Bay Delta Science Conference: The Delta Science Plan and the Interim Science Action Agenda
The Delta Science Plan was completed in 2013 and serves as our framework for building the vision of ‘One Delta, One Science,’ which means an open Delta science community that works together to build a shared state of knowledge with the capacity to adapt and inform current and future water and environmental decisions in the Delta. At the 2014 Bay Delta Science Conference, Dr. Peter Goodwin, the Delta Lead Scientist, gave an overview of the Delta Science Plan. He was followed by Lindsay Correa with the Delta Science Program, who discussed the Interim Science Action Agenda, a key component of the Delta Science Plan.
Dr. Peter Goodwin began with a few remarks on what the Delta Science Program does. “The Delta Science Program has been around since CalFed days,” he said. “It was reestablished by the Delta Reform Act. The mission of the Delta Science Program is to provide the best possible unbiased scientific information for water and environmental decision making in the Bay Delta system. One of the earlier lead scientists of the Delta Science Program, Mike Healey, coined the term the ‘honest brokers of science’. So we see that very much as our role.”
“The Delta Science Program doesn’t actually do science; our job is to support and facilitate the science community to conduct science,” he said. “As identified by the National Research Council in their 2012 view, the synthesis of scientific information is really important, so although we don’t do science, our job is to get the right people at the table working on the right issues.”
The Delta Science Program also facilitates independent peer review for many different agencies and programs, he said. “We coordinate science and also have the responsibility of helping communicate science, particularly sometimes if it’s not the message that people want to hear. As an independent group, this is what we see our role as.”
In 2012, Governor Brown and President Obama’s administration issued a joint announcement that said that science would be used as a guide for these very complex issues around California water. “We used this statement and the information that was released as part of that as the first guiding principle,” he said. “Secondly, in the California water code that established the Stewardship Council and reestablished the Delta Science Program, the law states that the Council should make use of the best available science.”
“For most scientists when we started developing the plan, this term best available science got criticized very heavily, and we had a lot of discussions of what does this actually mean,” he said. “Fortunately, we had someone from DC who was just passing through, and he sat there with a smile on his face and he said, ‘Listen scientists. It doesn’t matter if you like best available science or not, that’s what the state law says, that’s what the federal law says, so live with it.’ So a lot of the science program and the science plan is built around defining and developing that best available science.”
The Delta Science Plan was completed in 2013. Dr. Goodwin said it was a major undertaking of the science community, with well over 1000 comments submitted during the development of the plan. “The important thing here, it was a start,” he said. “We committed to the Stewardship Council to come back after 12 months, take a look to see what was working in the plan and what wasn’t, and come out in 2015 with an update.”
The Delta Science Plan is a shared vision of science across the broad science community with the idea of building a common body of knowledge, Dr. Goodwin said. “This doesn’t mean that we, as the science community, have a single opinion or a single model. The idea here is that the common body of knowledge explores collaboratively competing hypotheses. It identifies what we agree we understand about this immensely complex system. It also identifies areas of uncertainty and areas of legitimate scientific disagreement so we can target research dollars to narrow those uncertainties and lead to a more comprehensive understanding.”
The Delta Science Plan addresses the most difficult issue, the ‘socio-environmental’ system, he said. “This is to organize science to inform policy and management so the best science is actually used in the decision making,” he said. “And with adaptive management being used to manage this complex system, how do you organize science effectively across the science community to do that?”
“All of those points dealt with the science itself, but we also recognized as a scientific community that we’re really lacking certain resources – the basic scientific infrastructure to allow people to work effectively. And so the science plan also deals with models, monitoring, research, training, communication, and many other things which are part of our scientific infrastructure.”
There are three legs to the Delta Science Plan, Dr. Goodwin said. “There’s the Delta Science Plan itself, which is a shared vision for science. There is the Science Action Agenda, which is essentially the work plan for a four year cycle. Then, if you have a work plan and you do great science, what have you actually learned from that collective science – from all of the projects that are funded. And so it was recognized that there needs to be a State of Bay Delta Science done that reviews that four year cycle of work; what have we learned, in order that that increased understanding can then inform the next cycle for the Science Action Agenda.”
We need to do a much better job of tracking science activities so we can understand where science funding is being invested and what we’re learning. “There’s been a lot of innovative ideas about web-based tracking systems, and the ability to update on the webpage new findings. The State of the Bay Delta Science is underway currently, and we plan to have that completed also in 2015.”
“Whose science plan is it? Is it the Stewardship Council’s? Is it the Delta Science Plan’s program?” said Dr. Goodwin. “Absolutely not. If this science plan is going to be functional, if it’s actually going to work across agency missions and agency responsibilities, everyone needs to take ownership – that’s everyone in this room as well as agency directors and policy makers. This was one of the guiding principles in putting the science plan together.”
The Delta Science Plan addresses ways to manage scientific conflict. “It’s recognized that we need to have this transition away from combat science to more collaborative science,” he said. “One of the problems that we face here is that if we were given five years and enough funding, we could probably get the science community together to work through many of these issues, but sometimes an agency director needs to know what’s happening in science and we need an answer by Friday, or within two weeks. So in the science plan, there’s a range of mechanisms on different time scales to try and pull together available information, in a credible, legitimate manner.”
Another problem the Delta Science Plan addresses is that data is widely distributed and inaccessible and there are inadequate models to describe complex interactions. Dr. Goodwin noted that the Delta Science Program held an Environmental Data Summit earlier this year, and would be holding a modeling summit in 2015.
“You may ask why are we doing these summits and why are we developing the white papers,” he said. “Steve Brandt ran the Great Lakes science program for many years with great distinction, and it’s no accident that they received $600 million per year just to do the science. How did they do that? How did they achieve that in Chesapeake Bay? The Everglades? There was just a simple articulation that was clearly understandable in Congress and across the state that this is what we need to do and this is what it’s going to achieve. So that’s the ultimate goal of these white papers, a common vision of what we need.”
Dr. Goodwin concluded by summing up the plan. “The goal of the Delta Science Plan is to build a common body of knowledge while respecting different scientific opinions; to develop common peer review processes and get towards the best available science; to develop collaborative efforts for adaptive management to inform decision making; to develop shared priorities that are relevant, legitimate and credible; to develop jointly tools that are accessible to everyone so there’s isn’t any secrets about a particular model; and also to respect the innovation that you can get when you start having multiple different models applies to the same problem. And of course having a structure process that people can respect for managing these scientific differences of opinion in such a high stress, high stakes environment.”
The floor was then opened for questions.
Question: What are the first steps that either an organization or individual scientist can do to embrace and help make this come into fruition?
“This is just a common vision and we need to make it work,” replied Dr. Goodwin. “I think what we’ve been looking at in 2014 are the actions directed by the principles laid out in the science plan that we can road test. There are a number of activities that have occurred across all of the actions in the science plan this year that we’ve been monitoring very closely. A couple of those examples: I think the CAMT effort – we’re very appreciative of the efforts of Leo Winternitz and Val Connor and their efforts to actually craft that process in a way that’s consistent with the Delta Science Plan; we’ve learned a lot in terms of scientific review, and that will be reflected in the updates.”
The Environmental Data Summit is a great step forward in working together, and other programs are following, such as the IEP’s strategic plan being deliberately developed along the same lines as the science plan. “These major efforts where there’s vast numbers of scientists focusing on particular problems, it should be able to roll seamlessly into this much larger umbrella of what’s going on.“
Bottom line, because of the very widespread input for this plan, it’s a great start, but what happens if an agency or program choose to go totally outside that and not participate? “Of course, we don’t have any regulatory responsibility to do that, so what we see is that by having this program focus on synthesis and the actions that cross individual agency missions, it’s like the movement. We hope this will be a sufficient carrot to help build a more comprehensive science approach where we are respecting these very targeted scientific efforts that have been going on for a number of years. We don’t want to undercut that.”
“Thank you for your attention. Please continue to follow the science plan and we appreciate your support during the last 18 months. Please stay engaged and we welcome your ideas as we go through the update in 2015,” concluded Dr. Goodwin.
Lindsay Correa then took to the podium to talk about the Interim Science Action Agenda, which is the first step in developing the workplan element of the Delta Science Plan.
“The science plan really sets the direction and foundation for this effort,” she said. “The vision of One Delta, One Science means an open Delta science community that works together to build a shared body of knowledge with the capacity to adapt and inform current and future water and environmental decisions, and as we move forward with this Interim Science Action Agenda, we really feel that we’re making some initial steps to make progress on this vision.”
One component of the science plan’s strategy is to develop a Science Action Agenda, which is identified as a workplan element to prioritize and align science actions to inform management actions and decisions in the Delta over a four year time frame, she said. “It is intended to inform agency and program workplans and science activities to guide focused science efforts as well as activities such as data management, synthesis, shared modeling.”
She then presented a flow chart for the Delta science strategy, noting that another component of the strategy is to develop ways for decision makers and scientists to come together through a policy-science forum to identify what the top science needs are and how those needs can be addressed. “The idea for developing the science action agenda is that direction from those high level discussions would then come through a science advisory committee, an informal group led by the science program and the lead scientist to provide advice how to translate those needs from decision makers into science questions that could then serve as the basis for informing the science action agenda,” she said. “This would then inform updates to the State of Bay Delta Science and really serve as the workplan element to inform these agency and program science work plans and provide a way to coordinate the science activities that are going on in the Delta.”
“In the interest of getting going now, the science program has led the effort of an interim science action agenda, a first step in the development of the science action agenda,” said Ms. Correa. “Without having that formal policy-science forum established, we have worked with the community to identify both through interviews as well as looking at existing documents, what are some of those priority science actions the agencies and programs are interested in. The idea is that this would be a first step in the development of the science action agenda but have some of the same functions that it could provide inputs to updates to future State of Bay Delta Science reports as well as inform agency workplans and activities as well as other organizations.”
The interim science action agenda is this first step towards a full science action agenda and doesn’t attempt to prioritize any actions, she said. “It is still intended to be a collaborative road map for addressing science needs over a two year time frame instead of a four year time frame. Part of the reason for this is that when we’ve talked to partners in other major systems in the U.S. and talked with colleagues at the Puget Sound partnership in Washington, they’ve learned by going through a similar exercise that this is really a multi-year effort to identify and prioritize science activities that really takes at least three years, and even that is a challenge. We thought we need to get something out soon.”
“The Interim Science Action Agenda is a synthesis of priority science actions across organizations, programs, and agencies, and it really has been an effort that demonstrates progress towards achieving One Delta, One Science,” she said. “The Interim Science Action Agenda is an expression of the science community though the broad support for the Delta science plan that sets the direction for the Interim Science Action Agenda and other activities in the Delta.” She noted they received guidance, community and support from the Delta Plan Interagency Implementation Committee, a Science Advisory Committee, agency and public input, and focused interviews. “A key component of inputs to the Interim Science Action Agenda has been engaging with you, the science community, the managers in the system, on identifying how we should go about this synthesis of science activities and priorities,” she said.
Initially, their approach was to look at the science and information needs that were identified in existing documents, but in May, they heard from the community that they should streamline the effort by holding focused interviews. “So we interviewed 22 agencies and organizations and asked them to tell us what their top 5 priority science actions are, and that really serves as the basis and the inputs for the synthesis effort that came out in the draft Interim Science Action Agenda in September,” said Ms. Correa. “We received very constructive comments from the Delta Independent Science Board and the public, and we’re working on incorporating those toward a completed Interim Science Action Agenda in November.”
The Interim Science Action Agenda is a synthesis of 315 science actions derived from focused interviews and existing documents. The science actions are grouped into 17 science action areas, with 12 of those action areas addressing knowledge gaps that have been identified across programs and organizations, and 5 of which help build the infrastructure and capacity for achieving the vision of One Delta, One Science. Ms. Correa noted that the 17 science action areas are in no order of priority within the agenda, and are grouped by those capacity building areas and by the major policy areas of the Delta Plan.
Along with the report, there is an Excel workbook that includes all of the information collected on science activities. “Why this is relevant to you, the Bay Delta science community and managers, is that through this effort we are making progress on one of the other key actions in the science plan about building a web-based tracking system of science activities,” she said. “The Interim Science Action Agenda effort provides you information about who is doing what in the system in terms of science, as well as information about what is the relevance of those science activities to different management decisions, regulatory decisions, where the information was available, and who is the lead contact for that monitoring effort or that program, so it really starts to promote opportunities for coordination and leveraging resources, not only dollars but in equipment, people and capacity to get out and work together. It highlights opportunities for joint funding, where there are shared interests, and how we can work together as a community to make progress on reducing some of our gaps in knowledge or building capacity.”
“It also highlights opportunities for organizations and scientists to connect and as we move forward within the interim science action agenda, we’re working with colleagues at the University of Idaho to help us use visualization tools to be able to map and show some of these connections of where organizations have similar interests,” said Ms. Correa, displaying a map. “This is an illustration that shows which organizations are interested in which of the 17 action areas. We were told at the workshop that the community wanted to see where we can build on existing collaborative efforts, so this is just a first step towards trying to visualize some of the information that came out of the synthesis effort.”
Ms. Correa then listed the next steps for the Interim Science Action Agenda:
Address Delta Independent Science Board and public comments: “We’re going to be addressing some of the comments, such as giving more information about what the prioritization process might look like moving forward, how we will transition from the interim to the full science action agenda, clean up some of the editorial components, and talk about what implementation might look like.” She said that the final version will hopefully be coming out in November. They will then present the Interim Science Action Agenda in forums to obtain multi-agency and multi-organization acceptance, she said.
Advance integrated physical and ecosystem modeling: A component of the Delta Science Plan is to make progress on shared modeling. Action area #16 in the interim science action agenda is to establish collaborative modeling approaches for the Bay Delta system.
Joint proposal solicitation package: “We’re interested in working with others to explore the opportunities for a shared proposal solicitation package to address some of the comments that we received in terms of how do we best promote science that can address some of the cross-components of these science actions areas and build and make progress on reducing these knowledge gaps.”
Collaborative 2015 Delta Science Fellows Solicitation: “We’re also interested in furthering the Delta Science fellows program through collaborative efforts for 2015 science fellows solicitation. This would not only help to reduce knowledge gaps in some of those first 12 science action areas, but also build the capacity for having high quality science in this system.”
Develop the final Science Action Agenda: “Finally, we’ll be working with you, the community and with others as well to develop the full science action agenda, getting your input and your thoughts as we move forward to develop how we best undergo this prioritization effort that’s really called for in the full science action agenda.”
“So with that, I’d like to thank all of you who participated in interviews, who came to our workshop, who provided public comment,” said Ms. Correa. “This Interim Science Action Agenda really is an expression of your priority science activities and your thoughts and it’s really been a privilege to be able to help collate and share the common voice of this effort.”
For more information …
- Click here for more information on the Delta Science Plan.
- Click here for more information on the Interim Science Action Agenda.
- Click here to visit the Delta Science Program online.