State of Bay Delta Science 2016, part 1: Implementing One Delta, One Science; Delta water management – Where are we and where should we go?

Jay Lund Sliderbox
Photo by Jay Lund.
Dr. Peter Goodwin on the challenges and opportunities of implementing the Delta Science Plan, and Dr. Jay Lund on water management and the Delta

The State of Bay-Delta Science 2008 report was the CALFED Science Program’s first extensive effort at compiling, synthesizing, and communicating the scientific understanding of the Delta as it was at the time of its publication. The report was written to distill and present scientific information in a manner that could be used to support policy and management decisions, and was intended for resource managers, policymakers, and the public. Since its publication, it has become a foundational reference for those involved in research and management of the Delta.

However, much has happened to advance our understanding of the system since the report was first published 7 years ago, so as part of a three-part science strategy, the Delta Science Program is coordinating an update to the document with the goal of updating the document every four years.

The 2016 update to the report will have seventeen chapters covering a wide range of topics, such as climate change and the Delta, water and watershed management implications for water supply, flow dynamics and models, contaminants and their effects, Delta food web dynamics, the ecology of Delta smelt and salmonids in the Delta, and landscape ecology and ecological restoration. The chapters are authored by teams of relevant science experts in their areas of research, with guidance by the editorial board.  For a full list of chapters and authors, click here.

Each individual chapter of the report will provide a broad overview of the current scientific understanding of the subject, discuss any key events that have led to improved understanding of the Delta, and identify key gaps in understanding and future directions of research or monitoring. A one to three page summary intended for non-technical audiences will be included, as well as a technical section written for a scientific audiences.

The State of Bay Delta Science report will be published later this year as a special issue of the San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science online journal and will be peer reviewed in accordance with the journal’s peer review process.

At the State of the San Francisco Estuary conference last fall, some of the co-authors working on the project gave brief presentations about their upcoming chapters.

Science tells a story, and it’s important to get those stories out,” said Darcy Austin, Project Manager for the State of Bay Delta Science 2016.  “We asked our authors to discuss in their chapters the state of scientific knowledge, and how the topic has evolved over time since 2008, we asked them to identify the top recent scientific findings, and we also wanted them to look at the policy relevant and science-informed problems and issues that have come to light and how these insights improved our understanding of how the system works and how it might be managed.”

This session will be covered in two parts.  Part 1 will feature Dr. Peter Goodwin on the challenges and opportunities of building the ‘One Delta, One Science’ approach, and Dr. Jay Lund on water management and the Delta.  Coming tomorrow in part 2, Stephanie Fong discusses contaminants and their effects on Delta species, Dr. Wim Kimmerer with recent studies on the Bay-Delta food web, and Robin Grossinger on the importance of a landscape approach to Delta restoration.

DR. PETER GOODWIN: The challenges of building the ‘One Delta, One Science’ approach

Dr. Peter Goodwin is the former Delta Lead Scientist, having served in that position from 2012 until fall of 2015. Dr. Goodwin is the DeVlieg Presidential Professor in Ecohydraulics and Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Idaho and the founding and current director of the Center for Ecohydraulics Research. He is recognized internationally for his research with important contributions in the field of modeling flows, sediment transport, and river channel evolution.He earned his B.Sc. in civil engineering from Southampton University, England, his M.S.C.E in Hydraulic and Coastal Engineering and Ph.D. in Hydraulic Engineering from UC Berkeley.

The Delta Science Plan, adopted in December of 2013, seeks to build an open science community that works collaboratively to build a shared body of knowledge that is accepted and considered credible, as well as provide an effective interface between scientists and decision makers so that science can be incorporated into difficult policy and management decisions about the Delta. The Delta Science Plan identified 31 specific actions intended to achieve the objectives of enabling and promoting science synthesis, managing scientific conflict, prioritizing and coordinating Delta science efforts, building effective policy-science interactions, providing support for effective adaptive management, and maintaining and advancing understanding about the Delta.

Dr. Peter Goodwin is co-author along with the Delta Science Program’s Lindsay Correa of the chapter in the State of Bay Delta Science report that will focus on the building the ‘One Delta, One Science’ system.  During his tenure as Delta Lead Scientist from 2012 until 2015, Dr. Goodwin led the development of the first Delta Science Plan.  He with a retrospective on the progress made and some of the challenges he sees ahead in its continued implementation.

Delta Science Plan Cover
Click on the cover to download a copy.

The Delta Science Plan was completed start to finish in just under 12 months. With more than 1400 comments received, there was broad participation across the science community, Dr. Goodwin said.

It was intended to build a common body of scientific knowledge that is credible, legitimate, relevant, and transparent, he said. “Credible means that it follows the scientific process, it goes through peer review, and it follows the scientific method. Legitimate means that those experts from whatever stakeholder from whatever group have to be engaged at some point in the process. Relevance means is the science being done actually answering the question in hand, both in terms of short-term management actions but also taking that longer term view. And finally, it needs to be transparent; people need to see what’s being done and why.”

The Delta Science Plan addresses managing scientific conflict. “How can we get the decision making process out of the courts and back into appropriate scientific venues that protect our best scientists, and to understand where there are legitimate differences of opinion, where there’s consensus, and to sift out the junk science that’s put out to confuse the issues,” he said. “We also took a hard look at the infrastructure of science and what’s actually missing. What would enable the scientists working in the Bay Delta system to do their jobs better?

Goodwin_308Wed_AM1_BDSC2014_Page_08One of the overall messages was in order to address these very challenging issues, it’s going to take a community,” Dr. Goodwin said. “It takes multiple perspectives, multiple funding sources, and multiple expertise if we’re truly going to achieve this ‘One Delta One Science.’

The Delta Science Plan is not a state plan nor does it belong to any particular agency, said Dr. Goodwin. “There are many folks who had contributed to this effort right across the NGO agencies, federal and state government, so this science plan should be viewed as everyone’s.”

He emphasized that ‘One Delta, One Science’ doesn’t mean that everyone agrees all the time. “In fact if we did that, the science plan would not be working at all. Science moves ahead where there’s controversy or differences of opinion and if we can work those out and target research money to get to those uncertainties, we’re going to move ahead much more quickly.”

Goodwin_308Wed_AM1_BDSC2014_Page_07The science strategy outlined in the science plan has three parts:

1-Delta Science Plan: The Delta Science Plan outlines processes and how we do things. It lists the procedures, how peer review will be done, and ways to manage scientific conflict. “What’s important is that we have this common way of approaching the various scientific processes. If we can’t get to that point, we’re going to be in the same situation: is it Peter’s best available science? is it Mike’s best available science? And we’ll get back in the courtroom and back in the same position that we were a few years ago.”

2-Science Action Agenda: The Science Action Agenda is essentially the work plan for a four year cycle. It’s a collaborative road map for science listing over 300 science actions. “We’ve been referring to this as the gaps and glue which means is there anything missing when we integrate across all the various programs? Are there still obvious gaps that are going to inhibit our ability to make decisions on this immensely complex system? And the glue gets to the NRC 2012 report that says there is brilliant science going on within disciplines, within programs, but no one is connecting the dots in how the system is responding.”

Federal spendingDr. Goodwin referenced EPA Regional Administrator Jared Blumenfeld’s talk the previous day pointing out that the Bay Delta system receives only a fraction of funding that goes to other important ecocsystems. “What he didn’t say is why that is,” he said. “If you look at those other programs, the science community got together, and spoke with a single voice. And I would argue that many of their systems are simpler – they are one primary issue. If it’s Chesapeake Bay, it’s basically water quality; if you go to Louisiana, its land building, but in our system, we don’t have that luxury. We have six or seven of these major issues and they all interact with each other. But in each of those other systems, people got together and spoke with a single voice.”

What we hope the science action agenda will achieve is that any agency director can stand up, hold up that document, and say this is where my agency’s science fits, and this is how we’re all working together towards this going to goal,” he said. “Here’s the problem and here’s how we’re going to fix it.

3-State of Bay Delta Science: “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? 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.” Dr. Goodwin noted that the 2008 version was a seminal document in many people’s opinion, and we didn’t want to repeat that, so the intent of this State of Bay Delta Science is to do an update and to just incorporate the new knowledge.

Dr. Goodwin then turned to some of the key efforts that encourage everyone to think about things a little bit differently.

First of all, the Bay and the Delta is an integrated, dynamic system, and there’s great stuff going on in the Bay, but in the Delta we’re still playing catch up to some of the 30 years of effort,” he said. “We need to step up and support the integrative studies and some of the formative work by SFEI which I think is critically important – these sorts of studies that really look beyond the geographic boundaries.”

2014_03_10_ecoreco_delta_goodwin_Page_06I think it’s very important to acknowledge that science informs management and policy, but that doesn’t relieve the responsibility of the decision makers to making those decisions,” he said. “You can’t punt it to the science community. The reason for that is that as scientists, we can give our very projections with uncertainty estimates of the likely outcomes of different management actions. What we can’t do is make those decisions because there is a layer of value judgement that has to go in there. If we pull our top scientists into that decision making process, then they are going to be perceived as biased.

Dr. Goodwin then asked for a show of hands of how many people believe that sea level rise would exceed 1 meter in the next century. “I would argue that is the wrong answer, and the reason for that is when we’re asked that, our response should be that we don’t believe in anything. Belief stands in policy and religion. As scientists, we’re trying to look at the facts, and the uncertainties, so when we come out with a recommendation, it’s not a belief. There’s a lot of the scientific method and understanding behind that.”

Item_2a_Delta_Science_PowerPoint_Page_02Dr. Goodwin said we need to keep building the science community, noting that we’ve already achieved some success. “There’s a report that came out in May of 2015 and I encourage you to read it,” he said. “It was written by social scientists who studied the way of doing science, particularly in large groups, and they identified science teams of 2 to 10 individuals as being the most effective groups. In our system we’re almost always dealing with more than ten people. But many of the issues in here is what we struggle with and I think in this particular community, by default without having been studied, we’re beginning to overcome some of those. I call out here the Collaborative Adaptive Management Team’s efforts. It took a long time to get around the table. When we reviewed the findings recently, the panel we had come in were very experienced at reviewing large science programs; their questions were really geared to see if they were working as a team, or just as a bunch of individual scientists that were dividing the pie for funding.   The question went to scientist x over here, then scientist y from totally the other party would jump in and support it, so very positive.

GoodwinHe also cited the growth of Interagency Ecological Program and how the California Water Environmental Modeling Forum has pulled together the modeling community as other examples of success.

Accountability is extremely important,” he said. “What we’re doing, around the county we’re seeing Congress coming down, in the Puget Sound, we’re putting all this money in, how many orcas do we have as a result of this investment. It’s a ridiculous question so we need to educate and be ahead as in how we’re going to judge ourselves when we’re given these significant resources.

Fostering innovation is very important, Dr. Goodwin said. “We tend to keep doing things the same way, so how do we set up funding for high risk research with a high payoff?

Thank you for your attention. Please say engaged in the science plan; it’s everyone in this room’s responsibility,” he concluded.

For more information …

DR. JAY LUND, Delta water management: Where are we and where should we go?

Dr. Jay Lund is Director of the Center for Watershed Sciences and Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at University of California, Davis. His research and teaching interests focus on applying systems analysis and economic methods to infrastructure and environmental problems, including policy, planning, and management studies. He received his B.Sc. in Civil Engineering, M.A. in Geography, and Ph.D. in Civil Engineering from the University of Washington.

Dr. Jay Lund from UC Davis and Dr. Roger Bales from UC Merced are co-authors on the State of Bay Delta Science chapter that will address water and watershed management for water supply.  Dr. Lund’s presentation focused on water management and water supply reliability, and how management of the Delta ties together the quantity and quality of water available statewide in California.

Delta Water Mgt Lund_Page_02California has changed a lot from what it was originally, Dr. Jay Lund began. “Where we had rivers, now we have diverted rivers, pumped rivers, and a lot of thirsty places. We like to move water around.”

He then gave his conclusions. “We have a very limited Delta water supply and California is a dry place,” he said. “We have limits on water availability, we have limits on infrastructure, and we’re taking the big gulps in those years when there’s a lot of water and in other years when there’s no water, no matter how big the infrastructure was. We have environmental limits – the ‘fish gotta swim’ theory of environmental flows at the very least. We have economic limits as there are a lot of the things we could do but they just aren’t worthwhile economically. I could build a reservoir that would capture all of those flows that are wasted to the sea, but it wouldn’t be worthwhile economically because I’m not willing to pay that much to capture every last drop. Same is true for stormwater capture and everything else. There’s some economic limits to what makes sense.

We’re going to see some long-term reduction in irrigated agriculture; there’s just no way we’re not going to do that,” he said. “We’ll still have a lot of it and we might still even have more agricultural profits and more agricultural employment than we have today, but it’s going to be less in footprint and in water use than what we have today. I don’t see any way around it. I’m just doing the numbers.”

Urban use is roughly stable, maybe even declining, he said. “Certainly if the war on lawns continues in future years, we will see quite a lot of reduction. We will continue to see integrated portfolios of lots of different actions that are hopefully arguably profitably and analytically put together as how we manage for the future. We have ‘Mick Jagger’ management which I’ll tell you about later.”

Droughts remind us to change and prepare and those includes wet events and the dry events – they are actually useful,” he said. “They motivate us to get rid of that old car and get a new one on occasion. We need to be idealistic and pragmatic about this; we need some sort of idealistic pragmatism not this romance we often have, ‘oh if only we did this,’ we would solve all of these problems. It’s not going to happen.”

Delta Water Mgt Lund_Page_04Dr. Lund then presented a chart of Delta water use and diversions, saying that he likes this graph for two reasons. “One is that it shows steadily the historical development of diversions of water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, both upstream and in the Delta over time,” he said. “You can see early in history the upstream diversions that even in the 1920s before this plot even begins, there were problems in Antioch being unable to take fresh water out of the Delta because it was getting too salty because people upstream in Sacramento and the San Joaquin had been taking out water during the summertime.”

He pointed out the circled area on the graph. “Somehow in about 1998, upstream water diversions went away,” he said. “I think this is a weird accounting thing that this isn’t real data, this is estimated data, and this is what happens when two different groups estimate the same data, and they don’t talk to each other very much about how they did it, and that’s a really important point. We don’t have a water accounting system for California – we have about 6 of them. They are all done by different groups at different times for different purposes, and we end up with stuff that doesn’t make any sense like that glitch on this chart.”

Another useful thing that the chart shows is that the first groups to take water out of the Delta were the upstream diverters up in the watershed and the in-Delta folks. “Over time, we continued to develop both of those, although the in-Delta stuff has sort of reached stasis for a long time. But almost twice as much water is diverted upstream of the Delta as is diverted as exports in the Delta, and I think that’s really fundamental to our understanding of mass balances and water availability for the Delta.”

We often tend to pin 80% of the blame rhetorically on the exports, but in terms of mass balance, it’s really upstream as well,” Dr. Lund said. “I think we need to look at the whole system of how these things work.”

Delta Water Mgt Lund_Page_06You’ve always heard that 25 million people rely on the Delta for a lot of water, he said. “I took this picture while sailing this summer, and I think it summarizes the Delta in a lot of ways. You can see the Delta is a wet place, and you can see looking outside of the Delta on the horizon that California is a dry and thirsty place, so do you ever think we’re not going to have conflicts over water in the Delta? This is going to be the state of nature, the state of man, the state of human beings in California. You’re not going to solve this problem. You can manage it, we need to manage it, but people are always going to be screaming about it and nobody’s going to be completely happy. The Delta will always have water conflicts, but we need to have a much more reasoned way of setting expectations for what we’re going to get out of the Delta. I think that’s sort of the role of science in all of this: what is reasonable and what are the tradeoffs.”

Economics drives water use,” he said. “When I talk to engineering audiences, we all understand that somebody is paying us to do this. If people weren’t making money off of it, there wouldn’t be any Delta diversions, period. Sure it’s about your family farm for 10,000 generations, sure it’s about your love of green lawns, but at the bottom line, it’s because you’re making money off it, and that’s nice because then if you can reduce it to money for almost all human water use, you can, then it’s a lot easier. It’s fungible. You can pay people. It widens your decision space, it widens the range of options you have for management and making people feel whole. Sure they like to have the water, but if you can give them money, it’s ok.”

Delta Water Mgt Lund_Page_07Dr. Lund next presented a slide showing water use plotted against employment, noting that is shows how the structure of California’s economy has changed and continues to change. “It has some real implications; it already is having implications for how we manage water. The economy depends less now on abundant water supplies than it did in the past, so if you go back to the 1910s or 20s or 30s even when we had 20-30% of employment in California was in agriculture; if we had had that drought this year with that economy versus this one, we’d be feeling the pain. The nice thing about this terrible drought now and agriculture today, not only is it hitting the agriculture sector in its more profitable place, but those folks, those 10,000 people that don’t have jobs because of all this, well, the other 98% of us have a welfare system that can help them out. However, this economy relies on having reliable supplies a lot more, and agriculture it’s permanent crops. Fortunately we have a lot of water management options that exist that we can pull on to, but we also do have economic growth, which has some increase in demand for water use.”

Delta Water Mgt Lund_Page_08I’ve showed this slide before about how we have 95% of the employment and revenues and agriculture accounts for about half of the irrigated acres,” he said. “All the irrigated acres use about the same amount of water – there is a little bit of difference, but substantially the same, so this gives us a lot of buffering capacity in agriculture as it is currently structured to handle some of the vagaries of drought.”

We could do the same thing with urban water use,” he said. “How many of you would rather stop flushing your toilets versus letting your lawns go brown? So we have that first bit of water use for watering that lawn that’s about half of the water that we use, and has relatively little value to our well being. So we have a lot of buffering capacity in the urban sector water use as well.”

Delta Water Mgt Lund_Page_09Most of the economics of the water use in the cities is that there is such high value for this water that they are always going to get what they need. “You can see the Mick Jagger theory coming,” he said. “Urban water conservation also benefits from being well organized. There’s a water utility that can have water cops, it’s well funded and it’s well organized. We went from 10% water conservation last year to 30 or 40% conservation in many of the districts this year, and I didn’t see a lot of real screaming. We didn’t get to a lot of pain point on that. If you had done that in agriculture, well you heard some screaming …

With half of urban water use going towards landscape irrigation, that gives us a lot of flexibility. “Urban water users can reduce use substantially; however only some of that water becomes available for the environment,” Dr. Lund said. “First of all, only about 20% of water use is urban, so even if you halved it, you’ve only reduced human water use by 10%. So we could reduce half of the urban use and you only get 10% more water. Well, some of that 10% more water is going to go to ag, some can go to the environment, but you haven’t added a lot to the environment. Maybe in a few places and in a few times and if you use it strategically, that’s great, but I think we have to understand that when we’re asking people to do a lot of conservation, it sounds good, and while we have lots of solidarity among us with the environment, it’s not a lot of water.

Jay LundThere are several threats to Delta water supplies such as water availability, drought, climate change, and sea level rise. “Water quality is two-fold,” he said. “We have sea level rise which means you have to have more outflow to repel the salinity from the sea, but also we have tightening drinking water standards over time, and this I think is very important. When was the last time we ever saw a drinking water standard get loosened? Never in the history of man, just about, so over time, we’re going to tighten those standards and it’s going to make the quality of that Delta water more important.”

Delta levee failures, we have floods, earthquakes, all kinds of bad things, and historically we tend to lose about an island a decade or so in a rough sense,” he said. “Fish flows – certainly after this drought we’re likely to have more listed species. If it’s like the last big drought we had in 88 and 92, we ended up having two or three more listed species after that. Those listed species matter; we have to have new biological opinions and it means we’re going to have reductions in Delta exports, so the long term impacts of this drought might well be bigger after the drought than during the drought for agricultural and urban areas because we didn’t preserve enough flows or other factors during the drought.”

There will be growth in water demands, particularly on the Delta, Dr. Lund said. “When you try to make up that 1 or 2 MAF of overdraft south of the Delta, do you think those farmers down there, cities down there that are overdrafting that aquifer are going to say, we’ll just leave? No, they are going to look at the Delta out there, that ‘wet place in the middle of a dry place,’ let’s see if we can get any more water out of that, so I think we’re going to see some more demands. I think it’s going to essentially make this drought quasi-permanent in many ways, until we get some of this sorted out which will beyond the professional lifetimes of most of us here.”

Delta Water Mgt Lund_Page_11There are several threats to water supplies as well, he said. “I think there’s poor coordination of water supply, environmental, and flow objectives. Different competing water supply users, ag, urban, and environment, and the flood aspects and the environmental aspects, we all have to get along, otherwise we’re not going to be able to get as much out of the system overall as we can.”

Water supplies, ecosystems, and levees – we have to make all of these things work,” he said. “We ask a lot out of the Delta – water, ecosystems, land use, levees, our supplies from the Delta, so you have to play well with others upstream and downstream. There are water supply benefits that we’re going to get out of a healthier ecosystem … we might have lower averages but more reliability I think is the theory and the hope.

We have to change the way we think about these things and understand that the Delta is something that is tying us all together, Dr. Lund said. “We all benefit if the Delta is doing well, from all the different perspectives, not just one. And if the Delta continues on in the unsustainable trajectory that it’s on, it’s really going to be bad for all of us. My own thinking on this is that we really have a giant game of chicken out there where nobody wants to capitulate first or compromise first because it weakens their negotiating position. I think that’s still at the root of a lot of our discussions out there. And so I do hope we can find a way to all get along.”

Delta Water Mgt Lund_Page_12We need to adopt a portfolio-based approach. “If we have more things we are doing together, if we have an orchestra, that can help us play the tune on this, hopefully we can get better water supply reliability, better economic performance and water supply as well as better environmental and land use performance,” he said.

So the story I would like to tell is that we have growth and declines in water use and demands, we’re going to have more ecological constraints on the water supply system, we have major water supply limits and threats from all these different sources, and we have lessons from the drought,” he said. “The drought has been very useful in terms of raising our consciousness to address many of these issues.”

Dr. Lund noted that we have a lot of models. “Scientifically, models mostly work on the water supply side because mass balance is a wonderful thing,” he said. “But we have more models than organized insight, so I don’t think we’ve gotten as much out of models as we should.”

In terms of where should we be going, we definitely need better accounting, and we need a lot better integrated documented public modeling so that we can get more insight out of the efforts and expertise that we have in modeling. “We need much more organized actions across agencies. We’re managing this system for very different objectives than we did when we set up the original agencies that we still have. Each of those agencies has a different culture and different mission, so we need to think about how do we evolve this ecosystem of agencies to have functions that are better suited for the modern economy that we have now and our expectations for what we want out of this system, socially, environmentally, economically, than what we’ve had in the past.”

Delta Water Mgt Lund_Page_14Resistance is futile – there are at least 10 things that are going to change in this water system, Dr. Lund said. “There are a lot of stakeholders out there who are just happy the way it is now and if they can only hold off change for the rest of their career, that’s their job,” he said. “They are going to lose in several ways. It’s almost scientifically implausible that any of these will not come true in some way. The groundwater one is already coming true.”

Dr. Lund then gave his conclusions. “We have limits – water, infrastructure, environmental, and economic,” he said. “We’re going to see some long-term reduction in irrigated area; urban use is going to be stable, declining; water markets would help a lot with this. We’re going to have integrated portfolios to help us in the future; ‘Mick Jagger management’ – you can’t always get what you want, but we’re going to be able to get what we need if we’re at all decent about it. Droughts and floods are going to remind us to change from time to time, more than once a generation I suspect, and we need to have some sort of idealistic pragmatism on how we get there.”

Coming tomorrow …

  • Part 2: State of Bay Delta Science 2016: Water quality and contaminant effects on species and water supply; The Bay-Delta food web; and Delta landscape restoration

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