Setting the agenda for science in the Delta

Delta Plan Interagency Implementation Committee members agree to accept interim science action agenda and return in six months with a list of their science priorities

(Note: This is part 2 of coverage from the Delta Plan Interagency Implementation Committee meeting.  For part 1, go here: California Water Action Plan implementation coordination and progress; Integrating flood and ecosystem planning in the Yolo Bypass)

Agenda Item 3b_Attachment 2_Page_01Currently, science is conducted in the Delta by numerous public agencies, organizations, and academic institutions, each with its own mission and agenda with little coordination and oftentimes no plans to share data and information.  Absent a common vision and strategy, Delta science would continue to occur in these programmatic silos with limited integration and scientific conflict will likely continue.

The Delta Science Plan, a product of the Delta Science Program and a companion to the Delta Plan, seeks to address the conflict and fragmentation of science in the Delta by developing shared agendas, priorities, and data, and by creating a plan that will build more effective interactions between the scientific community and policy and decision makers.

The Delta Science Plan provides a framework for science cooperation across authorities vested in the multiple agencies and programs currently underway in the Delta. Most of those agencies are represented in the membership of the Delta Plan Interagency Implementation Committee.

One of the strategies of the Delta Science Plan is to develop a Science Action Agenda that will prioritize and align near-term science actions to inform management decisions, as well as identify priorities for research, monitoring, data management, modeling, synthesis, communication, and building science capacity that will develop a common body of knowledge capable of addressing the larger science questions.  The starting point for the development of the prioritized Science Action Agenda is acceptance of the Interim Science Action Agenda by the committee members.

Dr. Goodwin explainsAt the second biannual meeting of the Delta Plan Interagency Implementation Committee, Dr. Peter Goodwin, Lead Scientist with the Delta Science Program, briefed the committee members on the Interim Science Action Agenda.  He began by noting how the various governmental entities are working together in an unprecedented way to really take on the big issues.

There is also an unprecedented desire from decision makers and senior managers to seek out the very best available science so that the best decisions can be made and the best description of future conditions can be given to the people of California,” he said, noting that the science community has really responded to that. “From the science community level, there is a willingness to engage the science community has really resulted in discussions as to how can we structure science to best inform policy.”

Dr. Goodwin also noted that the Delta Science Program doesn’t ‘do’ science. “We facilitate science; we build networks,” he said. “We’re often referred to as the ‘honest brokers of science’ and we take this very seriously.”

Dr. Goodwin said that today, they’d like to achieve a cross-agency understanding of the interim Science Action Agenda which he’ll be describing, and they’d also like to hear the committee’s ideas and thoughts on what collaborative science opportunities might be able to move forward in 2015.

Agenda Item 3b_Attachment 2_Page_04He then began with a brief refresher on the history of the Delta Science Plan, which was completed in December of 2013. The Delta Science Plan began at a town hall meeting at a Delta science conference several years earlier, he noted. “The question that was thrown out in that town hall meeting was how do we transition from this era of combat science to collaborative science, and this resulted in the Delta Science Plan, which was given the acronym, ‘One Delta, One Science,’” he said. “This doesn’t mean that everyone agrees on everything, but how do you structure science so legitimate differences in opinion can be explored in the scientific arena.”

The science plan also explored how to make science credible, legitimate, and relevant. Dr. Goodwin further defined those terms: “Credible means that it stands up under scientific scrutiny, legitimate means that all of the relevant parties that had expertise in the area contribute, and relevancy means does it actually responding to the management questions that need to be acted on.”

There were well over one thousand comments received and hundreds of man hours contributed by the science community to developing the science plan, said Dr. Goodwin. “The science plan itself is a three part strategy geared at developing best available science and a common body of knowledge,” he said. “This respects individual mandates and missions of agencies, it gets to the heart of comments made by the NRC in 2012 and the ISB that said that there is a lack of synthesis that builds a systems understanding across this incredibly dynamic and evolving system.”

ISAA Cover

Click here to read the Interim Science Action Agenda

Dr. Goodwin said that in today’s meeting, they would be focusing on the interim Science Action Agenda, which is the workplan for the next two years. “Science is a journey,” he said. “So you have a workplan, you conduct science, and then you document what has been learned from that science and that helps guide the next workplan.”

The interim Science Action Agenda is a shared workplan that was developed from existing plans and documents, public workshops, recommendations from other independent science reviews, and in-depth interviews, he said. “There were over 320 individual science actions that were identified through this process,” he said. “What we wanted to do was to get a good handle on the sciencescape – what’s being done and what’s needed.

From those 320 science actions, we were able to synthesize those down to 17 primary areas, 12 of which address significant gaps in knowledge that are needed to manage this complex and rapidly evolving system and five science action areas that are concentrated on building the infrastructure, such as what it takes for scientists to be more efficient and to work together more collaboratively to get the information they need, which would lead to accelerated knowledge discovery.”

The interim Science Action Agenda will be used to enhance collaborative science networks, identify opportunities to leverage existing efforts and for shared investments for multi‐benefit science interests, to initiate a web‐based tracking system of science activities, and to make progress toward the full Science Action Agenda, Dr. Goodwin said.

Agenda Item 3b_Attachment 2_Page_05Dr. Goodwin asked the committee members to accept the interim Science Action Agenda, recognizing that it is an important stepping stone to understanding the complex science. “We hope that this will be used as a collaborative road map for decision-relevant science in the future.”

Dr. Goodwin also asked the committee members to help develop recommended priorities for 2015, noting that there was a four page document included with the meeting materials that suggests some options that are directly related to the California Water Action Plan.  Dr. Goodwin said that one of those priorities could be conducting a comprehensive assessment of monitoring in the Delta and connections to the Bay and watershed.

What we’re proposing is that once we know what’s being collected, is to take a very hard look at the experimental design, particularly the statistical methods that might be used to make interpretation from the data that’s being collected and to also to take a look at new innovations in terms of monitoring data or analysis of monitoring data.”

Dr. Goodwin also suggested a Joint Proposal Solicitation Package (PSP) that could be used to stimulate science to inform Bay‐Delta management actions and policies, as well as leverage funding from multiple sources. “We also expect that this PSP will help explore innovative technologies that could result in efficiencies in the future. I should stress here that if this were to be done, the common part of it would be the scientific review, so it gives you confidence as an agency director that the science that is being done meets high scientific standards.”

Dr. Goodwin then took a moment to highlight upcoming activities for 2015:

  1. Modeling summit: The Delta Science Program will be hosting a modeling summit to advance integrated physical and ecosystem modeling system-wide.
  2. Web based tracking system: The science program will be initiating the development of a web-based tracking system for who is doing what science in the Delta, and the reports and deliverables expected from that.
  3. Science fellows program: The science fellows program has been very successful in bringing the very best young talent from universities to work on specific problems, Dr. Goodwin said. They are suggesting a collaborative 2015 fellows solicitation among the various agencies.
  4. Science – Being the Messenger: In February, the Delta Science Program will be hosting an NSF “Science Being the Messenger” workshop.

Dr. Goodwin then turned it back over to Chair Randy Fiorini to lead the discussion.

Fiorini offers a memoThe first thing I’m looking for and recommend is to accept the interim science action agenda collectively as a group,” said Mr. Fiorini. He offered up in support the memo from the Delta Independent Science Board that praised the Interim Science Action Agenda, recommending that it serve as a road map for science activities in the Delta.

Chuck Bonham, director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlfie, said he was unsure of what the term ‘accept’ means. “If I accept this, then what?” he said. “Like my Department can only do science if it’s in here? Or we’ll work with other entities at the table to try and join forces and do science around these topics in these areas in a solicitated way, or what next … ?

Dr. Goodwin said that there are two types of things: activities that your agency is undertaking because it’s part of your legal mandate, and then there are the other things out there that need to be done collectively across the different scientific disciplines to understand the bigger picture of what’s going on, which is where the science action agenda is. “So when you take any action in your agency, there are going to be other possible consequences associated with that action that you may not have the expertise, staff, or scientists on board to deal with.”

He gave the example of the unintended consequences of flooding. “You probably want to bring the best possible hydrodynamic modelers and flood folks to that who may already be working on that hydrodynamic modeling for other reasons like the Yolo Bypass and things like that, so it’s a way for you to focus around these other issues on these big topics which currently you cannot cover in house. Or when it makes more sense to collaborate with other agencies because you can do it more efficiently, faster and cheaper.”

StelleWill Stelle, Regional Administrator for NOAA fisheries, said the agenda strikes him more as a big basket of stuff that’s been categorized by topic. “Those topics are very broadly cast, in and of themselves and collectively. So when I read them, I don’t see an agenda nor do I see a direction or a road map. I see a comprehensive broadly scoped list of important topics, so I believe that where you are is in an early stage of focusing, narrowing, and prioritizing … I’m not sure what you’re asking us to commit to when we look at that list of 17 broadly framed topics, and I’m not sure how you see them as either an agenda, or as a road map. So maybe you could spell out more of the next steps on how you see refining and focusing.”

Randy Fiorini acknowledged that the Interim Science Action Agenda is a starting point. “If we agree that this work represents the overview of the necessary science activities underway or planned in the Delta, then we can get to prioritizing, but we can’t go there unless we accept this document as a starting point.”

The next step now is to take this and start to prioritize things: what are the basic tools, what are we missing in terms of data, what are the limitations on models,” Dr. Goodwin said. “What you’re suggesting is absolutely right, it’s the next step. The ISB had a lot to say about that, too, but this is the first time to our knowledge that such an in depth analysis has been done. The next step over the coming months is to take that and start crafting that into the science action agenda that I think you are asking for. We have to have your guidance and thoughts on how we move to the full science action agenda, but that’s coming up. It’s going to take a few months.”

BonhamChuck Bonham clarified: “Chair, what I think I hear you asking is can you live with using the interim document, asking your smartest science or policy managers in your department to work with other staff to create that prioritization process and develop the final agenda, and along the way, if you uncover collaborative science opportunities for the calendar year for 2015, act on them.”

That’s a very good summary,” said Mr. Fiorini. “That’s what we’re asking for.”

Mark SoggeMark Sogge, Regional Director of the USGS Pacific Region said, “I really support the science plan concepts, especially the importance of synthesis, and the value of the collaborative science. The concepts clearly need some refinement, as you just mentioned, but speaking for us, the USGS, we’re willing to put people and resources towards these next steps because I think that’s the only way we’re going to get to the better, more refined view of where to go next.”

I appreciate the clarification and at this point and I’m ready to endorse this as an interim science agenda,” said Mark Cowin, Director of the Department of Water Resources. “I think what you hear us asking and pondering is how do you get beyond that and we’re anxious to get to that discussion, in particular as we think about how to prioritize and how to actually create a workplan and budget to carry out a significant portion of this agenda.

Fiorini 2If the interim science action agenda is the beginning point, then what we’re asking for is a commitment from every agency to dedicate science and policy managers to meet collectively and to evaluate what’s on that list, and to come back at our next meeting in April and provide us with some priorities,” said Randy Fiorini. “So in that, I think we will achieve shared funding, greater efficiencies, and a greater focus on whatever it is that’s determined to be in support of carrying out the Delta Plan and the California Water Action Plan. That’s what we’re asking for.”

I’ve been hesitating to raise my hand because having someone from Washington DC volunteer the time of the agency scientists who are already triple booked is perhaps not the wisest thing,” said Lettie Beland, Department of the Interior. “We have needed this for so long. … this is key, and yes we want to be the next step down the road and we’re not going to get there unless we keep pushing hard. Between the drought and BDCP and the biops and the remand and the list, it’s too much for our folks, but we have to do it.”

It’s nice that this group meets every six months because it gives us a target date to bring you something back,” said Randy Fiorini. “I am going to conclude that we are in support of the first recommendation before you, to commit science and policy managers to work collectively with the Delta Science Program over the next six months to determine a science prioritization process, and to identify high impact science activities for near term implementation. That will be a significant step forward if we can accomplish that in six months.”

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