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Science Board Strives to Find Right Balance - But continues to deliver solid results

April 2011

Despite the difficulty of performing what it believes are dual roles, the Delta Independent Science Board (ISB) recently released a review of the first draft of the Delta Plan.

Dr. Richard Norgaard, who chairs the Delta ISB, told the Council during its March meeting that the Board will continue to work through the process of supporting the Council in the development of the Delta Plan.

Norgaard said the Board is required by law to be an independent reviewer of the quality of the science used in the staff draft plans. On the other hand the Council is asking the scientists to take an active part in developing the document.

“The Delta Independent Science Board continues to be frustrated by the statutory mandates that we remain an independent review board and the needs of getting better science into the draft itself,” said Norgaard, who is also a professor of energy and resources at UC Berkeley.

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“This report (from the Delta ISB) was very, very helpful,” said Council member Randy Fiorini. “By far, the Independent Science Board’s review was the most constructive. Now, the process has been very frustrating, I think, for everybody. It grieves me when people throw criticisms out that this is junk and this is no good. Everybody’s working as hard as they can.”

Fiorini was also quick to add that in future drafts, he looks forward to the Board’s input and he is confident it will identify the science that leads to the best possible outcomes.

During the meeting, Norgaard went on to explain that while policy goals are clearly stated in the first staff draft plan, science seems to be an after thought. The plan, he believes, does not adequately describe how science will be used to meet the goals.

In a letter to the Council, the Board wrote, “In the judgment of the Delta ISB, the Delta Plan will fail, as have prior efforts to resolve the coequal goals of the Plan, if it is based on an inappropriate scientific characterization of the state…of the Delta.”

Many members of the Council expressed their gratitude for the Board’s work and appreciated the independent nature of the procedure, which they believe will pave the way for crafting better plans in the weeks and months ahead.

Council member Felicia Marcus rounded out the discussion by offering a different diagnosis of the dialogue.

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“I don’t see it so much as a conflict, but discomfort,” Marcus said.

Norgaard agreed saying that he doesn’t feel his objectivity is being compromised, that the Board will continue to work with the Council to reconcile its role, and overcome the inherent challenges of how academics can offer the best available data that may ultimately be used in developing legal guidelines.

“Obviously, we have a situation where the science and the policy have to meet somehow,” Norgaard said. “This is not a strictly academic role. It is very much in a policy setting. So we’re constantly trying to balance.”

Along with offering an assessment of the science used in the first staff draft, the Board also offered suggestions on the preparation of the Delta Plan and recommendations for its improvement.

In addition to ensuring the that science components are explicit and the best available, the Board recommended that the Council reduce the findings to problem statements, to cite comprehensive studies to describe the Delta, to use many different illustrations to show the situation, and to define terms and use them consistently and prepare the plan as an education document.

For more information about the Board’s comments regarding the Delta Plan, please click here.

Coequal goals

The Delta Stewardship Council was created in legislation to achieve the state mandated coequal goals for the Delta. "'Coequal goals' means the two goals of providing a more reliable water supply for California and protecting, restoring, and enhancing the Delta ecosystem. The coequal goals shall be achieved in a manner that protects and enhances the unique cultural, recreational, natural resource, and agricultural values of the Delta as an evolving place." (CA Water Code §85054)