But how will North America accomplish the task of providing Life’s Essential Liquid for its citizens? The answer to this question will be multivariate and complex, with issues around water use and preservation being different in the geographical climes of each of VITAL partners. Further, the future of water is tied to the overarching issue of global warming. Separating the two issues may not be possible or even practical in some instances, and therefore the partners may choose to link both at the same time in designing a forum or symposium, while students may propose to connect the issues for their individual projects.

Even a cursory exploration of the topic suggests that Canada, The United States and Mexico have major issues to resolve around the availability and management of water supplies across the continent. Current and future issues include:

  • The sale of water across borders.
  • The sharing of water by neighboring countries. 
  • Water purification efforts.
  • Treatment of waste-water.
  • Use of water by various industries, including mining, agriculture, and oil and gas. 
  • Regeneration of essential water supplies, as in the case of Lago Chapala en Jalisco, Mexico. 

And associated questions are: 

  • Who will control the continent’s water supply?
  • How will North American’s establish water use priorities?
  • Can we establish continent wide conservation plans? 
  • Will we have enough water for everyone who needs it? 

More recently issues around water supply are being reexamined as well in the context of global warming, which is clearly the single most significant environmental issue at hand today. Global warming trends, which have now been linked to human activity by a range of organizations including the United Nations, will impact on quality and availability of potable water in a number of ways: 

Melting glaciers could reduce quality of water to communities and industry.

  • Glacier fed rivers could dry up completely.
  • Earlier snowmelts could change growing seasons.
  • Aquifers could see reduced volume and flow as a result of changing rainfall patterns. 
  • In land lakes could shrink, while coastal areas could be more prone to flooding.

VITAL will feature student projects specific to the topic area, student exchanges, a series of partner developed forums on the topic, and the creation of a website to share information and publish student work. 

The media plays a crucial role in the dissemination of information to the public. This task is becoming increasingly more complex with the proliferation of information sources on the Internet, many thousands of which are misleading or inaccurate. Journalism students of today will become the reporters and editors of the future, which will undoubtedly be a future where news on the environment could become the dominant domestic issue on our continent. 

VITAL will help prepare the students at the partner institutions by providing them with some insight into the issues, as well as contacts in the scientific community, and the vocabulary required to understand what can be complex material. VITAL will also connect our students to the same issue in each country underscoring the fact that while each is unique and sovereign, Canada, the United States and Mexico also share a continental burden in resolving serious questions about environment.