Can $100,000 in Prize Money Help Arizona Cope with Water Scarcity?

Even if you don’t live in Arizona, you’ve probably heard about the water shortages looming in the southwestern United States. The Arizona Community Foundation, which has six office locations across the state, knows that new water sources aren’t going to spring up over night without some innovative thinking.

According to the Arizona Department of Natural Resources, the state will begin to have a serious imbalance of water supply and water demand between 2030 and 2060. Although Arizona’s water crisis may still be a few decades away, a few forward-thinking leaders want to prevent emergencies like those experienced in Las Vegas and parts of California.

The foundation teamed up with Republic Media and the Morrison Institute for Public Policy to launch the Water Consciousness Challenge, a $100,000 reward for the best strategy to raise public consciousness of the issue of water scarcity and Arizona’s water future. The competition is open to both professional and student teams from virtually any background imaginable. To be eligible for the $100,000 prize, teams must register by December 19 and complete applications by January 16.

"This is an opportunity to bring in new thinking, new ways of looking at a big problem," commented Steve Seleznow, ACF President and CEO.

There’s already talk of a second challenge next year for developing products, services and businesses to create solutions for water scarcity on a more tangible level. Even teams that are picked over for the prize will receive feedback from water scarcity experts and the opportunities to network with others in the field. The point of it all is to raise awareness about the water scarcity issue now so that entrepreneurs can start working on solutions and feel the public’s support beneath their wings.

The Water Consciousness Challenge is the first competition offered under the New Arizona Prize, a program aimed at driving innovation and long-term solutions to long-term needs across the state. ACF, which continues to award traditional grants and manage donor-advised funds, is using this program to attract creative thinkers in an open, transparent, and competitive way. Much of funding for this program is coming from the Tashman Fund, the charitable fund of the Tech Group President and CEO, Haldun Tashman.

It’s difficult to get Arizonans to care about next-generation environmental issues when poverty, hunger, and poor education are more immediate issues. But Americans love a good competition whether it’s a new game show on network television or a highly specialized contest among local entrepreneurs. And for this year, applicants aren’t even required to follow through with a business plan for their water-saving ideas. It’s all about getting the word out creatively, getting people to care, and taking one step at a time. Whichever team can captivate the biggest audience through digital media will likely emerge as the winner and then be trusted to keep that momentum going.

To learn more about the Water Consciousness Challenge and The New Arizona Prize, check out the Prize’s website or send questions to