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Jessica Pearson Discusses Her Role as Council's New Executive Officer

May June 2014

With the Delta Stewardship Council’s (Council) Delta Plan now being implemented, Jessica R. Pearson, the new Executive Officer for the Council, is very clear about how she believes her leadership can benefit the Council’s goals.

“I’m very interested in zeroing in on the Council’s core competencies – where we can add value in moving Delta policy forward,” Pearson said. “We’re interested in finding where the gaps are, filling in those gaps, or in some cases pulling together the right people to help make the necessary decisions [that can help us further the achievement of the coequal goals of water supply reliability for California and the restoration of the Delta ecosystem].”

Two items in particular are high on Pearson’s priority list: the development of the Levee Investment Strategy and the implementation of the Delta Science Plan, specifically the Intermin Science Action Agenda (ISAA).

“These are two activities no other agency is currently working on and would otherwise not get done if the Council wasn’t focused on them and willing to lead the charge,” Pearson said. “The Legislature gave us the assignment [as part of the 2009 Delta Reform Act] to do the levee investment strategy because we’re uniquely positioned to do that comprehensive analysis and make those tough calls. As for the Science Action Agenda, never before has there been a shared list of science priorities for all the related agencies that work on Delta science projects. That’s what we plan to accomplish.”

Pearson also indicated her desire to use the Council’s authority related to Covered Actions in the Delta as a tool for increasing coordination and awareness of the various projects under consideration by dozens of distinct agencies. “Oftentimes we learn of a project with implications for multiple jurisdictions, but not everyone is aware that it is proceeding, nor of its potential benefits or impacts.”

Pearson’s desire to be involved in public service was motivated in part by her year-long volunteer effort in AmeriCorps, a domestic version of JFK’s Peace Corps, following her undergraduate studies at U.C. San Diego. Her interest in public policy and resource sustainability evolved during her graduate studies at U.C. Davis and blossomed when she participated in the Capital Fellows Program.

“I can’t even imagine not working on policy,” Pearson said. “That’s where the action is – how you get things done and help achieve success for the State.”

Her interest in water issues was more a matter of fate that occurred through a variety of “choice opportunities” while working at the Department of Water Resources (DWR). She worked as a policy advisor to the department’s director developing her water knowledge on-the-job.

While at DWR, she participated in the development of the Delta Reform Act, the legislation that created the Council. Her close relation with the Act is one reason for her sincere interest in the Council’s activities and success.

Another is her previous working association with Council Chair Randy Fiorini. Fiorini was assigned to be Pearson’s mentor when she participated in a Water Education Foundation (WEF) program in 2007 for future water decision-makers and community leaders.

“The WEF tries to match participants with someone who has a water view that might challenge or expand your perspective,” Pearson said. “Randy is a farmer and I had an urban perspective [having grown up in Southern California’s Inland Empire]. We hit it off and learned a lot from each other.”

"We are now on course to implement the Delta Plan and facilitate a coordinated approach across state, federal and local agencies,” Fiorini said. “Jessica is the right person to lead this effort.”

Pearson’s tenure at the Council started in 2011 when she received an appointment as a senior policy advisor and subsequently as a legislative and policy advisor. She feels her career path within the State allows her to be more familiar with state policy, processes, and the ability to develop relationships while in her new role as Executive Officer.

“It’s the relationships I’ve built with our Chair, our Council members, and with leaders and staff members from other agencies,” Pearson said. “I’m in a position where if there are tough or uncomfortable decisions to be made, or when there are successes to shout about, I’m able to just pick up the phone, which is important in this business. If you haven’t built the relationships, you’re not going to be very successful.”

As Executive Officer she stresses her efforts will be specific and targeted on projects and programs her staff can accomplish in a timely and efficient manner to further the achievement of the coequal goals.

“We’re focusing on the doable and where we add unique value and expertise – especially regarding science, coordination and integration,” Pearson said. “It’s not [other agencies’] mission to coordinate all the activities across the Delta – it’s our mission. So, that’s where I think we can do the greatest good following our learning experience of writing the Delta Plan and then shifting almost 180 degrees to implementing the Plan.”

Since the Delta is the hub of California’s water supply, Pearson views with great importance the need to tread assuredly when assessing new projects in the Delta through the implementation of the Delta Plan’s policies and Covered Actions criteria because of the possible detrimental domino effect any one item could have on other issues.

“We’ll always be striving for achieving multiple benefits without accruing all the negative impacts to one interest group or the other, or to the environment,” Pearson said. “We need to make sure that we’re looking at those conclusions from multiple perspectives, and that, where appropriate, they are peer reviewed.”

Ultimately Pearson views the Council and its staff as the true stewards of the Delta Reform Act, in both the letter and the spirit of the law. She hopes the Delta Stewardship Council will eventually be viewed as a conciliator of water policy in California, much the same way the Delta Science Program is considered an honest broker within the science community.

“Given our construct in the law, we do business with the utmost focus on transparency,” Pearson said. “All our documents are posted on our website, all our Council meetings happen live on video, and many of our discussions and decisions are made in public. While there are other boards and commissions that have comparable aspects, this approach hasn’t been the norm in California water policy.”

The press release announcing Jessica Pearson’s selection as Executive Officer can be viewed by clicking 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)