The New Arizona Prize:
Water Innovation Challenge

The Water Innovation Challenge invited collaborative teams in Arizona communities to develop innovative and scalable market-based solutions. It was the second of The New Arizona Prize challenges.

The first challenge offered under The New Arizona Prize banner was the Water Consciousness Challenge. Heightened attention around water, made possible by groups like Beyond the Mirage, the team that won the first challenge, laid the important groundwork for what needed to happen next—the engagement of all Arizonans in safeguarding this precious resource.

To this end, the next challenge offered under The New Arizona Prize, the Water Innovation Challenge, was announced in March 2016. Twenty-three teams met the August 12 deadline for submitting projects for consideration by the 18-member team of judges whose scoring identified the top five teams in the Water Innovation Challenge.

Pima County's Southwest Water Campus, a coalition of water professionals representing local government, water utilities, academia and private partners was announced as the winner of The New Arizona Prize: Water Innovation Challenge during the Finalist Presentations & Prize Ceremony held in November in Phoenix.

The group was one of five finalist teams that pitched their solutions to advance a sustainable water future for a town or city, county, tribal area, or an entire region to the Water Innovation Challenge Selection Committee. The Pima County Southwest Water Campus was named the winner.

Finalist Presentations & Prize Ceremony


A video of the event—accessible by clicking below—was produced by Rhumbline Media, a media company founded by Cody Sheehy. In 2015, Cody and the Beyond the Mirage team received the Water Consciousness Challenge prize, the first challenge presented under The New Arizona Prize banner. Rhumbline Media describes itself as "dedicated to entertainment that inspires and compels social change using smart technology."

The Water Innovation Challenge's $250,000 winning solution from the Southwest Water Campus, whose members include Pima County Regional Wastewater Reclamation Department, Tucson Water, Marana Water, Carollo Engineers, CH2M, University of Arizona, aquaTECTURE, and Clean Water Services, is an effluent-to-potable reuse technology, statewide mobile public engagement campaign, and local craft beer competition. This team also won the $2,500 Audience Choice award.

In an editorial published in October, The Arizona Republic provided details about the solution proposed by the Southwest Water Campus in the context of Arizona's long history as a water policy leader. Read more about how beer plays into the story.

Former Senator from Arizona Jon Kyl, left, spoke during the Finalist Presentations & Prize Ceremony for the Water Innovation Challenge. He is pictured with ACF President & CEO Steve Seleznow.

Thanks to a partnership with the WaterNow Alliance, the winner of the Water Innovation Challenge will benefit from as much as $50,000 in additional technical assistance to accelerate development and implementation of their winning solution. Look for more about the partnership between the WaterNow Alliance and the sponsors of the Water Innovation Challenge in the sidebar at left.

“We believed there were committed communities and groups of creative Arizonans and organizations with innovative ideas in various stages of development, that could be brought to fruition if the proper funding and support were available,” said Steve Seleznow, ACF’s President and CEO.

“Pima County's Southwest Water Campus has demonstrated exactly what all the partners hoped for with this challenge," he said. "Their collaborative, innovative plans hold great promise for the future of water in Pima County and statewide. We are pleased to be able to provide this catalytic funding, visibility and technical assistance to help make their vision of water sustainability a reality. We look forward to watching their idea become a reality.”

Read more about the Water Innovation Challenge and the Finalist Presentations & Prize Ceremony in an article from The Arizona Republic by Brandon Loomis.

View a slide show of moments from the Finalist Presentations & Prize Ceremony

SOUTHWEST WATER CAMPUS

Water and the state of Arizona

The New Arizona Prize was conceived by the Arizona Community Foundation, in partnership with Republic Media and Morrison Institute for Public Policy, as a philanthropic initiative to create the Arizona of tomorrow. Discussion of the Prize began in August of 2014, and after meeting with leaders in government, business and Arizona communities, it was clear that no issue needed to be addressed more urgently than the state of our water resources.

The teams competing in the Water Innovation Challenge brought strategies for wastewater collection and treatment; ways to move, share, exchange, and deploy water assets; water credits for groundwater users; increased farm production; and potable water reuse. Learn more about the second challenge at The New Arizona Prize: Water Innovation Challenge website.

Each of the other four finalists received $5,000 to pursue their solutions and here is more about the projects they pitched:

Arizona State University Foundation for a New American University

ASU FOUNDATION FOR A NEW AMERICAN UNIVERSITY

Team members collectively provide the required technical, financial, regulatory, environmental, research, education, design, development and market expertise, resources and authority to implement this solution and create an excitement to propagate it throughout Arizona and the Southwest.

Video storytelling

View the team video.

Description of the team solution

It is the "Perfect Storm" in which to introduce game-changing, onsite water reclamation to meet Arizona’s water needs. Marrying ASU’s aggressive sustainability goals with City of Tempe’s pro-active wastewater collection and treatment system planning, overlain with the drought-stricken Colorado River, has created the perfect launch-pad for an innovative 1.5+ million gallons per day water reclamation facility. Termed "WaterWorks@ASU", this project will reduce ASU’s potable water demand by 36% and offer unparalleled community engagement to transform water culture and promote replication.

But this "flood" continues. ASU’s 127 water-focused faculty and institutes, coupled with the largest student body in the country, will research and learn technologies to further expand our water supply.

The community partnership and precious resource development doesn’t stop at the campus boundaries. Team member Catellus will develop the new ASU Athletics Facilities District (AFD), with purple pipes as the foundation: toilets, landscapes, and cooling towers all using reclaimed water!

City of Phoenix

CITY OF PHOENIX

The Arizona Water Exchange Platform team is composed of a diverse group of water professionals, technical experts, and community leaders with the experience to design and implement a trading platform that conforms with the realities of Arizona water law, policy, and infrastructure.

Video storytelling

View the team video.

Description of the team solution

Arizona’s leadership in water management innovation has helped to ground the state in diversified supplies, a revolutionary storage system, and extensive water delivery infrastructure. Growing water scarcity and expanding uncertainties in the Colorado River Basin now challenge this legacy.

Recognizing that flexibility, resilience, and resource sharing are powerful antidotes to uncertainty and scarcity, the City of Phoenix is seeding a team of experts to create the Arizona Water Exchange Platform. This data-driven and market-based technological tool will illustrate the range of local water supplies, demands, infrastructure, and sharing solutions within the current context of Arizona water law, drought dynamics, and Colorado River conditions. The New Arizona Prize offers an opportunity to invite managers and stakeholders to participate in the development of this dynamic tool and envision collaborative opportunities to move, share, exchange, and deploy the state’s rich water assets to meet a broad portfolio of needs under scarcity.

Friends of Verde River Greenway

FRIENDS OF VERDE RIVER GREENWAYA community organization recognized for effective collaboration in the Verde Valley will lead the project team which includes municipal leaders, conservation organizations, community leaders and area irrigators.

Video storytelling

View the team video.

Description of the team solution

Groundwater use in rural Arizona is largely unregulated, and few management tools are available. Groundwater is the only potable water supply for the Verde Valley, and it provides the base flow of the Verde River—itself critical to fish and wildlife, local residents, and the Phoenix-area communities that rely on the river for municipal and irrigation water. Unmanaged groundwater use can dewater streams and jeopardize water and economic security. Our proposed solution is the Verde River Exchange, a voluntary community-driven program that allows groundwater users to “offset” the impact of their water use by purchasing credits. Credits are created when an existing user reduces historic water use. Our diverse team will build on two successful pilot projects to create an innovative program that offers a scalable solution for reducing the impacts of groundwater pumping on Arizona’s rivers and for stabilizing water supplies for future Arizonans.

Freshwater Systems

FRESHWATER SYSTEMS

This team includes public and private partners, community leaders, scholars and experts in water conservation.

Video storytelling

View the team video.

Description of the team solution

Think of a sponge as a farm field area and how it needs to be saturated to grow crops. What if tomorrow you could water just the crop root and not the whole sponge or farm field around it? How much water would you save? How many new food crops could you grow? Drought conditions in the Southwest and the uncertainty over the next 50 years in the amount of available water and changes in food demand anticipated throughout the Colorado River watershed necessitate new solutions.

Freshwater Systems (FWS), through its patent-pending Crop Guardian (CG) systems:

  • Addresses drought-stricken farming areas by using up to 80% less water per crop root.
  • Uses solar power vs. costly desalination systems to convert brackish water to freshwater.
  • Increases farm production by: 1) adding farm growing seasons beyond current conventional cropping periods and; 2) adding to existing or creating new farming regions in Arizona.

Pima County Southwest Water Campus

SOUTHWEST WATER CAMPUS

This team consists of water professionals representing local government, water utilities, academia and private partners.

Video storytelling

View the team video.

Description of the team solution

With increasing demands placed on existing water supplies, potable reuse requires exploration. Our solution culminates the efforts of the Steering Committee on Arizona Potable Reuse (SCAPR) and ADEQ’s current regulatory review by establishing a mobile, performance based reference facility that is desperately needed for addressing public perception and demonstrating the protection of public health. If potable reuse is done incorrectly, even just once, it could set back regulation and public confidence for years to come. Our solution will ensure that it is done right, every time.

Our bold entry will tackle these key issues by launching public discussions about water in every town, city, county, and tribal region throughout Arizona. Our refreshingly unique, educational approach will engage discussion and public acceptance by incorporating local bottlers and brewers through a Pure Water Brew Challenge competition to coincide with the national WaterReuse conference to be held in Phoenix. Please, come join us!

Winning team receives added technical support

Thanks to a partnership between the sponsors of The New Arizona Prize: Water Innovation Challenge and the WaterNow Alliance, the winning team will receive up to $50,000 in technical assistance, in addition to the $250,000 prize. Support from the WaterNow Alliance will accelerate the development and implementation of the Southwest Water Campus team's winning solution.

The WaterNow Alliance is a nonprofit organization dedicated to high-impact, widespread adoption of sustainable water solutions at the community level and among its many initiatives, the WaterNow Alliance provides consulting services and assistance to advance sustainable water approaches. Examples of services available include implementing financing tools and opportunities, legal and policy research, and outreach and communications strategies.

“We work with businesses, community leaders, and water and finance experts to advance innovation, break down barriers, and catalyze change,” said Cynthia Koehler, executive director of the WaterNow Alliance. “We are excited about working with the Water Innovation Challenge’s winning team to help develop sustainable water approaches in their communities.”

Other finalists who achieve funding may be eligible for technical assistance resources from the WaterNow Alliance after the competition ends.