At the September 26 meeting of the Delta Stewardship Council, Lead Scientist Dr. Peter Goodwin presented the second draft of the Delta Science Plan to Council members.
Dr. Goodwin began by saying that he appreciated the comments received from the Delta Independent Science Board, who weighed in very heavily on the second draft. “It seemed that most of the discussion was focused on the paradigm shift in how science is developed to inform policy, and the concern is how do you make this effective?” said Dr. Goodwin. “So I thought those discussions, the comments, and some of the public comment as well was extremely valuable.” He noted that the science program has received 400 individual comments and suggestions on the second draft of the Plan.
At the last meeting, the Council asked that the science plan be clear about why it is needed, Dr. Goodwin said. He then quoted from the Delta Plan: “’Currently science efforts related to the Delta are performed by multiple entities with multiple agendas without an overarching plan for coordinating data management and information sharing amongst entities.’ So that’s where we started,” he said.
A second important benchmark the science plan is built on is the 2012 NRC report, he said. “It really emphasized the lack of synthesis and pointed to the role of the lead scientist and the Delta Science Program as being the entity that could do that most effectively,” he said.
“Thirdly, when we started this process at the town hall meeting, Director Cowin made a very interesting comment about how there are two things going on,” said Dr. Goodwin. “One is the collaboration of scientists trying to work together and of agencies trying to work together, but also there’s litigation going on. These two processes really are mutually exclusive.”
The fourth element of why this is important was as Mr. Fiorini said at the town hall meeting, science has to be involved right up front at the very early stages, said Dr. Goodwin. “Mr. Fiorini also spoke of the need for systems understanding, whether it’s a universal model or integrating models to understand; you tweak one part of the system, how does that knock on across all the other stressors and uses.”
“Lastly, a point which we heard from the ISB and in many of the comments that this truly is high stakes science,” said Dr. Goodwin. “The flexibility in the amount of water that is potentially on the table through adaptive management is huge, so these adaptive management actions are going to be based on science as the stakes in terms of water and the environment is massive.”
Science is very important, emphasized Dr. Goodwin. “95% of the historic tidal wetlands in the Delta, that’s 700,000 acres, have been lost. The landscape that supports both from upstream and in the Delta itself has changed irreversibly. So we’re charged in managing the Delta with trying to restore a functioning ecosystem in a very different setting to what was out there historically,” said Dr. Goodwin. “The decisions which you and the other agencies are tasked with are just not re-creating habitat but ensuring that that habitat is fully functioning, and to do that on the scale of the magnitude of the Delta, a hundred thousand acres – there is no precedent, so this is what the science plan is trying to pull folks together around.”
Dr. Goodwin then presented some slides to give an idea of the scale of restoration that is proposed. The first slide showed the range of salmon in the north Sacramento Valley and the Delta. “If you look at the biological opinion, it’s required to create 8000 acres, so that red dot that you see on the screen is equivalent to 8000 acres,” he said. “What actually is 8000 acres? If you convert that into miles, that red dot is about 4 miles in diameter, so when you are driving through the Delta, imagine the size of this functioning habitat. This isn’t land area, this is functioning wetland habitat.”
But that’s just the first step, Dr. Goodwin pointed out. Displaying a slide with the 8 red dots positioned on the Delta’s landscape, he said “This needs to be increased to 100,000 acres so there’s 12 of those 4 mile radius areas, and there you can see the dots spread out across the Delta to see the massive landscape changes that are going to have to be implemented.”
Development of the Delta Science Plan began with a town hall meeting last October. Since then, they’ve been in numerous public venues and meetings to discuss what was needed in the plan, as well as meeting with agencies and organizations. “We’ve also done things beyond the Delta,” said Dr. Goodwin. “We analyzed the other major ecosystem restoration programs around the US and internationally, what’s working, how do they do it, how do they make decisions, and how do they develop the science that is used in those decisions.”
We’re really talking about doing things in a transformative way, said Dr. Goodwin. “One Delta, One Science – yes it’s a catchy name but it’s much deeper than that,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is build an open community of scientists that everyone can participate in where, instead of having differences of opinions which are discussed and debated in the courtroom, we want to embrace these different opinions and have structures to address those because if you look at the history of science, this is how you accelerate knowledge discovery – by understanding where the differences are and then testing hypotheses.”
“The principles which we’re employing throughout the science plan are not things that were just put together,” said Dr. Goodwin. “We looked very closely at other branches of science where the big science has been adopted and many of the principles that have been successful elsewhere, such as in the field of astronomy, you’ll see them throughout the science plan.”
Dr. Goodwin then reviewed the objectives of the Delta Science Plan:
Managing scientific conflict and differences of opinion
Coordinating and integrating science in a way that is open to all parties
Conducting synthesis and organizing effective funding
Building an effective science-policy interface
Providing strategic support for adaptive management
Identify, maintain and advance the state of Delta knowledge
Dr. Goodwin recalled the discussion about the role of the scientist at the beginning of the development of the plan, and emphasized that the notion of scientists being able to tell an agency director or official what to do is not going to happen. “The role of the scientist is to clearly describe the most probable future outcomes as a result of actions,” said Dr. Goodwin. “The reason for separating those two is that when you are making decisions, even for something that might appear at first sight to be on one issue, like managing two endangered species, if the actions you might take conflict between those species, there has to be some sort of value judgment that goes beyond the science.”
The Delta Science Plan includes a summary of the 28 actions and a simple introduction. “We really liked the concept of a preamble to set things in context and the opportunity that we see is available,” he said. “I can tell you there is nothing of this scale with perhaps the exception of the major project in China going on right now.”
Comments Received on the Delta Science Plan
Comments on the second draft of the Delta Science Plan were received from Council members, the Delta Independent Science Board, state and local agencies, stakeholders and individual members of the public.
One comment brought up by both the ISB and the California Water Quality Monitoring Council is when is science good enough. “That’s an extremely good question,” acknowledged Dr. Goodwin.
The science action agenda is a very important component, pointed out Dr. Goodwin. “In our discussions with other programs, this is going to be a very major undertaking,” said Dr. Goodwin. “Our concern is that we don’t have time to do everything we’d like to do in this first version, so our proposal is not to wait because from the positive comments we’ve received from so many agencies, there are things we can be doing now, so our proposal is to fast track an interim science action agenda.” He also said that they are looking at the time frame for updating the 2008 State of Bay Delta Science report, and he noted that they have a budget and a team of science leaders to work on that.
There are about 400 individual suggestions to the plan, with a lot of overlap of suggestions, said Dr. Goodwin. “Our sense is that we’re beginning to coalesce around principles and ideas. We’d also like to thank everyone who contributed for the very constructive tone of their recommendations.” He also appreciated the detailed comments that were received from DWR, and he recognized and appreciated that the Department reached out across their many divisions in order to provide that input.
Other comments received include the need for more clarity on the integration with existing and new efforts, a request for more details on the participants in the various structures and forums, and ensuring that the connection of the watershed to the Delta and the Delta to the Bay is clearly expressed in the science plan.
Another comment received was ‘where are the social sciences?’ “We agree with that totally and it is certainly going to be a part of the next plan and explicitly described,” said Dr. Goodwin. “We mention heavily the coequal goals, but another comment was ‘don’t forget the Delta as a place’ and the implications of science in some of these consequences.”
“Sac Regional and their scientists had some very good input which was ‘don’t forget the bottom up’,” said Dr. Goodwin. “It’s very clear how it works down through the Interagency Implementation Committee with the heads of agencies, but don’t stifle innovation, so make sure there are forums where good ideas can bubble up from the bottom. We agree.”
The California Water Quality Monitoring Council commented that it’s not just a matter of monitoring or pulling data together, but one of the things they are struggling with right now is do we actually have the right data, said Dr. Goodwin. “It’s one thing to have it, but is this going to give you an accurate baseline, and they gave some very good insights to that. Of course this comment will be part of our data summit which we’ve been talking to folks about.”
The third draft will include more details on the processes for managing scientific conflict, said Dr. Goodwin. “We’re working on two factors,” said Dr. Goodwin. “One is when we’re asked to put together panels or to weigh in on an issue, the first is the time frame that you need to make decisions. Do you need an answer by Friday or is this a much longer term issue? The time frame will factor into the mechanism that you choose.”
The second factor is the complexity of an issue, he said. “If it’s a single discipline or single issue that is well defined, it can be done fairly quickly,” said Dr. Goodwin. “If it’s looking at more complex interdisciplinary issues, it’s going to take a lot longer. So we’ve been giving a lot of thought as to what mechanism you would use based on the time frame to make the decision and the complexity of the problem, with the ability that you may have two or three of these mechanisms used over a 10-year time frame to get the answer you need with interim decisions coming in.”
McCormack-Williamson Tract: A restoration example
He then gave an example of how the science plan would work. “Why would you do adaptive management on restoration? If you look at the history in San Francisco Bay, there was a long and very structured mechanism from learning from one project to the next, so part of this is to improve the design process,” he said. “If you want a certain functionality, how can you put together a design to accelerate direction towards that desired outcome? What sort of common experiences and tools can be brought to bear from project to project? What are the better monitoring techniques, what’s the statistical design? What technologies could actually be used to do monitoring more effectively?”
Adaptive management lowers costs, said Dr. Goodwin. “Rather than redesigning and starting over, if you pass on experiences, you can do things cheaper and better,” he said. “It provides an increased likelihood of desired outcomes. Not just at the site level, but what’s happening at the system level. Rather than just focusing on a single site to create some sort of functionality, what you’re really interested in is how does that scale up to the entire system, and the bottom line is you’re trying to understand the system response rather than something locally.”
Adaptive management liaisons will play an important role, said Dr. Goodwin. “The ability within the Delta Science Program to have staff allocated to provide information on what’s being done elsewhere and the history, we think is very important,” he said. “Also the concept of restoration frameworks which is really being led by several agencies related to adaptive management – how do things fit together.”
Understanding models is critical, said Dr. Goodwin. “If we’re going to understand how the system looks in the future, we need to have a much better understanding of how to build and integrate our models, and then test those models continuously, and so in the science plan are ideas on how to build these community models to continually improve them and to continually test them.” He also noted that having an annual forum where practitioners and scientists can get together to exchange ideas is also important.
Dr. Goodwin then presented a slide of the McCormack Williamson Tract. “The first step in understanding whether your project’s likely to be accepted is how should elements be connected across the landscape. The figure on the left is what was there historically and we absolutely know we can’t reconstruct that. But what’s important is that when we’re looking at what might be there in the future, what elements of those landscapes and how should they fit together in order to create the functionality that we’re doing the project for in the first place.”
The first step is understanding the historic landscape pattern and the second step is having the landscape conceptual models that are called for in the Delta Plan, he said. “Understanding how the McCormack Williamson Tract fits into the landscape is extremely important. … Property boundaries are not ecosystem boundaries. When you’re putting things together, it’s not going to be possible to open up the restoration opportunity areas and put on the landscape exactly what you want, so there has to be adaptive management applied to get the ecosystem functionality that you want out of the system but with the ability to expand as other restoration areas occur over time.”
“We need the tools and the capacity to evaluate alternative futures continuously, so you’ll also see this in the science plan, the ability to bring scientists together from across agencies and from across interests to have the resources to predict what these alternative futures might be,” he said.
He then presented a slide that considered future possibilities for the property considering up to the year 2100. “For example, the gray shaded area is currently a constraint on the site which contains a radio tower,” he said. “That radio tower is sitting on a lease so it’s possible that when that lease is up, the land might be able to be included so the design has to have the flexibility to open up that area and still have a functioning ecosystem without creating dead areas or sediment deposit areas.”
“After 2025, there are two possible outcomes. The lower figure shows that the radio tower area has actually been acquired and then in this totally hypothetical example, the property to the right of the property boundary may become available,” said Dr. Goodwin. “So having the ability to project the alternative futures, if that was to happen, and making changes to the restoration as these opportunities open up is extremely important.” He noted that the other two slides showed different possible outcomes in 2100 depending on the land that might become available, what might be sustainable, and the effects of climate change, such as temperature and sea level rise.
“In order to make those predictions to continually inform the process for that small area is built into the science plan so the steps are there to enable it to happen, but it’s not just one site,” he said. “Those sites then need to be scaled up to the restoration opportunity areas that have been highlighted, and then you need to go from the restoration opportunity areas up to the system-wide understanding.”
“What we’re trying to emphasize is this landscape approach and that the value we can add with the science plan is to promote the idea that we shouldn’t just be looking at individual projects,” added Lauren Hastings. “We want to provide forums for people to come and look at their projects together and work together on the bigger picture, so that they are not just doing their projects in isolation, and that they are also looking at this historical ecology and working from the same template.”
The landscape scale conceptual model is a key element of the restoration framework, continued Ms. Hastings. “We see that as the unifying map and that all the proposed habitat restoration folks work together from that map. It will incorporate feasibility assessment and land owner concerns, and that’s all through this restoration network and restoration framework. … It really is the bigger picture that we’re trying to promote. We shouldn’t just look at an individual project, but look at suites of projects, look at where there are efficiencies, and economies of scale for people to work together and gather that information working together.”
Tracy Collier, Chair of the Delta Independent Science Board, said that one area where money can be more effectively spent is by having a comprehensive and coordinated monitoring approach. Projects where the outcomes of restoration actions are uncertain may require substantial monitoring for assessing the environmental outcomes whereas other projects may need only ongoing monitoring to verify outcomes. “Right now, it’s my understanding that when you are going to undertake a major project with an uncertain outcome, the requirements for monitoring and assessment can be pretty onerous … “ He gave the example of stormwater monitoring in Puget Sound. “For us [in Puget Sound], stormwater is one of our big issues, so we have a stormwater monitoring group that’s been working for four years now. We are basically at the stage now where we can say, instead of having all these individual dischargers monitoring their discharges and doing a lot of monitoring that is required by regulations but is actually not informing, we can agree to scale back some of that monitoring and put more emphasis on some of these questions we need to get to … so ideally we are scaling our monitoring based on the uncertainty … It’s about 60 people – federal, state, municipalities, NGOs, and tribes are all involved.”
“What increases the level of cooperation?,” asked Council member Randy Fiorini.
“Communication,” answered Mr. Collier. “It really is communication and the recognition of the problems that we’re facing and that we’re not getting answers with our current approach.”
“And how does science inform that if it does?,” asked Mr. Fiorini.
“Science informs primarily by saying this level of uncertainty requires a larger scale approach to monitoring and to experimentation and that we will not get science answers based on the current approaches that we have under statute,” responded Mr. Collier.
“We’ve been working through the restoration network, which is sponsored by the Delta Conservancy under Campbell Ingram,” said Lauren Hastings. “They’ve been meeting for awhile, and I’ve attended several of the meetings. I think people seeing value in just coordinating restoration efforts together already. We’re getting the right level of people attending – the key groups that are doing planning and implementing restoration right now. … Byron Buck, Laura King Moon, Carl Wilcox, that’s the level of people coming to these meetings because they see value in getting together and working together. And they see the value of the science informing what they are doing. We’re partnering with the Conservancy and with that restoration network group to develop this restoration framework … this map, this template, this big picture scheme of what would make sense for restoring for each of the six priority restoration areas … What we’re hoping is that this restoration network sponsored by the Conservancy becomes the habitat restoration workgroup associated with the Interagency Implementation Committee. And we are trying to partner with them with the science and work through that same venue to ensure science-based decisions and cooperation.”
“Science is there to give you guys the courage to jump,” said Rainer Hoenicke. “Any manager and every landowner that needs to make decisions about what they want to do with their land or how they want to permit certain things or how to manage restoration projects, water management projects, science can give them all the courage to jump – off the cliff hopefully with a soft landing.“
“I want to go on record as saying I want to see the science plan adopted and adopted soon,” said Mr. Fiorini. “You’ve gotten good input from the ISB that needs to be incorporated into the next draft, but I think you are getting close enough to where it’s good enough to go, and we ought not to let the pursuit of perfect prevent us from getting something good on the street to try out.”
The comment period for the second draft is now closed. The Delta Science Program will now work on preparing the final Delta Science Plan for consideration of adoption by the Council before the end of the year.
For more information:
Click here for the second draft of the Delta Science Plan.