Maven’s Minutes: Second draft of the Delta Science Plan makes its debut

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At the August 22nd meeting of the Delta Stewardship Council, Lead Scientist Dr. Peter Goodwin gave a preview of the second draft of the Delta Science Plan.  Since the draft was just released, he will return in September to give a more detailed presentation once the Council members have had a chance to review it.  “What we’d like to do this afternoon is just to step through so you know how the plan is structured and what to look for,” said Dr. Goodwin, “and we’d like to walk through just a couple of examples of a typical question and how the science plan would be used.”

Dr. Goodwin began by acknowledging the incredible interest and comments that the agencies, NGOs, the Independent Science Board and the scientific community in general have given the science plan, weighing in on how the science program can be most effective.  He noted that they had received over 900 individual suggestions on the first draft.

Our intent in the first draft was to layout a structure and a strategy for doing science and many of the details were not included in that plan,” said Dr. Goodwin.  “There were no negative comments about the overall structure, but there were some suggestions on how to improve that.  By far most of the questions were saying where’s the details, how does this affect me, and how does it help us if we’re an agency do our jobs better.

The Delta Plan calls for the science plan to be approved by the end of this year, and because of the fast pace of things, the science program would like to receive comments on the second draft by September 16 so that there is time to compile the comments and suggestions, said Dr. Goodwin.  There will be a substantive discussion of the science plan at the September meeting, once the Council members have had time to review the draft.  “If we can make good progress in September, we would then like to come back with a final draft science plan for your October meeting on the 24th with a view to finalizing that very soon thereafter,” said Dr. Goodwin.

DSP MilestonesDr. Goodwin noted that at the beginning of the summer, there were some comments and testimony about people asking for more time.  “That was counterbalanced by what we thought were some very positive suggestions from people who have done this at the national level as well as here in California, and they said you could be discussing all the fine details and you’ll never get it right,” he said.  “Their suggestion was to go with an approved plan as soon as possible but come back a year from now and go through the performance metrics once there is data to see how the science plan works, and also conduct a third party survey of the users and the beneficiaries of the science plan to see how its working for them, and then make updates if appropriate.”

The science plan’s overarching problem statement is that the current organization and communication of Delta science are inadequate for providing the timely, relevant decision support needed for policy and management actions for achieving the coequal goals, said Dr. Goodwin.  “What it’s really saying is that science needs to be organized and the support given to that science at a level that’s commensurate with the enormous scale of the problems facing the Delta and the people of California.”

At the town hall meeting last fall, Director Mark Cowin, and Mr. Fiorini pointed out that there has to be a better way of making decisions and managing the water resources in California,” said Dr. Goodwin.  “Are we going to continue to be bogged down in litigation or inaction because of disagreements over the science?” That has spawned collaborative science initiatives, some of which have been reinforced by recent court rulings in the last few months, he noted.  “So this science plan really facilitates this new approach and this new paradigm.”

The draft plan has an introductory chapter and four other chapters that address the organization of science, adaptive management, science infrastructure, and required resources.  There are 12 appendices that deal with how these actions would be implemented, he said, noting that in some cases, they are using ongoing programs as pilot studies.

Goodwin 1The second draft also clarifies the objectives of what we’re trying to do, said Dr. Goodwin.  “Firstly, we’re trying to manage science conflict, so the whole concept behind the science plan, One Delta One Science, it doesn’t mean that scientists are going to agree on just one opinion – in fact, we think that’s damaging.  The way you really get innovation is when you have different scientific opinions that are genuine and you have a mechanism to explore these different scientific opinions through research.”

Another objective is to coordinate and integrate Delta science in a very transparent manner.  “A lot of thought was put into science synthesis; much of the science right now is in silos or is fractionated across individual programs or agencies with one or two exceptions like IEP,” said Dr. Goodwin.  “The NRC was very clear that we’re really missing out on this system-wide approach.”

Other objectives include improving the link between policy and science; organizing, maintaining and advancing the state of Delta knowledge, and providing the science support for adaptive management.  “This isn’t dictating the decisions that are made through adaptive management but what it is doing is organizing the science to inform which actions you may take under adaptive management,” he said.

The plan specifies 28 actions for achieving the objectives.  The problem statement is broken down into sub-problems, and what we would like to see as the outcome and the specific actions which are going to be taken to achieve the outcome, he explained.  “What we’re trying to do here is create a feedback mechanism where we work out what the overarching science questions are, break that into doable chunks of science, do the science, and then conduct a synthesis of that science to improve the knowledge that informs the decisions that are set at the beginning of the process, so it’s a continuous feedback mechanism,” he said.

The first draft had a policy-science committee, but in response to comments received that said there were too many meetings and committees already, the policy-science forum will instead be convened when there’s a need to meet, Dr. Goodwin explained. “It can be convened about specific issues or actions, so for example, if we go into a severe drought, there will be some tough questions in science which needs to be directed possibly at very short notice, so that’s the mechanism of connecting the science community with some of these big questions.”

DSP DiagramThere’s a science steering committee whose responsibility is to translate the big picture policy questions of what’s needed into discrete chunks that can then be put out through competitive research, directed research, or addressed in some other way.  The science steering committee is responsible for developing, organizing and directing the science action agenda, which is the implementation plan or the action plan for science over a four year period.”  He noted it would include individual agency and program work plans, typical science activities synthesis, research, monitoring, and modeling, and also focused science synthesis activities.

The State of Bay Delta Science is a review of the research, the new knowledge that is being generated as a result of that science action agenda, he said.

The science plan has to cover a very diverse range of questions and problems that will come up across different scales, time scales, spatial scales and it will be used for very different uses, said Dr. Goodwin.  The first example of how the science plan would work is the predation workshop, which is a potentially emotional issue, he noted.  Under the science plan model, this would be one of the questions that would be handed down from the science steering committee.  The most appropriate way forward was through a series of expert workshop panels, the first of which was held in July, he said.  “The objectives of that workshop were really exploratory.  It was to understand the state of the science; what questions or what is currently been done in terms of research, what does that research show, and where are the uncertainties.”

A second possible sequence in these workshops would then be to look specifically at the models and based on what we know and on hypotheses which could be posed, what is actually our predictive capability in understanding the role of predation,” he continued. “That’s really important because if we can predict the impact of a certain adaptive management strategy, and the potential response is going to be so small it’s lost in the noise, then maybe an adaptive management strategy isn’t going to get us very far.  So we need to understand our predictive capability, the uncertainties surrounding that, and we also need to design the experiments that could be put in place.”

The third step would be an evaluation of the action, potentially a third workshop.  “What are the range of actions that could be undertaken, and there would be a very large range which makes the most sense.  Then those actions and the potential implications could be passed back to the responsible agencies that would be making the final decision,” he said.

Goodwin 3The next example is how the Delta Science Plan informs the adaptive management process.  “We want to build on existing initiatives,” Dr. Goodwin said.  “You heard about the [Delta Conservancy’s] restoration network at your last meeting; we think this is definitely the way to go and that the right people are at the table.  So what is the science structure that we would like to see put in place that would help the restoration network be successful and allow them to make these decisions between potential adaptive management conditions.”   Another example here is the collaborative adaptive management team which is underway right now looking at the remand process for the biological opinions that is chaired by Leo Winternitz and Val Conner, he noted.

Another way the Delta Science Plan can help implement adaptive management is to provide early consultation with adaptive management liaisons which would be part of a group whose job is to track to understand what’s going on, to give advice on the types of models, what’s being done in the region for monitoring data, and what can that particular adaptive management program tap into.

Developing the principles and guidelines for restoration frameworks and the water management frameworks is important as they are two of the biggest programs that are going to use adaptive management, he said.  Another is having the ability to model future scenarios.  “We are proposing supporting the ability to model future scenarios so different adaptive management programs can come in and understand the consequence of their project and how it fits into the bigger scheme,” he said.  “There would already be a coarse level analysis available, particularly if you’re in one of six priority restoration areas called for in the Delta Plan.”

We are also proposing an adaptive management summit to bring together the different thinking.  “The advice that we received that we thought was really good is that this shouldn’t just be a single summit,” he said.  “There needs to be a place where people can exchange ideas, lessons learned, new tools, and new technologies on a much more regular basis, so we are suggesting an annual forum which may or may not placed around one of the existing science meetings.”

During the discussion period with Council members, Dr. Goodwin further explained how the science plan would respond to scientific questions based on their various timescales.  “Sometimes you need to make a decision by Friday, depending on what the issue is, and other things are so complicated it’s going to take decades before we fully understand it, so what you’ll see in here is a range of four different categories of how we can turn around science and how we package that in order to give a response,” he explained.  If a quick response is needed, the science program would have access to scientists across all disciplines that could do a quick read or expert advisors could be used to put together a white paper very quickly, he said.

The next step would be a series of workshops, he said. “Sometimes you can achieve it in one workshop, but sometimes the science and the knowledge is spread around in so many different spaces it’s really been worthwhile to construct this in a way that’s going to be very defensible.”

When there is time to respond to complex issues, joint fact finding would be the next level, and there are many ways of doing that, Dr. Goodwin said.  “How do you get an answer when you’ve got National Academy members on both sides of the argument?  There’s many ways of doing that, the one which we prefer because it’s proven is modeled on the NCEAS center in Santa Barbara.”  He explained that with the NCEAS model, the data is given to a group of post docs to work under the direction of the experts on both sides.  “So at the end, you have in depth analysis – this is what we can agree to, this is our uncertainty, and then this is perhaps how we suggest we move ahead,” said Dr. Goodwin.  “So there’s a range of mechanisms that you could call on depending on how quickly the answer is and the magnitude of the problem.”

Isenberg 1Last month you had Dr. Wiens here to talk to us about adaptive management and best available science, these same kinds of questions,” said Chair Isenberg.  “Well, not every project should or could have adaptive management in it.  Okay, that’s a fair statement and that seems to make sense to me.  But I don’t know what the measures are, how do you know whether it does or doesn’t. …

Lauren Hastings replied, “He showed a figure that had two axes.  One was uncertainty – where are the scientific knowledge gaps, and the other axis was controllability – is there a management action that we could take to manage it?  If there isn’t … where adaptive management is most appropriate is where there is high uncertainty and high controllability.  For example, you wouldn’t need to take adaptive management if there is 100% certainty that taking an action will achieve an outcome – you don’t need to do adaptive management, just do it.  Don’t spend any time on it.  On the other hand, if there’s no hope that human beings can do anything to tweak the system and change it within reason, that’s also not appropriate for adaptive management.  Nature sometimes overrules what we can do.”

“Technically speaking, the covered action process commences after September 1, although we have no idea when a state or local agency will first make a determination that a project is a covered action,” said Mr. Isenberg.  “Our regulations on covered actions include requirements that they illustrate the use of best available science and an adaptive management plan.  At what point may they read the Delta Science Plan to see what our scientists thought ought to be included in their consideration?  … I want to know when the science side is prepared to say look, we can’t dictate to you everything you do, but here at least is our judgment of what an adaptive management scheme, the elements that are contained in it … can we read the second draft and determine that?  I understand it has no regulatory effect, but certainly has an informative effect because it comes from the best scientists we have available to us opining on these things.”

Hastings 3What we have in the current draft is Appendix F which are the guidelines for adaptive management.  We’re also working on for the training is what are the guidelines for best available science, the other component of GP 1.  … There’s Appendix 1A and Table 1A-1 that outlines the six criteria for best available science, … by the regulation, the proponents have to document how they have utilized the best available science for each of those criteria and that’s what the documentation will entail.”  Ms. Hastings also noted that adaptive management liaisons would be available to help people develop their adaptive management plans because they need to be customized for each project, estimating that about four or five liaisons would be needed.

Executive Officer Chris Knopp asked if standards for data compatibility, data accessibility, conceptual models and quality standards for the overall scientific design would be provided as part of the adaptive management advisory capacity to the project proponents?

That’s one of the reasons why we’re recommending putting together these adaptive management frameworks in the Delta Science Plan, because one of the main purposes for that is to get this common approach,” said Ms. Hastings.  “We want to try and get people to use a common approach and be aware of and think of what other folks are doing and so that gets at some of those standards you were talking about.  This landscape scale conceptual model and the other aspects of the framework are going to get at that.  And then I think that it will be the case that we’re going to look for people to follow those standards and follow those frameworks; hopefully we get buy-in along the way from the development, but they are not part of the regulation today.”

DSP SummaryI understand there will be great uncertainty on many things for a long time, and actually I think a carefully done early consultation process is probably may be more important than anything else,” said Mr. Isenberg.  “The fact that the professional staff – a group of really smart people on the science side are prepared to sit down and look at a project, give some observations, comments … but you’ll point out the 4,6, 10, 15 things that occur to you, and dollars to doughnuts ten of those are going to ones that would be giant issues if they don’t pay attention to them and that’s the value added of an early consultation process from the scientific side, in my view.”

OTHER SCIENCE NEWS:

Predation workshop:  Last month, a workshop co-hosted by the Delta Science Program, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the National Marine Fisheries, was held on predation of Central Valley salmonids.  The independent panel was tasked with summarizing the current state of knowledge on predation of salmonids in the Central Valley.  They were asked to examine what is currently being done to study the issue, describe what is currently known, and also to provide a preliminary evaluation of the data that’s been collected and how this might be used in the future.  There was also a brief session on modeling efforts underway to understand the life cycle modeling and particularly the role of predation in that life cycle modeling.  A final report is expected to be issued towards the end of September.

Delta Science Fellows:  The candidates for the Delta Science Fellows are chosen on the three criteria: the intellectual merit of their research proposal, the quality of the fellow of themselves, and the contribution of the research to achieving the coequal goals.  This year a webinar was hosted for those who wanted to apply that laid out how to improve the proposal and therefore their chances of success.  The result was that thirty proposals were received, many of them excellent, but the Delta Science Program was only able to fund five of those.  However, thanks to support from US FWS, DWR, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, an additional five to seven awards will be made.  The Council will be introduced to the science fellows at the next Council meeting where the science fellows will give short presentations on their research.

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