STATE WATER BOARD: Update on Delta science efforts

At the March 20th meeting of the State Water Board, Delta Lead Scientist Dr. Callaway updated the board members on the Delta Science Program and their priorities for the coming year.

The mission of the Delta Science Program is to provide the best possible unbiased scientific information for water and environmental decision making in the Delta, a mission the Science Program and the Stewardship Council take very seriously, Dr. Callaway said.

What’s really critical is the independence of the science program in maintaining a legitimate voice on science,” he said.  “The science program serves multiple audiences in multiple roles; most immediately we serve the Stewardship Council and we provide scientific input to the Stewardship Council on issues they are concerned about or decisions that they are making, but more broadly we provide a voice on science within the whole science community.”


Dr. Callaway said that the highest priority for the science program this year is the update to the Delta Science Plan. The first Delta Science Plan was completed in 2013, and there’s a mandate to review and update the Science Plan as well as the Delta Plan on a five year basis.

The vision of One Delta, One Science was really developed through that initial science plan, he said.  “The idea of One Delta, One Science is that we’re all working together collaboratively, and the various science and policy groups within the Delta are working on issues that we agree on are the critical issues and working together with shared resources, shared effort, and vision to try to achieve the use of science in decision making.”

The Delta Science Plan is a framework to guide open and collaborative science and to develop and communicate knowledge that informs policy management and the public, he said.  “It’s really focused on policy and management in public issues, so it’s not a science plan for just doing academic science, It’s a science plan for doing the kinds of science that we need to do to address the problems in the Delta,” he said.

Dr. Callaway noted that the Delta Science Plan is high level and is not a detailed identification of exactly what to do and how to do it; the plan is more about fostering the idea of collaborative science within the Delta.  “One important thing as we work on this update is that we want to be sure that people see this science plan not as the science program’s plan, but as the community’s plan,” he said.  “So we want to really make an effort to engage the public, stakeholders, and other agencies as we update the plan.”

On April 6, a public workshop was held to provide an opportunity for the broader public to give input on the science plan.  A draft science plan will be available later in the summer and fall, so there will be more opportunities to receive feedback from the science community and the public, he said.

The Science Program staff has put a lot of effort into thinking about how the plan can be improved.  “We all feel that it’s a really strong document and that it provides a lot of clear guidance on how to do science, but there are some ways we can strengthen it, and so we’ve spent the last few months identifying what we feel are the critical areas of the plan,” he said.

One of the key areas they will be updating is science policy governance.  Dr. Callaway said that he’s heard a lot of questions about how science can be used to make decisions.  “What’s the connection between data collection that’s happening on all these issues and how is it incorporated into immediate decisions that are being made around water operations or longer term decisions around endangered species,” he said.   “It’s very confusing because within the Delta, there are so many different groups, not just so many different agencies, but different groups of agencies … all are working in the same way and there needs to be better coordination.  The science plan is a real opportunity to try to provide some clarity.”

They have been doing outreach to all of the organizations, and with the help of a new Seagrant fellow who works specifically on social networking issues, the plan is to develop a framework that clearly communicates and indentifies how we all work together to incorporate science into policy and management decisions, he said.  They are also working to highlight key science infrastructure in the Delta, which encompasses not only shared equipment or shared resources, but also processes like peer review.

The science plan is not going to solve every issue within the Delta,” Dr. Callaway said.  “It is a high level document to really focus on collaboration and to promote collaboration; it’s not a recipe for every single thing that needs to be done within the Delta, but it will identify those ongoing efforts that other organizations are doing so that people can see those issues and those details and where to find them.”

The Science Plan is just one part of the science strategy for the science program.  There is also the Science Action Agenda that was communally developed by agencies and stakeholders within the Delta to identify the critical issues and where our knowledge gaps are.  “It identifies five action areas where we really need to make progress, and sets the agenda what issues we really need to move forward on immediately,” he said.  “In addition to the Action Agenda, there’s also the State of Bay Delta Science that came out in 2016, which is a 17-piece survey of our understanding of science from many different perspectives, and it is soon to be coming out as a completed book, but is already available as a website.”


The Governor’s proposed budget for 2018-19 has an increase of $2 million for research that would add to the $5 million they already have.  Most of the $5 million goes toward student fellows and post-doc fellowships.  “We need to engage researchers and give direction on what those issues are, so we hope with this additional funding that we’ll be able to establish a competitive funding program,” he said.  “Unfortunately, that funding is only for one year, the $2 million in the budget, but it will be a good way to jumpstart research and move that forward.”

They are also working on establishing long-term funding.  “Randy Fiorini, myself, and others have been strategizing over the last 4-5 months about how we can raise and improve funding for science within the Delta,” he said.  “I don’t think there’s an easy answer but I think it’s something that hopefully with more effort, we can continue to raise awareness for the value of science.”


One of the recommendations that came out of the Science Enterprise Workshop two years ago was to develop integrated modeling that is capable of taking existing information, making forecasts, and incorporating that information into decision making.

Our program established an Integrated Modeling Steering Committee, which is an effort to come up with a strategy for how to more effectively incorporate modeling and raise the awareness of the value of modeling for decision making,” he said.


Another area that has been highlighted by many, including the Delta Independent Science Board, is the need to incorporate more social science into the science that’s being done within the Delta.  This has been identified as one of the priority areas in the Science Action Agenda.  They are setting up a social science task force to bring in experts from other areas and other agencies who have effectively incorporated social science to advise them on how specifically that incorporation can be improved and get some momentum going to get social science research in the Delta; they have also included more social scientists in their Science Advisory Committee.

Dr. Callaway gave the example of how social scientists can be valuable in the Delta, which would be considering public use within the Delta – how does the public perceive the Delta, what do they value about it, and how can we incorporate that kind of input into our decision making.  “If we’re going to be doing restoration plans, how do we do restoration in a way so that it will not only provide some strong ecosystem benefits, but provide some value that the local population will see as a benefit and will want to support those kinds of efforts?  There’s many ways that we really could improve the connection between science and policy through social science as much as natural science.”


The Delta Science Program has been putting on a lot of effort is in adaptive management.  They have adaptive management liaisons on projects happening throughout the Delta; they are also planning an adaptive management forum to highlight their progress and the lessons learned.  “The forum will highlight what we are doing, where we need to learn, where we need to improve things, and bring in some outsiders but really focus on what we’ve been doing here locally; that will probably be happening in October.”

Dr. Callaway noted that most of the adaptive management being done is around ecosystem restoration issues.  “There is also a need to think about how we do adaptive management around water supply, and the science program is developing a framework that is just now going through some internal review and soon will be going out for external review, and we’d love to get your staff’s input and your input on that framework.


The Bay Delta Science Conference is definitely one of the Delta Science Program’s feature events and will be happening September 10 through 12.


There is a lot the science program is doing that they will continue to do, he said.  “One big thing is providing support to the Stewardship Council,” he said.  “The Stewardship Council is updating the ecosystem chapter for the Delta Plan.  Right now, the Council’s planning division is developing some synthesis papers, drawing on work that comes from the Board and others, and that will provide the guidance for how to update the ecosystem chapter later this year.  And the science program interacts regularly and gives input on those efforts.  We also do a lot of outreach with symposia, brown bags, overall collaboration, so all of that is ongoing.”


We do have a lot on our plate but we are committed to really moving forward on all the range of efforts and continuing to push to engage science in policy and management,” Dr. Callaway said.

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