In summary

The foundation says Becker was selected for “outstanding work that illuminates complicated water issues in California and the west.”

CalMatters reporter Rachel Becker is the first recipient of the Rita Schmidt Sudman Award for Excellence in Water Journalism from the Water Education Foundation.

The award was announced by Water Foundation Executive Director Jenn Bowles and named for her predecessor, Sudman, a former radio and TV reporter who led the Foundation for nearly 35 years.

“We’ve been following Rachel’s coverage of water issues for some time now as they often end up in our weekday newsfeed,” Bowles said. “Her reporting has been thorough. It’s no surprise that she has been honored for her reporting before.”

The foundation’s award message notes Rachel’s coverage of water including microplastics testing in drinking water, persistent drought in California and the Colorado River, cutbacks in water deliveries, disputes surrounding ocean desalination and other water resource issues.

“Water in California has always been a complex topic with a variety of stakeholders, big-dollar projects and, lately, the severe impact of climate change,” says CalMatters Editor and Co-Founder David Lesher.  “Rachel has done a remarkable job explaining the challenges facing the state and how the big decisions are being made.”

Rachel joined CalMatters in May 2019 and has been covering water for two years. In 2021, she won first place for Outstanding Beat Reporting from the Society of Environmental Journalists.

Among her extensive water reporting, Rachel’s work includes:

  • A project exploring what’s improved and what’s worsened since California’s last drought.
  • A standoff over the shutdown of ranchers’ pumps that signals a flareup in California’s water wars.
  • A story on Sacramento Valley growers who are suffering for the first time during a record-breaking drought after being protected for decades by water rights.
  • An examination of the impacts of California’s depleted groundwater as there are few protections in place and a new law gives local agencies at least 26 years, until 2040, to stop the impacts of over-pumping.

Rachel is a reporter with a background in scientific research.  After studying the links between the brain and the immune system, Rachel left the lab bench with her master’s degree to become a journalist via the MIT Graduate Program in Science Writing.

For nearly three years, Rachel was a staff science reporter at The Verge, where she wrote stories and hosted videos covering a range of beats including climate change, nicotine, and nuclear technology.

Her byline has also appeared in NOVA Next, National Geographic News, Smithsonian, Slate, Nature, Nature Medicine, bioGraphic, and Hakai Magazine, as well as the PBS Digital Studios video series Gross Science and the YouTube show MinuteEarth.

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Sonya builds bridges between the community and CalMatters as director of membership and engagement. Previously she managed engagement, fundraising, marketing, digital storytelling and UX at Voice of OC,...