March 9, 2018
Prize competitions are a unique tool for accelerating research to address elusive mission and operational challenges through the private sector and "citizen solvers." By tapping into a wealth of knowledge through online crowdsourcing techniques, prize competitions help Federal agencies advance research and development and drive innovation. Similar to the traditional science and technology research program, Reclamation categorizes its prize competition research needs into three, mission-centric theme areas: Water Availability, Infrastructure Sustainability, and Environmental Compliance.
To date, Reclamation has completed 10 competitions, received more than 350 solutions, and identified and awarded approximately 50 winning solutions. Some key results include:
- The Preventing Rodent Burrows in Earthen Embankments competition resulted in five winning ideas that use a wide variety of techniques to limit rodents from burrowing into canals, levees and earthen dam embankments, which is one of the main causes of embankment instability and potential structural failures.
- A prize competition for Detecting Soil Movements within Earthen Dams, Canals, and Levees awarded five solvers for solutions using everything from robotic flow meters, magnetometry, phased-array, and shear-wave seismic technologies to improve detection of soil movement and help prevent the loss of life, property and interruption of the service the infrastructure provides.
- Reclamation identified six winners in the More Water, Less Concentrate - Stage 1 competition. Solutions have the potential to expand usable water supplies by maximizing fresh water production from inland desalination systems in a cost effective and environmentally sound manner.
- A competition on Quantifying Drift Invertebrates for Fish Species had five winning solutions. One idea manipulates medical imaging technology in a way that may lead to breakthroughs in quantifying drift invertebrates, a metric of ecological health in river and estuary systems.
Reclamation is further investigating priority ideas and concepts obtained through completed prize competitions through traditional research and demonstration projects as well as next stage, "Grand" reduction-to-practice competitions. It is also completing or initiating many new competitions, including:
- Sub-Seasonal Climate Forecast Rodeo, a year-long, real-time forecasting competition which will culminate in May and has significant potential to improve how United States western precipitation and temperature is forecasted.
- Eradication of Mussels in Open Water – Stage 1 seeks innovative solutions to eradicate invasive zebra and quagga mussels, which impact water delivery infrastructure, ecosystem health, and recreation, from large reservoirs, lakes, and rivers in a cost effective and environmentally sound manner.
- Detecting Leaks and Flaws in Water Pipelines – Stage 1 seeks more cost-effective methods and technologies to detect leaks and flaws in large buried pipelines to conserve water and reduce maintenance costs.
- Pathogens Sensing – Stage 1 intends to find ways to more rapidly and continuously detect pathogens in treated waste water to increase acceptance of direct-to-potable waste water use.
Prize competitions generate a wealth of technical ideas and theoretical concepts in a quick and relatively low-cost manner for complex and tough-to-solve research issues. The benefit to Reclamation from completed prize competitions is estimated to be between $15,000 and $30,000 per conceptual solution received. Reclamation estimates the total value of solutions obtained from prize competitions to date as $7.2 million. The value of prize competitions will continue to increase as the results progress from conceptual ideas to tangible new technologies.
Prizes also have non-monetary benefits of prize competitions including synergy of ideas between experts from various disciplines and organizations, improved identification of the mission or operational research need, and improved understanding of readily available technologies and other research efforts. Collaborating with our stakeholders on these initiatives is a high priority and we welcome new partners.
To learn more see Reclamation's Water Competition Center at: https://www.usbr.gov/research/challenges.
Reclamation Science Advisor