Developing the Delta Science Plan: Defining the problems, proposing solutions

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Discussion of the development of the Delta Science Plan continued at the December 13th meeting of the Delta Stewardship Council as Dr. Peter Goodwin, Lead Scientist, updated the Council members on the progress of the science plan.

At the November meeting of the Delta Stewardship Council, the direction from Council members was to define the problems that the Science Plan is intended to solve, along with proposed solutions.  Council members also asked for a description of how the science-policy interface will work to implement all the steps of adaptive management, began Dr. Goodwin.

So what’s the Delta Science Plan about? Dr. Goodwin explained that the Delta Plan states that the function of the Science Plan is to aid in the coordination and focus of science efforts across agencies.  Such a plan is essential to support the adaptive management of ecosystem restoration and water management decisions in the Delta, and therefore implement the Delta Plan and achieve the co‐equal goals, he said.

The overarching problems are that uncoordinated mission‐specific or single issue science efforts hinder efficient development of best available science to support adaptive management in the Delta, and many resource management decisions are made in courtrooms, Dr. Goodwin said.  Therefore, the overarching solution is the Delta Science Plan, which will do three things:

  1. Organize and integrate Delta science activities to provide best available sciencefocused on priority management issues that the community of science can stand behind
  2. Provide approaches for communicating science to support adaptive management decision making throughout the process
  3. Build an open collaborative science community that will build on current ad hoc collaborative efforts and that will encourage researchers to cluster around the big challenges

The science plan must address the infrastructure, such as how data is exchanged, build common models, and ensure that the best technologies are being used; it must address how the people interact and build a community of science, and it must address the governance and framework for the system, Dr. Goodwin noted.

Some of the specific problems the Science Plan needs to address:

1.  Policymaker’s “Grand Challenges”:  A problem that has been identified is that policymakers are not confident that current research in the Delta is focused on their highest priorities, and scientists are not aware of the policymakers’ highest priority issues.  The Delta Science Plan is going to need to develop an innovative interface between policymakers and the science community to address priority issues, focus and enhance collaborative research, anticipate future challenges, and develop system understanding.

2.  Institutional and organizational structure for science: Currently, there are multiple entities in the Delta undertaking disparate science efforts, leading to insufficient sharing of information, overlapping efforts, and in some cases, conflicting science, and all of these are impediments to achieving the coequal goals, Dr. Goodwin said  The science plan will incorporate a shared plan and vision that will organize and integrate the various independent science entities in the Delta toward a collaborative and shared science that will inform policymakers, address the coequal goals, and accomplish the vision of One Delta, One Science.

3.  Shared Computer Models: Currently, many different models are being used with limited transparency as to the algorithms, inputs, and scenarios being used, which inhibits the comparison of model results.  There’s also a sense of distrust depending upon where the funding came from.  However, this is one of the more easily solvable problems; there are examples in other branches of science where this is being done effectively, Dr. Goodwin said.  The value of models is that they become the repository for the best available information about that particular process; they can help identify the uncertainties and help quantify what we really know and don’t know about the system.

12.13.12 AM Wheel

Another part of the Science Plan is determining how science works with policy to implement all steps of adaptive management.  We’ve added three boxes more steps to the Adaptive Science wheel so now science is involved in every step, Dr. Goodwin said.  At the first step, we’re establishing the goals and objectives and providing the scientific evidence for identifying and defining the problem to be solved.  We’re then looking at communicating any limitations and opportunities as well as the chance of scientific success of achieving the goals and objectives.  And the last step of the adaptive management wheel is using science to inform the management and policy decision makers about the viable alternatives.

Science we know is a team sport; and policy is a team sport, said Dr. Goodwin.  So what should that interface look like between science and policy?  We certainly don’t have any magic answers yet, but we did explore what that interface might look like and what the role of those different boxes might be.

At one end is science: collaboratively building a single knowledge base.  “Scientists will never agree on everything but I think what we can do is decide what is known, what the uncertainties are, and where the priorities are for reducing those uncertainties,” said Dr. Goodwin.  And at the other end, the policymakers communicate the grand challenges and are the ones who make management decisions and take policy actions.

12.13.12 Science PolicySo what should that relationship be between science and policy?  What should that interface look like?  In the early stages of the BDCP, a report on adaptive management suggested the concept of the polymath, or the scientist that knows all disciplines: I think it’s too much in this day of highly complex science to expect an individual to do that, how do you get these very influential scientists that really understand the Delta well to interface with the people who are making the decisions? said Dr. Goodwin.

Policy-science teams will provide an infrastructure for coordinating and integrating science efforts, communicating grand challenges, communicating current understanding including uncertainties, and implementing all steps of adaptive management.

Chair Phil Isenberg:  “I think the Science Plan has to lay out some of the institutional requirements in advance for project applications …  I think you’ve got to have a Science Plan that takes the risk associated with informing the world – project proponents and project opponents – that x is relevant. … For a science plan to be utilized by folks on the ground, they have to know when they have to do something, what should be done, and what factors are out there.  And that’s the part of this that I think you’re going to have the most trouble with.  But I think it’s the part that most of the people who are consumers will be interested in knowing.”

Councilman Nordhoff said the presentation was very well done, but was still a little intangible.  Perhaps there should be two lists:  one list would have those contentious scientific issues where there isn’t any agreement at all, and the second list would be those areas which are most important where science is incomplete or there isn’t direction from the scientific community. Dr. Goodwin agreed, saying that such lists would help coordinate and target research.

Dr. Goodwin said he would return in January with a detailed outline and proposal of what the science plan should look like, what the gaps are, and how they are reaching out to the many programs currently underway.



Before delving into the latest details on the development of the Delta Science Plan, Dr. Peter Goodwin discussed the recent independent review of the 2012 Long Term Operations Opinions regarding the operation of the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project.  These panels are critical because the panels are asked to make sure the best available science is being implemented, that the scientific evidence supports the objectives, and are there any new ideas.  This year was different in that the National Marine Fisheries Service suggested rather than a shallow review of all the Reasonable and Prudent Actions (RPAs), to instead pick two key actions and allow the panel to delve into those issues with a lot more depth.  The two issues they chose were the Clear Creek RPA and the Spring 2012 Delta Operations.   Both of these actions are for salmon and steelhead primarily.  The panel, many returning from last year, dove into it, generating 54 pages of recommendations.

One of the things that emerged was that sometimes physical targets can be specified in an RPA, but it’s not routinely achievable to achieve those targets.  Things are a little more complicated than just a wet, normal or dry year.  “They really highlighted something – that we really need to be focusing on these linkages between the physical targets which you might put out there and what the actual biological and ecological responses are,” said Dr. Goodwin.


  • Click here for the Report of the 2012 Delta Science Program Independent Review Panel (IRP) on the Long-term Operations Opinions (LOO) Annual Review.



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