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Guardians of the Reservoir Sediment Removal Challenge

Posted on November 23, 2021

Help sustain America’s reservoirs. We’re looking for ways to remove sedimentation that regularly accumulates in reservoirs.

Challenge Overview

Important update on intellectual property here.

Reservoirs are bodies of stored fresh water that typically form behind dams.  They are a critical water source, supplying farms with irrigation and providing potable water to people and homes.  Increasingly, they are also an important component of outdoor, water-based recreation.

As rivers flow, they naturally carry along sediment (clay, silt, sand, and gravel). When rivers are dammed, sediments are deposited in the reservoirs that form behind dams. Sand and gravel deposit at the upstream end of reservoirs and form deltas that also extend upstream beyond the full reservoir pool. Clay and silt deposit farther downstream along the reservoir bottom and all the way to the dam. Over time, these sediment deposits build-up to the point where they significantly reduce a reservoir’s storage capacity and may prevent the proper function of dam outlets and reservoir water intakes.  Without intervention, reservoirs eventually become filled with deposits, which means water is no longer being stored for future use.

The Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) is the nation’s largest wholesale water supplier.  They operate over 330 reservoirs that store 140 million acre-feet of water.  For reference, an acre-foot is 325, 851 gallons – which is enough to supply a family of four for one year.



Reclamation, in collaboration with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), is sponsoring this three-phase Guardians of the Reservoir Challenge.  The goal of this challenge is to develop and demonstrate new processes and technologies that will collect and transport sediment from reservoirs at a rate that sustains their current capacity.  Reclamation’s primary interest is in technology that will move sediment downstream at the average annual rate at which it would otherwise accumulate, but approaches that can help in regaining lost reservoir capacity are of interest if they can do so in addition to meeting environmental and other performance criteria.

The authors of the most compelling submissions to this Guardians of the Reservoir Challenge will have the opportunity to develop and demonstrate their technologies at increasing scales for the Challenge sponsors.  In addition to prize money, winners may receive review comments and/or observations from their technology demonstrations and may have additional opportunities to work with Reclamation, USACE, or their partners to further develop their approaches.

Challenge Structure 

Phase 1

  • Submissions must be received by October 20, 2020
  • As many as 5 of the top submissions will advance to Phase 2.  Winners each receive $75,000 (total of $375,000 awarded)

Phase 2

  • Phase 1 winners have approximately 15 months to work according to their proposed project plans, develop their proposed approaches, perform a laboratory-scale demonstration, and submit a report
  • As many as 3 of the top-performing approaches will advance to Phase 3.  Winners each receive $25,000 (total of $75,000 awarded)

Phase 3

  • Phase 2 winners have approximately 9 weeks to prepare for a large scale demonstration (scale, location, and other demonstration specifics to be mutually agreed upon), where they will set up and run their scaled-up demonstration for Reclamation, USACE, and their partners
  • A final event will occur at the end of Phase 3.  Teams participating in Phase 3 will present an overview of their approach and results to Reclamation, USACE, and possibly affiliated commercial partners
  • The top-performing approach wins $100,000


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