At the Fifth Annual H₂O Hackathon on April 17, there were 35 teams of competitors in middle school, high school, and college divisions that had six hours to build an application that could help protect waterways from harmful algal blooms. At the end of the day, one team from each division was named the winner and received the $5,000 Cal Water Golden Spigot Award. Winners included: Dream Team from STEAM Academy at River Islands, Wolfhack Tau from Merrill F. West High School, and Random Access Memories from San Joaquin Delta College. The middle school division was a new addition to the 2021 Hackathon, which was a virtual competition.
For this year's H₂O Hackathon competition, the students were challenged to develop an app that could help solve a problem facing the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary and other waterways: harmful algal blooms. An algal bloom is an overgrowth of microscopic algae or algae-like bacteria. Not all algal blooms are toxic, but harmful algal blooms – known as HABs – are dangerous to humans and other organisms and are increasing across the state, including in the Delta. Efforts are underway in the region to create technological tools to monitor, forecast, and assess HABs. More information is available at the California HABs Portal at mywaterquality.ca.gov/habs/index.html.
The 2021 H₂O Hackathon teams were asked to be part of the solution, too, by thinking creatively to develop an app to aid in the complicated issue. They were given access to a variety of resources, such as data containing spectrum analysis of satellite imagery showing buildups of toxic-producing cyanobacteria in waterways that could be used to identify a harmful bloom before it becomes visible to the naked eye. But the Hackathon competitors had the freedom to let their own inspiration guide their approach to the HABs dilemma in their app design.
Teams learned what the challenge was at 8:30 a.m. Then it was a race to build the best app before time ran out at 2:30 p.m. Past Hackathon challenges have been related to water conservation, flood protection, and other issues. This year, the competition was held virtually, using curriculum and a plan developed by CodeStack, the San Joaquin County Office of Education (SJCOE) software engineering department.
The goal of the annual event is to challenge students to develop solutions for California’s water issues and experience the real-world applications of science, engineering, and other skills they are learning in school.
“Students taking part in the H₂O Hackathon are learning computer coding, collaboration, and other skills that will help prepare them for the jobs of today and tomorrow,” SJCOE Associate Superintendent of Student Programs and Services Troy Brown said. “Not only are students preparing themselves for their own futures, but they are also focusing their passion and innovation on protecting the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary, which is so important to the future of San Joaquin County and the entire state of California.”
Water experts and other community leaders were part of the panel of judges who determined winning entries. In addition to the educational benefits of the competition, the H₂O Hackathon aligns with the iHub San Joaquin mission to nurture entrepreneurship and enterprises in the region dedicated to innovative and emerging technologies.
Video of the Fifth-Annual H₂O Hackathon Awards Ceremony, including team presentations of winning apps, is available online at h2ohackathon.org.
Additionally, team “#1 M” from Mountain House High School (Lammersville Unified School District) received the Mousalimas Innovation Award, along with a cash prize of $200. The new award will be awarded at future Hackathons and is named for retiring San Joaquin County Superintendent of Schools James Mousalimas.
Competitors could sign up as a team or as individuals, who were grouped into teams by organizers. In total, more than 120 young men and women took part on 35 teams.
The H₂O Hackathon is a community-supported event that taps into the technological and problem-solving skills of San Joaquin County students to help find solutions to the state’s water issues. No coding experience was necessary to compete. Competitors were able to use APP LAB from Code.org, a block-based coding platform that allows anyone to create a working app.
The H₂O Hackathon is supported financially by partners from educational agencies, municipalities, community organizations, and the business community. These are California Water Service (CalWater), San Joaquin County, the Port of Stockton, Environmental Justice Coalition for Water, Collins Electric, Stockton East Water District, Grassland Fund, SJC WorkNet, and the cities of Stockton, Tracy, and Lathrop. The event is organized by the SJCOE’s CodeStack department in partnership with iHub San Joaquin, A.G. Spanos Companies, the City of Manteca, the San Francisco Estuary Institute, the State Water Resources Control Board, the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, Restore the Delta, the San Joaquin Partnership, BOSS Business Systems, Café Coop, University of the Pacific, San Joaquin Delta College, and the Stockton Unified School District.