The Delta Science Plan: Building an open community of science in the Delta

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Science in the Delta is entering a new era.  The requirements of the Delta Reform Act, the recommendations of the National Research Council, and recent court rulings have propelled California forward on a new path of collaborative approaches to management actions in the Delta.  Now more than ever, decision makers will need effective, timely, and relevant science support to be able to effectively address difficult policy and management issues.  “However, 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 of a healthy ecosystem and water supply reliability,” states the Executive Summary of the Delta Science Plan.

Currently, science is conducted in the Delta by numerous public agencies, organizations, and academic institutions, each with its own mission and agenda.  There is little coordination and oftentimes no plans to share data and information.  Absent a common vision and strategy, Delta science will continue to occur in these programmatic silos with limited integration and scientific conflict will likely continue.  How can the efforts of multiple entities be better coordinated, and how can the best available science be communicated to decision makers?

Enter the Delta Science Plan.  Under the leadership of Lead Scientist Dr. Peter Goodwin, the Delta Science Program has been developing the ambitious plan since last year with the vision to build an open science community, “One Delta, One Science,” that will work together to build a shared body of scientific knowledge that will have the capacity to adapt and inform management decisions across multiple organizations and programs.  By sharing data, models, and priorities, the goal is to create a culture whereby genuine differences in scientific opinion and modeling approaches can be embraced and explored in a structured and transparent manner.

The science plan defines 28 specific actions to achieve the stated objectives of managing scientific conflict, coordinating and integrating Delta science, promoting and performing science synthesis, building more effective policy-science interactions, providing support for adaptive management and advancing the state of Delta knowledge.

Fig 2-1 DSPThe Delta Science Plan notes that if we are to effectively identify and address the complex questions and issues that surround the Delta, it will take nothing short of a transformation of how the policy, science, and management communities engage: “This means working together to articulate problems, set goals and priorities, increase understanding and share in progress toward achieving the coequal goals. This plan establishes and strengthens forums for decision-makers and scientists to work together to evaluate alternative Delta futures through early engagement, continuous dialogue and opportunities to develop innovative approaches for using best available science. It improves connections among policymakers, scientists and managers and provides new mechanisms, structures and tools for regular and effective interactions to improve shared understanding and stewardship of the Delta.”

Specific actions for organizing science in the Delta include establishing a Policy-Science Forum to bring the directors of federal and state agencies together with science leaders to communicate their ‘grand challenges’ and to explore issues together directly; establishing a Science Steering Committee to develop specific research priorities and actionable questions from the interactions of the Policy-Science Forum, provide high-level guidance, and conduct science synthesis; and regularly publishing and updating the State of Bay-Delta Science once every four years.

Additionally, in order to effectively inform the complex decisions surrounding the management of the Delta, a robust infrastructure for science must be built that includes research programs, a comprehensive monitoring strategy, data sharing and management, collaborative modeling, synthesis and peer review, as well as a communications strategy to dispense the information.

Adaptive Management DSPThe use of adaptive management is mandated by the Delta Reform Act, and several Delta planning and policy efforts have adopted adaptive management programs.  The Delta Science Plan defines adaptive management as “a strategy for making management decisions under uncertain conditions rather than delaying action until more information is available or adopting a rigid, prescriptive approach.”  Adaptive management has been successfully applied in individual projects, but rarely at a programmatic or landscape level.  In order for adaptive management to work system-wide across the Delta, the roles and responsibilities of policy, science and management need to be better defined and new strategies implemented which take into account the varying time periods, the characteristics of different locations within the Delta, and different water management and ecological issues.

Utilizing the three-phase 9-step adaptive management process that is outlined in the Delta Plan, the science plan calls for developing adaptive management frameworks that would guide restoration and water management programs and provide for a consistent and integrated approach system-wide.  A team of ‘adaptive management liaisons’ would be dispatched to provide expertise and advice on individual projects including models, monitoring, relevant research, and integrating adaptive management actions system-wide.  The Delta Science Plan also proposes an annual Adaptive Management Forum that would bring together experts and local proponents to provide training, share lessons learned, establish and refine frameworks, and integrative adaptive management activities.

Sufficient resources are a prerequisite for adaptive management and informed decision making, and adequate resources are required in order to build the science infrastructure needed so that the scientific community can make meaningful contributions towards addressing the most complex and vexing problems in the Delta.

However, formidable hurdles exist in developing the infrastructure for science described in the Delta Science Plan, and building the resource capacity to implement the Delta Science Plan will require a concerted effort by the scientific community to find partnerships and build support. The Delta Science Plan lays out the challenge:

The science and management communities together will need to dedicate considerable effort to communicate to funding decision-makers about how relatively small, yet sustainable investments in science can generate disproportionately larger paybacks in terms of operational efficiencies, less litigation, and better environmental and social outcomes. Improvements in the science infrastructure are required to gain access to even the most basic tools required by scientists to inform the multi-billion dollar effort to achieve the coequal goals. Without the essential tools and resources necessary to conduct the science, it is far from assured that the investments placed in achieving the outcomes envisioned in the Delta Plan and other major planning efforts to achieve the coequal goals will come to fruition.

This is the second draft of the Delta Science Plan.  Dr. Peter Goodwin will present the plan in depth at the upcoming Delta Stewardship Council meeting on Thursday, September 26.  A final draft of the Delta Science Plan is expected next month.

For more information:

  • Click here for the second draft of the Delta Science Plan.
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