This year, for the first time, the AquaHacking Challenge has come to western Canada, focused on the transboundary waters of the Okanagan basin.
The AquaHacking Challenge in British Columbia (BC) is co-hosted by the Okanagan Basin Water Board and Aqua Forum, a not-for-profit organization from Eastern Canada that has run the challenge in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region since 2015. AquaHacking is a contest for university students and young professionals, aimed at solving freshwater issues. Local water experts provided five pressing Okanagan water issues and invited participants to develop technology-based solutions to one of the issues.
Participants were asked to find solutions to contaminants in stormwater, reduce outdoor water use, provide potable water in indigenous communities, address flood damage and communicate flood risk, or prevent the spread of invasive mussels.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers moved an in-person semi-final on March 21 to an online event. Participants pitched their solutions to judges virtually and five teams were chosen to move forward. The final five teams will again pitch their ideas to expert judges online on June 25. Each team will win a cash prize: $20,000 for first place, $15,000 for second, $10,000 for third and $2,500 for fourth and fifth. With partner funding from research and training company Mitacs, teams are eligible to at least double prize amounts to $45,000, $30,000, $20,000 and $10,000, respectively. All five final teams also receive a spot in a business incubator with the goal of taking their solution from idea to market.
The five final teams selected for the BC AquaHacking Challenge 2020 are:
Team Atlantis (flood risk) - Solution: Interactive online platform makes flood risk information more accessible to the public, adaptable to changing climate scenarios and able to integrate public sourced information.
Team Ozero (invasive mussels) - Solution: A technology to decontaminate ballast water in sport boats to prevent the propagation of zebra and quagga mussels in freshwater.
Team Elite (stormwater contamination) - Solution: A gravity-based filtration system that removes oil, dust and petroleum contaminants from water.
Team Hydrodynamic Labs (stormwater contamination) - Solution: An engineered system that fits under existing storm drain basins to remove hydrocarbons, sediment and particulate matter from the point source.
Team Agriculture Decision Support (stormwater contamination) - Solution: A digital simulated platform that provides feedback to policymakers on the efficacy of farm incentives aimed at water conservation and nutrient management to protect water quality.
While the BC AquaHacking Challenge’s water issues were defined in the Okanagan, the solutions are not limited to any one region. Water from the Okanagan system crosses the border at Osoyoos Lake and is managed by the International Joint Commission’s (IJC) Osoyoos Lake Board of Control. The BC AquaHacking Challenge advisory committee was chaired by Anna Warwick Sears, Okanagan Basin Water Board director and a member of the Osoyoos board.
Improvements made to water quality and conservation in the Canadian Okanagan will mean cleaner, more abundant water crossing into Washington state in the U.S, joining the Columbia River and eventually flowing into the Pacific at Portland, Oregon. Besides direct effects to the Okanagan, these solutions can be used around the globe.
Two other AquaHacking challenges also are ramping up, to take the initiative from coast to coast.
A Lake Winnipeg challenge, hosted by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, will be announcing its final five teams during a virtual semi-final on June 11. An Atlantic Canada challenge, hosted by the Atlantic Water Network, plans the announcement of five finalist teams on June 18.
James Littley is the operations and grants manager for the Okanagan Basin Water Board and the project manager for the BC AquaHacking Challenge 2020.