Science news from the Delta Stewardship Council meeting: First draft of the Delta Science Plan, the CSAMP team, new Delta science research and more

Click here for more from the Delta Stewardship Council.

Just how science and policy will be linked together, developing a science agenda and other elements that are included in the first draft of the Delta Science Plan were discussed at the June 27th Delta Stewardship Council meeting as the Council was presented with the first draft of the ambitious plan.  Council members also heard a report on the Collaborative Science and Adaptive Management Program (CSAMP) that has been established for the remanded biological opinions, and were briefed the latest science news, including new reports on contaminated fish, tides and tidal marshes, and the future of California’s native fish populations in the face of climate change.


Delta Science Plan coverDr. Peter Goodwin began his presentation of the first draft of the Delta Science Plan by praising the commitment of the science community to work on the plan’s development.  With the State still under furlough and federal agencies under sequestration, there’s a moratorium on travel for just about everyone, he said, but members of the dedicated Delta science community have been putting in their time regardless:  “I think it’s a measure of the passion that the science community has to get this right – the fact that people who are already overworked are willing to put in time and advice to this effort,” he said.

The first draft of the science plan summarizes all of the major components, but It doesn’t yet include all of the input they’ve received, so “just because you don’t see your input reflected in here right at the moment, it isn’t that we’ve set that aside,” said Dr. Goodwin. “What we’re trying to do is to get to the big issues for this framework for how we might do science across the entire system.”

This is such an immensely strong science community, I think you have to come in from outside to fully appreciate that,” said Dr. Goodwin.  “The Chinese government just released a survey of the top universities in the world and six of the top 20 are here in California; there are many others that are rank nationally in the top 50.  That is reflected in discussions, whether you are talking with water contractors, agencies, or the universities themselves, there is a very high level of scientific debate, analysis and innovation.”

However, despite that, there are almost an equal number of initiatives that you can go back and look at that were put out 5 years ago – really great thinking, visionary at the time, and they went nowhere.  So one of the questions we asked was what happened?”  said Dr. Goodwin.  “We are trying to the extent possible to examine some of the principles of community science and other areas of big science where communities have been pulled together around very controversial issues.  What mechanisms did they use to get to that point?

DSC GoodwinThe name ‘One Delta, One Science’ – the One Delta people agree with, but I just want to be clear about what One Science means,” said Dr. Goodwin.  “One Science does not mean you are going to see every scientist working on Delta issues lining up and saying this is perfect; we fully understand that.  In fact, if you look at how science is done, we need to embrace legitimate scientific disagreement.  Niels Bohr, the famous Danish physicist and great speaker, once said, ‘now we have a paradox or significant difference of opinion; now I can see us making some real progress’.  So we need to have a process where we embrace legitimate scientific disagreement, and the stuff that is fluff or not important, how do we weed that out.

The Delta Plan’s recommendation GR1 specifies the elements that the science plan needs to address: collaborative institutional and organizational structure for science; communication of likely responses; data management, synthesis and communication of scientific knowledge; uncertainties and conflicting science information; prioritization of research; shared computer models; shared body of knowledge, and recommendations on an integrated monitoring approach, said Dr. Goodwin.

We’re really looking to move beyond the status quo for science in the Delta, he said.  “The synthesis is what the NRC came down on very heavily.  Essentially what they were saying was that there is really great science being done for specific science questions, often in the short-term.  But what is taking a look across the various programs? Scientific uncertainties are not excuses for inaction, and the clear understanding of tradeoffs – if you’re making one decision against another or comparing alternatives, having a clear statement of what that means.  So this is the vision we started with and you approved at the beginning of the year – how do you build an open Delta science community that works together to build this shared body of knowledge.”

Slide 7The Delta Science Plan will connect decision-makers and science leaders, establish a common body of the best available science, and build the infrastructure for delivering relevant science in a timely manner as well as develop the next generation of science leaders.  “There’s a lot of good science going on; how do you develop that large blue circle and then how do you link that to the policy?,” said Dr. Goodwin.

In order to accomplish this, we’re proposing to establish a high-level group of decision makers and leaders of the science community and the science program, “so that those directors or the people responsible for the decision can get an understanding of what’s going on, not just from their in-house scientists, but can address the much broader science community.”

The process will start with a meeting between the agency directors, the decision makers, and the science community to identify what are the really big questions and what are the uncertainties that are making those decisions so very difficult, Dr. Goodwin explained; the scientists will then take those big questions and develop a 4-year Science Action Agenda.

For questions that require a faster answer, there will be five different levels for getting information from the science community back to the decision makers, depending upon the time frame, said Dr. Goodwin.  If a fast response is needed, the science synthesis team could conduct a literature review to determine the best option, given the studies that have already been conducted.  If there is a little bit longer period of time, an invited panel could present their scientific knowledge, and then the group can work through it and develop a series of recommendations.

Slide 9Moving up the scale of time and investment, we then have this mechanism modeled on the NCEAS Center that would allow the question to be well-defined,” said Dr. Goodwin.  “You then pull together the groups that are doing science in that area and have these differing opinions, and you give them the resources, like a biostatistician, the computational resources, and access to the hydrodynamic models if that is part of the question.   Under the direction of the scope of what that group is set to do, you give them post docs – generally under the NCEAS model you need about a  year; they come back with a synthesis finding on that particular topic, so it’s a more collaborative type of effort rather than bringing in an independent panel.”

For the really big questions with the big uncertainties, it’s highly unlikely that we’re going to be able to address those issues right now, said Dr. Goodwin.  “But we know that uncertainty is going to be there five years, ten years from now.  We just need more science.  How do we begin to reduce those uncertainties?  And that comes through the Science Action Agenda, where we begin to target research dollars to chip away at those uncertainties.”

Who makes people do stuff?,” asked Councilman Randy Fiorini.  “My sense of the science community is that it is respectful of the independence and judgment of colleagues … how do you forge compromise as to what will be studied? When policy makers have a deadline, and scientists have a culture and an intellectual rigor that is on a different timeline, how do you match those?

Dr. Goodwin answered that there’s two things: what is happening now and where things will be in 5 years time.  “Right now there are science conflicts out there that need investigation.  As we develop this community of science and this shared prioritization, I think we can agree what the big uncertainties are likely to be; what are the unknowns,” he said, noting that the science will be designed to be anticipatory of not all but many of those issues.

DSC Isenberg 1Chair Phil Isenberg said that he was struggling to get clear in his mind what the draft science plan identifies as the problem.  “If multiple agencies with multiple agendas have been identified as the problem, continuing multiple agencies with multiple agendas seems to me to guarantee a continuation of the problem.  … What will the Delta Science Plan either do or recommend to solve the problems of multiple agencies with multiple agendas, which is, as best as I can tell, you have defined as the problem?

Dr. Goodwin replied that it is certainly one of the major problems, and there are two approaches to dealing with that: “One is that you could try and repeat CalFed and create a single science agency, but our thought was that was not going to be pragmatic, so the way that we’re addressing that issue is through a common workplan for science, a common prioritization of what the big research questions are, and the ability to look out across all of the different programs that are currently looking at various parts of the science related to the Delta – BDCP, IEP, the remand process, many of the other actions out there.  Everyone has been thinking about what are these big prioritizations; the thought is that you can then take a look and push those together through the Science Synthesis Team – a group of the science leaders that will compile all of those research priorities that have already been identified that would be synthesized towards what kind of science could you do to get to those big questions.”

The policy-science team’s role is to ensure that when the science is actually conducted, the directors, the people on the policy end can see what the outcomes are going to be from that science and is that really going to get to the types of questions that they are facing,” said Dr. Goodwin, adding that the process would help identify overlaps, duplication, or gaps.

This seems like a recognition of the fact that multiple agencies with multiple agendas isn’t going to change so we shouldn’t pretend it is going to change and we’re trying to do the best we can in an imperfect world,” said Mr. Isenberg.  “If that is the purpose, I recommend you say that specifically, because that would be at least refreshingly candid, even if depressing in its expression. … The science plan is crucial to the Delta Plan, and I think it is fundamental to policy.  … I agree, as you scientists always say, politicians want science plans to make everyone happy, and scientists cannot be expected to make everyone happy.”

Dr. Valerie Connor, science manager for the State and Federal Contractors Water Agency had praise for Dr. Goodwin and the Delta Science Program’s efforts developing the science plan.  “This is a very significant document, and it really is a bold vision for improving the way we collaboratively conduct science into the future, and they’ve done a great job for all of us,” said Dr. Connor. “We’ve had several meetings with Dr. Goodwin and his staff, and I want to thank them for the time that they’ve devoted to understanding our issues and concerns and addressing them in the draft plan,” she said, noting there were still had some issues to be resolved, but she was confident they would soon be.

DSC Connor 1I have great confidence in Peter and the science program, but completing this plan and implementing this plan through the Action Agenda and the Science Synthesis Team will not be easy; in fact, it’s going to be really, really hard,” continued Dr. Connor.  “All of us who either generate or use Delta science are going to need to work even harder to be able to capitalize on the benefits that I think will take some time to accrue.  And this is going to require a very strong commitment from all of us.”

Paradigm changes require a number of key elements to be successful, and one of those elements is a well articulated vision.  It takes time to get that right, so I hope that the members of the Stewardship Council will support Peter’s approach and vision,” she said.  “We believe that he’s on the right track with something that could truly be transformative for the Delta science with significant benefits for both water supply and ecosystem management.

A second draft of the Delta Science Plan is expected in August.


  • Click here for the staff report on the first draft of the Delta Science Plan.
  • Click here for the first draft of the Delta Science Plan.
  • Click here for Dr. Goodwin’s power point presentation.



The Collaborative Science and Adaptive Management Team has been established in response to Judge O’Niell’s recent ruling on the remand process.  It is being co-chaired by the Leo Winternitz, senior advisor with the Nature Conservancy, and Dr. Valerie Conner, science manager for the State and Federal Contractors Water Agency.  The envisioned process draws heavily on proposed actions outlined in the Delta Science Plan and represents an alternative, more inclusive and transparent approach to developing the biological opinions.  The first meeting was held June 11.  The group has proposed a bi-weekly meeting schedule.

Dr. Connor explained that the CSAMP program has three tiers of organization.  At the highest level is a policy group which is the heads of the agencies like DWR and DFW, regional directors from the federal fish agencies, DWR, and Reclamation.  “It is unique in that there are multiple stakeholders, several water districts are represented as well as several non-profit environmental groups.  So we get our guidance for the collaborative adaptive management team from that policy group.”  It is definitely being viewed as a pilot for BDCP, and trying to establish a science framework in adaptive management as we move forward, she said.

Hopefully by jointly designing these studies, there will be broader agreement when the results come in and they are assessed,” said Ms. Connor.

  • Note:  Judge O’Niell’s decision and related legal documents can be found in the Legal Library (located under the “Resources” tab in the menu bar).


  • The State Water Resources Control Board has released a statewide survey for contaminants found in sportfish from California’s rivers and streams.  The monitoring and research was funded by multiple sources and utilizes a fairly sophisticated statistical design. “What’s remarkable is how the state has chosen to put this information out to the public.  I would encourage you to take a look at MyWaterQuality webpage that summarizes in a very clear way the results of this study and status of water quality,” said Dr. Goodwin. The site also addresses mercury contamination, which is important not only for public health consumption but the implications it has for wetland restoration projects.  Click here for the full report.   For the My Water Quality Website visit : 
  • The Delta Science Program, in conjunction with UC Davis Center for Aquatic Biology & Aquaculture and the Cal-Neva Chapter of the American Fisheries Society, recently held a seminar on tidal marsh restoration and native fishes in the Delta.  The seminar focused on the benefits of tidal marsh restoration for native species and what elements are important for successful tidal marsh restoration.  The seminar had more than 200 attendees.  Dr. Goodwin said that the seminars are becoming more interactive.  Organizers also try to bring in a well-known scientist from the outside to engage with the scientists and push their thinking.  A peer-reviewed article and summary that presents key findings from the workshop presentations and panel discussions will be synthesized, and videos from the event will be posted in July.
  • On June 4 and 5, the IEP’s Science Advisory Group began a review of the IEP Delta Juvenile Fishes Monitoring Program and the Delta Juvenile Salmonid Survival Studies to determine if these programs are meeting their present objectives, as well as to assess their potential to answer future questions and provide information on salmonids and other native species in the Delta.  Recommendations will be summarized and addressed in a report due in July.  Click here for more information.
  • Dr. Goodwin recently participated in a workshop hosted by The Puget Sound Institute, which brought together lead scientists from the major ecosystem restoration programs around the country, such as the Everglades, the Louisiana coastline, Columbia River estuary, and Chesapeake Bay.  The scientists shared their experiences and information about setting priorities for science in the face of uncertainty, effective adaptive management, coordinating scientific efforts of multiple agencies, stakeholders and programs; and  what should be the role of social science in the research for ecosystem recovery.  A peer-reviewed publication will be produced from the workshop.
  • A new research paper led by the Delta Stewardship Council’s Chris Enright, has been published in the high-end journal, Estuaries and Coasts.  The study found there was a profound tidal and two-week cooling effect due to the night-time flooding of the tidal marsh plains.  When the water floods the marsh, the shallow water is exposed to the cooler nighttime air temperatures, making the water much cooler when it drains off the marsh and returns to the sloughs and channels.  This was found to be a major source of cold water to the system.  However, as the timing of the tides will shift in the coming decades through natural processes, the high tides will begin to occur during the day and instead will produce a much different process – the water will flow out onto the marsh plain and will be heated by the sun, likely raising temperatures in the system as the water returns to the sloughs and channels.  The findings of the study have implications for fish survival and for tidal marsh restoration.  Click here to read the report.
  • In May, Dr. Peter Moyle and others at UC Davis published an article on the vulnerability of California’s native fish species to climate change, and found that 82% of native fishes were on the path to extinction, as opposed to only 19% of the invasive species.  Researchers looked at factors such as current population size and habitat range, vulnerability to other stressors, dependence on human intervention, tolerance to temperature and precipitation change, and their ability to move to a new area.  Native fish species requiring cold water are likely to face extinction if current trends continue, and no native fish are likely to benefit from climate change.  The study suggests that existing knowledge is enough to determine species in need of conservation attention, and the establishment of cool-water refuges for native fish may be necessary.  Click here to read the article.



  • Dr. Tracy Collier is now officially the chair of the Delta Independent Science Board.
  • There were many positive comments from the science board regarding the Delta Science Plan; Dr. Collier called it “a big step in the right direction.”
  • The comment letter on BDCP Chapter 7 and section 3.6 has been finalized.
  • The DISB has completed their review of habitat restoration programs in the Delta and the Suisun Marsh and will present the findings to the Council at a later date.  Click here for the completed report.
  • The DISB is starting the discussion of the next review of science programs in the Delta: Fish and Flows, which is a shorthand term only;  “we realize we will be looking at this in conjunction with many other factors that affect fish populations, but fish & flows is the shorthand term,” said Dr. Collier.  A small group has been appointed to talk to people and look at reports, and come back to the board with a proposal for how to conduct the review.


  • Click here for the report from Delta Independent Science Board.
  • Click here for the DISB’s Comment Letter on BDCP Chapter 7 and Section 6 of Chapter 3, Drafts of March 2013
  • Click here for the DISB’s Memo to Jerry Meral, Deputy Secretary, California Natural Resources Agency regarding Administrative v Public Draft BDCP Environmental Impact Report Statement
  • Click here for the report Habitat Restoration in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and Suisun Marsh – A Review of Science Programs
  • Click here for the Tentative Delta ISB Review Assignments for the BDCP EIR-EIS
  • Click here for the Charge to Delta ISB for Review of the Draft BDCP EIR-EIS
  • Click here for the DISB Comments on Current Administrative Draft of BDCP Documents


  • Click here for the agenda for the Delta Stewardship Council’s June 27, 2013 meeting.
  • Click here for the webcast video.
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