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.”