Reservoirs are bodies of stored fresh water that typically form behind dams. They are a critical water source, supplying farms with irrigation and providing potable water to people and homes. Increasingly, they are also an important component of outdoor, water-based recreation.
As rivers flow, they naturally carry along sediment (clay, silt, sand, and gravel). When rivers are dammed, sediments are deposited in the reservoirs that form behind dams. Sand and gravel deposit at the upstream end of reservoirs and form deltas that also extend upstream beyond the full reservoir pool. Clay and silt deposit farther downstream along the reservoir bottom and all the way to the dam. Over time, these sediment deposits build-up to the point where they significantly reduce a reservoir’s storage capacity and may prevent the proper function of dam outlets and reservoir water intakes. Without intervention, reservoirs eventually become filled with deposits, which means water is no longer being stored for future use.
The Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) is the nation’s largest wholesale water supplier. They operate over 330 reservoirs that store 140 million acre-feet of water. For reference, an acre-foot is 325, 851 gallons - which is enough to supply a family of four for one year.
Reclamation, in collaboration with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), is sponsoring this three-phase Guardians of the Reservoir Challenge. The goal of this challenge is to develop and demonstrate new processes and technologies that will collect and transport sediment from reservoirs at a rate that sustains their current capacity. Reclamation’s primary interest is in technology that will move sediment downstream at the average annual rate at which it would otherwise accumulate, but approaches that can help in regaining lost reservoir capacity are of interest if they can do so in addition to meeting environmental and other performance criteria.
The authors of the most compelling submissions to this Guardians of the Reservoir Challenge will have the opportunity to develop and demonstrate their technologies at increasing scales for the Challenge sponsors. In addition to prize money, winners may receive review comments and/or observations from their technology demonstrations and may have additional opportunities to work with Reclamation, USACE, or their partners to further develop their approaches.
This Guardians of the Reservoir Challenge is part of a larger sustainability effort to maintain our nation’s reservoirs. These reservoirs and dams are all part of an important, but aging infrastructure. In addition to finding new ways of sustaining reservoir capacity, raising awareness about this problem is itself another objective of the challenge. It is hoped that developing new sediment removal strategies will jumpstart interest and activity in this area both within Reclamation, USACE, and within the larger water resource management community. Having a wide range of viable solutions will create interest among industrial partners to further develop and commercialize solutions. Additionally, new testing capabilities and methodologies will need to be developed to support those different solutions.
An earlier ideation challenge sponsored by Reclamation and USACE on this same topic provided many interesting ideas. This current challenge extends the effort of the previous one by offering development support and field testing opportunities to the most compelling ideas. It is open to everyone. Whether you are new to this topic, you missed the last challenge, or you have a new twist on an idea you submitted previously, this is a great opportunity. In the spirit of helping to set the community up for success, Reclamation is sharing some general thoughts to consider when putting together your ideas:
This Guardians of the Reservoir challenge seeks to do more than just identify and award good ideas. This challenge will identify the most promising of the submitted ideas, help to develop them, and hopefully enable full-scale demonstrations of them. The long-term objective is to connect promising technologies with industrial partners for further development and eventual commercialization. Successful commercial development of new sediment removal technologies will provide our nation with a suite of innovative and proven solutions to manage our reservoirs’ long term sedimentation problems for future generations.
Current approaches to managing reservoir sediment are variations of dredging, flushing, and sluicing. Dredging is essentially underwater excavation, in which sediment is collected and removed from the bottom of the reservoir. In mechanical dredging, buckets or clamshells dig and bring up sediment from the bottom. In hydraulic dredging, the sediment that is dug from the bottom is mixed with water to form a slurry that is then transported away. Dredging is expensive because of the large amounts of manpower, energy consumption, and equipment maintenance required. In the case of hydraulic dredging, the slurries of sand and gravel can be extremely abrasive. This means that the transport process is subject to regular downtimes for repair and preventative maintenance. Downtime for these types of operations is expensive since both personnel and equipment are idle during these periods.
Flushing is the process by which water in the reservoir is used to help transport previously deposited sediment downstream from the reservoir. This can be done in several different ways. In pressure flushing, the reservoir level is not lowered down while water is released through dam outlets. The pressure of the water overhead scours sediment in the vicinity of those outlets. In drawdown flushing, the water level is lowered down. This creates high velocities as the water moves across the reservoir, allowing the water to transport sediments through the dam's low-level outlets. While this method does not have all of the equipment issues and costs associated with dredging, flushing uses large amounts of precious freshwater that could otherwise be used to supply cities and towns, or for irrigation. This technique is not equally effective in all reservoirs, and flushing can have detrimental effects to ecosystems downstream.
Sluicing prevents inflowing sediments to the reservoir from depositing by lowering the reservoir water level prior to high flows that contribute large amounts of sediment. The inflowing sediments are transported through the reservoir with reduced deposition. Sluicing also reduces the amount of water stored within the reservoir.
The Resources tab contains additional information about reservoirs and sediment management. Some of the drawbacks to current methods for removing sediment from reservoirs include:
Ideal solutions to this challenge will be applicable to a wide range of sediment types and reservoir geometries. But solutions that specifically address a targeted issue, such as just sediment collection or transport, deeper reservoirs, more cohesive sediments, or very abrasive sediments are also of great interest. Regardless of whether the solution is broader or more narrowly focussed, successful solutions must be practical, scalable, and cost-effective. Reclamation and the USACE are interested in innovative approaches that may have additional capabilities over existing sediment removal solutions. For example, currently used methods do not perform well in deeper reservoirs (deeper than 50ft), and having new options for managing capacity at those deeper reservoirs would be of great interest. Additionally, many of the current approaches do not perform well in freezing weather conditions when ice is prevalent on the reservoir surface. This limits the window for sediment management work. Reclamation and USACE would also be interested in something that either operates continuously or can be permanently installed at a given reservoir. Finally, many of the currently used approaches are very energy-intensive and present large carbon footprints. New, more efficient, and more sustainable approaches are needed.
In addition to the desired performance specifications discussed above, there are other solution constraints. Reclamation and USACE reservoirs are an important part of outdoor recreation activities in the US. These outdoor recreation activities contribute billions of dollars to regional economies. Outdoor recreation opportunities include water-based activities such as boating, fishing, and swimming as well as camping, hiking, and photography. Any successful sediment removal solution must be able to coexist with these recreational activities, without limiting access to large areas of the reservoir or endangering visitors.
Environmental safety is also important. Proposed approaches should not release harmful materials into the water or the air and should not endanger wildlife in the vicinity where sediment management operations are in progress. Successful solutions will introduce the smallest possible environmental footprint - meaning that noise levels, water temperature fluctuations, equipment emissions, etc. are either minimal or are accompanied by some impact mitigation measures.
Everyone is invited to participate in Phase 1. The deadline to submit your responses is October 20, 2020. Reclamation and USACE are interested in novel approaches to collect and/or transport reservoir sediment that are more efficient, use less energy and/or less manpower, are more durable, and operate in a wider range of reservoirs than currently used methods. Regardless of the technical maturity of your approach, it must be something that can be successfully developed and demonstrated within the 15-month Phase 2 development window. In addition to providing a strong scientific rationale and any preliminary data for your proposed approach, submissions must also include a realistic project plan that clearly outlines the timeline and path that will enable your approach to be ready for the Phase 3 demonstration event.
Submissions that have passed a pre-screening step - which removes non-responsive and/or incomplete submissions - are reviewed by the Evaluation Panel. They will select up to 5 of the most compelling submissions as Phase 1 winners. Winners will be selected based on how submissions score against the evaluation criteria, see below. Each winner will receive $75,000 award money to support their development efforts.
The Phase 2 development period is approximately 15 months long, with a mid-point check-in during August 2021. Phase 1 winners will each receive $50,000 of their award money at the start of the development period and will be assigned a technical point of contact (POC) from Reclamation. It is anticipated that teams will be in regular contact with their POCs throughout the development period: advising the POC of changes to the project plan or of any unforeseen roadblocks, requesting time with an SME, asking for advice, informing the POC of important breakthroughs, etc. In addition to development funds won from Phase 1, Phase 2 teams will also have up to 40 hours of access to SMEs. The experts will be drawn from Reclamation and USACE, depending on the specific expertise required by a team. During the mid-point check-in, each team will review with Reclamation and USACE their progress relative to the project plan submitted in Phase 1. Additionally, they will present a video showing a lab-scale demonstration of the proposed technology, or progress towards such a demonstration. After successful completion of the check-in, teams will each receive the remaining $25,000 of the award money to aid in the continued development of their approach.
During this check-in, each team and Reclamation will mutually agree upon what a large scale demonstration at Phase 3 will look like. Depending on the specific technology being developed and the progress being made, the definition for large scale demonstrations may vary. For example, for a sediment collection approach, a Phase 3 demonstration might be collecting 500 cubic yards of silt and sand (size gradation will be specified) from water depths ranging from 20 to 50 feet and doing this for 6 hours per day over a time period of 3 days. The team would have to explain how their approach would work in deeper depth.
For a sediment transport approach, teams could be asked to demonstrate their approach by transporting sand or gravel (size gradation will be specified) at a rate of 20 cubic yards per hour, a horizontal distance of at least 500 feet, over a hill rising and falling at least 25ft and doing this for 6 hours per day over a time period of 3 days. Abrasion could be tested at an accelerated rate.
At the end of the Phase 2 period, each team will submit a report that contains a summary of the development efforts, supporting data, and detailed descriptions of improvements and changes made since the mid-point check-in, including any additional videos. The Evaluation Panel will review the reports and evaluate the teams for performance relative to both their project plan and the challenge’s stated performance criteria. Up to 3 of the top-performing teams will advance to Phase 3 and will each receive an additional $25,000 to support travel and associated costs with participation in the Phase 3 large scale demonstration.
Soon after the Phase 2 winners announcement, the specific locations and dates of the large scale demonstrations will be shared with each winning team. These demonstrations will occur during the Phase 3 demonstration period, which is approximately 9 weeks long. During this time, teams may continue to refine their technologies until the specific demonstration itself, but they will be required to provide a written report that documents any improvements made since the submission of the Phase 2 report. The Evaluation panel, and possibly additional personnel from Reclamation and USACE, will attend each demonstration.
At the conclusion of the demonstration period, a final event will be held. Each team will present an overview of their work over the course of the challenge. This event will provide an opportunity for teams to interact with one another, with various personnel from Reclamation and USACE, and with potential commercial partners invited to the event.
At the end of the Phase 3 networking event, the Evaluation Panel will select and announce the final winner of the Guardians of the Reservoir Challenge. The selection will be made based on the winning technology’s performance relative to the challenge’s stated performance criteria, and may also be swayed by input from experts attending the event relating to issues such as: long-term costs, durability, prospects for commercialization, etc. The final winner will receive a $100,000 cash award.
Although it is difficult to set targets in advance of receiving proposals from the community, Reclamation and USACE hope to facilitate the development of promising technologies to levels well beyond laboratory-scale. The performance targets described below are intended to help the community understand Reclamation’s and USACE’s goals for this challenge. Should a team be unable to meet the target, they may yet be considered successful by the Evaluation Panel - depending on individual situations and contributing factors. Actual performance targets will be set individually with each team during their Phase 2 check-ins.
For sediment collection, teams could be asked to demonstrate their approach by collecting 500 cubic yards of silt and sand (size gradation will be specified) from water depths ranging from 20 to 50 feet and doing this for 6 hours per day over a time period of 3 days. The team would have to explain how their approach would work in deeper depth.
For sediment transport, teams could be asked to demonstrate their approach by transporting sand or gravel (size gradation will be specified) at a rate of 20 cubic yards per hour, a horizontal distance of at least 500 feet, over a hill rising and falling at least 25ft and doing this for 6 hours per day over a time period of 3 days. Abrasion could be tested at an accelerated rate.
To be evaluated by the evaluation panel, the proposed solutions will minimally:
Submissions that have passed the pre-screening process will be evaluated by the evaluation panel, using the Judging Criteria listed below.
|Proposal Quality||Is the submission complete and responsive? Is the writing clear, concise, and compelling? Are the ideas and information presented thoughtfully and in an easy follow manner?||5|
|Soundness of Proposed Approach||Is the proposed idea technically sound? Is it likely to be practical and scalable when fully developed? Are there any issues with efficiency, durability, or operational constraints? How is the proposed approach an improvement over current methods? Is it environmentally friendly and sustainable?||15|
|Potential for the proposed approach to be developed, demonstrated and validated||What is the technical maturity of the proposed approach? Is the proposed approach likely to be validated with a successful lab demonstration within the timeframe of this challenge?||20|
|Cost||Are the proposed costs competitive with or better than those associated with current methods? Are there additional capabilities offered by the proposed approach that would affect the calculation of the cost proposition? Are the assumptions used for the cost estimation realistic?||20|
|Commercial potential||If the proposed approach were successfully demonstrated in the lab and/or at the Phase 3 demonstration event, what is the likelihood that an industrial partner would fund it for further development and eventual commercialization?||10|
|Project plan||Is the submitted project plan realistic, clear, and indicative of a good understanding of the major hurdles that must be overcome for successful prototype development. Does the project plan clearly outline the activities and milestones that must occur in order to successfully demonstrate the proposed approach at the correct scale by the Phase 3 demonstration? Are all environmental impacts identified and addressed with mitigation measures?||15|
|Team||Does the team contain the necessary skills and expertise required to execute the project plan. Does the team have adequate access to resources and other experts, as needed?||10|
|Novelty||How novel and innovative is the proposed approach? Does it represent a completely new approach? Does it use existing technology in a new or unusual way (that offers unexpected benefits or cost savings)? Does this represent an incremental improvement or a significant one?||5|
Note that your submission should be complete and judgeable without the additional content in any supporting files.
|New Capabilities||Does it offer new capabilities that are currently not available?|
|Reservoir capacity||If widely deployed, does it offer the potential to maintain or even improve on current reservoir capacities?|
|Breadth of applicability||Can it be used in all, many, or just some reservoir settings?|
|Cost||Is it likely to lower the overall cost/yd3 for sediment removal?|
|Safety and Environmental Issues|
Is it safe and environmentally friendly? For example:
|Process efficiency||Improved efficiency by reduced downtown, reduced manpower, reduced maintenance, reduced energy requirements, etc|
The Guardians of the Reservoir Challenge is open to individuals, age 18 or older. Individual competitors and teams may originate from any country, as long as United States federal sanctions do not prohibit participation (see: https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/Programs/Pages/Programs.aspx).
The following restrictions apply to the Challenge:(1) Federal employees acting within the scope of their employment are not eligible to participate; (2) Federal employees acting outside the scope of their employment should consult their ethics advisor before participating in the Challenge; (3) All employees of the Government, [contractor(s)], Challenge sponsors, and other individual or entity associated with the development or administration of the Challenge, as well as their family members (i.e., spouse, children, parents, siblings, other dependents) and persons living in the same household whether or not related, are not eligible to participate; (4) Contractors receiving Government funding for the same or similar projects, along with their employees, are not eligible to participate in the Challenge.
Submissions must be made in English. All challenge-related communication will be in English.
To be eligible to compete, you must comply with all the terms of the challenge as defined in the Challenge-Specific Agreement, which will be made available upon registration.
Registration and Submissions:
Submissions must be made online (only), via upload to the HeroX.com website, on or before the submission deadline. All uploads must be in PDF format. No late submissions will be accepted.
Intellectual Property Rights:
Title in all intellectual property rights, if any, developed by Innovator as part of the Submission will remain with the Innovator. Please read the full details in the Challenge Specific Agreement here (updated 8/25/2020).