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Collaborative Adaptive Management Team Moves Forward Following Court Extension on Biological Opinions

April 2014

When the U.S. District Court recently issued another one-year extension—to February 2015—for the remanded salmon and Delta Smelt biological opinions, it was based on the promise of a strong adaptive management program with an assist from the Delta Stewardship Council’s Science Program.

Judge O’Neill based his extension on the recent Joint Status Report submitted by the Collaborative Science and Adaptive Management Program (CSAMP), which identified progress made in the last year, including development of a work plan. CSAMP is a policy group made up of state and federal agency directors, regional directors, general managers of water agencies and executive directors of non-governmental organizations.

“The recent court decision affirmed the adaptive management strategy being developed by the Collaborative Adaptive Management Team (CAMT), and was a direct result of our science team's involvement,” said Delta Stewardship Council Lead Scientist Dr. Peter Goodwin.

This extension enables CAMT, made up of high level managers and senior scientists, to move forward with scoping, conducting, and reviewing agreed-upon science investigations, following in large part the recommendations contained in the Delta Science Plan and the Adaptive Management steps of the Council’s Delta Plan.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service are under a court-ordered schedule for completing revisions to salmon and Delta Smelt biological opinions that place conditions on the operation of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project. In April of 2013, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California decided to extend the deadlines in both the smelt and salmonid cases by one year. This extension was intended to give CSAMP an opportunity to develop a durable science program that will be useful for implementing existing reasonable and prudent alternatives to protect one or more of the listed species, as well as improvement of the next biological opinions and the Bay-Delta Conservation Plan.

During the March Delta Stewardship Council meeting CAMT Co-Chairs Dr. Valerie Connor with the State and Federal Contractors Water Agency representing the public water agencies, and Leo Winternitz with GEI Consulting, representing environmental interests, gave an update on the Collaborative Science and Adaptive Management Program.

“We see this as a pilot for other collaborative efforts in the future,” Connor said. “We are sort of building this car as we drive it, which is always dangerous, so one of the things we’re relying on is the Science Program to help us by suggesting mechanisms that are contained in the Science Plan. And then we can help the Science Plan by saying ‘this worked, but this didn’t work’, so it really is a very strong collaboration and synthesis.”

CSAMP is envisioned to have three phases; the first phase, working together to develop a work plan, was just completed. Now CAMT is starting the second phase, identifying scopes of work, staff and resources necessary to implement the topic area work plans. Results of these work plan investigations are expected to inform completion of revised biological opinions. The third phase will start after acceptance of the revised biological opinions and is expected to include ongoing collaborative science and adaptive management milestones.

CAMT Co-chair Winternitz offered his thoughts and what he had learned.

“Scientists know how to address scientific disagreements,” he said. “This is what they were taught and trained to do for years and years; define what the issue is, identify what we know and don’t know, and then find out ways to learn that. Once we were able to gather dedicated scientists together in a room—not attorneys, not political scientists, not policy people—but once we were able to gather the scientists in a room and ask them to define where they agreed or disagreed on a specific conceptual model, in most cases they reached consensus on what they agreed on and disagreed on, and on how to address their differences.

“Defining disagreements offered the basis for progress because it provided CAMT with something very explicit to work on, and something specific to study and to test,” he said. “That was very important.”

Winternitz said he also learned that managers and policymakers work under different rules.

“In the case of CAMT, while directors and managers expected the CAMT members to work collaboratively – which means a lot of things like being nice to each other, listening well – when it came time to send the final CAMT report to Judge O’Neill, positioning among the managers and policymakers became evident in the briefs that they filed to the court and appeared to overtake the collaborative process,” he said. “This positioning as I call it, created unnecessary angst and concern among CAMT members, and I do believe threatened the success of the process. Fortunately, it all worked out well, but the lesson here is that if we want our people to act collaboratively, then we must act collaboratively ourselves. Collaboration cannot be delegated.”

He listed four things that are necessary ingredients to make collaborative science work:

  1. People, time and resources – “Good science requires smart people, it’s a laborious process, it’s time-consuming and it’s fraught with uncertainty,” Winternitz said. “To be successful, you need the adequate resources, they have to be dedicated and committed to the task. Without this there’s no chance of success.”
  2. Be careful with setting schedules. “You cannot force scientific discovery into a GANTT chart, into a GANTT schedule. Our schedule must incorporate what we know we can do, but it must allow for flexibility. If we don’t do this, we should prepare to be disappointed.”
  3. Managing human behavior – “Good mediators and facilitators are extremely important ingredients for success of a collaborative process,” he said. “If you cannot manage human behavior you will not have a successful science process, much less a successful collaborative science process.”
  4. Honest broker needed – to arrange for peer review of selected products, to provide advice, to provide feedback. “The Delta Science Program fits that role very well,” Winternitz said. “They developed an excellent Science Plan which lays out a well-thought out adaptive management process; CAMT has endorsed this process. We are counting on the Delta Science Program to be an objective, independent and honest broker in the CAMT proceedings.”

Council Chair Randy Fiorini posed a question to the CAMT Co-Chairs. “If you have part of the group that wants to find a way to receive more water, and at the same time have at least an equal or greater level of protection for the species, are these two coequal goals compatible in this process?”

Connor replied that she doesn’t speak for the public water agencies, but they are obviously looking for a reliable water supply. “But they understand the importance of ecosystem and fish species recovery so we are implementing the coequal goals,” she said. “We’ll be able to do that, but it won’t be easy and will take time and resources.”

“The tension is that the purpose of the biological opinions and RPAs (reasonable and prudent alternatives) are to avoid jeopardy of the species and everyone recognizes that and right now many of the actions for avoiding jeopardy cost water,” Winternitz said. “What the contractors are interested in is using the science process to find ways to continue to provide protection against jeopardy while being more efficient in water, being able to free up supplies, get more reliability out of the system… The environmental organizations, their fear is that the RPAs, the actions are going to be weakened in the process; so they’re looking for the best science.

“I don’t think they have any disagreement about increasing water supply reliability as long as the objectives of the RPAs are met,” he said. “Avoid the jeopardy. And if you can improve avoiding jeopardy, being more protective of the species, while getting more water supply reliability through this process, then fine let’s do this. That’s where we are working.”

Council Vice Chair Phil Isenberg said everyone says they want adaptive management, but nobody can point to a specific example that says ‘here’s an adaptive management system up and running’ . . . “Tell me how we get to that point.”

“We have the adaptive management cycle that’s included in the Delta Science Plan, and so we are at that point where we are defining problems and laying out our conceptual models...,” Connor said. “Regardless of what happens with court decisions, the RPA on fall outflow, fall habitat, is an adaptive management plan, and so we can continue to work on that together and we will.”

Chief Deputy Executive Officer Dan Ray asked the Co-Chairs where the Science Program made a difference in the process.

“It was essential for the NGO community that the Delta Science Program be involved in particular because of the objective, the ‘one science,’” Winternitz said. “It’s the honest broker, an entity not representing a special interest that was in the room, and an entity that was fully versed and were experts on the science process; that’s truly where the value came in.”

To view the March 27-28 Council meeting video, click here.

To view CAMT agendas and meeting materials click on the SFCWA website.

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)