California Water Data Challenge 2020: 

Assessing What We Know and Building a Resilient Future

Data has the power to help us see challenges through different lenses, discover solutions that may not otherwise be evident, and put tools into the hands of those who need them most — empowering the community to work together in new ways. The Water Data Challenge organizers encourage participants to consider the topics and questions below as inspiration. 

Volunteer mentors and coaches are available for project feedback. Please join the Slack channel and community mailing list to be notified of upcoming online or in-person opportunities!

The new extended deadline for final submissions is Feb. 1, 2021 to be eligible for $16,000 in education and professional development awards.

The submission portal is active now at All teams joining the Challenge will have an opportunity for additional mentoring and connections with data journalists. 

Challenge Questions

Identifying and Understanding What Makes Communities Vulnerable

As noted in this Challenge background video, one million Californians are exposed to unsafe tap water at some point during the year, and some communities have had unsafe water for more than a decade. Communities lacking access to safe drinking water may also struggle with other conditions that make them vulnerable. 

Projects in this area could focus on:

  • How might we identify and understand the multi-faceted issues that communities with limited or unstable access to water resources face? 
  • Are there ways to better understand the current situation across local and regional areas, and to suggest actions that would improve safe water access?   

Analyzing the Impacts of Natural Resource Regulations and Policy

Regulations and policies (e.g., toxicity control, health services, fire preparedness) can shape the availability and quality of natural resources throughout California and beyond. Regulations may impact communities differently depending on their vulnerability to climate impacts and changes in natural resource availability and quality.

Projects in this area could focus on:

  • How might we analyze the impact of regulations and policies that support access to safe drinking water and other critical resources? 
  • How might we analyze the impacts of regulations and policies that support community resilience (e.g., preparedness for drought, floods, wildfire)? 

Strengthening Data-Enabled Communication: Building Awareness and Engagement

From government leaders to  K-12 educators, neighborhood volunteers to private sector innovators all people should have opportunities to learn about and contribute to community discussion and action around open water data. 

Projects in this area could focus on: 

  • How might we communicate data-driven insights to a broad audience? 
  • What tools and methods can help stakeholders communicate effectively, providing context and transparency?
  • How can we make open water data “come to life”, inspiring a diverse range of community members to get involved? 

Improving the Quality and Usability of Our Data and Metadata 

With the implementation of AB1755, the Open and Transparent Water Data Act, state agencies continue to publish and improve open data sets relevant to water. This data could provide valuable information to numerous stakeholders across the water field and in communities addressing urgent water challenges. 

Projects in this area could focus on:

  • How might we improve existing and emerging data collection processes and analysis? 
  • How might frameworks or tools improve the quality, usability, and reproducibility of water data and data-enabled analysis?

Opportunities for New Awards in 2020: COVID-19 and Streamlining Data Workflows

Special thanks to our panel of judges from government, nonprofits, industry, and academia, who each year review submitted open data projects — and to our broader community providing feedback and voting for a People’s Choice Award at the Annual Summit and Awards Ceremony.  Our first Challenge awards included categories such as Most Engaging By Design, Ready-to-Go, Moonshot, and Rising Innovator.

This year, we encourage participants to think about projects that leverage COVID-19 data alongside water data (visit and projects that support streamlining data workflows.