Farmers and water managers across the West are bracing for another potentially dry year, even as they wait for rain and snow that could help alleviate drought conditions. But with climate change reducing annual snowpack and the water it promises, the Bureau of Reclamation is in search of new and more accurate forecast tools.

Together with NASA’s Tournament Lab, BOR is launching a crowd-sourcing competition with a $500,000 prize purse. The Snowcast Showdown challenges participants to present “innovative methods of estimating snow water equivalent (SWE),” according to a release from HeroX, the crowd-sourcing platform that is partnering with the federal agencies and two additional companies, DrivenData and Ensemble. Reclamation is the nation’s number-one water wholesaler, the second-largest hydropower producer and the manager of 10 million acres of farmland irrigation, which produces 60% of the nation's vegetables and 25% of fruit and nut crops. One out of five Western farmers relies on Reclamation for water in one way or another, the release says. The prize purse comes from Reclamation’s research and development program.

“Reclamation aims to be forward-thinking as they invest in technology to support a variety of water management decisions,” the release says, and right now, they don’t have sufficient tools for monitoring snowpack and estimating SWE.

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This contest will bring to the problem “skilled experts around the world,” DrivenData’s Greg Lipstein said in the release.

The purse is divided into two separate competitions. Tools that use machine learning to train models to estimate SWE will compete for $440,000 and the remaining $60,000 will be awarded for model analysis.

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