BAY DELTA SCIENCE CONFERENCE: Advancing Tidal Wetland Restoration in a Regional Adaptive Management Framework

Dr. Gerrit Platenkamp: Adaptive management in a regional context faces challenges with monitoring, experimentation, and adaptation

At the Bay Delta Science Conference, Dr. Gerrit Platenkamp, Director of Biological Resources at ESA, gave this presentation on adaptive management and wetland restoration from a practitioner’s perspective.  “We’ve collectively worked on thousands of acres of tidal marsh restorations that have been put in the ground in the Delta and in the Bay Area, so we’re engineers, ecologists, permit people, and this is going to be from that point of view,” he said.  “So I’ll be talking about tidal marsh restoration that is something you do to comply with something as a compliance exercise, about it as an experiment, and about adaptive management and some of the challenges we are running into.  And some of the frustrations, frankly.”

California Eco Restore is a program that is pursuing 30,000 acres of habitat restoration in the Delta and Suisun Marsh.  8000 acres of that is tidal marsh to comply with the Fish and Wildlife Service and NMFS biological opinions for the water projects.  “The native fish are not doing very well in the Delta, some of the species are listed as threatened or endangered, and it motivated these biological opinions,” said Dr. Platenkamp.  “So another phenomenon is the major loss of tidal marsh, and these were connected in those opinions.

One might ask the question if we know enough, or do we need better science to do effective tidal marsh restoration?  “According to Dr. Peter Moyle in his Delta reality #4, yes, we do know enough to do management in the Delta,” he said.  “This is one of the most studied aquatic ecosystem in the world.”

In 2013, the question was asked at a symposium at UC Davis, what does tidal marsh restoration actually do for these fish species, and some of the conclusions from that symposium were that there are information gaps that can be addressed by designing restoration projects as experiments, and the experiments can be approached in a way so that we can learn from them in the future.

He presented the adaptive management diagram from the Delta Plan, and noted that it is pretty straightforward.  “You’re planning to do something, you do it, you monitor, then you are going to be analyzing those results and applying them to modify either your project or to learn in future projects,” he said.  “So I like to talk about adaptive learning, rather than management.”

Dr. Platenkamp said there are some major challenges:

  1. Monitoring:  The monitoring doesn’t really always focus on the effectiveness and what the major uncertainties are in the effectiveness, he said. “If we don’t do that, then we really don’t have a good use for that monitoring data in our adaptive management process.  Oftentimes we’re focusing the monitoring on the required habitat acreages because of permitting considerations.
  2. Experimentation:  Designing restoration projects as experiments supposes that you’re going to be doing experiments with public money; Dr. Platenkamp noted that not everybody is excited about that.  “Oftentimes projects are being designed to actually use the money in such a way that we will maximize the habit acreage that needs to be produced; I don’t think we can fault our applicants for that necessarily.”
  3. Adaptation.  How is this actually going to be working?  How do we do this adaptive learning?  Is there some framework that we can use?

Dr. Platenkamp then addressed each challenge more directly.


There are two types of monitoring:  compliance monitoring and effectiveness monitoring.  He presented a list of the permits needed to do a wetland restoration project in Suisun Marsh.  “There’s quite a lot of it; it takes a lot of effort, and it takes a lot of money,” he said.  “A lot of this is focused on how many acres of habitat are you going to be producing and you’re going to be held to that.  So a lot of the monitoring is going to be focused on compliance.  Are you monitoring to meet your design criteria and the permit requirements?

The other type of monitoring, effectiveness monitoring, is included in the Fish and Wildlife Service biological opinion for Delta smelt which requires an overall monitoring program to focus on the effectiveness of the restoration actions.  “So what do we really mean by that effectiveness? It’s a very effective project because we created this many acres of tidal marsh? or are we talking about this is an effective project because it really benefitted a lot of native fish?” said Dr. Platenkamp.  “So when you do the latter, you’re going to have to test hypotheses and consider conceptual models.  Of course the big elephant in the room also is who is going to be paying for this effectiveness monitoring.  If we’re going to be monitoring fish species, is that going to be the proponents of the restoration projects, or do the researchers come with their own money?


Dr. Platenkamp presented a slide of the DRERIP conceptual model for tidal marsh, and said he would demonstrate different ways these hypotheses can be used in design using three projects as examples:  the Lindsay Slough Restoration Project, Dutch Slough, and the Tule Red Project in Suisun Marsh.

Lindsay Slough Restoration Project:  Dr. Platenkamp said this is the type of project they have done the most of, which is to do a breach.  There’s a breach to connect the historic Lindsay Slough marsh to the tidal channel; and a smaller breach to the north.  “We have designed a channel to function as a pilot channel, so the hypothesis here is very simply, we are opening this up to fish species to provide them access and also you’re creating a tidal environment.”

Dutch Slough: This project is much more complicated in its design.  It has different sized cells – small, medium and large, as well as one really large wetland cell.  One of the hypotheses to be examined is the effect of cell size or channel sizes in the wetlands.  Also being tested is whether low marsh or mid marsh is more effective in providing benefits to fish species.  Dr. Platenkamp noted that Bruce Herbold has put together a really outstanding adaptive management plan for this project.

Tule Red Restoration Project:  This project is a former managed duck club; there is a berm separating it from Grizzly Bay.  The design, done by Northwest Hydraulics Consultants and Westervelt, is to create a breach through the berm and have smaller channels coming off of that, as well as having marsh ponds and pans.  What happens is that they get inundated at very high tide, and so the water gets retained there until the next very high tide event, and during that time of longer residence, there’s going to be more productivity in those, said Dr. Platenkamp.

We have three different projects with a number of different hypotheses that are different in terms of what would be the benefits to the fish,” said Dr. Platenkamp.  “We can use all of this; when we take our monitoring data and take a look at which ones are more effective in terms of producing either more growth in the fish or that are producing more phytoplankton or zooplankton, we could test these hypotheses.”

What can be done with that data?  Can it be fit into some larger framework?  Dr.Platenkamp said there were some challenges with that.  “For one thing, monitoring plans are typically developed project by project,” he said.  “Another issue is that there’s no standardization in data collection necessarily, and where do we store this data?


Another challenge is how adaptation is going to work.  Is there a mechanism to use the data on future projects?

The Interagency Ecological Program’s Tidal Wetland Monitoring Project Work Team has developed the IEP tidal wetland monitoring framework which includes several effectiveness monitoring items, including the development of project-specific monitoring plans for effectiveness, and targeting capacity, opportunity, and realized functioning of these tidal wetlands to meet the needs of fish species.  They also include encouraging the collection of data to support adaptive management in future projects.

Another question is where to store the data.  There are several data centers, exchanges, and platforms.  There’s a lot going on, but things are not consolidated at this time at all, Dr. Platenkamp noted.

How will we learn from these projects, and who is going to be doing this?  “Adaptive management is required for tidal marsh restoration for any restoration projects in the Delta to be consistent with the Delta Plan, according to the Delta Reform Act,” he said.  “It requires science-based, transparent, and formal adaptive management.  So one way to do this is that the Delta Stewardship Council could take this on, and say, ‘we’re making sure that all these projects are using adaptive management across projects; we’re going to be learning from the different projects when we’re doing a new project.’

There is also the Delta Restoration Network, a hub being put together by the Delta Conservancy for collecting data and sharing data for different restoration projects.  There may be a role for the fish agency strategy team, a group of technical representatives of the fish agencies and the Bureau of Reclamation that determines what the credits are for these tidal marsh restoration projects under the biological opinion; they could take the data from previous projects and apply them to future projects and provide that in their advice and potentially make them requirements for the new projects.


Dr. Platenkamp then gave his conclusions.  “An experimental hypothesis-based adaptive learning approach to tidal marsh design should be encouraged,” he said.  “We should consider Delta marsh restoration as one large integrated system-wide experiment; the only question is how.  Who is going to be paying for this effectiveness monitoring?  And where are we going to be putting this monitoring data?  There is this whole list of data centers and exchanges, but how is that going to be done?  And then lastly, what is going to be the mechanism for learning from previous projects?  We really need to get to that, because if we’re going to be doing a lot these projects and we’re going to get a lot of data, this needs to happen now.

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