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Serial Approach to Brown Bags Yields More Information

March 2014

Starting in March, the Delta Stewardship Council’s Science Program began a new approach to its long-running series of lunchtime “Brown Bag” Seminars jointly sponsored with the Ecosystem Restoration Program and the Surface Water Ambient Monitoring Program. In addition to single seminars, there will also be occasional series of related seminars that will allow a more thorough exploration of multiple aspects of specific Delta issues.

“We’re moving away from our random approach of creating brown bag meetings based on who happens to be in town or those who’ve received research grants,” said Garrett Liles, an environmental scientist in the Delta Stewardship Council’s (Council) Delta Science Program. “We’ll still be recruiting visiting colleagues and grant recipients for brown bag meetings. But we want to generally structure the brown bags in a similar way that we present the CABA (Center for Aquatic Biology and Aquaculture) seminars at U.C. Davis.”

The difference between the two formats, Liles says, is that the CABA seminars are day-long events with multiple speakers, whereas the Brown Bag Series will encompass the same number of speakers over a number of weeks - one speaker each week held during the lunch hour – hence the name of the program, which suggests that participants bring along a brown bag lunch.

The first series of talks is focusing on various issues dealing with carbon in the Delta – its accumulation in the vegetation, its release into the atmosphere, new methods of measuring the element, and so on. Liles says the seminars will become another example of creating and using best available science in the study of the Delta (in this case, carbon) to promote ecosystem restoration, one of the state-mandated coequal goals outlined in the Council’s Delta Plan.

For instance, Liles says if an ecosystem restoration plan in the Delta calls for the creation of vegetation that naturally accumulates carbon molecules, the resulting net effect may offset the amount of emissions, like carbon monoxide from burning fossil fuels, being released into the atmosphere by another region.

“We’ve been focusing on easy-to-see points of carbon release like smokestacks, and viewing carbon accumulation as only an ‘extra benefit’,” said Liles. “We hope to eventually view the accumulation as a primary benefit, thereby promoting the creation of wetlands as being more than just a new habitat for wildlife.”

Liles says discussion points may also veer away from the strictly scientific arena when dealing with topics like carbon. For instance, the March 17 meeting included a conversation on the practice of “cap-and-trade,” a market-based approach used to control pollution by providing economic incentives for achieving reductions in the emission of pollutants. Such a discussion, however, was first staged with a talk on measuring carbon.

“There is a need to quantify the amount of carbon in our environment so we can begin to manage it,” said Liles. “This creates land-use mechanisms and adaptive management practices that allow decision-makers options to either increase or reduce the amount of carbon in a given region.”

Following the Brown Bag Series on carbon, Liles says the summer seminars will include discussions on ecosystem habitat restoration in the Delta. Other such topics will then round out the remainder of the year.

At the conclusion of each series of seminars, the Delta Science Program staff will draft a scientific paper synthesizing the topics discussed throughout the presentations. The paper will then be peer-reviewed and published in the Council-sponsored San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science online journal. This will make the paper a credible and valuable resource for decision-makers in search of scientific data supporting their management decisions.

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)