Prize Competition Candidate Topics

Water Prize Competition Center image Many of these topics are candidates for large prize competitions, commonly referred to as grand challenges, which may have multi-million dollar prize purses, span several rounds of competition, and culminate in a side-by-side field or laboratory competition of the top-ranked contestants.

These topics are also suitable for small scale “crowd-sourcing” competitions that can generate new ideas, concepts, software, algorithms, and various small prototype devices. Many times, an online crowd-sourcing completion is also a good way to inform or set the stage for larger challenges.

This list was developed through broad Federal interagency consultation, which in many cases also incorporated input and considerations from stakeholders and non-federal entities. Some topics already have actions underway to design and administer competitions in collaboration with other Federal agencies.

Theme Areas

We are interested in new and improved technologies and better ways to solve problems in these areas:

Water Availability

Creating Useable Water Supplies through Water Treatment

  • Overcoming cost and energy barriers that are limiting the use of water treatment technologies (e.g. desalination) to increase useable water supplies in coastal and inland areas
  • Finding better ways to manage or reduce the waste stream, known as concentrate, produced by water treatment processes
  • Improving social acceptance of direct wastewater/graywater reuse
  • Optimizing water treatment processes through better detection or sensing of source water contaminants
  • Improving methods to treat and reuse agricultural drainage waters
  • Improving the detection and treatment of water contaminants of emerging concern

Water Supply Forecasting and Management

  • Forecasting the onset of flash-droughts or drought-busting floods
  • Automating the verification of weather and water data input feeds into hydrology forecasts
  • Automating the delineation of stream networks in hydrology models
  • Reducing open water evaporation
  • Developing visualizations to better communicate climate change projections
  • Assimilating remotely sensed data into hydrologic predictions

Environmental Compliance

Sediment Management

  • Improving methods to indirectly estimate reservoir sedimentation volume
  • Improving reservoir sediment dredging/management technologies or methods

Recovering/Protecting Threatened and Endangered Aquatic Species

  • New and improved methods to detect, track, and monitor threatened, endangered, and other fish species critical for sustaining healthy aquatic ecosystems
  • Improving the ability to monitor and produce adequate food sources for threatened, endangered, and critical fish species
  • Improving downstream fish passage at tall dams
  • Reducing the loss of threatened and endangered fish due to fish predation
  • Improving the ability to control water temperatures downstream of dams
  • Improving upstream fish passage at tall dams
  • Developing algorithms that can uniquely identify fish
  • Improving receivers for acoustic fish tag transmissions
  • Attracting and guiding fish to safe passage around dams and other barriers
  • Excluding non-native fish from native fish waters
  • Reducing the entrainment of fish larval on screens and intakes

Infrastructure Sustainability

Water Storage and Delivery Infrastructure

  • Detecting internal erosion in earthen dam, canal, and levee embankments
  • Preventing rodent burrows in canals and levees
  • New and improved methods to provide long-term corrosion protection for steel
  • Improving methods to assess the condition of fiber reinforced polymer composites
  • Finding new, affordable in-situ methods to reduce the potential for soils to liquefy during earthquakes
  • Detecting water leaks in pipelines
  • Improving methods to detect and manage seepage losses in water delivery canals
  • Healing and preventing internal erosion
  • Improving the site-specific characterization of potential earthquake loadings and structure responses
  • Improving internal-calibrating systems for long term self-potential surveys and monitoring
  • Improving and lowering the cost of repairs using 3D scanning and printing to manufacture parts
  • Minimizing sediment abrasion in pipes and conduits
  • Preventing debris form clogging water intakes and diversions

Hydropower Infrastructure

  • Supplying continuous power to low power electronics mounted on a rotating shaft
  • Improving test methods for instrument transformers within electrical utilities
  • Developing algorithms to monitor the condition of hydropower generation units
  • Repairing transformer leaks without removing oil
  • Improving fire protection for transformers

Cross-Cutting Topics (benefit all subject areas)

Creating Useable Water Supplies through Water Treatment

  • Developing a universal mobile application to support the collection of scientific and engineering field data
  • Developing better method to manage and serve large amounts of data across disciplines, offices, and with the public

Want to suggest a topic? Send an email to

Last Updated: 3/29/17