BAY DELTA SCIENCE CONFERENCE: Dr. Clifford Dahm on Data, Decisions, Delta Science Program, and Delta Directions

bay-delta-sceince-conference-thin-headerDr. Clifford Dahm is an internationally recognized expert in aquatic ecology, climatology, and restoration biology, and he is professor emeritus of biology at the University of New Mexico.  He was unanimously appointed to the Delta Stewardship Council as lead scientist of the Delta Science Program in 2015, a post he previously held from 2008 to 2012.

At the Bay Delta Science Conference held in November, he gave this speech at the opening plenary session.  Here’s what he had to say:

bdsc-dahm“What I want to do today is talk about the science program – some of you know it well, some of you know it a little bit, some of you don’t know it at all; I want to take the opportunity to talk a little bit about my thoughts about some Delta directions, and I also want to talk a little bit about what Peter Goodwin said to us two years ago about some of the things he was thinking about in 2014 when he gave his plenary.”

The Delta Science Program

“The Delta Science Program is part of the Delta Reform Act.  The Reform Act was passed in 2009, it came into being in 2010.  We have a vision for the Delta Science Program and that is that all the Bay Delta water and environmental policy would be founded on the highest caliber science.  We try to do this through a variety of different mechanisms.  Some of the mechanisms involve a small science budget, so we do actually support and facilitate some research.  We also try to engage the greater community in doing some of the synthesis in communication that is necessary to get the scientific information out to people like Felicia Marcus and Phil Isenberg who make these kinds of decisions.  We also try to coordinate science among the different agencies and the different entities that do science.  We also try to support young scientists; we have a very strong commitment to trying to support both pre-doctoral and post-doctoral researchers and get them engaged in the science of the Bay and the Delta.”

cliff-plenary_page_03“The Delta Science Program is part of the Delta Stewardship Council.  We are a small entity.  We have just over 20 staff members.  We’re broken up into three divisions.  One of them is focused on adaptive management and making adaptive management work in the Bay and the Delta.  We also provide the care and feeding of the Delta Independent Science Board, including distinguished members like John Weins and a number of other very high quality scientists, many of whom are in this room, that are part of the DISB whose role really is to review periodically the science that is being done within the Delta.  They do this very well and they are very dedicated to the job that they do.”

“We also are in involved in implementing the Delta Science Plan, and also helping with very aspects of science infrastructure.  One of the parts of the science infrastructure is carrying out peer review.  We do a lot of peer review.  We try to help bring knowledgeable world class scientists to Sacramento to talk over some of the issues that we’re dealing with here in the Delta in particular and occasionally extending out into the Bay.”

cliff-plenary_page_04“So you’ve heard One Delta, One Science theme.  It’s the theme basically of the Delta Science Plan.  The Delta Science Plan was completed right at the end of December of 2013, so we are less than three years into trying to implement the 30-some actions that are in that Delta Science Plan.  The Delta Science Plan is a part of the Delta Science strategy.”

“Some other components of that Delta Science Strategy that I want to highlight is the State of Bay Delta Science which is in the process of being updated.  This was issued initially in 2008.  The series of papers published in the San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science are coming out in three issues.  The first five came out in June, the next three came out in September, and then the last six will be coming out in December.  So this is going to provide the State of Bay Delta Science update for 2016.  There is a lot of important synthesized science that’s going to help with the Delta science strategy.”

“There’s one other aspect of the Delta Science Strategy that I wanted to highlight for you, and that is the development of the Science Action Agenda in 2017, so this is a major priority for us in the upcoming year.”

“I want to make an aside on the reason why I think this is important.  Back in the mid-90s, I spent a couple years as the program director at the National Science Foundation.  I was in the division of environmental biology and the biology director, and it was interesting how the people in biology, the people in chemistry, the people in mathematics, the people in the geosciences; we’d get together and we’d talk about why can’t we garner the resources that the oceanographers, the astronomers, and the physicists seem to be able to get.  One of the key reasons why was that the physicists and the astronomers and the oceanographers would get together, they would agree what their highest priorities were, they would come with a unified voice to the foundation, and they would facilitate getting some of those resources to buy the ships or to build the telescopes or to build some of the major experimental apparatus they needed for doing their physics.  So this is an important exercise, not a trivial exercise, and I think having a good dialog with as many of you as possible will help us come up with an agenda that hopefully we can sell as something that is an agreed upon pathway that will help improve the science that we do within the Delta.”

Advancements in Delta science since Dr. Peter Goodwin’s 2014 plenary speech

cliff-plenary_page_06I also wanted to say a little something about Peter Goodwin, the former lead scientist.  When he gave the plenary talk in 2014, he had six key themes.  One of them was the Delta Science Plan, this idea of one Delta and one science.  He also emphasized the importance and the need for sustaining science mentors and having mentors to help the younger scientist develop.  He talked about the role of technology and interesting new developments that enhance the way we do science because of technological innovation.  He highlighted what he thought were some of the key science discoveries, he discussed climate change and the importance of communicating climate change and what climate change will mean to the Bay and the Delta, and he also concluded his talk with there are no magic bullets to solve the problems of the Bay Delta.”

“So what’s happened since 2014 when Peter gave that plenary address? There’s been some important accomplishments in the past two years.  This is certainly not an all-inclusive list, but here are five.  The integrated modeling for adaptive management of estuarine systems was held in 2015.  It’s brought together many of the people who work on modeling here in the Delta.  It was also co-funded by the National Science Foundation so also brought a good national and to some extent international perspective to the issue.  I think that we are seeing this idea that we need to redouble our efforts on modeling that couples that different types of models together; and gets models that are potentially doing different things to use common databases, look for validation, and run ensembles.  There’s just a lot of ways that modeling could be moved forward, and I hope that in the next two years, we can actually come back to you and say that some of our modeling efforts have shown greater fruition as time goes on.  We were talking about the idea of potentially a modeling center or a co-laboratory to get modelers together.  I think this is an issue that Peter began to address, the workshop addressed, and I think we’re seeing more and more momentum developing for this happening.”

“Another activity that occurred in the interim was enhancing the vision for managing California’s environmental information.  I think that’s already born some fruit.  We put out a document, challenges facing the San Joaquin Delta, complex, chaotic, or simply cantankerous?  This was in September of 2015.  This was written by four former lead scientists of the CalFed science program.  I think it’s made a difference.  A lot of people seem to at least to refer to some of the key issues in there and I saw Felicia used an idea, the wicked problem, that was one of the concepts that was developed there.”

cliff-plenary_page_07“I’ve already mentioned that the State of Bay Delta Science is just about to be completed, come December it will be completed.  I encourage you to look at the 14 or so synthetic papers that have been developed.  It’s a good summary of where the science is.”

“And finally, we’ve had a recent workshop that’s in the early stages of developing some ideas, but because of the efforts of the USGS, working with the Delta Science Program, we cosponsored a workshop that looked at how other coastal estuarine systems, the Everglades, Chesapeake Bay, the Great Lakes, Coastal Louisiana, Puget Sound and the Bay Delta.  How they do their science, how the science enterprise is developed; what are some of the key goals, what are some of the key questions, what is the type of science that is being done, and how at each of these science enterprises come to be what it is today and where might it be headed.”

“So you’ll see more input from this workshop as the next few months progress.”


“Just wanted to say something quickly about data and decisions since that is the theme of the conference today.  cliff-plenary_page_08There are some interesting developments on the data side.  The vision paper that came out of the workshop in 2015, Enhancing the Vision for Managing California’s Environmental Information, I think played a role, probably even a substantive role, in the Open and Transparent Water Data Act, which was just signed into law in September by Governor Brown.  This is basically requiring that we have open and transparent access to water data, not just water data but also environmental data, data sharing, transparency, documentation and quality and it is going to be important.  It calls for public private partnerships to use the best technology to do this kind of data management, and finally it doesn’t envision starting over but it envisions making progress using some of our existing tools.”

“The three lead agencies are this are the Department of Water Resources, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the State Water Resources Control Board.  And over the next few years, we’re all going to be impacted by this new law and the way we manage our data.”

Delta directions

“So finally, I want to end with a few thoughts of my own.  These are my thinking about maybe some Delta directions.  I have four up here that I would highlight.  The first one I’m going to highlight for you is the Regional Sanitation District in the Sacramento area is investing $2 billion in upgrading their wastewater treatment facility.  This project is called the Echo Water project.  I think it provides us with a very large scale experiment that if we document it well, could have some interesting insights into a number of aspects of an area that seems to be emerging as an important area and that’s the role of nutrients and nutrient dynamics within the system.  Key fundamental questions like will reducing the nutrient load and changing the form of the nutrient that is released into these waterways have an effect on our microcystis problem within the Delta and will it affect the distribution, duration, and intensity of these blooms.”

cliff-plenary_page_09“Another fundamental question is what about all the invasive aquatic plants? How will this upgrade affect all of these invasive plants moving forward.  Another fairly fundamental question that is a contentious issue is moving away from ammonium in the effluent discharge and moving towards nitrate.  Will this make diatom blooms that used to be prevalent in the spring come back or are the clams just to overwhelming to keep things from happening? So these are hypotheses or questions that can be addressed, and I think we have the opportunity if we do the work beforehand, to really use this upgrade as a key way of learning more about the system.”

“The second thing I would like to highlight is there is a lot of energy, people, equipment, and technology being invested in the Delta.  There’s about 40 locations where we do continuous measurements of various aspects of the hydrodynamics and the water quality.  These kinds of measurements I think have been really useful in us understanding different kinds of events that have occurred in the Delta, but also it has the opportunity to provide us some real time information and maybe even some forecasting information.  These kinds of networks again using the data management and put in analytical tools are a way that we can produce a better understanding of how the Delta is changing and how we forecast those changes to look moving forward.”

“Yesterday was the release of two documents; one was a synthesis for policy makers of the State of Bay Delta Science and the second release was by the SFEI, A Delta Renewed.  This landscape scale Delta renewal draws upon many of the ideas John Weins has put forward.  I think this is an interesting guidebook for thinking about the Delta.  It links nicely to some of the things Peter Moyle talked about with the Northern Arc and it is an interesting document worth some significant discussion and consideration as a potential tool to think about restoration in the Delta moving forward.”

“And finally, this idea of modelling and is it time for an integrated modeling center.  I personally think it is. I hope we can make it happen.  I think we have tremendous modeling capacity in the private sector, in our academic institutions and in many of the state and federal agencies.  Let’s try to get these people working diligently and together on these kind of issues moving forward.”

“A lot of our future scenarios, a lot of our vision of the Delta moving forward require these kinds of modeling tools to make it happen and hopefully this will soon be a tool we all use.”

“And with that … ”

For more from the Bay Delta Science Conference …

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