PANEL 2 (Nov. 2): Governance and Adaptive Management

PRESENTATION: Impact of regulations on science

PRESENTER: David Wegner, Water, Energy, and Transportation Committee at U.S. House of Representatives, former Senior Staff.  Research interests include fluvial geomorphology, GIS, pacific salmon dynamics, aquatic ecology, vegetation dynamics, and science policy.

On the issue of adaptive management and regulations and how they interact with each other, Mr. Wegner said his perspective is shaped by three things:  his academic training as a scientist and an engineer; by those he has come in contact with and learned from; and in learning by doing. He said it’s hard to try and explain the concept of adaptive management to a congressman or senator when they are more interested in other topics. “But that was part of the deal,” he said. “You had to be able to interact and try to explain concepts that, to us, we can at least spell it, but try to explain something blank that internally within politics is hard.”

Back in the early 1980’s, they began a process at Glen Canyon Dam in the Colorado River at the request of the Secretary of the Interior where they started to explore the elements of adaptive management, although at the time, they didn’t know what to call it. In 1985, the Secretary funded the National Academy of Sciences $200,000 to stand up the Water Science and Technology Board and one of the first tasks they were given by Mr. Wegner was to explore the concepts of adaptive management at Glen Canyon Dam.

Mr. Wegner said it was one of the smartest decisions he made as they brought in science and a high-level science review at an early stage. “It was hard,” he said. “We hadn’t been doing really good science, but the academy made us become better scientists in the peer review continual process of moving through it.

Dave Wegner

It is important to engage with the stakeholders from the beginning, Mr. Wegner said. “Early on, we had a very select group of stakeholders; they were the water districts, they were the people who run power out of Glen Canyon Dam, and they were some of the boaters in the Grand Canyon, who didn’t have a very vocal voice at that time – they became very vocal because they had this unique platform,” he said. “When you take a Grand Canyon trip, you have people on your boat for anywhere from 7-21 days and they could instill in people’s minds the importance of what was happening with the operation of the dam. Every guide that I knew in the Grand Canyon had post cards in his box on his boat that he would give his clients, his passengers, and they would write letters. They would send post cards into Congress. That’s what got Congress engaged in this.”

It’s also important to get the politicians engaged as well. “I was able to get Congressman George Miller and Senator John McCain, and a few others interested in the Grand Canyon and that went a long way to helping this along,” Mr. Wegner said.

He then emphasized some of the topics and issues brought up on the first day of the Science Enterprise Workshop.  “Science is an investment,” he said. “Science is advancing knowledge, not just collecting data. A lot of times we go out there to collect data just to collect data, but we really have to use that to advance the science.”

Stakeholders and their involvement are critical, but not all stakeholders are created equal, Mr. Wegner said. Traditional environmental ecological knowledge is important. “Dealing with tribes, we had 8 Native American tribes who were engaged,” he said. “You have to deal with tribes in a whole different level than you deal with your other stakeholders. You have to spend time at the chapter houses; you have to spend time with the leaders educating them on the process.”

The role of a federal regulatory agency is different than that of a federal data agency. “A regulatory agency has a whole different set of requirements in how they do business versus a federal agency who just does business collecting data,” said Mr. Wegner.

Managing uncertainty and risk is an ongoing effort for all of us, Mr. Wegner said. “Developing a common language is important; you have to have some common terminology that you’re consistent with as you explain your process,” he said. “Open dialogue and the sharing of data are critical.”

Adaptive management and water resource management as well as the complex and dynamic nature of ecosystems require a robust approach and understanding of four key overlapping factors:

  • Scientific – factors causing species to go into decline – what actions might mitigate, halt or reverse
  • Managerial – how might a variety of actors and stakeholders plan, finance, implement, and coordinate actions
  • Cultural – what values of an ecosystem are important to various stakeholders
  • Political – what stakeholder values are in play and how might they be addressed, reconciled or played off of

In terms of regulations and adaptive management, the first thing is to determine the relationship of the regulations and policy to the issues. “Is it guidance? Is it there for restrictions (such as the Endangered Species Act issues), or is it process directed?” Mr. Wegner said. “It’s important to understand what that regulation is and what its potential impacts may be on your particular process or studies.  It’s also important to understand what the limits and sideboards are.”

Educate the regulators and the stakeholders continuously. It’s important you have a dialogue with agencies like the Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service, or the Corps of Engineers,” he said. “I have found from my experience that the more dialogue that you do with both the regulatory side and with the stakeholder side, you can get a common understanding of where the challenges are.”

Lastly, determine where the points are when lack of action will lead to possible court intervention – know the playing field.  It’s important for everyone to understand which regulations are show stoppers and which require additional guidance or process. “There is a trigger where the points are where lack of action will potentially lead to litigation,” Mr. Wegner said. “Everybody needs to know where that threshold is. Is it the loss of a certain number of beaches in the Grand Canyon? Is it the numbers of chinook salmon fry that are coming through? You have to know where your thresholds are so you can work through them and understand them.”

Federal agencies present their own challenges. “We had 26 federal agencies that have water in their mission statements, so there are 26 silos that are out there, each with their own directive and their own funding base,” he said. “There are a very limited number of bridges that exist between those 26 silos, and part of the job is trying to figure out how to get people to share it.”

There are challenges of getting authorizing legislation such as the Water Research Development Act (WRDA) bill is versus getting appropriation legislation or funding, Mr. Wegner said. “We can do all kinds of WRDA bills, but if you don’t have appropriations following up behind it, that’s just a lot of words on paper,” he said.

The Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) requirements add time and effort, Mr. Wegner said, noting that Dr. Nick Aumen has explained the importance of getting a FACA exemption if you can.

Streamlining permits is difficult although not impossible to do, but you have to understand agency cultures, Mr. Wegner said. “Dealing with the Corps of Engineers and the way they think is different than dealing with the Bureau of Reclamation and how they think, versus dealing with the Fish and Wildlife Service and how they think,” he said.

Mr. Wegner then gave an example from when he was responsible for coordinating the response from the Hill to Hurricane Sandy; the hurricane had come through Long Island and breached a couple of outer dunes on Long Island and the Fire Island National Seashore Area. “We were trying to get out there to protect the people and get the dunes rebuilt,” he said. “The National Park Service said, ‘It’s a wilderness area folks, you can’t take any piece of equipment in there to rebuild the dune.’ The congressman from Long Island said, ‘I’ve got 50,000 poor people that are the service people to all those Wall Streeters who live on Long Island, who live there and they are directly exposed if we get a next storm,’ versus the Fish and Wildlife Service who said, ‘We have plover and we have some endangered plants.’ The point here is that each of those cultures, you have to understand how they operate and work.”

While permits for streamlining difficult issues is hard, but not impossible, pooling budgets with the agencies is real challenge because of Office of Management and Budget, Mr. Wegner said. “There is no other way to get around it,” he said. “We have to do a better job of educating OMB and changing some of their philosophy.

Knowing when to engage a public process with the federal agencies is critical, he said. The WRDA 2014 bill laid out a new process for how projects are proposed and moved forward. The ban on earmarks has totally changed the way projects are initiated. “The point here is that congressional cycles come in flows,” he said. “They go in 2 years, 4 years, 6 year cycles and you have to know where those windows of opportunities are.”

Mr. Wegner noted that in the 114th Congress alone, there are 28 pieces of legislation that have adaptive management in the legislation. “I can guarantee you if you go to talk to the staff who wrote that legislation, they’re not going to have clue one what it really means,” he said. “Again, it’s important for us to communicate on these issues.”

Additionally, NEPA and ESA often include forms of adaptive management in them, either in the terms in the record of decision, or in the reasonable and prudent alternatives. “It’s there; we have to do a better job of explaining what it is, but it can be done,” he said. He noted that the Congressional Research Service wrote a report, Adaptive Management for Ecosystem Restoration: Analysis and Issues for Congress, has been effective in helping to educate the public.

Mr. Wegner said that five elements came out of this:

  • Leadership of adaptive management initiatives is needed at all levels, and requires nurturing and educating along the way.
  • Stakeholder representation, involvement, and support are important. You need to include all initially and let them decide who participates.
  • Clear and concise decision rules need to be articulated right from the very beginning. They need to be articulated, they need to be followed, and you must watch the currents.
  • Milestones and objectives are important; check in points are critical as are reporting results. These must be articulated so people know when they’re going to be reaching thresholds or reporting results.
  • The balancing of flexibility and certainty: You need to manage expectations and abilities, as well as understand and communicate risk.

Mr. Wegner then concluded with some personal observations, based on his 30+ years of experience. “Leadership is critical; you have to build this leadership; you have to nurture it; you have to mentor it; and you have to make sure that they understand the process and protect you,” he said. “Stakeholders have a limited capacity to how much science they can handle without results. You have to feed them along the way and show them some positive or negative results, as the case may be, from what the science is producing.”

An entrepreneurial mindset is needed. “In my opinion, a traditional agency manager put into schooling up and running an adaptive management program is doomed to fail if they don’t understand that they have to be willing to think on their feet,” he said. “They can’t just depend upon checking the box. Every program has to have some folks who always are thinking kind of outside the box, they’re always challenging you for what you do.

People who get the program to the adaptive management door are likely not the people who are going to carry it forward,” Mr. Wegner said. He gave an example from the Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center, which came after they had done the Glen Canyon program. “They have a whole new set of bureaucracy, a whole new set of ways they do business, and a whole new set of how they get their dollars and their finances in order to run the program. So keep that in the back of your mind that you have really different sets of people and their mindsets on how they do it.”

Periodic independent review is critical, Mr. Wegner said. “The smartest thing you can do is have independent review come in and periodically assess what you’re doing – People who don’t have a dog in the fight, but are willing to tell you what you may not want to hear, but need to hear.”

No science program is sacred,” Mr. Wegner said. “It might work great for 20 years and you should look at what you can carry forward, but no science program is, on its own, sacred. You have to look at how that science is done over time.”

Lastly, Mr. Wegner said to think of an adaptive management in terms of modules. “There’s only so much you can market or sell to an administrator, or a decision maker, or a politician on the first go around, so you build in modules and you continue to build in modules as you go down the road,” he said.


  • Jon Hortness, US Geological Survey, Supervisory Hydrologist
  • Felicia Marcus, Chair, State Water Resources Control Board
  • Dr. Jayantha Obeysekera, South Florida Water Management District, Chief Modeler
  • Richard Roos-Collins, Water and Power Law Group
  • Dave Wegner, Water, Energy and Transportation committee at U.S. House of Representatives, former Senior Staff
  • Carl Wilcox, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Policy Advisor to the Director for the Delta
  • Jessica Law (moderator)
Question: Uncertainty in decision-making. How is adaptive management framed from your perspective and those that you advise or work with?

Dave Wegner shared his perspective from experience in working with members of Congress. First, it is critical to frame adaptive management to members of congress in ways they understand, such as potential advantages, new regulatory impacts, funding, or political risk. As an example – members of Congress do not necessarily recognize the value of the National Academy of Sciences, had to educate on the specific risks NAS helps mitigate and the value of it. In terms of communication, it is important to develop relationships with champions in DC. “They don’t know our language; they don’t know the value of science, they know it in terms of risk and what they are going to be learning,” said Mr. Wegner.  “In terms of having to make decisions, that may mean millions of dollars; it may mean a new regulation that they will get hammered over; or it may mean that they’re going out on a limb for one reason or another, politically. You have to able to frame it, “What can this do for you?

Jon Hortness spoke about his perspective from a federal agency as part of the Great Lake Restoration Initiative (GLRI). Federal agencies have not always agreed on what adaptive management is, and it is really difficult to define especially for a large ecosystem and given different agency authorities and missions. “When you start branching out into an ecosystem, it’s much more difficult,” he said. “Really getting all the federal agencies with the different authorizations, different inherent thoughts, needs, and wants and how they want to deal with things makes it much more difficult. We’re still in the stage of really trying to identify, ‘What do we really define adaptive management as at that large scale and how do we put that forward in a large ecosystem restoration effort?’”

Dr. Jayantha Obeysekera, Carl Wilcox, Felicia Marcus

Carl Wilcox said, “From a policy maker perspective, adaptive management is hope that the status quo can be changed in some way. That hope is always in the perspective of the beholder. Certainly in the context of what we do in the Delta, as it relates to water management and resource management, adaptive management is like a panacea that everybody can get better together,” he said. “I don’t know that that’s necessarily the case, but it’s what we pursue to be able to clarify the issues and how we manage things, and hopefully manage them in a better way.” During the drought, we have managed for one species – and need to recognize going forward that water management decisions touch the entire ecosystem and all stakeholders. The Water Board is dealing with this directly in the Update to the Water Quality Control Plan. Ultimately, the plan will touch all stakeholders in the state – and are making progress in reaching some stakeholders, while have challenges with others. Adaptive management is critical for meeting Co-Equal Goals and for the state as a whole.

Richard Roos-Collins noted that “the only constant in life is change” – and he pointed to how Dr. Garrett Hardin deals with uncertainty in his work on the Tragedy of the Commons. Those who propose change, will face skeptics and opponents who talk about the risk of change – and what the skeptics and opponents do not do is acknowledge the risks and consequences of doing nothing. Dr. Hardin says, “But we can never do nothing. That which we have done for thousands of years is also action. It also produces evils. Once we are aware that the status quo is action, we can then compare its discoverable advantages and disadvantages with the predicted advantages and disadvantages of the proposed reform, discounting as best we can for our lack of experience.”

How I think of adaptive management is in the context of what we do, which could include nothing,” Mr. Roos-Collins said. “In that context, I’ll recommend one thing that tends to work. That is clarity on who, what, when, where, and how, and a clock drives decisions. It is essential that the decision rules for adaptive management include a clock. It’s also critical that the decision rules include accountability for who makes the decision.

As an example, as part of the re-licensing settlement with a hydropower dam on the Roanoke River, they had to take into account that the downstream ecosystem (cypress and tupelo swamp) had a thousand-year life-cycle – and needed to incorporate regeneration efforts associated with peak release decisions along that extremely long time horizon. So, they introduced a structured adaptive management program with three phases. The first seeks to test the hypothesis that existing release operations over 5 years do not affect regrowth – if proved that they do, the second phase initiates with an operations adjustment, and if it is shown to impact, then move into the next phase and so-forth. The phases provided a clear performance-based standard for operations management, and a structure for who and how scientific research would be conducted in a way that was acceptable to the different agencies (NOAA NMFs, state department of Fish and Wildlife, and others).

Dr. Jayantha Obeysekera provided some thoughts from his experience at the South Florida Water Management District where they have been implementing adaptive management over ten years. As a classic example, they sought to de-channelize the waterway in the Kissimmee River. Early on, they began with experimenting with weir construction to divert water into the old river sections which have been abandoned; they quickly realized through modeling and monitoring that the weirs would not work. So, they removed the weirs and proceeded with back-filling the channel and restore the river back to its original form.

Dr. Obeysekera noted that more broadly, a 1983 paper “Lessons learned from the first decade of adaptive management in comprehensive Everglades restoration identifies five key principles: 1) legislative and regulatory authorities are critical for funding and implementation; 2) integration of adaptive management activities into agency framework ensures roles and responsibilities are clearly understood; 3) applied science framework is critical to establish a pre-restoration ecosystem reference condition; 4) clear identification of uncertainties that pose risks to meeting restoration goals (such as decision matrices); and 5) independent external peer review of an adaptive management program provides important feedback. Continual review, such as what the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is providing is critical for balance along the way.

There’s a new paradigm because of climate change itself leads into deep uncertainty situations where the models don’t agree, the outcomes don’t agree, and you can’t even predict the probabilities of what could happen,” Dr. Obeysekera said. “There’s a whole new area of science that’s coming out in situations of dealing with deep uncertainty that I think is something we need to communicate to decision makers to get them to think about how to make decisions in this new paradigm.”

Felicia Marcus noted that it is critical to think about the long-term legacies that settlements have, and the structure that is needed at the outset to ensure they are able to last over time. Scientists and policy makers need to be able to communicate. A good example of when stakeholders came together and were able to get passed just talking about uncertainty ranges is the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Plan. They built a successful framework based on balanced stakeholders, regular reporting, transparency, accountability (periodic review), and established a higher authority in the case of goals not being achieved.

Felicia Marcus

As an example of what has not worked, Ms. Marcus said the Salton Sea shows what can happen if it is poorly constructed. The 2002 agreement was linked to 15 years of releases from the Colorado River, but the Sea has receded and there is no plan in place because the agreement did not require regular check-ins. The settlement did not include periodic review – so it is unable to deal with water reductions. So need long-term programs with periodic check-ins, governance structure, and give them a framework that enables trust, verification, and rigorous accountability.

In the case of the Bay Delta, we have gone far too long without updating the standards,Ms. Marcus said. “As you know, we’re totally open to all kinds of agreements that can do much more than we can ever order, but we’re going to have to come up with a structure that people have some faith in, considering that we’re 20 years out of date and there are challenges there.”

Question: State and federal agency coordination. How some of the regions have managed coordination across agencies, what are the implications for science cooperation and coordination?  How can region-specific restoration visions be best support by state and federal agency leadership?

Richard Roos-Collins noted that coordination is better than the alternative – and that it is obviously a great to have an organizational structure, periodic reporting, a funding strategy, etc. – but the risk is that it’s such a shared responsibility that decisions aren’t made. So, it’s critical to have a single point of authority for decisions within each agency’s regulatory boundary. As an example, the Department of Interior completed the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in 2012 on the removal of Klamath Dam. The statement was completed in only two years after the agreement and represented an extraordinary synthesis of over 50 studies from researchers across the country. DOI managed to structure a team with meaningful leadership (staff directly under the deputy director) and designated the lead scientist to be from the USGS. Leadership was able to clearly communicate assumptions, uncertainties, and conclusions that worked well across multiple agencies and stakeholders.

Essentially, they adopted a communication strategy consistent with what Dr. Reed recommended in a prior panel, which is, ‘State your assumptions. State your uncertainties. Rely on probabilities. Then reach conclusions.’ That’s my recommendation for coordination,” Mr. Roos-Collins said.

Jon Hortness noted that in the Great Lakes, the federal agencies have coordinated local lake partnerships that include membership from each of the states. These local lake partnerships are charged with identification of local needs and to generate a list of priorities, goals, and strategies to achieve those goals. Then, when federal agencies undertake their funding processes and review the local needs, while not all of the priorities receive resources – the decisions are informed by the local needs.

That’s one mechanism that has worked fairly well in most of the states, although I wouldn’t say it’s worked well in all,” Mr. Hortness said. “Each of the states has their own partnership. Some are very engaged and have meetings like this annually; they talk about priorities and they talk about needs. Others aren’t quite as engaged, aren’t quite as functioning well. It’s hit or miss on how that works, but I think in the Lakes where it works well, it does work really well.”

Carl Wilcox noted that in the California Delta there is an immense amount of effort to coordinate among the state and federal agencies that are involved in management of the state and federal water projects. Throughout the drought – managers have intensified efforts to coordinate and in some cases have met weekly. On the science side, the Interagency Ecological Program (IEP) has gradually started to define better decision-making processes through annual and multi-year work plans. Through the Collaborative Science and Adaptive Management Program (CSAMP), seeks to facilitate collaboration on priorities linked to Biological Opinions (BiOps).

While there is a lot of uncertainty in the system – there are some phenomena that are well understood, Mr. Wilcox noted. For example, salmon survival is low in the Delta from the San Joaquin system, and rather than continuing to study it, perhaps our resources should be focused on constructing a science plan that would assess the impact of different management actions. The Delta Smelt Resiliency Strategy is a good example of a concrete set of actions which address a suite of stressors that can be assessed over time.

In my experience, working in the Delta with the Bay Delta Conservation Plan, there are lots of ideas, but never any actions to take,” he said. “Now, we’re confronted with the need to take actions and do things to see if they work and what their affecting. It’s not perfect, but at some point you have to start doing things and moving along.”

Richard Roos-Collins, Dr. Jayantha Obeysekera, Carl Wilcox

Dr. Jayantha Obeysekera noted that in the Everglades, there was a cost-share agreement between the USACE and the Water Management District that helped enforce coordination across agencies. Again, the South Florida Ecosystem Restoration Task Force has legislative authority, which provided the 14 State, federal, tribal, and local agencies the obligation to coordinate science, adaptive management, and restoration implementation.

Independent peer-review from the National Academy of Sciences was also fundamental, as well as stakeholder engagement provided by the Water Resources Advisory Commission that gives local and regional interests the opportunity to offer input, Dr. Obeysekera observed.  In general, having multiple ways of coordinating efforts in science enterprises is valuable in complex systems.

Dave Wegner says that adaptive management is starting to become understood in Congress (about 28 bills have adaptive management embedded within the legislation). “Adaptive management, if done correctly, can become a force to help managers make better decisions,” he said.  “It can be a force so that science is included in the decision process. It needs to continue to be nurtured and managed along the way. I think that’s the challenge that all of us are faced with here. I would say it’s even more important, because of the issue of climate change.”

Mr. Wegner said that for large ecosystem enterprises, adaptive management could be the mechanism that provides members of Congress the cover needed in order to invest in these systems. In the example of the Klamath Dam Removal EIS undertaking, while the team did a great job of bringing together a vast amount of information – it was not coordinated well with congress along the way; so there was no appetite to pass legislation to implement a settlement agreement (which is why the current effort does not depend on congressional approval, instead it is undergoing a “de-licensing” process through FERC that will receive public comment)It is critical to engage both sides of the aisle along the way to ensure that politicians have the right information and buy-in to the process.

Felicia Marcus noted that for the agencies that work in the California Delta, there is need for collective ownership of everyone’s mission. During the drought, when individual agencies made decisions based on their unique mission – it meant that no broad objectives were met. However, there have been improvements since the 1990s where there was ClubFed/Calfed, where coordination was not as successful. During the current drought, there has been gradual improvement in cross-agency coordination. Emergency Orders enable accelerated action when there is no time to build legislation.

For longer-term solutions that must deal with risk and uncertainty, it is critical to nurture relationships at the State and federal legislature. Broadly there is need to build the support across agencies and recognize all missions, critical to have rapport. “It’s an issue of being able to translate into real accessible language what you’re trying to do, why, and why doing it this way might actually yield result and end the endless rhetorical badminton that can characterize these issues,” Ms. Marcus said. “A lack of clarity is your worst enemy when you’re trying to convey that we should be doing something either risky or different, in the context of a legislator or a regulator.”

Question: Judah Grossman at The Nature Conservancy asked the following question: How can we introduce “permission to fail” into agency decision making?

Felicia Marcus talked about her effort to create an awards program for taking risk at EPA. It had to be a calculated risk that was well-thought out, and then failed. There weren’t any participants, and over time – was able to educate managers on the intent of the award and foster a sense of when risk-taking is a justified action within an adaptive management framework.

Jon Hortness, Richard Ross-Collins, Dr. Jayanta Obeysekera

Richard Roos-Collins noted that it is okay to fail if thought has been put into subsequent scenarios to mitigate failure. As an example, the Waterboard in the 1990s decided to allocate water between the Mono Lake/creeks and supply water to users. Unfortunately, the Waterboard did not understand how to restore the degraded creeks that had been dry over fifty years. The Waterboard requested a plan, which resulted in a hearing – which was going nowhere. So, the Waterboard gave the parties a limited amount of time to resolve the dispute, and if not resolved – they would approve the settlement. This motivated the parties to reach agreement on a restoration plan after over 20 years of litigation.

Dr. Jayantha Obeysekera noted that it is business-as-usual to penalize people for failure, and for senior management to say, ‘it’s okay to fail, but we’ll shoot you!’ “I think it’s okay to fail if you tell the decision makers all the potential up front, and ideally use all probabilities,” he said. “I really like the idea of rewarding risk taking. We don’t have enough.”

Dave Wegner provided a case study of how to make risk-taking work. In 1994, efforts were gearing up to test some of the hypothesis that had come out of research on flow releases in the Grand Canyon and where sediment would and would not go – and began experimental high flow release that bypassed the Glen Canyon Dam. There was broad concern from variety of stakeholders; dam operators would not receive as much flow revenue for the year, water districts and users were worried that weren’t able to receive their allocations, Secretary of Interior had political concerns, and environmental groups threatened lawsuits. So, they reframed how the science would be undertaken, communicated it to the press about the calculated risk – or how they had characterized the general parameters for the action and potential impacts, and it is part of the adaptive management plan for bank creation.

Climate change is likely going to throw all that in a whole different perspective because of changing water temperatures, we have exotic species coming in, and a whole variety of other things going on in the reservoir,” said Mr. Wegner.  “The fact is that we had to take a risk, and that risk resulted in some results that have been used in other dams and other places around the country and around the world. Adaptive management is a process. You learn from it and you move forward with it.

Question: “Modular” Adaptive Management

Dave Wegner commented that compartmentalizing risk, or structuring risk within modules. The Grand Canyon Protection Act was a piece of legislation that that brought together various components that had been developed over time with bi-partisan support from the ground-up. In the 2007 NEPA compliance, high-flow experiments are now recognized legally. It is critical to understand who is making the decisions and what their risk threshold is, and then integrate various components. “It’s figuring out who is making the decisions, understanding how far you can push them along this line of decisions, and then working to get there, and then building on the next as you go along,” he said.

Dr. Jayantha Obeysekera emphasized the value of “dynamic adaptive policy pathways which is becoming an alternative to robust decision making in order to deal with climate change. “The idea is that you make short-term commitments, but have a framework for shifting those policies or actions along the way at some point in time,” he said. “Those short-term solutions may hit a tipping point, but you have the framework to shift to another action.” The Dutch do this well with an optimization model that incorporates uncertainties related to climate change, land use, cause-effect relations, and policy efficacy, to identify the most promising pathways. An Integrated Assessment Meta Model provides an ensemble of possible futures and candidate pathways. The value of this approach is that it ensures short-term actions do not preclude long-term options.

From an investment point view, given that agencies and stakeholders have limited time and money, Richard Roos-Collins noted that a modular approach understands which issue is best dealt by adaptive management (or greatest uncertainty) versus what can be resolved in the initial decision. In the Roanoke example, there were significant threatened and endangered anadromous populations in the systems, but USFWS and NMFs agreed that the by-pass flow, fish passage, and certain other issues could be resolved in the settlement without the need for adaptive management. This ensured that there were funds available for investments in the areas with the least understanding – i.e. the long-term relationship between flows and downstream riparian restoration.

In terms of modularity, Carl Wilcox noted that there a number of actions that are called for within the biological opinions for thestate and federal projects (CVP, SWP); there are 82 actions in the NMFs BiOps for winter-run/spring-run, steelhead, and green sturgeon – and not many have been evaluated in terms of their efficacy or feasibility. The CDFW permit for the SWP hinge on restoration in the Delta, and there hasn’t been much progress. This means that it is impossible to know if the permit requirement actually works. While the Yolo Bypass Restoration experiment is a good example of coordinated action with up-stream diverters and various agencies that seems to have had a positive response in food web productivity, it is not directly required by the permit.

I think that points to the need to actually do things as opposed to just study, and study, and study,” Mr. Wilcox said. “We’re never going to resolve those necessarily, unless we take actions to test the underlying assumptions about them. I think it’s important to go back … and simplify things to, ‘What are the real issues you’re confronted with? What is your objective here and how do you do something about it?’ And test that as you go forward.”

Question: Legislative and executive tools.

Jessica Law asked for some examples of program-specific legislation (such as the Water Resources Development Act, Task Forces) that have been used to do the types of science needed to support the various ecosystem programs. Where the tools are essential?

Jon Hortness noted that for the Great Lakes, the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement with Canada drives most of the work that happens. Periodic stakeholder engagement ensured that the effort continues to be relevant locally and at the congressional level. “They have a concerted effort every year to go to the Hill, meet with their congressmen, talk about Great Lakes issues, and work through that,” he said. “It’s an ongoing, constant strategic effort by the stakes and stakeholders to do that.”

Carl Wilcox noted that the California Water Action Plan has simply and clearly provided a guide for CDFW and other agencies on what needs to be done on water statewide; how to run grant programs and where to focus on issues. CDFW is reviewing the Water Quality Control Plans for the Bay-Delta, which will decide how much water is available for the Bay-Delta ecosystem balanced with the State’s economy and people’s lives. Other actions like the Executive Orders on the drought facilitated agency ability to take fast action to manage water. It is important to bear in mind that many of these actions have been supported by the current administration – and it will be important to carry them forward. As a cautionary example, there was a lack of commitment to CalFED.

The Delta Reform Act provides good guidance, although there’s some ambiguity associated with it on how we should be moving forward and what our objectives are,” Mr. Wilcox said. “There are 2 basic objectives and 1 modifier, protecting the Delta as place. It’s pretty clear what we’re supposed to be about. We may not agree about what water supply reliability means necessarily or what ecosystem restoration means. I think we have these two things out there that we’re trying to achieve, and ultimately, it’s coming to some resolution on decisions. Without that clear legislative guidance, it would be even more difficult.”

Carl Wilcox, Felicia Marcus, Dave Wegner

Dave Wegner emphasized the need to know your tools; there are certain legislative processes that provide the opportunity to incorporate adaptive management (the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA)) and authorization. Under the incoming administration, there will likely be new initiatives to deal with drought (Feinstein) – be prepared to join those initiatives. Broadly, there will be other opportunities that are unexpected; the Deepwater Horizon spill did bring some benefits, and enterprises need to be nimble enough to use disasters to call attention from the federal agencies for a new approach (Hurricane Sandy enabled the USACE to develop a new approach that incorporated climate change).

For California, it could be floods and droughts – how can these situations be used to gain knowledge and respond in way that better leverages funding and capacity. “We have to make sure as a group of scientists and managers that we use these opportunities, not to just throw money at a problem, but also to use it to gain knowledge, so that we can do a better job, especially as climate change is staring us down,” Mr. Wegner said. “We have to be able to leverage our dollars, we have to be able to leverage our capacity – our intellectual human infrastructure, to do the best we can with the now limited dollars that we are getting from the federal entities.”

Felicia Marcus emphasized the need for credible backstop authorities. For example, the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) was structured in a way that enabled the locals to be the responsible through the creation of Groundwater Sustainability Agencies (GSAs); if, however the GSAs are unable to form plan, then the State will come in and be the backstop – it is important to have durability over time.

Coming up with a credible backstop that gives you things short of the nuclear option to make the point and feel a pinch and keep moving, I think, is a really important tool and construct to put into any kind of adaptive management framework that’s going to have durability over anything over a year,” Ms. Marcus said. “The players will change and you need to have something set in stone where there’s credible action on the part of somebody.”

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