Environment

Vanessa's environmental coverage has earned honors for exposing gaps in oversight for endangered water sources, diminishing farmland and lead contamination within schools.

ON THE FARM: Father, son represent different faces of decline in Stafford farmland

U.S. Department of Agriculture data and local real estate records served as the backbone to this story analyzing the causes of the rapidly diminishing farmland in Stafford County and across the nation. It chronicled the story of the Greenlaws, a family straddling the farming and real estate worlds within Stafford County. This story was part of the "On the Farm" series that won first place at the Virginia Press Association, Virginia Farm Bureau's top award and Society of Professional Journalists Dateline Award.

Water woes lead to questions of oversight, concerns over water supply

On Mount Olive Road in central Stafford County, the Pincumbes are known as the family with five wells. Expert voices combined with state water reports, well inspector reports and an analysis of nationwide databases on groundwater well networks revealed flaws in the oversight of water sources and why the Pincumbes problems may be a symptom of an ever-growing problem in Stafford and across the US.

Midlothian High water fountain had 27 times more lead than safety limit, testing shows

Every day for the past three years, Helen Trout has filled up her 17-ounce water bottle at a fountain near the cafeteria at Midlothian High School. Then earlier this year, that water fountain in the small commons area stopped flowing. Analyzing water testing reports along with researching health regulations and the history of lead contamination revealed that hundreds of students could be drinking out of unsafe water fountains in part due to lagging regulations that school officials hoped state lawmakers would tighten. Using Excel and other programs, Vanessa created a graphic that mapped the lead levels for local schools.

She thought foiled Chesterfield megasite plans meant her home would be spared. But a freeway may still come through her house.

More than 30 years have passed since Larry “Sleepy” Belcher returned from a Chesterfield County Planning Commission meeting to deliver the news to his friends: The county wanted to build a freeway in this part of southern Chesterfield, and it would likely take their house on Happy Hill Road. But they shouldn’t worry, Johnnie Humphrey remembers Belcher telling her and her husband, Earl. “‘The county won’t have enough money for it while we are still alive,’” Humphrey recalled Belcher, a planning commissioner at the time, saying. His prediction wasn’t entirely correct.

This series highlighted the importance of protecting America's remaining farmland. A must-read for citizens and lawmakers across the nation.

Virginia Press Association judge on the first place award for the "On the Farm" series