At the Delta Stewardship Council at the February 21st, 2013 meeting, Lead Scientist Dr. Peter Goodwin discussed in further detail the science-policy interface being developed for the Delta Science Plan, and Council staff gave an update and tentative schedule for the final Delta Plan and it’s associated documents.
However, before delving into the Delta Science Plan, Dr. Goodwin first discussed the UCLA’s experiment on Delta levees, which has received a lot of media attention. Dr. Goodwin had an opportunity to meet with the research team when they were up in Sacramento a few weeks ago. The research team is led by Professor Stewart and Professor Brandenberg, chair and vice-chair of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at UCLA. “What was impressive about their research is that there are really spanning a very broad scope so they’re dealing with everything from the very fundamental soils property under seismic loading almost at the microscopic scale, with some of their research, and on the other scale, they are looking at how river levees on a very large scale may respond to earthquake shaking, very practical.”
The research has funding from many sources and is part of the National Science Foundation’s major initiative on the network for earthquake engineering simulation. The goal of the research program isn’t to look at how individual levees respond under earthquake loading, but instead is focused on how peat soils respond beneath the levees. It is the underlying peat soils that will experience the shaking, so they’ve been doing field tests and laboratory tests using very sophisticated technology to study that. The researchers say there is virtually nothing in the peer review literature about peat behavior. “What they are finding is this process under normal soils which would really be of secondary importance, on peat soils could become quite significant.”
The concern with peat soils is that if you shake a soil that is saturated, it builds up the water pressure inside that will relieve itself, producing slumps and failures. The peat soils are impervious vertically but have high permeability laterally so the normal shaking that you would expect to see is less important because the pore pressure can dissipate quite rapidly. “The research question was more not the failure of an individual levee, but in the event of an earthquake, would there be widespread settlement, would we see a reduction in levee height over a large area,” said Dr. Goodwin.
They are working on the first paper and have agreed to do a brown bag seminar once it is completed.
DEVELOPMENT OF DELTA SCIENCE PLAN: THE SCIENCE-POLICY INTERFACE
Dr. Goodwin then began his presentation on the development of the Delta Science Plan. At this meeting, he will be talking about the organization of science and the science-policy interface; at the next meeting, he will come back to discuss other aspects of the plan, such as the science to inform adaptive management and strategies and approaches for building the best available science.
Time is of the essence, he said; there are many big decisions made right now and it’s important to have something out there that shows where the Delta Plan is going, where the Delta Science Plan is going, and where the science fits to support that.
The Delta Science Program has been engaging heavily with the ongoing processes, and we want to put together a discussion document and a draft plan as quickly as possible, said Dr. Goodwin. There are many big Delta science conferences during the month of April where there will be a series of forums, scientific meetings, and conferences, so it will be an opportunity to engage the scientific community and hear their comments on the principles and the draft plan.
“I feel quite optimistic about this,” said Dr. Goodwin. “Whether you are talking to BDCP, whether it’s the remand process, whether some of the very in-depth planning that IEP has been doing to make the science relevant to these issues, the overarching sentiment behind this is collaborative science – how can we do collaborative science better? Because there is this common move to unite the scientific community, there’s a lot of things in here that I think people say, yes, this is just going to make sense.”
With the Delta Science Plan, we want to build a science infrastructure that will accelerate knowledge discovery and make it easier for scientists to do their job by providing them more time for fundamental thinking, and building this concept of a science community, the One Delta, One Science, he said. However, One Delta, One Science does not mean that all scientists are going to have the same opinion; if so, that would slow up knowledge discovery: “What we want to do is to have the forum where competing hypotheses and competing ideas can be tested in a supportive environment. So where we don’t understand things and there is a lot of uncertainty, how do you structure science across different programs in such a way that you can really encourage those disagreements and make these leaps forward because that will accelerate what we understand and what we don’t,” he said.
We’ve given a lot of thought to prioritizing research, sharing and accessing models, integrated monitoring approaches, data management and accessibility, independent scientific peer review, and how to resolve scientific disagreements.
One issue we have been giving a lot of thought to is how to share models. Even when people are using the same models, if they are using different input data sets or different scenarios, there will be different conclusions from that model. “So how can you give access to everyone to use those models, how do you train people to use those models, and how do you allow people to access the output from those models,” said Dr. Goodwin.
There is some very innovative thinking going on in the area of integrated monitoring especially in regards to water quality monitoring: “Our task is to look at how we can build on those approaches and how we can start moving data from water quality into other areas.”
The Delta Science Plan is proposing to create a high-level science-policy team consisting of directors, heads of agencies and other leaders on the policy side, and a subset of leaders from the science community on the other side. The group would meet twice a year, possibly before or after the implementation committee as likely members of the implementation committee would also be members of the science-policy team. Here, information can go in two directions, said Dr. Goodwin: From the policy side, a director could pose questions of the science community in a safe forum, providing an opportunity for a frank exchange about what is known and what isn’t known, and the science community will have an opportunity to find out if they are generating a river of useful knowledge and if their conclusions are supporting the really big questions which are facing the agency directors.
Councilman Hank Nordhoff: “You see this as informational?” Yes, Dr. Goodwin agrees. Mr. Nordhoff: “I think that’s the right way to do it, otherwise the policy science team could become the political science team if you were making decisions, but if it is a font of knowledge where people with vexing questions can go … inform people in a non-operational non-political way, and they can then use that information to make decisions in another group.”
Councilman Randy Fiorini: “I think an important aspect of this is identifying the problem up front. My concern has been that science is off developing projects and looking at things, and oftentimes takes many, many years to gather enough information to be satisfied that they are ready to render an opinion. Policymakers respect that. Policymakers, on the other hand, are anxious to do something, and are generally spring loaded to act, and I think there is some respect from the science community towards policymakers about that. But the two operate in a realm of some mistrust and I think I see the value of this as coming together policymakers and appropriate science team members to identify the problem right up front,” he said, adding that then the political, the financial realities can be addressed from the policy side, and the scientific realities can be addressed from the science side, and by doing so, you should be able to map out an approach that leads to an effective monitoring program and research program into implementation.
Peter agrees, “if you like setting the grand challenges, the big questions, then how do you structure the science then to address those questions.”
In the triangle of the decision making process, there would be the science-policy team, the science-management team, and the policy-management interface. We don’t intend to address the policy-management interface in the science plan “because really when you look at how things happen, it’s the sovereign territory of the individual agencies; it’s how they structure themselves internally to manage programs and projects,” he said.
Currently, we have the science community that develops and synthesizes the best available science, but then that best available science needs to feed up to the management directly. There are many science management teams already in place in the Delta, and so we’ve been concentrating on how a broader base of science and knowledge can feed into those science teams, said Dr. Goodwin.
One example is the Water Operations and Management Team, said Dr. Goodwin: “They are responsible for the day to day operations. So what are the questions that they really need to know, what are the technologies coming down the road that could make their jobs a lot easier, what is the uncertainty associated with the science, and how do you actually focus the science in the long-term to help and improve the decision making process. And so within this structure, those are the questions we want to get to,” said Dr. Goodwin.
Councilman Nordhoff asked if funding would be provided for people to attend meetings and seminars. Dr. Goodwin replied that it depends on the program itself. Agency scientists can be there if it is important to their mission. “One of the things we been wondering and looking at is the model for the private sector and the other groups. How we finance and support this program is another topic that we haven’t thought through yet, although a few suggestions have been thrown out. It is a real issue how you get the right people to the table if it’s not part of their position description in their agency.”
At the top of the science infrastructure is the Delta Independent Science Board; they are a very important review board, but they are not the only ones. “We’ve put a lot of thought about how you can feed information from science to these review boards in a way that’s efficient not only for the board but for the agencies which invest a lot of money and staff in preparation for these types of reviews. The Delta Science Program is shown there as a facilitator to make this happen.”
We’ve been focusing on building science in such a way that the science can be fed into policy through the science-policy team as well as feeding a much broader science into the science-management teams. There are many science programs going on right now, so what we are looking at is how the science from all of those programs may possibly fit together. What we’re proposing is a Delta Science Synthesis Team whose role would be to conduct the system-wide big picture synthesis and analysis of what’s going on and how the system is actually responding, said Dr. Goodwin; their functions would be many, one of them being to develop beneath the science plan a 2-year work plan or road map. “It would also hone the research questions from the science-policy team where these big questions have been laid out. How do you then convert those big questions and get it down to a level where you could put it out to a competitive research program? There needs to be some translation building on what’s already available. So that would be one of the functions of the synthesis team,” he said.
Much like the State of the Delta Science report that Dr. Healey led a few years ago which people thought was very valuable, the Delta Science Synthesis Team would reach out across the science leadership and put a “State of the Delta Science” report together that would look at annual and final reports from the research and science going on in the Delta. They would look at what is new and what is being developed in the last two years and then to feed it back to the big questions that are coming from the science-policy team. “Then we can have a hard look at the questions that we are struggling with and what in this period has actually resulted in action now that we have a lot more information and we are making better decisions. If we can’t demonstrate that, then we come back and revisit the questions and redo the workplan,” he said.
The science report would also aid in performing their reviews: “If they were to have this document to start their review, it would help them target on what the issues are, it would be a lot more focused, and then they can pick and choose where they think either great things are going on or where our knowledge is lacking,” said Dr. Goodwin. “This is important because unquestionably, we are now in this new era of accountability. And these questions are just going to be asked more frequently at the federal and state level.”
Smaller, focused science synthesis teams would feed upwards to the science synthesis teams to get a more holistic view. For example, the Interagency Ecological Program, as part of their 10 year effort to study the pelagic organism decline, put together a proposal through the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) that focused on the synthesis effort. Beneath the the science synthesis team were work teams that focused on different elements of this synthesis: a food web team, a contaminants team, and several others; the work teams fed up to the synthesis that was then conducted through NCEAS type process that we would hope to have in place, said Dr. Goodwin. “While this has been happening in some places, what we don’t have right now is what the NRC pointed out – that how does this effort in one specific area feed up to this much bigger understanding.”
The science synthesis team would include representatives from the policy-science team to ensure information flows back up from science to the policy level.
So we’re working on a first draft for early April, and we’ll be taking it out to the many events that are happening in the Delta science community in April.
DELTA PLAN UPDATE
Cindy Messer, Delta Plan Program Manager, and Chris Stevens, Chief Counsel, then updated the Council on the status of the Delta Plan and its associated documents. Ms. Messer began: Council staff are working on the comments received on the EIR, the Delta Plan and the regulations based on Delta Plan policies, and are drafting responses to them. They will begin preparing a fairly extensive report and presentation that will be presented at the March meeting which will included comment themes as well as our draft responses and possible approaches. About 3000 comments have been received in total. Some of the comments are technical and straightforward. They will be separated into lists and the comments for each draft document will be presented individually.
There are some additional items related to the draft EIR that will be brought before the Council. The staff and legal team have done some analyses and have some suggestions in terms of changes that might be need to be made to the Delta Plan. “We’ll also take a look at how the Delta Plan further achieves the coequal goals. This is the exercise of looking at the different alternatives that are part of the EIR process which will be part of the CEQA findings that must be considered in May where we get to the point where we’ll be looking to certify the final EIR,” said Ms. Messer.
The 2-day March meeting will be spent mostly on going through comments with the ultimate goal to get feedback and final direction from the Council on the comments, responses and major issues. Afterwards, staff will incorporate the revisions into the three draft documents. Another 15-day public comment period will be needed for the regulations if the Council decides to make substantial revisions. If that is needed, it would occur in April.
The Economic and Fiscal Impact Statement will need to be submitted to the Department of Finance for their review; this needs to be done roughly about 30 days before the Council adopts the regulations, certifies the EIR and adopts the Delta Plan.
In May, hopefully the Council will be ready to consider adopting the Delta Plan and the regulations, as well as certifying the EIR. Prior to that, the final EIR, final Delta Plan and the final Rulemaking Package will need to be published 10 days in advance of the Council meeting, currently anticipated to be May 16 and 17. Immediately after the Council meeting, provided the Council has adopted the three documents, staff will put the finishing touches on the rulemaking package, and send it to the Office of Administrative Law for review, who has 30 days to review the package.
“It’s our intention to ask for a shorter review period so we can get the regulations submitted to the Secretary of State by May 31st – that’s the date we need to hit in order to have the regulations become effective on July 1st,” said Ms. Messer. In June, we will present a polished, clean professional document which we will post in June, although there will be no content changes after it’s adopted.
Chris Stevens said that in regards to the Office of Administrative Law’s quarterly effective date for new regulations, there is still an exception in the law that with the approval of OAL, regulations make take effect earlier based on good cause,” and I say that because we have great cause in my humble opinion, they should take effect as soon as we can get them done. Just to remind you, and I don’t even need to remind you …. , we’re trying to address a crisis here. The legislature gave us a deadline to adopt the Detla Plan which unfortunately we didn’t meet because of the complexity of the issues, but nevertheless, we have to get this thing done. The events that are taking place, we’re reading about them in the news and the crisis is still out there, let’s keep that mind,” said Mr. Stevens.
The comments are really good comments, said Mr. Stevens, but they are not raising a lot of new issues, which is not surprising based on the nature of the deliberations and the open and transparent process. “In my opinion, based on some stakeholder comments, there are some revisions that are going to be necessary and we’ll need a 15-day public review just on those revisions. After that, we want you to be in a place where you can vote – where you can certify the EIR, adopt the Delta Plan and the associated regulations. Then these things take effect and we begin addressing the crisis in the Delta.“