Clean Water Challenge

The Water Connection is excited to announce the 2021-2022 Clean Water Challenge!

What is the Clean Water Challenge (CWC)? 

The Clean Water Challenge (formerly the Clean River Design Challenge) is a statewide competition that engages undergraduate and graduate level students in the generation of innovative water pollution solutions.  For the 2021-2022 CWC, teams will be tasked with reducing / removing E. coli and/or excess nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen). Teams may focus on either or both pollutants, and they can pursue prevention and /or removal strategies.

Through their own class and University program, students spend the first semester of CWC gaining understanding of the water quality problem and its causes, and developing a proposed concept for solution. The second semester focuses on final design / refinement, documenting the solution’s effectiveness and feasibility, and development of a concept business plan. At the end of the second semester teams present their solution in the form of a “pitch” for a product or service accompanied by a concept business plan for implementation. A panel of expert judges will select the top three teams to receive a modest cash prize. In addition, the first place team will be invited to participate in Trout Tank Sustainability, a business pitch accelerator program co-hosted by the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and TAP-IN.

Purpose of the CWC:

1) Create tangible, cost effective solutions to complex, pervasive water quality problems

2) Raise awareness of the extent and impact of urban waterway pollution, the importance of protecting our valuable water resources, and the economic and financial considerations of waterway pollution issues and solutions.

CWC Timeline

Frequently Asked Questions

Who Can Participate?

  • This competition is for undergraduate and graduate students currently enrolled in a Colorado-based institution of higher education
  • All academic disciplines are welcome interdisciplinary teams are strongly encouraged. Along with creativity and innovation, environmental economics and business perspectives will be crucial to be successful in this competition. 

How do I Register?

Teams will register all members on this website. Link to the registration page will be posted in August 2021.

What are the Benefits of Participating in This Competition? 

  • Hands-on learning about a current significant water challenge, and opportunity to develop an implementable solution
  • Professional networking 
  • Feedback from professionals in a variety of fields
  • Access to business classes through the Denver Metro Small Business Development Center (SBDC)
  • The winning team will receive a modest cash prize and an invitation to participate in Trout Tank Sustainability as a member of the cohort

Who will own the Intellectual Property from this Competition? 

Competition teams will retain the rights to their designs and technology.

What are the Challenge Guidelines, Deliverables, and Judging Criteria?

All work must be completed by the student team, however, we encourage collaboration and utilizing your academic, professional, and personal networks to create the best solution possible! In April 2022, teams will present their proposed solution along with a high-level business concept to a panel of interdisciplinary judges. 

General Judging Categories

Function- How efficient is the solution at preventing or removing pollution?

Impact – Cost Benefit Analysis integrating Environmental Economics

Innovation- Does this solution push the boundaries of current best practices and technology?

Feasibility  – Ease of integration into current systems and likelihood of implementation

Aesthetics (if applicable)

The student handbook will contain information about background, guidelines, and deliverables and will be posted over the summer.

How can I get involved if I am a professional? 

  • Work with TWC to develop competition materials
  • Offer professional advice and insight to the student teams
  • Share this competition with your network
  • Be a judge at the final pitch event.  Judges will be selected by TWC pending identification of student team topics.
  • Financially sponsor this competition

If you are a professional interested in any of these opportunities,
please contact the Director of The Water Connection, Devon Buckels at

If you are a professor or student are interested in participating in this competition,
please contact the Associate Director of The Water Connection, Lauren Berent at