Image is not available




Teens hack state water issues

Posted: Friday, April 7, 2017 4:00 am

Tracy Press
By Denise Ellen Rizzo

An app to track household water use recently propelled a team from Tracy High School into first place at the second H2O Hackathon.

A dozen teams of students from six county high schools went head to head March 25 at the San Joaquin County Office of Education in Stockton, including three teams each from Tracy High and West High. Their objective was to use the IBM Bluemix platform to imagine and then build an application or a game to meet one of three goals inspired by California’s water issues.

The app that won the Cal Water Golden Spigot Award was designed by Tracy High’s Team Rocket. In essence, the app translates the technical terms on a water bill into graphics and straightforward language. It helps estimate monthly water costs based on a flow sensor that tracks the water going through the user’s pipes.

Team members Colby Leiske, Tyler Topulos, Mitchell Ledda and Steven Taruc each received a mini computer from IBM, and they divided a $3,000 cash prize.

“I’ve never done a competition like that — somewhat intimidating,” said Leiske, a senior. “We were presented with three different problems, and you got to pick one that you could make the best or had the biggest issue.”

Pulling out their laptops around a table, the four students worked together to brainstorm ideas. Leiske said he was the main developer who wrote the app for Team Rocket, but they all collaborated on the project. Each time one person made a change, he said, the others would refresh their screens.

“We had to work pretty fast,” he said. “Seven hours of work time and everything was done from scratch. It was awesome. All really excited when we won.”

The coach for the Tracy High teams, Dean Reece, said it was the first time his school had taken part in the county competition, which began last year. To prepare, he spent a Saturday learning about the IBM Bluemix platform.

“I tried to learn how to build an app, and then I came home and showed the students how to access links and use the platform,” he said. “And IBM provided them with tutorials to build an app, step by step, and how to modify it for your needs.”

Reece said the students had two months to get ready, and he also had them research water issues.

After the winners were announced, Reece said he was proud of his students.

“It was outstanding,” he said. “They had an innovative design — a fully functional app. This isn’t a toy. It’s what app users use.”

Although the winning app is not available to download, sample data can be viewed on the H20 Hackathon website.

Two West High teams also came away with prizes. Wolfhack Beta came in second and Quantum Wolfhack placed third. Both four-person teams were presented with $500 in cash.

“As far as learning 21st-century job skills, this really hits the nail on the head,” said Bret States, coordinator at the SJCOE Office of STEM. “It involves collaboration, working under deadline pressure, using technology, cooperating as a team and presenting an idea and a business model to experts.”

The event was co-organized by iHub San Joaquin, which seeks to cultivate innovation and entrepreneurship in the region, and supported by a partnership of local businesses, government and other organizations.


Source: Tracy students develop app to read water bill


Article written by JeanCarl here.

Last Friday, San Joaquin iHub, Café Coop, Restore the Delta, and IBM Bluemix hosted a learnathon/hackathon at the H2O hackathon in Stockton, California. Students, from middle schools, high schools, and colleges across the state attended the one-day hackathon to build prototypes solving challenges around water. From finding clean water to grow our food on farms to conserving water in our drought-stricken golden state, there were tons of ideas floating around.

I’ve participated in over a hundred hackathons, but this was the first time I saw a learnathon and hackathon work together. A learnathon is where the participants focus on learning how to get started with programming and discover the process of building their dreams into reality. A hackathon is more competitive and usually includes a deeper investment in coding and design.

At 8:30 on Friday morning, seven middle and high school students entered a classroom across the hall from the hackathon. They were shy, nervous, and had varying expectations. They opened up their laptops, connected to the WiFi network, and signed up for their IBM Bluemix account. Little did they know they had received the keys to a world of possibilities.

IBM Bluemix is a powerful platform that makes it easy to deploy web applications into the Cloud. The cloud development platform supports a variety of programming languages including PHP, Node.js, Ruby, Python, and Java. The platform also makes it easy to integrate with quite a number of services including IBM’s Watson to perform analytics and data processing and third-party services like Twitter and Twilio to send tweets and text messages.

Once the students signed up, they launched their first application using the Node-RED starter app. Node-RED is an open source, Internet of Things graphical flow editor that makes it pretty easy and quick to start creating a backend.


The students learned how to create a simulated water sensor that would report the amount of water used each day. This usage data is sent to the cloud at set intervals (perhaps nightly, or even more frequently) where it was processed in their Node-RED application. This application included control logic, making decisions of what to do next based on the incoming data. For example, if the water usage metric was above a specified value, it could send a tweet with Twitter and send a text message with Twilio. This is a key concept in programming, and the students tested the waters with three-way switch statements, some matching an exact amount and learning the meaning of the <, >, ==, <=, and >= symbols, found in many programming languages.

The students turned down every offer of taking a break, instead persevering through each lab and learning yet another component they could harness. After sending messages, they learned how to store the water usage metrics in a Cloudant NoSQL data store, and how to retrieve this data. This could be useful if they wanted to chart the data for historical purposes.

Lastly, they learned how to use templates in Node-RED and linked HTML templates to HTTP input and output nodes to make them accessible using a web browser. They did the traditional Hello World webpage and became true programmers!


In true hacker style, the students broke for lunch, and as they gobbled up the pizza and soda, they started brainstorming ideas they could solve. Each student suggested their ideas to the team, opening up a conversation that was truly fascinating to watch. They listed the places where water was consumed, ranging from home to school to factories and farms.

They revisited their original ideas and revised them. The team collaboration and camaraderie between the students, from the youngest to the oldest was key in keeping the ideas flowing. There was no “stupid idea”. They pulled out their mobile phones and started showing off their favorite apps to get inspiration for design ideas.



With only about two hours left, they drafted up design mockups of what their mobile application would look like. They split into two teams, a design team and a programming team. The design team created the interface wire-frames, and the programming team worked with their Node-RED flow editor to build the simulation of how their problem would be solved.

As the clock ticked down, the stress level increased. However, they worked together as a team to get tasks completed, always making sure to communicate what was being worked on and any problems they were encountering along the way.

With the last wire-frame being hastily copied and pasted into the presentation as they walked down the hallway, they entered an adjacent classroom and presented in front of a set of judges. This was the first time for many standing in front of a group of professionals and judged. They presented their wire-frames and what the problem they were solving. A team member, Jeff, provided me with a summary of their mobile app:

When it comes to visualizing this app on the market, we’d like our consumers not only to have an easy experience, but perhaps a life changing one. We will give people this challenge. Can you change your water use habits? Our goal is for our users to be aware of how much water they use per day and perhaps to help them not only keep their water costs low, but to help our water deprived environment.

The team took nearly 15 minutes to present, a pretty impressive accomplishment. The judges asked some questions about where this app could be used and what could it accomplish in the future.


The students returned to the reception where they grabbed some dinner before they were honored for their accomplishments. Unexpectedly, they were then informed that the judges were so impressed with their hard work that they would be entered into the hackathon competition as a team. The hackathon competition consisted of college students and professionals who came with programming experience.

This was really impressive to see these seven students go from no coding experience to being judged against teams who were years ahead of them in experience. But they too had experience, even if it was only recently acquired. And they deserved the recognition for making such a huge advancement.

At the reception, they were invited on stage to present in front of the audience. This can be quite intimidating even for adults to present in front of a large group of people. But again, these students took the challenge and hit the ball out of the ballpark.

The judges finished hearing all the teams pitch and deliberated for three categories: Most Creative ($2500), Most Awesome ($2500), Most Thoughtful ($500), and the grand prize the Cal Water Golden Spigot Award ($3000). They had reduced the number of prizes and increased the prize amounts.

College students took home the first three prizes. It was time for the grand prize, $3000. When the students heard their team’s name, “Sprinkles”, announced, they stood up in disbelief and walked up on stage to receive the prize and have tons of pictures taken.

They had gone from no coding experience to learning the basics of coding, to working as a team, to brainstorming and building a concept, to winning the grand prize, in less than 11 hours. Talk about an amazing achievement that they can mention when they apply for college and for a job.


I can’t wait to see what these brilliant individuals can accomplish when they face new challenges. They truly represent what we can all do when we put our minds and energy to solving problems together.


0X9A1778Article from Central Valley Business Journal

STOCKTON — In the effort to find ways to cope with California’s unprecedented drought, the business community hopes tapping into the Valley’s tech talent will bring forth a deluge of innovative solutions.

I-Hub San Joaquin, Restore the Delta and Café Coop sponsored the “H20 Hackathon – A Water Challenge,” on Oct. 9 at the Robert J. Cabral Ag Center in Stockton.

The competition’s goal was to use technology to come up with solutions to the state’s water crisis with cash prizes going to the winners.

“We’re in an extreme drought in California, and we do believe that technology is absolutely essential to using water efficiently, and we could be doing a much better job as a state at that,” said Restore the Delta Executive Director Barbara Barrigan-Parilla.

The state of California is in the fourth year of an unprecedented drought. The state’s snowpack, which accounts for 30 percent of California’s water supply, is the lowest it’s been in 500 years, according to a report by Nature Climate Change.

The drought is also taking a toll on the state’s economy. UC Davis reported the drought is costing the state $2.7 billion this year. It has reduced seasonal farm employment by 10,100 in 2015. Indirect job losses – those of truck drivers, food processing workers and others partially impacted by farming – have totaled 21,000.

Eight teams worked on proposals and presented their ideas to a panel of judges.

Team Sprinkles won the competition’s top prize, the Cal Water Golden Spigot Award, and $3,000. That team was a collection of Stockton-area high school and middle school students consisting of Sher Gil, Jefferson Leiva, Richard Maes, Luis Moreno, Citlalli Sanchez, Alberto Valencia and Andres Vivano.

Shower Power, comprised of Delta College students Elizabeth Diaz, Robert Shum, Walter Sorenson and Gabriel Marrujo, was awarded the Most Creative Hack award and $2,500.

Pipe Dreams, made up of engineers Kristine Gali, Paul Sukhanov, and Minh Tran, won the Most Awesome Hack Award and $2,500.

Allen Ries-Knight won $500 and the Most Thoughtful Hack Award for his idea of balancing inflow and outflow of reservoirs through the use of a seismic resonator.

“I was surprised we won because we were the youngest, and we were kind of the underdogs in this competition,” said Team Sprinkles’ Sher Gil, a senior at Ben Holt Academy.

Team Sprinkles’ idea was to create an application that monitors water usage by connecting things such as showerheads, dishwashers or washing machines to the Internet. That data would then be measured and inform the user and water district via text message whether they were under or above their quota.

The team developed the concept with the support of Vijay Patel and JeanCarl Bisson of IBM. It used IBM’s BlueMix cloud development platform to create the prototype. Patel and Bisson helped the team manage its time and taught them how to store the data on the BlueMix platform.

Initially, Team Sprinkles wasn’t in the competition. It was in a “learnathon.” But the judges were so impressed with its idea, they allowed the team to participate in the challenge.

“I think what got to me in that was the technical aspects of how they addressed the problem,” said Jeff Shields, a judge in the competition and general manager of South San Joaquin Irrigation District. “They brought technology and the Internet of Things into how to address the problem.”

Shower Power also impressed Shields. Its idea was to create an application that would monitor shower length and water usage. Along with it came a game in which the user receives credits to play based on shorter increments of time in the shower.

Pipe Dreams’ idea allows water districts to correctly and securely map the location of its water mains using a smartphone or tablet. Water is lost every year when mapping doesn’t match reality. The application would rectify that.

In addition to the Golden Spigot Award and the cash, Team Sprinkles secured sponsorship from Café Coop and IBM BlueMix to finish its app and take it to market. Café Coop will provide workspace, and IBM will give it the technical support it needs.

“It was really surprising,” said Gil. “We learned about the sponsorship before the announcement that we won, so we were happy walking into the awards ceremony.”

According to Barrigan-Parrilla, Shower Power and Pipe Dreams have also attracted interest from investors to finish their ideas and bring them to the marketplace. She also pointed out that the event shows there’s real talent in the region and that the tech companies need to pay attention to the Delta region.

Perhaps as encouraging was the youth involved in the competition. With water being a limited resource and the population continuing to rise, properly utilizing it will be important.

“There’s something to be said for younger people using technology to create new efficiencies,” said Barrigan-Parrilla. “That’s where I’m very hopeful. If we can keep ourselves from ruining everything in the present, I hold a lot of faith in young people working in solution-oriented ways.”


 H2O Hackathon 2015 – Winners Announced

[smartslider2 slider=”21″]

Stockton, CA – An engaged crowd of young geniuses took on California’s Drought at the “H2O Hackathon – A Water Challenge” held on Friday, October 9, 2015.

The H20 Hackathon brought together a creative community of programmers and problem-solvers to address California statewide drought problems. This event sought to stimulate innovations in water technology and policies that will help solve water management challenges in both the urban and agricultural sectors through new applications and systems. Representatives from Google, IBM and other leading technology organizations attended the event. All the teams were comprised of local students and professionals including University of the Pacific alum.

Cash prizes were awarded to the winning solutions, selected by an expert panel of judges which included:

Mark Dixon, IBM Smarter Cities & Safer Planet

Pam Eibeck, President, University of the Pacific
Brent Holtz, University of California, Davis
Margot Jacobs  Senior Associate, Mia Lehrer and Associates

Claire Latane, Senior Associate, Mia Lehrer and Associates

Jeff Shields, South San Joaquin Irrigation Districts


The Winners of the H2O Hackathon 2015 are:


The Cal Water Golden Spigot Award of $3,000 for best technical solution was presented to a team of young hackers ranging from 10 to 16 year-olds who had attended the IBM/Bluemix Learnathon.

The team “Sprinkles, Inc.” included:
Sher Gil

Jefferson Leiva

Richard Maes

Luis Moreno

Citlalli Sanchez

Alberto Valencia

Andres Vivano


Most Awesome Hack Award for $2,500 went to the “Pipe Dream” team:
Kristine Gali

Paul Sukhanov
Minh Tran


Most Creative Hack Award for $2,500:  went to the “Shower Power” team:
Elizabeth Diaz

Robin Shum

Walter Sorenson

Gabriel Marrujo


Most Thoughtful Hack Award for $500 (created by Judges at the Hackathon) was awarded to:

Allen Ries-Knight


Every participant also received a swag bag valued at $50 for attending and working on the hackathon.

“The answers to our water management challenges are out there and what better place to work on it than in the Delta. This is a statewide effort and drawing from water hackathons in LA we are excited to see the solutions for the 21st century,” said Conner Everts of the Environmental Water Caucus.

University of the Pacific President Pamela Eibeck said, “As California struggles with this historic drought, it is important that educational institutions in the State do their part in preparing students – our future leaders – to be part of the water solution. The H20 Hackathon was an extraordinary opportunity in rethinking how we use water in California.”

“We are very excited about the new partnership between iHub San Joaquin, UOP and Delta College. Their sponsorship of the H20 Hackathon helps to expand awareness of the Hackathon at our college campuses and we anticipate will assist in recruiting a larger student constituency to participate,” said David Nelson, Chairman, iHub San Joaquin.

“We are thrilled that some of the hacks most needed in this era of drought will come from Stockton, in the San Francisco Bay-Delta, the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas, a special place worth protecting,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta, a hackathon co-sponsor.

The H20 Hackathon – A Water Challenge was conceived by the San Joaquin iHub, San Joaquin County entrepreneurs, business leaders, government officials, and environmental leaders who saw a need for the development of new water technology in order to contend with the impacts of severe drought.

Full details about the event here


Brian P Smith Public Relations
Oakland, CA