The 2020-2021 New Mexico Water Data Challenge

2020-2021 New Mexico Water Data Challenge

New Mexico was invited to participate in the 2020-2021 Water Data Challenge, a competition hosted by the California Water Data Challenge, with support from the West Big Data Innovation Hub, where participants use open data to tackle complex societal water issues.

Attendees from around the world heard ideas on existing data challenges from multiple project mentors during an online Zoom data hackathon in the summer of 2020. At the event, New Mexico project mentors Stacy Timmons of the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Gunnar Johnson of the New Mexico Environment Department, presented a water data challenge related to recent changes in the federal designation of Waters of the United States (WOTUS) and its impact to communities in New Mexico. In the months following the launch event, team New Mexico Clean Water, led by Wesley Chioh and Ana Gomez Lemmen Meyer, stepped up to the data challenge.

Wesley joined the Water Data Challenge because of his passion for environmental justice and addressing socio-economic disadvantages related to clean water access for communities. Utilizing his background as a data analyst specializing in spatial analytics, Wesley used open geospatial water data from the New Mexico Environment Department, with other open data, to develop the R Shiny dashboard. This web application shows a variety of features including numerous intermittent and ephemeral streams that will no longer be federally protected under the Clean Water Act due to the changes to the WOTUS definition. Additionally, he was also able to re-scale the data feature United Nations Human Development Index, a measure of human wellbeing based on socio-economic factors, to evaluate New Mexico’s counties and their access to clean water.

Ana came to the Water Data Challenge with a background in economics and data science, with a focus on building models to predict or to estimate impacts. Her work on team New Mexico Clean Water was centered on how changes to WOTUS may potentially impact public drinking water systems. Working as an online team, Ana developed an index linked directly to the Wesley’s R Shiny dashboard that evaluates a water system’s vulnerability. Additionally, Ana developed an interactive story map to provide further context to the data analysis and visualizations. 

2020-2021 New Mexico Water Data Challenge

“Water issues, though perceived as local issues at times, really are bigger than local,” Wesley said, describing what he learned from the project. The better we understand the interconnections and relationships of water systems and their associated data, the better we can make informed decisions.

Data challenges, like the Water Data Challenge, are great learning experiences. Both Ana and Wesley learned how to use their specialized data skills in building visualizations and tools to channel their individual experiences and passion for ensuring equitable access to safe, clean water for communities.

Working to continue informing policy makers, state and federal agency staff, and the general public about water issues, having interactive maps and imagery like the products produced during this competition, can provide greater comprehension of the complex, interconnected processes intrinsic to water management in New Mexico.

According to Ana, these data challenges present an opportunity for data scientists to “contribute their skills and

experience to the public good and learn more about water.”

Team New Mexico Clean Water is now waiting to hear the results of this year’s competition, with awards of up to $16,000 in prize money.

For more information about upcoming Water Data Challenges or to find out how you may be able to contribute, sign up for our newsletter at

 See the New Mexico Clean Water team’s results at: