Tule and water hyacinth grow in the habitat surrounding the future location of the Lookout Slough Tidal Restoration Project. Florence Low / DWR

DELTA LEAD SCIENTIST: Implementing equity in water management; Upcoming modeling workshop; 2022 State of Bay-Delta Science; and more …

At the January meeting of the Delta Stewardship Council, Delta Lead Scientist Dr. Laurel Larsen’s article spotlight report focused on how equity considerations can be implemented in water management agencies.  Dr. Larsen also gave details an upcoming Delta modeling workshop, and Delta Science Program staff highlighted two major synthesis efforts: The 2022 State of Bay Delta Science and the Delta Science Program-NCEAS Synthesis Working Group.

Article spotlight:  Considerations for Tangibly Reducing Inequity in Water Resources Management

For this month’s lead scientist report, Dr. Laurel Larsen spotlighted a paper that discusses how water management agencies might implement equity considerations.  The paper recognizes that while achieving more equitable practices is a goal many organizations uphold, there’s little guidance on achieving equity in operations.  It was developed from a workshop attended by professionals in the water resources field and the social sciences.

The group of attendees identified four main barriers to integrating equity into water management practices, including vague definitions of equity that are used, the erroneous belief that there are no equity metrics that could be qualitatively or quantitatively analyzed, difficulty in linking equity to the current standard project management frameworks, and a lack of clear examples of how equity has been incorporated into management.

To address these barriers, the article clarifies three main types of equity that should be recognized within agency processes:

  • Distributional, which describes the distribution of benefits and harms;
  • Procedural, which describes access to decision-making processes; and
  • Recognitional, which describes the recognition of different experiences and ethics.

“These three types build upon each other like a tree,” said Dr. Larsen.  “Recognitional equity serves as the roots of this tree, which means that recognition is required to build the procedures that promote equity, which is required to achieve equitable distribution of benefits and harms.”

In the design and assessment of a project, having quantifiable metrics associated with each dimension of equity can help guide the process of trade-off assessment and might also help identify alternatives for things such as approaches to construction or site assessment that might have more equitable outcomes.

A major contribution of this paper was to provide example metrics for each dimension of equity and examples of how they might be used in water resource projects.

“For example, a quantifiable aspect of recognitional considerations is accounting for the demographics of the affected community,” said Dr. Larsen.  “A procedural metric might measure how demographics have portions of the community involved in the planning process compared to the community at large.  It’s a measure of representation in that planning process.  Other procedural metrics might measure the accessibility of the planning documents that are shared with the public.  Finally, an example of a distributional metric might be the expected distribution of annual flood damages across the affected communities.”

In addition to providing examples of metrics for quantifying equity considerations, the paper also provided examples of where projects typically run into trouble for implementing equity in the project planning and implementation phases, as well as highlighting some examples of projects that do well in accounting for equity.

One positive example was a flood risk management project in Princeville, North Carolina, that explicitly targeted the unique historic and cultural importance of the first municipality in America incorporated by formerly enslaved people.  Another example was Chicago’s design of seasonal water pricing mechanisms to account for equity issues during water conservation periods.  Yet another example included using zero-interest loans for limited-income families who adopt rainwater harvesting practices in Tucson.  Finally, there was also an example of revising environmental flow objectives in the design phase to include indigenous perspectives.

“This paper might provide a useful reference as the council decides on the next steps following the release of the environmental justice issue paper,” said Dr. Larsen.

Activities of the Delta Science Program

Delta residents survey

The Delta residents survey has been mailed out to addresses in the Delta.  The survey focuses on understanding the residents’ well-being, sense of place, and experiences and perspectives on climate change.  The survey results will build a baseline understanding of what Delta residents think about various Delta issues, how they connect to the Delta as a unique place, and how they’re experiencing and adapting to climate change.  The survey is intended to be repeated over the years.

The research is being conducted by a collaborative team that includes California Sea Grant, Sacramento State University Institute for Social Research, UC Davis, UC Berkeley, and Oregon State University, with leadership from Dr. Jessica Rudnick, the social science extension specialist at the Council.  Dr. Rudnick will give a presentation at the Council’s February meeting and provide an update on the survey at that time.

2023 class of Sea Grant Fellows

The Delta Science Program will be welcoming five new team members from the 2023 cohort of California Sea Grant Policy Fellows:

  • Samantha Pyros joined the IEP Lead Scientist and the Science Program on January 10 and will be working on the structured decision-making models (i.e., a process for developing models with collaborative engagement from stakeholders) and process for management of smelt and salmon in the Estuary.
  • Pooja Balaji will join the Science Communication, Synthesis, and Decision-Support unit in February 2023. Pooja will work on various projects supporting the unit’s focus on science communication and synthesis, including working with Dr. Laurel Larsen on the monthly lead scientist report to the Council.
  • Eduardo Martinez will be joining the CSPR unit on February 1. Eduardo received his master’s and bachelor’s degrees in civil engineering from California State University Los Angeles.  He hopes to use his scientific background to develop science-backed guidelines and policies.
  • Kaira Wallace will join the Adaptive Management Unit on March 6, 2023. She will be working to support the Delta Independent Science Board and core projects of the Adaptive Management Unit, such as the biennial Adaptive Management Forum and an assessment of public-agency activities that create inroads for Native American Tribes to use their Traditional Knowledge to inform Delta decision-making.
  • Charnelle Wickliff will join the Planning Division as a Fellow starting in March 2023. She brings a wealth of technical skills, including programming, Geographic Information Systems, and robotics.  Charnelle will be based within the Ecosystem, Land Use, and Science Integration unit.

Upcoming workshop: One Delta, One Science, One Modeling Framework

Click here for the agenda.

The Delta Science Program will host the One Delta, One Science, One Modeling Framework workshop on February 28 and March 1.

The workshop will address two main challenges:

  1. Natural resource management models currently in use are difficult to access, understand, and use for most people.
  2. Differences in modeling approaches and assumptions, such as the use of different climate projections across agencies, can hinder the achievement of the vision of One Delta, One Science.

Collectively, these challenges present barriers to using models to anticipate future conditions and understand the trade-offs associated with management decisions.  The workshop hopes to address these challenges by working towards consensus on the components of a common modeling framework, such as climate projections or sea level rise ranges.

Additionally, the workshop will work to achieve a common understanding of recent technological developments that support open science modeling communities elsewhere.  The workshop will also seek to concretely identify the potential benefits of an investment in this collaborative modeling framework by understanding the perspectives and constraints faced by agency leaders and science managers, and exploring use cases or examples of management challenges for which the resources of such a collaboratory would be transformational.

The workshop will begin with a set of plenary presentations, followed by moderated conversations and panel discussions with key agency leaders.  The afternoon session on the first day will feature breakout discussions on potential use cases and information sharing about the available technological resources.  The second day will include technical discussions to seek consensus on the modeling framework’s common components and identify the next steps.

On the third day, a subset of participants will convene to focus on strategizing funding for the next steps.  Dr. Peter Goodwin, former Delta Lead Scientist and now President of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences, will be joining the workshop.  Discussions will focus, in part, on how to create a sister relationship with a modeling collaboratory he is convening for the Chesapeake Bay system.

The event is hybrid.  Click here to register to attend in-personClick here to attend virtuallyHere is an agenda and here is an information sheet.

Delta science synthesis efforts

Next, Henry DuBey, Deputy Executive Officer for Science, Maggie Christman, program manager, and Pascale Goertler, senior environmental scientist, then highlighted two major science synthesis initiatives reaching major milestones:  The 2022 State of Bay-Delta Science and the synthesis work in partnership with the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, or NCEAS.

Scientific synthesis is the process of putting together or combining data concepts or theories in ways that yield new knowledge or insights.   A good analogy is putting together a puzzle, in which each piece is a different research project or data set.  Putting that puzzle together generates a bigger picture or takeaway for a given topic or issue.

Synthesis is important because it provides a bigger picture of what may be happening and may be particularly helpful to management and decision-making.  Mr. DeBey noted that one of the best examples of the use of synthesis is the Interagency Ecological Program’s effort in the early 2000s that pooled together data to observe major declines in key fishes such as Delta smelt; the effort ultimately led to major management changes.  Synthesis also helped inform the ecosystem amendment to the Delta Plan.

“Another reason that that synthesis matters is that the Delta is a very data-rich system,” said Mr. DeBey.  “Synthesis offers us a tool to mine that data for insights on how things change over time.  It’s also very cost-effective.  Rather than collecting new data from the field or lab, synthesis can unleash new insights from the existing wealth of data.  And synthesis is becoming an even more powerful tool because of the advancements in computing and the availability of ever-increasing amounts of information like satellite imagery.”

The Delta Science Program does synthesis because both the Delta Reform Act and the Delta Plan underscore the importance of synthesis in informing decision-making.  Additionally, the three core components of the Delta science strategy are how to do synthesis better, what synthesis priorities there are, and what we’ve learned from synthesis.

There are two types of synthesis:

  • Knowledge-driven synthesis, which typically brings together information on a given topic from scientific literature, such as the State of Bay-Delta Science or the synthesis workshops on harmful algal blooms, restoration, or invasive species; and
  • Data-driven synthesis, which integrates data from disparate datasets to carry out an analysis. Examples are the data work with NCEAS and ShinyApps, a web-based platform that makes integrated data more accessible to the public.

2022 State of Bay Delta Science

The State of Bay-Delta Science (or SBDS) is an ongoing synthesis and communication project led by the Delta Science Program to provide regular updates assessing the state of knowledge for topics relevant to Delta management.  Each edition is comprised of scientific articles that emphasize the progress made over the last five to ten years and highlight remaining management or science gaps that deserve more attention in the coming years.  The State of Bay-Delta Science aims to distill major concepts using interdisciplinary teams of scientists from agencies and academia and then to communicate the major takeaways to better link knowledge to future actions.

Started in 2008 by then-Delta Lead Scientist Dr. Michael Healey, SBDS has been published three times prior to the 2022 edition.

For the 2022 State of Bay-Delta Science, recently published, an editorial board was established led by Delta Lead Scientist Dr. Laurel Larsen, former Delta Lead Scientist Dr. Cliff Dahm, distinguished USGS scientist Dr. Jan Thompson, and several Delta Science Program staff.  The new editorial board took on the challenge of implementing a new vision for SBDS and changing the format to include producing editions every two years so that relevant topics can be explored in each edition and released on a more timely basis.

The theme for the State of Bay-Delta Science 2022 is ecosystem services and disservices of plants and algae.  Ms. Chirstman said the 2022 theme was selected because, over the last decade, much scientific attention has been placed on the impacts of plants and algae throughout the Delta.

“Plants and algae are also referred to as primary producers owing to their position of producing food through photosynthesis for the food web,” she said.  “These organisms serve many other important roles in ecosystems, including providing habitat for fish and wildlife, influencing biogeochemical cycles at multiple scales, and affecting the health, recreational activities, and livelihoods of humans in the system as well.  Depending on the socio-ecological context, these functions can be perceived as beneficial, so we refer to those as ecosystem services.  For negative impacts, we’ve coined the term ecosystem disservices.  It’s important also to recognize that these effects can be simultaneous.”

The articles have been peer-reviewed and published in the open-access journal San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science:

  • Ecosystem Services and Disservices of Bay-Delta Primary Producers: How Plants and Algae Affect Ecosystems and Respond to Management of the Estuary and Its Watershed: An introduction by the editorial board to the 2022 edition and the topics within the theme.  https://doi.org/10.15447/sfews.2023v20iss4art1
  • Landscape Transformation and Variation in Invasive Species Abundance Drive Change in Primary Production of Aquatic Vegetation in the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta: This article focuses on the primary production of aquatic vegetation and explores how changes in aquatic vegetation species and the landscapes of the Delta have affected net primary production, and how this has impacted food webs that support our native species.  https://doi.org/10.15447/sfews.2023v20iss4art2
  • Ecology and Ecosystem Impacts of Submerged and Floating Aquatic Vegetation in the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta: This article explores what we know about the ecology of aquatic vegetation, including how environmental conditions drive changes in the distribution and abundance of species and communities, as well as how the species and communities themselves impact the physical and biotic environments throughout the Delta.  https://doi.org/10.15447/sfews.2023v20iss4art3
  • Invasive Aquatic Vegetation in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and Suisun Marsh: The History and Science of Control Efforts and Recommendations for the Path Forward:  This article covers the history and supporting science of invasive aquatic vegetation control.  https://doi.org/10.15447/sfews.2023v20iss4art4
  • Remote Sensing of Primary Producers in the Bay–Delta: This article explores the many remote sensing methods and applications used to study primary producers and emphasizes how these technologies have evolved in recent years.  https://doi.org/10.15447/sfews.2023v20iss4art5
  • Status, Trends, and Drivers of Harmful Algal Blooms Along the Freshwater-to-Marine Gradient in the San Francisco Bay–Delta System: This article reviews species and toxins in harmful algal blooms, including a summary of environmental conditions that drive blooms and resulting impacts of them.  https://doi.org/10.15447/sfews.2023v20iss4art6
  • Carbon Sequestration Subsidence Reversal in the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta and Suisun Bay: Management Opportunities for Climate Mitigation and Adaptation: This article reviews the state of the science underlying processes of carbon sequestration and subsidence reversal in the Delta.  Specifically, the chapter explores how management interventions manipulating flow, vegetation, and nutrients could slow or reverse carbon loss.  https://doi.org/10.15447/sfews.2023v20iss4art7

Ms. Christman then highlighted a few key takeaways:

Carbon and sediment

Several recent studies have looked at how submerged aquatic vegetation affects sediment.  Invasive submerged aquatic vegetation can provide beneficial ecosystem services, such as carbon storage at the landscape scale.  However, dense beds of vegetation can trap sediment, which effectively blocks it from depositing on marshes; less sediment accumulating in the marshes can ultimately reduce resilience to sea level rise, because it can prevent lands from keeping up with rising sea levels, which threatens the long term success of restoration efforts throughout the Delta.

Sediment trapping by dense mats or beds of submerged aquatic vegetation can also affect the predation of native fish; as the sediment settles into the beds, the water can become clearer or less turbid, which impacts how the predators see and respond to native fish.

Harmful algal blooms

The organisms responsible for harmful algal blooms (HABs) have long been present in the Bay Delta, but HABs and their associated toxins have emerged recently as a large concern.  The chapter on harmful algal blooms represents a major contribution to Bay-Delta science because it’s the first time that the science underlying environmental drivers of HABS have been comprehensively summarized along the entire freshwater-to-marine continuum that’s in the Bay-Delta.

“One major conclusion is that monitoring and mitigation in a changing climate really requires us to better coordinate, both as researchers and agencies managing these issues,” said Ms. Christman.  “And we really do need to focus on restoring and maintaining ecosystem resilience.”

Aquatic vegetation control

An important takeaway from this chapter is that while there has been an annual budget of $12.5 million for aquatic vegetation control for at least the last seven years, the science assessing its effectiveness in controlling the vegetation and the non-target impacts of the efforts is fairly nascent.  So this chapter is informative in providing a brief history of efforts over the last several decades to control different types of vegetation, from floating to submerged to emergent.  The chapter also includes recommendations on making progress, particularly setting quantitative targets for control that are informed by social and ecological indicators.

“We aren’t trying to eradicate these species, but we are trying to manage them, and we need to know the targets that would be appropriate to try to reach,” said Ms. Christman.  “In addition, the lack of a robust monitoring program really impedes our efforts to assess treatment effectiveness and make progress on the major management challenges that are presented by these communities.”

Ms. Christman noted that there’s much information to be shared from the 2022 State of Bay-Delta Science, so several different platforms and venues for outreach will be used.  An executive summary is being developed that will include summaries and graphics of each chapter written especially for non-scientists which will be released in the upcoming weeks.  Other outreach efforts include an Ask Me Anything session and a spring lunch seminar series with the authors.

Work is already underway on the 2024 State of Bay-Delta Science.  The theme for that edition is extreme climatic and weather events that affect the California Delta, San Francisco Bay, and its watershed.  Articles are already in development covering drought, atmospheric rivers and floods, heatwaves, wildfires and impacts on water quality, and governance issues related to managing extreme events.

Delta Science Program-NCEAS Synthesis Working Group

Pascale Goertler then gave a presentation on the Delta Science Program’s synthesis work with the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), a research center that has become world-renowned for analyzing and synthesizing existing data to address major fundamental issues in ecology and allied fields.  NCEAS provides innovative and high-quality data science and statistics training and encourages applying science to natural resource management and public policy decision-making.

The Delta Science Program partnered with the NCEAS in the fall of 2021 to lead a collaborative synthesis working group.  The open science training was the driving motivation for partnering with NCEAS.  Open science is an international movement to move from data to usable information, and data publication is only the beginning.  However, open science is not easy; it requires scientists to learn sharing software techniques and workflows, which are highly technical.

The Delta Science Program brought together a diverse group of 18 participants from nine agencies and universities.  Three staff members serve as leads to ensure continuity and delivery of products.  The event was held over three weeks in the fall of 2022.  Participants have also been working in synthesis subgroups.

One synthesis theme was drivers of the estuarine food supply.  A robust understanding of estuarine food webs represents a major scientific knowledge gap that, if filled, could be used to guide investments in restoration, the recovery of imperiled species, the management of invasive species, and to inform targeted flow actions.  The participants split into two groups: one focused on how flood management influences the aquatic food supply and the other on what drives pelagic food web dynamics.  The group produced several products, which include presentations, data publications, and a Github account where the public can view the ongoing R code development.  Three peer-reviewed manuscripts are being developed.

The flood management synthesis subgroup integrated hydrologic conductivity and primary productivity data and found that both downstream and floodplain hydrologic conductivity matters for food production, productivity travels, and the influence of temperature is context-dependent.  The pelagic food web group synthesized four decades of data to quantify interaction strings within the pelagic food web and identified key pathways from phytoplankton through zooplankton to fishes.

Ms. Goertler noted that a survey of the synthesis group found that before their participation, most individuals had not participated in large research collaborations, and they expressed limited preparedness to deal with social and cultural challenges that can arise in research collaboration.  However, by the end of the activity, they said they had greater confidence in the management of collaborative research and learned important professional development skills such as networking and collaboration, integration, data documentation, standards, and workflows.  Learning and applying GitHub as a collaboration tool emerged as a high-value area for participants.  In addition, the synthesis working group collaboration with NCEAS advances open science in the Delta, ensuring a lasting impact on informed, inclusive, and transparent resource management and addresses the science plan goal of enabling and promoting science.

This working group will focus on expanding multi-benefit approaches to managing the Delta as a social-ecological system and investigate the integration of human dimension data into research and management decision-making.

These efforts may include the development of integrated frameworks, data visualization tools, and models of the Delta social-ecological system that evaluate

  • how ecosystem restoration projects benefit and burden human communities, with an emphasis on environmental justice,
  • the costs and benefits of different strategies for managing invasive species while balancing recreational uses; and
  • the sensitivity of social metrics to different socio-political or environmental scales.

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