Delta Stewardship Council Chair Randy Fiorini on Actionable Science in the Delta

Randy Fiorini 2As Chair of the Delta Stewardship Council, Randy Fiorini heads the agency that is charged with developing and implementing a long term plan for the Delta that will achieve the coequal goals, and to do so through the use of best available science.  At the 2014 Bay Delta Science Conference plenary session, Randy Fiorini outlined his vision for creating a winning team between the Delta science community and policy makers that can work together to address the problems facing the Bay-Delta.

Recalling the comments he made at the town hall meeting two years ago about managers and scientists needing to work together more closely, Randy Fiorini said, “I’m pleased to tell you that my observation is that in the last two years, we as the Delta science management industry have made great progress,” he said.

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He noted that the name of the conference, ‘Making Connections,’ which is about bringing policy makers and scientists together and closer in collaboration, is an example of this progress. The Collaborative Adaptive Management Team is another example that is in its early stages and if it is successful, it will provide a model for bringing disparate groups together around solving some problems and reaching an agreement that leads to success, he said.

(Contextual note: On this particular day when Mr. Fiorini is addressing the conference, at 5 pm the San Francisco Giants will be taking the field for the sixth game of the World Series, which has provided the inspiration for this speech.)

Pages from 14-1028 Fiorini SciCon_Page_1I want to use baseball to help describe my view of what it takes to build a good team,” he said, describing himself as a lifelong San Francisco Giants fan. “So let’s jump in and take a look at some lessons to be learned from the diamond.  The great American philosopher Yogi Berra, you know the one who said,’ When you come to a fork in the road, take it,’ also said, ‘You can observe a lot by watching,’ and I agree.”

Baseball presents the model for a team consisting of many elements and many talents, each with a particular role in approaching the game with clear and measurable objectives,” he said. “Throughout the season and throughout the year, many, many tough decisions have to be made. There’s an element of risk, but they accept that; they don’t expect to be perfect. In fact, no one bats 1000 in major league baseball. If you go to the Cooperstown Baseball Hall of Fame, you’ll note that the best hitters in the history of the game barely achieved four hits out of ten at bats. And if you look at some of the greatest home run hitters in the game, they also lead the league in strikeouts. Pitchers in the hall of fame with great winning records also have lost a lot of games, but it doesn’t detract from the team’s effort to succeed.”

Pages from 14-1028 Fiorini SciCon_Page_2If the San Francisco Giants win the game tonight, they will have won another world championship, and that’s a year-round effort from the front office to the dug-out. “You’ve got owners, business office managers, coaches, scouts, and players throughout the system, all understanding that they have a role over a long 162 grueling game season, and if they are fortunate enough to make it to the playoffs, they have another month of baseball.”

The element of risk is important to consider as we do our work in the Delta,” he said. “In baseball, risk is rewarded, and reasonable risks are taken every day, at the management level, at the player level, and on the field. And they have a clear goal in mind when they begin the season, and that is a world championship.  Building a winning Delta science team involves many of the same principles. We have to bring management and science together working in collaboration and bring different skill sets together, recognizing that as a team, we’re better together than we are separate.”

Pages from 14-1028 Fiorini SciCon_Page_3The beginning of bringing management and science together should begin at defining the problem. Too often, we go off, addressing data gaps and spending time working on research, and we forget what the problem was that we were trying to address. So bringing management and science together and clearly defining the problem is the beginning of necessary collaboration. We have to establish reasonable expectations, agree on clear and measurable objectives after we’ve defined the problem.”

There needs to be recognition that there is risk associated with moving forward,” Mr. Fiorini said. “Policy and science operate in a political realm, and politics do not reward risk taking. There is a risk-averse view in politics. People are afraid to be caught making a mistake and therefore it prevents us from moving forward boldly, understanding that we don’t have all the answers, but recognizing that if we don’t start making some moves forward, we’re not going to make much progress.”

Once we begin implementing whatever it is we’re trying to address, we need to recognize that there is opportunity for learning from mistakes. Monitoring is a key ingredient in successfully implementing whatever it is that we’re trying to do: receiving information from the monitoring, being ready to react to changing circumstances, and to adjust. Circling back to identifying the problem, recognizing from the beginning what success should look like if we work together as a team, successfully.

Pages from 14-1028 Fiorini SciCon_Page_4One team, One Delta, One Science – you’ve heard this as an objective that has been stated by the Delta Science Program many times,” he said. He noted that the Little Hoover Commission in 2005 found that although many positive things had come out of CalFed, it was not able to achieve its full level of success because it lacked leadership at the highest levels of government. “Ladies and gentleman, I am pleased to report to you that ten years later, we have leadership at the highest levels of government. You heard undersecretary Mike Connor talk about the commitment of the United States government of bringing to bear resources to help solve the water reliability problems and to ensure a restored and healthy ecosystem in the Delta. We have a national commitment to help.”

Mr. Fiorini then shared some comments he felt important from a speech Governor Brown delivered at Stanford the previous week.  “’Water. Big topic. Hard to talk about. Complicated.’ Can you picture that staccato delivery of his? Right to the point. That’s our leader. And it’s what the Little Hoover Commission said we had been lacking,” he said. “The Governor went on to describe about 50 years of water policy history in California, and he described dating back to his father’s role in helping establish the State Water Project. I was pleased to hear that, in picking up part of his comments, he said, ‘The next three Governors avoided water issues like the plague. It wasn’t until Governor Schwarzenegger that we began to address the issue and began to develop the Delta Stewardship Council to deal with Delta problems.’ I really like the fact that he called us out, but it also suggest that we have a huge responsibility to fulfill our role of coordinating the activities of over 200 state, local, and federal agencies to achieve the coequal goals.”

[pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”30%”]“Our commitment is to achieve the coequal goals. That’s our championship. We must maintain a constant focus on what our ultimate goal is, and we need to proceed with a sense of urgency.” — Randy Fiorini[/pullquote]

He went on to say that the first couple of terms that he served were to set the table and make the proposals, and then the last two terms later to finally carry the ball across the finish line, which is what we’re going to do. ‘I can promise you that the next four years, water is the key issue and we’re going to build on the great work of Earl Warren and Pat Brown and Governor Schwarzenegger and I might even say my first couple of terms. It will be controversial, the issues have not been fully resolved, but like energy and climate change, that have been contentious but have also led to very productive initiatives, the same will be true of water. It will be something I’m going to put front and center.’ Ladies and gentleman, that’s what the Little Hoover Commission was asking for and we have it. So let’s make the most of it.

Our commitment is to achieve the coequal goals. That’s our championship. And we must maintain a constant focus on what our ultimate goal is,” he said. “We need to proceed with a sense of urgency. As the Governor pointed out, these problems have been with us for a long time. They are getting worse. We need to sharpen our focus. The drought has helped to further sharpen our focus and presented a crisis like we have not had in a long time, but it’s also creating a level of collaboration around the problems the drought has provided that should encourage us to realize that we are able to cooperate and work together better.”

There is a need to address issues now. Scientists, managers, have been faced with some really tough decisions this past year, and I suggest to you, if we have another dry year, it’s only going to get worse. Be prepared. Be prepared to answer some tough questions and provide some directions for these folks that are going to have to take some risks, and to continue this long-term look towards solving problems in the Delta.”

The Governor is right,” Mr. Fiorini said. “We’ve been at it for 50 years. But we have new technology available to us that should help accelerate the progress that could be made. It won’t be easy; this is a complex system, the most complex probably in the world, and that the interagency and stakeholder collaboration is absolutely critical to the success of our team.”

Pages from 14-1028 Fiorini SciCon_Page_5I have for you my starting lineup for 2015,” he said. “From where I sit, I think these are the areas where we can make the most progress in the near term and long term. The Delta Science Program conducted interviews and assimilated the reports back from agencies that provided their top five science priorities, and they created a list of 315. I’ve reviewed that and I’ve gleaned from that, here are where a number of agencies are in agreement about needs and priorities:

  1. A web-based tracking system for Delta science:   “We need the ability to track all of these multiple goals that you all are involved in.”
  2. Drought drives additional focus on science: “We need to recognize that the drought is going to drive an additional need for science input, and recognizing that the trade-offs and the decisions that are going to have to be made in this next year and the next few years are going to be very difficult.”
  3. Prioritize science support for management decisions: “Going back to my example from baseball about being focused on the goal, eye on the prize, help your managers achieve that. One of the things that we need to do is to protect our scientists from criticism. If you’re reluctant to offer suggestions because you fear you may be wrong, it’s the manager’s duty to protect you. It’s the manager’s duty to take responsibility and to encourage you to take a risk. I would encourage both the managers in the room and the scientists to be prepared to take some reasonable risks.”
  4. Innovate and modernize monitoring: “Dr. Goodwin talked about the Smelt Cam and other technologies that are being brought to bear. Chuck Bonham in an address to the water commission two weeks ago indicated that it would be really nice to know from the fish agencies perspective where the fish are and how many of them are there. That seems pretty basic, but that’s the level of monitoring information that needs to be provided to assist utilizing our facilities to their fullest.”
  5. Getting serious about stressors: “The Independent Science Board conducted a meeting three years ago and listed about 20 stressors in addition to flows that need to be addressed. The Public Policy Institute of California last year reminded us that there are numerous stressors in this system that need to be addressed, besides flow. And I think this is the area where we can employ science experiments in the Delta, dealing with a number of these stressors, not on a large scale but on a small scale to learn as much as we can about how to improve conditions.”
  6. Big data for all to see: “Dr. Goodwin said there will be a white paper coming out after the big data conference. We need to be better at sharing information. Michigan State University reported two weeks ago that science is not very good at sharing information and we need to get better about that. Those of you who are intimately involved in that understand what some of the challenges and obstacles are to creating a more shared science platform. We need to better. Undersecretary Connor talked about the federal agencies acknowledgement of this and crossing agency lines to provide better access to science information.”
  7. Synthesis of accumulated data: “We have a lot of accumulated data. More emphasis needs to be placed on synthesizing that information. Modeling – we’re making progress but we’ve still got a long ways to go.”
  8. Integrated Delta modeling: “We can accelerate our successes by improving and utilizing modeling to a further degree.”
  9. Step up funding: “This all requires funding. I want you to know that as the Chairman of the Delta Stewardship Council, one of my highest priorities this year will be to figure out ways to improve the consistency and the reliability of funding for science. If we’re serious about basing our decisions on best available science, then we’ve got to back it up with an ongoing commitment to fund it.”

With that, folks, I want to conclude by telling you that our championship pursuit are the coequal goals. We’re in it to win it, one Delta, One Science, one team. Our colors are blue and green. Skills and talents galore, working together cooperatively, we can accomplish a lot more.”

Enjoy the conference, and go team.”

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