Q & A About the 2017/18 FIRST® LEGO® League Hydro Dynamics Challenge

The Snohomish Conservation District has recently had a number of FIRST Lego League teams reach out to us for help with the Hydro Dynamics Challenge for the 2017/18 championship. Derek Hann, our district engineer, has prepared the following FAQ for teams struggling with the last minute crunch before the first round.

Q: Who can I talk to about what problems need to be fixed?

A: Some of the teams I have worked with have taken advantage of their local government to help narrow things down. Most City Public Works departments have at least one staff member specifically dedicated to Hydrodynamic issues (stormwater, wastewater, municipal water, etc.). They would likely be quite happy to tell you about the problems they face on a daily basis. I am sure they would love some fresh creative insight. When you meet with them ask, “What are some annoying problems you have always meant to fix, but you have never had the time to fix?” Every City has a handful of those types of problems. (See list below.)

Graphic courtesy of the City of Everett Public Works

Graphic courtesy of the City of Everett Public Works

Q: Hydro Dynamics is such a broad topic! How do I narrow it down?

A: Focus on a local problem. This will give your team a very unique feel and flavor. Every geographical area deals with their water problems differently. This creates opportunities to fix problems that are too unique to have a universal solution.

It may also help to focus on a very specific problem. It may not be a problem that will change the world, but if it is very specific, it will be more easy to understand. One example would be focusing a very specific type of pollutant (i.e., cigarette butts, chip bags, plastic bottles) instead of “pollution” in general.

Q: Our solution isn’t very pragmatic. How do we fix that?

A: That may not be important. Even if your idea is very “pie in the sky” it may still be valuable. It will spark other people's imaginations. The important thing is to acknowledge the practical problems in your presentation. Have an outline of all the things that need to be worked out or fixed if the project is ever going to become a reality. That will demonstrate your knowledge of the problem without obligating you to have a perfect solution.

Even if your solution is sensible, it would still be a good idea to point out some of the bugs that need to be worked out.

Q: How do we not get lost in the details?

A: Hydrodynamics is a complicated subject. This makes it very easy to spend all your time trying to make sure your solution is perfect and has all the bugs worked out. You don’t have time for that. Let your proposed solution be a broad outline. Focus on the most exciting parts of the solution and leave a healthy dose of mystery. Leave the audience feeling a bit unsure if the solution will really work, but excited to do their own research and find out.

It is more important to make sure your presentation is clean, exciting and concise than detailed.

Q: How do we know that our solution is unique?

A: It probably isn’t, at least not 100% unique, and that is okay. There is always room to improve on ideas that are out there already, so don’t get discouraged if you can’t find anything “new.” Just make sure your idea is communicated well and you understand how it works.

Graphic courtesy of King County.

Graphic courtesy of King County.

Q: Do you have a list of common pollutants we can use to narrow our projects?

A: Yes. Pollution sources common to our area:

  • Pet and animal poop
  • Plastic bottles
  • Nutrients such as animal wastes, synthetic fertilizers, lawn clippings and yard debris.
  • Large trash (chip bags, plastic bags, etc.)
  • Cigarette butts
  • Heavy Metals
  • Organic Sediment
  • Oils
  • Sand

Q: Do you have a list of “food for thought” questions we can draw from or use to narrow our projects?

A: Sure thing. Here are some questions you can ponder and help you brainstorm.

  • What are some ways we can enable people to harvest stormwater for emergency situations?
  • How can we teach people to maintain their stormwater facilities?
  • How do we encourage people to plant trees and bushes instead of lawns?
  • How can we make drain pipes easier to clean?
  • Is there an erosion control rock that does a better job of keeping down weeds?
  • Is there a fitting to a storm drain we can invent to filter out trash?
  • Can we make street cleaning cheaper?
  • What are some ways we can utilize cleaning attachments on private vehicles?
  • Can we use an automated vactor truck that only takes one person to clean a catch basin?
  • Is it possible for small cities to share vactor trucks?

Q: I need help! Can I contact you?

A: Yes. Send me an e-mail at derek@snohomishcd.org.