The heads of several state and federal agencies affirmed their commitment to work collaboratively on a number of Delta-related projects and issues at the inaugural meeting of the Delta Plan Interagency Implementation Committee (DPIIC) on April 9 in Sacramento. The committee of 15 agencies responsible for implementing the Delta Plan is a requirement of the Delta Reform Act (Water Code Section 85204) following the adoption of the Plan by the Delta Stewardship Council (Council) in May, 2013.
“It was valuable to publicly discuss the key challenges shared by member agencies and to highlight progress on projects and collaborative efforts. My initial takeaways include that we identified several issues for this group to address such as levees, habitat, and financing, identifying common ground through the Delta Science Program “One Delta, One Science” concept, and receiving unanimous agreement to designate staff to work on implementation priorities,” said Randy Fiorini, Chairman of both the DPIIC and the Council. “The conversation was candid, resulting in a generous number of constructive ideas on how to keep our cooperative endeavors moving forward.”
The three-hour meeting began with presentations on three key water plans that have emphasis on the Delta. Regional Director David Murillo of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation briefed the group on Federal Investments for the California Bay-Delta Region, California Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird briefed the group about the Administration’s California Water Action Plan, and Delta Stewardship Council’s Chief Deputy Executive Officer Dan Ray briefed the group about the Delta Plan.
“The Delta Plan was created as a way to guide and coordinate the major actions that we’re doing in the region, and builds on the other plans and reports that were produced by the other agencies around this table,” said Ray, who added, “The agencies in this room annually are spending about $350 million to address the Delta’s problems according to our most recent cross cut budget that we prepare.”
Mark Cowin, Director of the Department of Water Resources, then began directing the conversation toward defining the common goals of the various agencies.
“I think it’s important that the plans describe the actions of how our individual agencies can fit together,” said Cowin. “That starts with prioritizing, getting buy-in that there are a core set of actions that we’re all going to focus on, that the interest of one agency isn’t going to override the interest of another agency.”
Felicia Marcus, Chair of the State Water Resources Control Board, explained, “You are seeing collaboration in all of our agencies across things that have been historic and almost unbridgeable divides, which doesn’t mean we are done. We still have a lot of work to do and this committee has a lot to do.”
Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Chuck Bonham emphasized the imperative to begin implementation and that now is the time for making near-term improvements before challenges increase in complexity and impact.
Director Cowin followed up with the challenge of how the agencies were going to find the funds to implement their plans. “How are we going to finance these projects?” asked Cowin. “I frankly think that financing is the weakest point of all three of these plans, and that will be an obstacle for us in achieving the goals we’ve set for ourselves.”
Bill Edgar, President of the Central Valley Flood Protection Board, agreed saying, “That is probably the most critical area that we’re facing right now is the financing because people don’t understand that the state and the feds are out of money. I don’t think local stakeholders understand the situation.”
Jared Blumenfeld, the federal Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest, felt more public outreach and a better understanding of the issues would help address the financing dilemma.
“Funding does not come until there’s a consensus about what we should be doing, a consensus around what the science says we should be doing, allowing the public to truly understand all those things,” Blumenfeld said. “I really see this committee playing a key role of getting the public engaged so that they will make the commitment to make the investments that we all realize are needed.”
The committee then discussed how scientific information should be shared among agencies when determining what actions within the Delta should be taken and in what order. Dr. Peter Goodwin, the Council’s Lead Scientist, led the conversation by offering background on the Delta Science Plan and the development of an Interim Science Action Agenda, with the overall theme of “One Delta, One Science.”
“We want to have a single document that describes how your agency’s science fits into everything else, (which will become) a shared list of common priorities, needs, questions, and actions,” said Goodwin. “But, we need to know from agency directors, what’s their risk so that (the scientists) can offer some assurance to them when their decisions may affect their career or put the agency’s reputation on the line.”
“Our greatest difficulties are in areas where there are differences in science,” explained Assistant Regional Director Dan Castleberry with US Fish and Wildlife Service. “Those challenges will continue and we’ll continue to need that help so we’re very much invested in the “One Delta One Science” [concept].
Will Stelle, Regional Administrator for NOAA Fisheries, said that science in the Delta is a “hugely powerful point of confluence” for the agencies around the table and it would benefit the Delta for this group to “identify opportunities for integration and leveraging of funding in support of the execution of an effective science program.”
A portion of the science discussion centered on the challenges policy makers face in balancing action and the risk of uncertainty. Dr. Goodwin explained the need to overcome the historic use of science to support inaction. Regional Director Blumenfeld observed that “part of the reason science is used as an excuse or impediment for inaction is the quest for certainty. How certain, how precise do we need to be before we made a decision?”
Secretary Laird tied the two main issues together: “The problem is we’re talking about managing scientific uncertainty. And yet, nobody votes, nobody makes a financial investment unless there is certainty. And so the question is, how do you manage the uncertainty in a way that gives people enough certainty to deal with the risk and the investment?”
“I think part of everybody’s obligation is the education of stakeholders to that reality. Because there will never be the certainty that some people demand,” Laird said. “But there is the certainty of the degradation that leads to the science that leads to the inaction that leads to continuing the degradation. How do we wrap that up in a discussion?”
One final comment came from Karen Ross, Secretary for California’s Department of Food and Agriculture, who repeated the call to increase public outreach as a way to build support for the ideas that had been discussed.
“We can all relate as Californians to the spectacular beauty of Yosemite, but we don’t have that same understanding, appreciation or relevance on what the Delta means to every Californian,” said Ross. “Being able to show how we are making government and science work better around something that is absolutely critical to every Californian…is well worth the time and the exercise.”
The Delta Plan Interagency Implementation Committee is tentatively scheduled to meet once again in November, 2014.
The entire webcast of the DPIIC meeting is available on the Delta Stewardship Council website. To review it, please click here.