DELTA LEAD SCIENTIST REPORT: Delta fish surveys, A busy month for workshops, Delta science proposal solicitation, and call for abstracts for the 2021 Bay Delta Science Conference

At the October meeting of the Delta Stewardship Council, Dr. Laurel Larsen began the Delta Lead Scientist report by spotlighting an article that recently came out in San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science Journal by Dylan Stompe, Peter Moyle, Avery Kruger, and John Duran titled, Comparing and integrating fish surveys in the San Francisco estuary: Why diverse long-term monitoring programs are important.

One of the actions identified in the 2016 to 2021 science action agenda is capitalizing on existing data through increasing science synthesis in order to address knowledge gaps and identify the phenomenon that span large spatial or long temporal or time scales.

The Delta Science Program’s draft proposal solicitation also highlights science synthesis as an important priority. In last month’s Delta Lead Scientist Report, Dr. Larsen discussed an article which highlighted lessons learned from the recent drought, which involved the synthesis of several types of datasets. Next month, she will be discussing a report about how Delta fish populations were impacted by the last several droughts, so she pointed out that there’s a theme of science synthesis across these reports.

Dr. Larsen noted that across all of the synthesis studies as well as all of the potential studies that the Council might fund, there are several salient challenges associated with synthesis activities.

First of all, different data sets that monitor the same species, for example, might employ different approaches that occur at different frequencies or target dramatically different parts of the estuary. So are the consequent differences detected in these different datasets simply reflective of the underlying methodology, or are they representative of actual differences in processes? This is a challenge that scientists need to be able to tease out, she said.  

The study being discussed took a critical look at the question as it pertains to long-term fish monitoring data in the San Francisco Estuary and the Delta. The authors compared 14 different long-term fish monitoring surveys within the Delta, something that was made possible by the Interagency Ecological Program’s efforts to make these data sets more transparent and easily accessible.  The surveys were also compared to salvage from the State Water Project and Central Valley Project, which is often overlooked, but a potentially very rich dataset for documenting trends in fish abundance. The salvage dataset is a record of the fish that are entrained at the Delta export pumps that are then taken by truck to release sites in the Western Delta.

The authors also performed an intensive analysis on four fish species: the Delta smelt, the longfin smelt, striped bass, and threadfin shad that are known to have been strongly impacted by the pelagic organism decline.

Dr. Larsen highlighted some of the findings:

First of all, the authors found that all individual data sets are biased in one way or another with some species better represented in some of the data sets than others.

Secondly, something that perhaps wasn’t expected is that pelagic species, the species that dwell in open water parts of the estuary were much better represented across all of the surveys than the bottom-dwelling fish species, or the fish species that occupy the margins of the Delta, both those associated with submerged aquatic vegetation and those not associated with submerged aquatic vegetation. Many of these fish species are abundant in the Southern and central Delta and so the authors concluded that these parts of the Delta on whole are inadequately sampled which leads to poor sampling of certain species like the largemouth bass.

The researchers noted that the differences in the salvage datasets were no more different than the official monitoring datasets. However, they pointed out that the differences between the Central Valley Project salvage datasets and the State Water Project salvage datasets should be interpreted with caution because those two data sets are not necessarily complementary to each other.

They also found that long-term studies should not rely on any single dataset. Across all of these datasets, no single dataset was able to capture all of the known trends in species abundance. For instance, pelagic organism decline itself was very muted in one dataset known as the aggregated eight survey index dataset. So it’s really important in these synthesis studies to account to use multiple types of long-term monitoring datasets and not just rely on any single one.

So in terms of takeaways for the Council, this study is important because it provides guidance for other projects attempting science synthesis. It provides some insight into best practices in performing science synthesis. And it also really emphasizes the importance of agencies like the Delta Stewardship Council continuing to support a diverse set of data collection efforts over long periods of time.

Dr. Larsen noted that the discussion of synthesis as applied to fish species will be continued in next month’s lead scientist report.

Recent activities of the Delta Science Program

Sacramento River Spring-Run Chinook Workshop

October was a busy month for the Delta Science Program, particularly with respect to workshops. Last month, Dr. Larsen spoke about the Sacramento River drainage spring-run Chinook salmon workshop, which was held September 8th through 10th. The workshop focused on identifying the best available scientific knowledge, gaps, and methodology relevant to developing a juvenile production estimate for spring-run Chinook salmon, which is required as part of the Department of Water Resources’ new Incidental Take Permit for the State Water Project. The workshop recording is now available online and a workshop summary report will be available in November.

Greenhouse Gas and Sediment Science Workshop

Another workshop was the Greenhouse Gas and Sediment Science Workshop, which was held on September 17th. This workshop has relevance to the mandates governing both the Delta Stewardship Council and the Delta Science Program. The brought together scientists and managers who are working on issues related to greenhouse gas monitoring using flux towers, marsh sediment, and marsh accretion in the Delta and Suisun Marsh.

These two topics are related and have high potential to inform each other, but they’re often not talked about in the same context and relevant researchers and managers have not previously had a space dedicated to discussing their projects together,” said Dr. Larsen. “In particular, these topics both have major implications for understanding the role of wetlands and other ecosystems in mitigating and responding to climate change and sea level rise, which has implications for the Delta Stewardship Council’s climate change vulnerability assessment and adaptation strategy, otherwise known as “Delta Adapts”. Further science being generated on this topic is essential for informing and further developing the Delta Plan performance measure for subsidence reversal.”

Dr. Larsen noted that opportunities for managers to get a glimpse into ongoing projects and the latest science are rare, and this workshop supported science-based management decisions through more effective interactions between scientists and decision-makers. 

Dylan Chapel, one of the workshop organizers would like to point out that the work being done on carbon sequestration and subsidence reversal such as the Twitchell Island project is in fact, one of the best examples of adaptive management that’s been happening in the Delta on a multi-decadal timescale. There will be a special session among this group of scientists and managers at the upcoming Bay Delta Science Conference in April.

Science Action Agenda Management Questions Workshop

On September 29th, the Science Action Agenda Management Questions workshop had over 85 participants from 12 federal and 51 state agencies, four academic institutions, seven NGOs and consulting groups, as well as 12 water agencies that all came together to discuss, edit and prioritize a list of over 1100 management questions for the Sacramento- San Joaquin Delta. Those 1100 management questions had already undergone some level of synthesis from the 1200 questions that staff had gathered by reaching out to managers and scientists within this field to ask them about their most salient priorities for the management of the Delta over the next five years. The breakout sessions at the workshop were facilitated by staff in the science and planning division.

The Delta Science Program is now working to incorporate the feedback from participants at the workshop and other input that has been gathered and they hope to circulate a much smaller list of top Delta management questions later this fall. A subset of these questions will in turn be selected for incorporation into the 2022 to 2026 science action agenda.

This will ensure that the update to the science action agenda is relevant to existing management, supported by members of the Delta science community, and integrated with other planning efforts, including outcomes, the science needs assessment workshop,” said Dr. Larsen. “We’re encouraged by the tremendous engagement in this effort thus far. And we really look forward to the continued collaboration and the development of the 2022 to 2026 Science Action Agenda.”

Delta Science Needs Assessment Workshop

The Delta Science Needs Assessment Workshop was focused on long-term planning for climate change and the need to rapidly respond to a variety of changing conditions in the Delta. The planning horizon is farther out than the planning horizon for the Science Action Agenda, although Dr. Larsen said that the two are certainly complementary.

The Delta Independent Science Board in coordination with the Delta Plan Interagency Implementation Committee hosted the workshop which took place from October 5-6. There were over 130 participants from multiple agencies in the workshop which was structured to facilitate discussion around topical themes that were outlined in the Delta plan.

The workshop opened with plenary remarks from Felicia Marcus, former Chair of the State Water Resources Control Board; Dr. Peter Goodwin, former Delta Lead Scientist, and Ernest Conant, Regional Director for the U S Bureau of Reclamation.

These plenary talks provided considerable inspiration for the rest of the workshop,” said Dr. Larsen. “One of the ideas that generated a lot of excitement was Dr. Goodwin’s proposal to establish a Delta collaboratory. This was something that was a focus of many of the breakout sessions that followed the preliminary remarks and is an idea that we’re continuing to develop within the Delta Science Program in coordination with the community.”

During the first day of the workshop participants considered the science needs that will prepare Delta stakeholders for oncoming environmental changes. On the second and final day of the workshop, the discussion was more focused on the structure and also the possible restructuring of Delta science governance. A final report is expected in early 2021.

Delta science proposal solicitation notice

One of the most important things that the Delta Science Program does is to galvanize and oversee the funding of relevant and timely science research that underpins the management of the Delta, said Dr. Larsen. The Delta Science Program in coordination with the Bureau of Reclamation has drafted a Proposal Solicitation Notice for this next funding cycle that solicits scientific research proposals in two categories: focused research awards and integrated socio-ecological systems awards, which is a new category for the proposal solicitation notice. Both types of projects must address one or more management challenges, demonstrate benefits to vulnerable communities in the Delta, and be directly relevant to the science action agenda.

We’re gearing up to solicit our next round of research proposals and so we are trying to reach out to as broad a community as possible to solicit a very strong pool of proposals,” said Dr. Larsen.

Dr. Larsen said the project proponents are explicitly instructed to use the Delta Adapts map tool which was just released in the past month to identify the locations of vulnerable communities within the Delta that would be impacted by their research and they are instructed to explicitly state how their projects will impact those communities.

We anticipate awarding up to $9 million in funding for 12 to 31-month projects with up to $5.5 million coming from the Delta Stewardship Council and the remaining $3.5 million coming from the Bureau of Reclamation,” said Dr. Larsen. “We anticipate publication of the solicitation notice in its final form on November 9th.

In this proposal solicitation, they are requiring proposal proposers to submit a letter of intent by December 15th with full proposals due on February 12th, 2021.

We just launched a major communications campaign to help us spread the word about this funding and activity,” said Dr. Larsen. “We’re targeting both specific researchers within the Delta, as well as the broader national and even international community. And I’m happy to report that I’ve already received some inquiries from Canada. We’ve been advertising through listserves of national professional organizations and sister research communities in places like the Everglades, the Louisiana coast, Chesapeake Bay, Great Lakes and the Puget Sound.”

2021 Bay-Delta Science Conference

The Bay-Delta Science Conference is a biennial forum for presenting technical analyses and results relevant to the Delta Science Program’s mission to provide the best possible unbiased science-based information for water and environmental decision-making in the Bay-Delta system. Next year, the conference will be held on April 6th through 9th and will be fully virtual. The conference will be joint this year with the Inter-agency Ecological Program workshop, which will take the form of a dedicated track within the Bay-Delta science conference.

One of the, one of the silver linings of that is that registration will be free and so we are excited about trying to reach out to a broader community than is usually able to attend this conference and hope that they will be able to take advantage of this free registration,” said Dr. Larsen.

The theme of the conference is building resilience through diversity in science. “As the Bay-Delta community works towards the goal of One Delta, One Science by building resilience in our ecosystem, our institutions, and in our collective science enterprise and promoting diversity in its many facets plays a central role,” said Dr. Larsen. “This includes biological diversity, genetic diversity, and diversity of the researchers who are participating in the science enterprise. This year’s theme recognizes that true integration of this scientific and human diversity in the Bay-Delta is a work in progress, but that charting pathways to get there is essential to build a more resilient water supply.”

The abstract deadline is November 23rd, 2020. In addition to soliciting abstracts, they are also soliciting proposals for oral or poster special sessions. Click here for the call for abstracts.

Frontiers for Young Minds

Many members of the Delta Science Program have been involved in producing a special issue of “Frontiers for Young Minds,’ which is a science publication for kids that is edited by kids. A large group of scientists and adults have been contributing to the issue, which is called ‘Where the River Meets the Ocean: Stories from the San Francisco Estuary.” The articles were submitted in early October and are now under peer review.


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