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Using Data to Build a Sustainable Water Future

Today, we’re announcing a Water Data Challenge to help address California’s water issues through information technology.

One of our nation’s biggest challenges is ensuring that all Americans have access to clean and safe water. Our water resources are critical for supporting healthy communities, maintaining our nation’s agriculture, sustaining fish populations, generating power, and providing outdoor recreation opportunities for all Americans to enjoy. However, as we increasingly experience the impacts of climate change—including serious drought conditions in the West that scientists predict will only become more frequent and prolonged—we must revisit how we manage our nation’s water resources, and find new and innovative ways to build a sustainable water future. 

Nowhere is this truer than in California, where a five-year drought has forced new strategies and increased cooperation to manage the effects of low rivers, depleted reservoirs, and water shortages. For example, residents across the state collectively achieved an average 25% reduction in water use in response to water shortages, and some landowners voluntarily agreed to leave water in streams to benefit the environment. California’s experience serves as a reminder that unless we take action to increase efficiency, reduce water use, and maintain water supplies, the future of our nation’s water, and therefore the future of our environment and economy, is at risk. Now, we need to scale up these efforts, ensuring that the nation as a whole is similarly prepared. 

As we consider these threats to our water resources, one of the best opportunities we have to strengthen drought-related decision-making and to inform the American public about the significant challenges posed by drought is to make better use of existing information and data. That’s why, today, the White House Council on Environmental Quality, in partnership with the State of California, is announcing a Water Data Challenge to respond to this need. 

The goal of the Water Data Challenge is for teams to design and develop functional apps or visualization tools that leverage and reimagine existing data sets in an effort to make information more accessible and usable for the public and decision-makers. The State’s website for the Challenge lays out a number of specific challenges, which can be used by participants as general guidance to shape their data-related work. All entries must be submitted by December 5, 2016, and the Challenge will end with a demonstration from the best submissions on December 8, 2016.

The Obama Administration has prioritized response to, and preparedness for, increasing drought events throughout the country. 

Under President Obama’s leadership, this Administration has taken an all-hands-on-deck approach to respond to the drought, working closely with state and local partners including the State of California and its many water districts. At the national level, the Obama Administration has repeatedly brought government and private sector actors together to solve our nation’s biggest challenges—particularly when it comes to drought and clean water — and has made considerable progress in making information available to help build stronger and more resilient communities. Building on earlier commitments, over the past year the Administration has: 

  • Released a Presidential Memorandum underscoring the importance of responding to drought in a coordinated, efficient manner by the Federal agencies, and laying out steps by which to do so.
  • Expanded monitoring and forecasting capabilities by releasing a National Water Model that enhances forecasting capabilities to simulate how water moves throughout the nation’s rivers and streams for 2.7 million locations around the country (up from 4,000 locations to enable a 700-fold increase in forecast density).
  • Developed a water innovation strategy to increase the resilience of our nation’s water supplies to these stresses, with the goals of boosting water sustainability through the greater utilization of water-efficient and water-reuse technologies, and by promoting and investing in breakthrough R&D that reduces the price and energy costs of new water supply technology.  The President's FY17 Budget Request provided $94 million more than in FY16 for water innovation.  
  • Promoted water and energy efficiency by announcing a new funding opportunity for over $20 million in water and energy efficiency grants through the WaterSMART Water and Energy Efficiency Grant Program at the Department of the Interior. Funding will be awarded for projects that conserve and use water more efficiently, increase the use of renewable energy, improve energy efficiency, benefit endangered and threatened species, facilitate water markets, carry out activities to address climate-related impacts on water, or prevent any water-related crisis or conflict.

The Obama Administration is committed to ensuring that the American public has easy access to the best information. 

Data and new digital tools can transform the effectiveness of government and its partners, helping to empower communities, spark economic growth, and expand opportunity. Since 2009, the Administration has worked to ensure that a range of data sets on topics of interest and importance are available and accessible to the public, and to create new avenues for civic engagement. 

Similar to examples like the Federal Opportunity Project, which works to make government data more accessible and to facilitate collaboration at all levels, the Water Data Challenge will bring together developers, coders, companies and universities whose creative capacity can help maximize the impact of existing Federal and state datasets to produce data tools transform how information is accessed and used to move towards a more effective water management system. Ultimately, this Challenge will serve as an example of what is possible across the nation—ensuring that all communities, from west coast to east, are able to effectively and efficiently access the information they need to ensure that a sustainable supply of water continues for all.

For more information on the Water Data Challenge criteria, list of relevant data, and guidelines, visit the State of California’s launch page for this challenge at