NASA Tournament Lab


Veg Out - Managing Aquatic Vegetation in Canals

Get to the root of the problem! Design and build solutions for managing canal aquatic vegetation for a share of $345,000 in prizes.

This challenge is closed


This challenge is closed

Meet The Phase 1 Winners


For more than 100 years, the Bureau of Reclamation has brought water to arid lands to support agriculture and economic development. Today, Reclamation’s 8,000 miles of canals deliver water across the Western United States, serving over 30 million customers and 10 million acres of farmland that produce 60% of the nation's vegetables and 25% of its fruits and nuts.

These canals are impacted by aquatic vegetation that can obstruct water flow, degrade water quality, and limit access for canal inspection and maintenance. More extreme growth can increase operating elevations and risk of canal failure.

Existing methods for managing vegetation (primarily mechanical and chemical) have various drawbacks. Mechanical methods are costly, labor intensive, can disrupt embankments, and create debris and sedimentation issues. Chemical options are limited for aquatic environments and while less labor intensive than mechanical methods they can also be costly, present safety risks and undesirable downstream effects.

The Veg Out Challenge aims to reduce the cost and labor of aquatic vegetation management in canals while minimizing undesirable impacts to water quality or downstream users. The challenge seeks to identify, develop, and test novel, sustainable, scalable solutions that can be used across a range of canal types. A total prize purse of $345,000 will be distributed across the three phases of concept, prototyping, and demonstration. Click on the Guidelines tab to learn more now.



In the western United States, canals are the primary method for transporting water long distances. Canals come in various forms (e.g., lined/unlined, and various shapes, sizes, and capacities) and keeping plants from growing in the canals is a constant effort. Management of aquatic vegetation is necessary because plant growth obstructs canal flow which lowers canal capacities and increases operating elevations and embankment pressure, and can also impact water quality. Options for management of vegetation in canals are limited, and can be expensive, dangerous, damaging to the canal substrate, and have unintended downstream effects.

Aquatic vegetation varies widely in US canals. For management purposes it is useful to categorize them by habitat type, such as rooted floating (e.g., waterlily, watershield), emergent (e.g., water primrose, purple loosestrife), free floating (e.g., water hyacinth, giant salvinia), and submersed (e.g., Eurasian watermilfoil, hydrilla).   Impacts of aquatic vegetation to canal flows also vary by growth rate and density, which will depend on characteristics of the species present and local environmental conditions. This challenge focuses on rooted vegetation, which includes all habitat types excluding free floating; emergent habitats only include those along the immediate margins/embankments of a canal.

Image 1: various examples of aquatic vegetation including rooted floating, emergent, free floating, and submersed. Source: Classification of different types of aquatic plant species illustration courtesy of: 

Image 2: Floating aquatic vegetation (middle area of photo - water hyacinth); taller vegetation (foreground and background - emergent-rooted (cattail)) 


Management of aquatic vegetation in canals can be approached in several ways and is typically most effective when a combination of methods are used. However, canal operational conditions and regulatory restrictions often limit methods to mechanical or chemical means.  Mechanical vegetation management in canals currently includes dredging, chaining, raking, and cutting. While mechanical methods produce immediate results, it is labor intensive, does not prevent regrowth, and can cause large amounts of debris to be sent downstream, clogging intakes and potentially creating new infestations. Current mechanical methods may also be hindered by large obstacles in the canal such as concrete, rebar, or other trash.

Common chemicals currently used in canals for vegetation management include:  Acrolein, Endothall, Copper, and Glyphosate. Chemical options can be very effective for vegetation management in some situations. However, in many instances – particularly for irrigation canals - it is not a viable method due to high exposure times necessary or regulatory restrictions.  Chemical management is also temporary and must be conducted on a regular basis which can be highly cost intensive, and can potentially present hazards to users or cause detrimental downstream effects (e.g., fish kill). Chemical options are also subject to local, state, or federal regulations and must be registered with the EPA.

Additional methods of management include biological (i.e., use of a host-specific organism that predates or parasitizes the target plant) and cultural (i.e., changing the canal conditions to make them less suitable for plant growth). These methods can take a long time to establish, be cost prohibitive, and/or do not achieve the level of vegetation management necessary for canal operations.

The Breakthrough

Reclamation, this challenge’s sponsor, is using this prize competition to leverage the crowd for the discovery of innovative methods or approaches to managing rooted (or attached) vegetation in canals. Over the coming weeks, Reclamation is requesting concepts to be submitted that can be prototyped and ultimately tested. 

Reclamation is looking for innovative solutions, meaning they are novel or potentially use existing solutions in innovative ways. Solutions should demonstrate that they meet the following performance parameters:

  1. Effectively manage multiple species of rooted aquatic vegetation (macrophytes): with a target of approximately 70% reduction in biomass as compared to existing conditions, including solutions that would kill or remove plants, prevent establishment, or inhibit growth.
  2. Not cause harm or reduce production of agricultural plants. 
  3. Avoid causing additional harm to non-target organisms or having detrimental environmental impacts.
  4. Not physically alter or damage the canal.
  5. Not restrict or impede operations in the canal.
  6. Can be implemented on a large scale (i.e., other canals with varying flow rates and canal lengths/widths) under different operational conditions.  
  7. At least as cost-effective as existing methods (including cost of purchase, application time, and number of applications).
  8. Not require on-site manufacturer support, excessive training, or several non-technical staff to complete the treatment.
  9. Comply with all current federal and state regulations concerning water quality, native organisms, and fisheries.

Solutions for the following scenarios, vegetation, or specifications are not a target of this challenge and will not be considered:

  1. Solutions intended only for the control of algae will not be accepted.
  2. Solutions purely related to removal of floating biomass will not be accepted.
  3. Biomass removal solutions will be accepted only if they target actively growing rooted vegetation within a canal.
  4. Solutions that are exclusively related to monitoring of vegetation species and growth for the purpose of enhancing control targeting (temporal/spatial) will not be accepted.
  5. Novel chemistries or biological control agent solutions will not be accepted.
  6. Unique approaches to use of existing herbicides or biological control that are approved for use in flowing water are acceptable.

Challenge Structure and Timeline

The challenge will be conducted in three phases between October 2022 and October 2024 and evolve from concept to prototype to proof-of-concept. Through the three phases, solver interaction with Reclamation will increase. Solvers will be offered feedback support during later phases. The ultimate winner will have a chance to field-test their solution with Reclamation.

Concept Phase (October 2022 – January 2023)

In this phase, solvers submit a concept paper (requirements described below), defining their solution, the rooted vegetation their solution targets, the potential impact, plans for development and testing, and the canal/environment in which it performs optimally. Submissions consist of an up to 10-page concept paper and will be scored against the judging criteria described below. Concepts demonstrating the highest potential for successful development and testing (up to three) will be awarded a prize of $50,000 each and be eligible to compete in the Prototyping phase. Up to two additional prizes of $5,000 each will be awarded as runners-up or for the most innovative solutions submitted. Solvers awarded Runner-up/Innovation awards, while not receiving the same prize amounts as the top-selected solutions, will be eligible to compete in the Prototyping Phase utilizing their own resources and expertise, if they choose.

In the Concept Phase, your submission of a concept paper will demonstrate how your concept will meet the performance parameters detailed above. From the concept, the evaluation panel will be able to envision the solution's ability to remove or prevent vegetation growth in canals and its potential viability in later phases of the competition.

Prototyping Phase (March 2023 – January 2024)

In the Prototyping phase, winning solvers from the Concept phase will develop and small-scale test their solutions over a nine-month period. Throughout the Prototyping Phase, Reclamation will provide light technical support, in the form of review, question and answer, and access to subject matter experts, to the top three Concept winning teams. This light technical support will be facilitated through HeroX.  Solvers should document their progress throughout the Prototyping Phase. In early 2024, solvers will submit a video presentation and status report. The status report will update and expand on items presented in their original concept paper, as well as provide details on where and how their solution could be tested in the subsequent phase. Following the review of these submissions, Reclamation will convene a panel to interview the solvers in a live, virtual session to ask additional questions. Up to three winning solvers, based on panel review and evaluation against the Prototyping phase judging criteria, will be awarded a prize of up to $25,000 and eligible to compete in the Proof-of-Concept Demonstration phase.

Proof-of-Concept Demonstration Phase (February – October 2024)

Culminating in demonstrations of solvers’ proofs-of-concept, this phase consists of a recorded and live exhibit of solutions that demonstrates the solution functionality and collects data that support its ability to safely remove rooted aquatic vegetation, with evidence also provided on how the solution will run concurrent with canal operations, the number of personnel needed to operate at-scale, how it will operate in remote locations, and how it will not significantly alter water quality, create environmental harm, or damage the canal.

Heading into the Proof-of-Concept Phase, solvers will provide Reclamation information on their proposed testing location and the likely time for testing within the Phase. Reclamation understands that peak seasons for vegetation growth vary on many aspects and that testing will need to occur when appropriate for the vegetation, the solution, and the solver. While ideal if tested in a canal, this could be a lab or controlled environment – as long as in testing, it is able to demonstrate the solution's ability to manage vegetation and the solution’s potential to produce data that demonstrate the solution’s efficacy, safety, and scalability in a canal environment. Live testing will be performed by the solver with evaluation panel members online and recorded by the solver for submission as a video no later than August 29, 2024. Solvers can also submit an updated status report to include data and adjustments to their Prototyping report.

Evaluations of submissions provided in this phase will determine first-place and runner-up winners. The first-place winner will be awarded $75,000 and the opportunity to work with Reclamation to field-test their solution in a canal and obtain the data generated in the process. The runner-up winner will receive a $35,000 prize.


Challenge launch                           October 12, 2022

Phase 1 submission deadline      January 11, 2023 (13 weeks)    

Phase 1 evaluation period            Jan 11, 2023 - Mar 1, 2023 (7 weeks)

Phase 1 winners announced        March 8, 2023

Phase 2 submission deadline     January 17, 2024 (44 weeks)    

Phase 2 evaluation period           January 17 - Feb 14, 2024 (4 weeks)

Phase 3 submission deadline     August 29, 2024 (28 weeks)

Phase 3 evaluation period           August 30 - Oct 9, 2024 (6 weeks)

Winners announced                      October 16, 2024

Challenge closeout                        October 25, 2024    

Submission Requirements

1. Abstract*Provide an executive summary of your idea and its underlying rationale.

Text (multiple lines)

1000 char max

2. Describe the solution*Tell us about your innovative solution and intervention. Tell us in detail what you intend to develop. If your solution is building upon a current solution, discuss the innovation of your idea. Feel free to include images/diagrams (paste directly in with text) to help describe the solution.

Text (multiple lines)                    

6000 char max

3. Performance*Review the performance parameters, laid out in the Breakthrough section above, and provide details on the solution’s ability (in development, testing, and execution) to meet the parameters.

Text (multiple lines)

3000 char max

4. Application / Implementation Strategy*Describe, in detail, how you will meet the requirements of the various challenge phases. Discuss how the solution will be used and applied, including  cost effectiveness against similar solutions, staff, labor hours, and required equipment. Describe any innovations in the implementation or application methods.

Text (multiple lines)

3000 char max

5. Ideal environment*Describe the canal environment in which your solution would perform best. Consider varying canal types, regions, other vegetation, etc. Consider the limitations that certain environments may introduce and present any potential limitations.

Text (multiple lines)

2500 char max

6. Treatment Timing*Given the seasonal variation and dependency in rooted vegetation management in canals, discuss the ideal timing for implementing your solution.

Text (multiple lines)

1000 char max

7. Development and Testing* 
Describe how you intend to develop your solution through the phases of this challenge. Describe your testing plans. Describe how you will collect data and measure your progress, and how data will influence later iterations of the solution.

Text (multiple lines) 

4500 char max

8. Team and Relevant Experience*Describe the team that will develop, implement, and apply the innovation. Describe the capabilities and experience of the team and its members.

Text (multiple lines)

3000 char max

9. Technical documentationOptional space for including technical documentation, including lab data,  case studies, images, schematics, or renderings. Past work on which solution is based must be referenced, and any novel contributions.

Document (PDF, Word, Excel, Image (png, jpg)

6000 char max (up to 2 pages)


Phase 1: Concept
Advance to Phase 2Up to three winners  $50,000 each


Innovation Winners (honorable mentions)Up to two winners$5,000 each   $10,000  
Phase 2: Prototyping
Advance to phase 3Up to three winners$25,000 each


Phase 3: Proof-of-Concept Demonstration
First PlaceOne winner$75,000 and field testing with  Reclamation


Runner-UpOne winner$35,000


Total Prize Purse: $345,000

Judging Criteria

Section DescriptionOverall Weight
Feasibility and Impact
  • How effectively does the solution seem to be able to manage multiple species of rooted aquatic vegetation? How high is the target reduction percentage of the solution (challenge target is 70%)?
  • How easy to implement and maintain does the solution appear to be? How likely is the solution to require minimal training and be implemented and executed with non-technical staff? 
  • How likely is the team to be able to implement and test based on their plan and experience?
Protection of the irrigation system
  • How likely is the solution to:
    • Not physically alter or damage the canal
    • Not restrict or impede operations in the canal
Protection of the environment
  • How likely is the solution to:
    • Not cause harm or reduce production of agricultural plants
    • Avoid causing additional harm to non-target organisms or having detrimental environmental impacts
  • Does the solution appear to comply with all current federal and state regulations concerning water quality, native organisms, and fisheries?
  • How likely is the solution to be successfully implemented on a large scale (i.e., other canals with varying flow rates and canal lengths/widths) under different operational conditions?
  • How cost-effective does the solution appear to be, as compared to existing methods (including cost of purchase, application time, and number of applications)?
  • How novel is the concept?
  • How creatively has the solver applied something existing in a novel way?
  • How much have they improved the ability to manage the cost effectiveness, scalability, or safety in managing rooted aquatic vegetation?


Participation Eligibility: 

Please review the Challenge-Specific Agreement for complete eligibility terms.

The Prize is open to anyone age 18 or older participating as an individual or as a team. Individual competitors and teams may originate from any country, as long as United States federal sanctions do not prohibit participation (see:  

If you are a Federal employee, a Government contractor, or employed by a Government Contractor, your participation in this challenge may be restricted or prohibited. 

Submissions must originate from either the U.S. or a designated country (see definition of designated country at, OR have been substantially transformed in the US or designated country prior to prototype delivery pursuant to FAR 25.403(c).  

Submissions must be made in English. All challenge-related communication will be in English. 

You are required to ensure that all releases or transfers of technical data to non-US persons comply with International Traffic in Arms Regulation (ITAR), 22 C.F.R. §§ 120.1 to 130.17. 

No specific qualifications or expertise in the field of engineering is required. Individuals and non-expert teams are encouraged to compete and propose new solutions. 

To be eligible to compete, you must comply with all the terms of the challenge as defined in the Challenge-Specific Agreement. 

Intellectual Property 

Innovators who are awarded a prize for their submission must agree to grant the United States Government  a royalty-free, non-exclusive, irrevocable, worldwide license in all Intellectual Property demonstrated by the winning/awarded submissions. See the Challenge-Specific Agreement for complete details. 

You will be required to complete an additional form to document this license if you are selected as a winner. 

Registration and Submissions: 

Submissions must be made online (only), via upload to the website, on or before January 11, 2023 at 5pm ET. No late submissions will be accepted. 

Selection of Winners: 

Based on the winning criteria, prizes will be awarded per the weighted Judging Criteria section above and subject matter expert evaluation.  All winner selections are final and my not be contested. 

Judging Panel: 

The determination of the winners will be made by HeroX based on evaluation by a team of relevant subject matter experts. 

Additional Information 

  • By participating in the challenge, each competitor agrees to submit only their original idea. Any indication of "copying" amongst competitors is grounds for disqualification. 
  • All applications will go through a process of due diligence; any application found to be misrepresentative, plagiarized, or sharing an idea that is not their own will be automatically disqualified. 
  • All ineligible applicants will be automatically removed from the competition with no recourse or reimbursement. 
  • No purchase or payment of any kind is necessary to enter or win the competition. 
  • Void wherever restricted or prohibited by law. 

Challenge Updates

Announcing the Veg Out - Phase 2 Challenge Winners

March 6, 2024, 8 a.m. PST by Shane Jenkins

The United States Bureau of Reclamation judging panel has selected the following winners to share in the $80,000 Prize Purse of the for Veg Out Challenge - Phase 2. 

The Phase 2 winners are:

Phase 2 Winners - $25,000 each

  • Packaged herbicides for more efficient control by Jan Beetge
  • AquaInject - “AI” - remote water management by Team Aqua Inject
  • Electric Macrophytes Management Solution by Shawn Kozak

Additionally, a fourth prize has just been added to the challenge to recognize the efforts of another talented team. While this team offered helpful contributions toward solving this complex problem, they will not be participating in Phase 3 of the Veg Out Challenge.

Phase 2 Honorable Mention - $5,000

For all of our Phase 2 winners, please keep an eye out for future communications from HeroX in order to coordinate your prize payouts and for further information about next steps.

Congratulations once again to our winners!

Announcing the Veg Out Challenge Phase 1 Winners

March 13, 2023, 8 a.m. PDT by Andrew Owsanski

The Bureau of Reclamation has selected the following phase 1 winners to share in the $160,000 prize pool for phase 1 of the Veg Out Challenge and move on to phase 2. The phase 1 winners are:

  • AquaInject, Where IoT Meets Vegetation Control, Trent Lewis
  • Electric Macrophytes Management Solution, Shawn Kozak
  • Packaged Herbicides for More Efficient Control, Jan Beetge


We would also like to recognize the following honorable mentions and commend them for their excellent innovative submissions:


In the next phase of the Veg Out Challenge, the phase 1 winning teams will move on to phase 2 - the Prototype phase. In the Prototyping phase, winning solvers from the Concept phase will develop and small-scale test their solutions over a nine-month period.


Congratulations once again to our phase 1 winners!

Thank You for your Submissions

Jan. 11, 2023, 2:30 p.m. PST by Lulu

Just like that, it’s over! Thank you to all of you who sent in submissions. We can’t wait to finally see what you’ve been working so hard on. 

Crowdsourcing would be nothing without the crowd — that’s you! Thank you for being an indispensable part of this process, and using your brainpower for the greater good.

Congratulations on completing your submission. This is not an easy process, and you deserve a pat on the back for your hard work and dedication. Thank you!


Eight Hours Left

Jan. 11, 2023, 6 a.m. PST by Lulu

You now have less than a day left to submit your Veg Out - Managing Aquatic Vegetation in Canals submission. Now’s the time to make final changes and send it off!

Please remember that the deadline is @5pm Eastern Time. We don’t accept any late submissions, so do your best to get it in ahead of time.

We can’t wait to see what you’ve come up with! Best of luck.

One last piece of inspiration

Jan. 10, 2023, 10 a.m. PST by Despina Maliaka

Dear Innovators,

As you put the final touches on the solutions you have worked so hard on, we wanted to pass on 1 more article to re-presence us to the water shortage issue and emphasize how creative problem-solving can help.

I want to read the blog now >> 



Meet The Phase 1 Winners