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Informational Only

This challenge is no longer accepting new submissions.

Nutrient Sensor Action Challenge

Working Together to Accelerate Affordable Nutrient Monitoring

Environmental Protection Agency

Total Cash Prizes Offered: $50,000
Type of Challenge: Scientific
Partner Agencies | Federal: Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Standards and Technology, United States Geological Survey, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Partner Agencies | Non-federal: Alliance for Coastal Technologies
Submission Start: 07/26/2017 10:00 AM ET
Submission End: 09/20/2017 11:59 PM ET


Stage I is closed, click here to access Stage II of this challenge.

Click Here to view the kick-off webinar from August 2nd

*Note: The webinar recording can also be found on the updated FAQs  page

Please direct any requests for clarifications and additional information about this challenge to  


Nutrient pollution, one of our most widespread, costly and challenging environmental problems, is caused by excess nitrogen and phosphorus in water.

Too much nitrogen and phosphorus in the water causes algae to grow faster than ecosystems can handle. This growth  causes major environmental damage as well as serious health problems in people and animals.

Nutrient pollution and resulting algal blooms cost billions, hurting industries and sectors that depend on clean water. Federal, state and local governments spend billions of dollars per year to combat nutrient pollution or prevent its effects.


The Nutrient Sensor Action Challenge builds upon the 2014 Nutrient Sensor Challenge, which helped develop affordable, high-performing, continuous nutrient sensors and analyzers. The 2017 challenge calls for demonstrations showing:

1) the effective use of low-cost continuous sensors, 2) innovative partnerships to pilot the sensors and manage data, and 3) how collected information can be used in state and local decision-making    

By building successful strategies for incorporating nutrient sensors into existing water monitoring efforts, the Challenge can help states and local communities overcome barriers to preventing and reducing nutrient pollution.

Stage 1 - closes September 20, 2017

In Stage 1, teams will submit action plans describing an approach for sensor deployment and use, and how they will meet challenge goals.

The plans will be judged and up to 5 winning applications will be selected. The top entries will be awarded cash prizes totaling $50,000 and invited to participate in Stage II.

Stage II - Spring 2018

In Stage II of the Challenge, teams will deploy the sensors and collect data as they compete for a share in $100,000 in prizes.    


The Nutrient Sensors Action Challenge is open to communities and organizations interested in deploying 2 or more low-cost (less than $15k) continuous nutrient sensors to address an important water quality problem. Teams should be currently engaged in water quality monitoring and have some level of experience and as well as sophistication with data management, and communication. This challenge is open to communities and organizations in the United States.



Stage 1: ACTION PLAN ($50k prize funding)

Teams will submit an Action Plan describing how they will meet the objectives of the challenge.  The top entries will be awarded cash prizes totaling $50,000 and invited to participate in Stage II. The plans will be judged by a panel of experts and up to 5 winning applications will be selected.  Up to five Stage 1 winners will each receive $10,000.

Open Stage 1: July 26, 2017 Close of Stage 1: September 20, 2017  
Stage II: SENSORS IN ACTION ($100k prize funding)

In Stage II of the Challenge, teams will deploy the sensors and collect data as they compete for a share in $100,000 in prizes.

Stage II will begin in Spring of 2018.


U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) NOAA-directed U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) Alliance for Coastal Technologies (ACT) U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST)  



Continuous Nitrate Monitoring on the Galena River: A Basis for Change 
Team Lead: Beth Baranski, The League of Women Voters of Jo Daviess County in Illinois

The League of Women Voters of Jo Daviess County in Illinois (LWV-JDC) has been actively seeking water quality data in order to increase local knowledge. The ultimate goal is to achieve science-based stewardship of local water resources. This project proposes that two sensors be deployed, one each at the top and bottom of the Lower Galena River subwatershed to gather continuous data on nitrate levels in this portion of the Galena River. The League has been building relationships throughout the area for over six years and those relationships will provide valuable avenues for communicating the results of the data obtained through continuous nitrate monitoring.  These data will be used as a basis for shifting landowners to best management practices designed to reduce nutrient pollution. 

Development of a Real-time, Continuous Nutrient Monitoring Network for Western Lake Erie to Address Management of HABs and Hypoxia 

Team Lead: Thomas Johengen, Cooperative Institute for Great Lakes Research (CIGLR), University of Michigan 

Since the 1990s, Lake Erie has been experiencing increased water quality impairment, primarily in the form of extensive toxic cyanobacterial blooms.  To combat the growing impacts on the ecosystem health and services of these tremendous natural resources, the Governments of Canada and the United States developed revised binational phosphorus reduction targets for Lake Erie with a goal of 40% lower loading rates then established under the 2012 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA). To determine progress toward meeting nutrient reduction targets and verifying the response in the lake, active surveillance of nutrients in the lake is essential. Phosphorus concentrations in Lake Erie are highly variable in time and space, making it difficult to determine long-term trends. Deployment of continuous monitoring sensors to provide nearly continuous data will be a critical component of successful nutrient management. 

High Frequency Nitrogen Sensors in Portland, Maine

Team Lead: Curtis C. Bohlen, Casco Bay Estuary Partnership 
Casco Bay borders Portland and South Portland, Maine's principal economic and technological hub. This project proposes the use high frequency nitrate plus nitrite data collected near Portland's East End to provide data applicable to evaluating the impact of the East End discharges on Casco Bay, clarify the relative importance of riverine inputs, wastewater discharges, stormwater, and combined sewer overflows as sources of nutrients to the waters around Portland, support Maine DEP's RP analyses, provide information on the range of nutrient concentrations experienced by eelgrass beds, and provide data to support development of a better model of nutrient processes in Casco Bay.

Monitoring the Effects of Storms and Conowingo Dam Inputs on Nutrients in the Upper Chesapeake Bay

Lora Harris (Team Lead) & Jeremy Testa, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science 

Mike Trice, Maryland Department of Natural Resources

The Chesapeake Bay estuary has a long history of degraded water quality associated with elevated inputs of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and sediments from its large watershed that spans six states and the District of Columbia. The Conowingo Dam, which is located in the lower Susquehanna River - the Bay's largest source of nutrients and freshwater - is decreasingly effective at holding back silt from entering the Upper Chesapeake Bay. As a result, additional nutrients associated with those silts are entering Chesapeake Bay and nutrient and sediment reduction strategies are being developed to address the increased nutrient load. The impact of these "new" nutrient inputs to Chesapeake Bay, however, remains poorly understood. This project would place two sensors in the Upper Chesapeake Bay and provide much data on how the nutrient load changes over time and in response to storm events. This can help validate models and give insight into the effect these nutrients will have on phytoplankton production and associated oxygen depletion in the estuary.

Quantifying the impact of dam removals on nitrate retention using low cost nitrate sensors

Team Lead: Dr.Wilfred Wollheim, Department of Natural Resources and Environment, University of New Hampshire

Current understanding of how reservoirs affect nitrogen moving through river systems is based on a small number of studies in larger reservoirs. These studies also looked at annual estimates rather than evaluating how nutrient retention varied through time. Dams and their reservoirs are increasingly being removed from the landscape, often because they are aging and would need costly repairs, have no significant utility and/or to improve anadromous fish passage and connectivity with spawning areas. Because reservoirs created by dams are potentially effective at removing nitrogen, such dam removals come with tradeoffs, including reduced nitrate removal. We propose to deploy sensors upstream and downstream of several reservoirs in coastal New England to quantify nitrate removal across seasons and storm events. We will also take advantage of ongoing dam removals and management activities to quantify the nitrogen removal by reservoirs.



Eligible teams are required to submit a plan on by clicking on the "Submit Solution" tab on the Nutrient Sensor Action Challenge page. If you have not worked with in the past, you will need to register on the site, and create an account. Click on the New to Register for an account link to register in order to submit nominations for the Nutrient Sensor Action Challenge. There is no cost to register or participate in the Challenge. Complete the registration; you will need to activate the account you create within 24 hours (look for an email to activate the account) in order to submit a nomination. Action plans must address the components listed below (A - G) Deadline – The submission must be available on for evaluation by September 20, 2017 at 11:59 PM ET for judging.  Applications submitted via regular mail, facsimile, or email will not be accepted. No additions or modifications to the submissions will be accepted after the submission deadline. Applications must be submitted in English. Preferred file formats are .pdf, .doc, or .docx. Submissions must be no longer than 10 pages, (Times New Roman, size 12, single-spaced) and must address the information requested. Limit 1 plan per team.

A. Nutrient Issue:

Describe the nutrient-related topic or need that will be addressed by the addition of data and information from continuous nutrient sensors. Describe how data from continuous sensors will be incorporated into your monitoring operations. Explain how nutrient sensors will enable improved decision-making for nutrient reduction.

B. Team:

Identify the team that will be working on the challenge.

Lead: Provide the name and contact information for the team lead. The team lead serves as the primary point of contact and may participate on only one Nutrient Sensors Action Challenge team.

Members:  Describe team member and roles and responsibilities.  The number of team members is not limited.  Teams should include expertise in:

- Water quality monitoring

- Data Management / Information technology

- Communication

- Data Analytics

- Continuous Nutrient Sensors (Click here  for a list of participants from the 2014 Nutrient Sensor Challenge)

C. Current Monitoring:

Describe current water quality monitoring efforts, locations and assets including links to any relevant websites, data or publications.

D. Sensors and monitoring:

Please provide plans for sensor deployment that includes placement of sensors, power considerations, sensor maintenance, telemetry, calibration, sampling regime etc. Teams must plan on deploying 2 or more low-cost (less than $15k each) continuous nutrient sensors.

E. Data:

1. Solution Architecture: Provide a diagram which illustrates the overall configuration of the proposed data solution. The diagram should provide information about how data is taken from the sensor and loaded into the data storage and how the data repository will be accessed for judging (e.g. web services)

2. QA/QC: Describe how quality assurance and data validation will be addressed

3. Data Sharing: Teams are required to make the sensor data accessible for judging using web services that follow Open Geospatial Consortium data standards for communicating and sharing continuous monitoring data. (,  Describe any additional plans for sharing data.

4. Metadata:  Teams are expected to provide metadata that will explain the data content.   Describe your metadata approach and identify and describe the naming convention for characterizing the nutrient data.   Teams may consider using one of the formats below:

- NOAA/IOOS metadata standards and SOS guidelines:

- NWQMC Water Quality Data Elements: a user's guide:

F. Analytics and Interpretation:

Describe plans for analyzing the data and if there are specific analytical and statistical tools (e.g. platforms, algorithms, models) that you anticipate using. Please describe how these analytics will provide insight and support use of the data and information.

G. Communication and Use:

Please describe plans communicating the data and information for use by decision-makers. Describe how the data and information will be integrated with existing water quality data to improve decisions about nutrient reduction.


Review a list of FAQs as well as added resources to get started. Please direct any requests for clarifications and additional information about this challenge to  ERG will contact the federal partners, as needed, to answer your questions and will also make the responses available to all registered solvers if they provide relevant additional information.