Delta Independent Science Board Member Spotlight

November 2011

Judy Meyer

Delta Independent Science Board (DISB) member Judy Meyer not only studies water systems for a living, she surrounds herself with it. Where she calls home is an island in the Pacific Northwest.

The nationally recognized expert on aquatic ecology and rivers sports a 27-page curriculum vitae that lists more than 10 pages of published works. When she’s not publishing, she’s teaching and advising. The 2003 Professor Emeritus from the University of Georgia’s Odum School of Ecology supports numerous advisory boards and national committees from all corners of the country.

Meyer’s interests in water range from river-floodplain exchanges to aquatic ecosystem restoration, but she’s most excited about the opportunity to help implement an adaptive management plan in the Delta.

Q. What is your interest in water policy?

As an aquatic ecologist, I know that conditions in many aquatic ecosystems are declining and that human activities have played a role in the decline. My interest in policy stems from my conviction that society has the opportunity to improve conditions in aquatic ecosystems through wise policy decisions, and that science is needed to help guide those decisions so that both human and ecosystem needs are taken into account. While on the faculty at University of Georgia, I helped establish the River Basin Center, which we founded to stimulate scientific research and its application to pressing issues in water policy through a trans- disciplinary collaboration among a diverse group of scientists and water policy experts. I find this kind of collaborative approach exciting and think that answering important policy questions provides opportunities for research that advance scientific understanding while also informing water management decisions.

Q. Explain your desire/willingness to sit on the Delta Independent Science Board.

Activities that are at the intersection of science and policy are both intellectually stimulating for me and of great consequence. The development and implementation of the Delta Plan is at that intersection, and provides an opportunity to apply science to decisions with broad implications. Because I am retired and no longer have the many obligations of a faculty member, I am able to devote time to activities like the DISB that I find both interesting and important. Implementation of adaptive management in the Delta Plan offers an exciting opportunity to provide scientific advice that will be essential for its success. Science is critical to effective adaptive management, which is currently being attempted in ecosystems throughout the nation. We still have much to learn about how to do this most effectively. What is being done in the Delta will be watched by practitioners around the country.

Q. What kind of unique perspective/expertise do you bring to the development of a Delta Plan?

I have taken an ecosystem approach throughout my career, which began with studies of nutrient-limited growth of marine phytoplankton, certainly a topic of interest in the Delta. Much of my research has been on water quality and nutrient cycling in rivers and streams with a focus on nitrogen and phosphorus. I directed a long-term ecological research project in the Southern Appalachians in conjunction with the U.S. Forest Service. This multidisciplinary project explored the intersection of forestry practices, atmospheric deposition, land use change, and their impacts on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems.

I spent many years studying dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and the microbial food web that it supports in streams and rivers of the Southeast. This research involved analyses of river-floodplain linkages, which are also critical in the Delta. I have studied streams in urban centers and worked on a project evaluating river
restoration practices throughout the US, which gives me a broad perspective on restoration practices being proposed as part of the Delta Plan. I led a project that identified ecosystem flow needs in the Savannah River. I have served on several National Research Council/National Academy of Sciences reviews of restoration and adaptive management projects in other parts of the country, which has given me a sense of the promises and pitfalls of such projects.

I was a member of the CALFED ISB and also served on several research proposal review panels where I learned a great deal about the issues being faced in the Delta and of the research being done to better understand the system. My experiences as one of the founders of the River Basin Center at University of Georgia have provided insight into the kinds of scientific information that is useful to decision-makers as they confront difficult policy choices.

Q. What has your experience on the Independent Science Board been like to date?

It has been challenging because there is so much science being done by so many groups providing a wealth of information about Delta ecology and water management. Some meetings have felt like we are drinking from a fire hose! The staff of the Science Program has been extremely helpful in keeping us informed about the development of the Delta Plan and emerging issues in the Delta.

Q. What should the public and stakeholders know about the Independent Science Board’s efforts?

The main task of the DISB is to review the quality of the science being used in the development and implementation of the Delta Plan. We bring perspectives from other ecosystems that are also facing challenges in reconciling human and ecosystem needs for water.