And They’re Off! Delta Independent Science Board Starts Work

The new Delta Independent Science Board (Delta ISB) hit the ground running during its initial meeting Sept. 30-Oct. 1, 2010 as it tackled its legally mandated responsibilities and other requests. The Delta ISB reports directly to the Delta Stewardship Council (DSC) and is charged to provide oversight of the scientific research, monitoring, and assessment programs that support adaptive management of the Delta through periodic reviews (by law, all of these programs must be reviewed at least once every four years).

“The Board brings an exceptional wealth of knowledge of estuaries, deltas, and rivers worldwide,” said Lead Scientist Cliff Dahm. “I hope that their collective knowledge is put to good use in making the necessary hard decisions that will improve the Delta and address critical water supply issues.”

During its first board meeting, Richard Norgaard was elected as Chair and Michael Healey as Vice-Chair in a unanimous vote. Also on the board are: Brian Atwater, Elizabeth Canuel, Tracy Collier, Edward Houde, Judy Meyer, Jeffrey Mount, Vince Resh, and John Wiens. Each serves a five-year term and may serve no more than two terms.

Phil Isenberg, Chair of the DSC, emphasized the independence of the Delta ISB and assured board members that the Council expects and welcomes hearing difficult things from the ISB. Isenberg and Joe Grindstaff, Executive Officer of the DSC, said the Delta ISB plays an important role for the Council through their review of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) Environmental Impact Report as required by statute.

A key short-term interest of the Delta ISB is its interactions and responsibilities with the two-year ongoing National Research Council (NRC) review. Dr. David Policansky, associate director of the Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology at the NRC, provided an overview of the tasks of the NRC Committee on Sustainable Water and Environmental Management in the California Bay-Delta. The assessment of stressors in the San Francisco Bay and Delta, one of the NRC Committee’s tasks, is of particular interest to the Delta ISB. The Committee will meet in San Francisco December 8-10 and some Delta ISB members will attend to evaluate information being presented regarding stressors.

“The new Board very quickly grasped the complexity of applying the best available science to Delta planning on a legislatively mandated schedule,” said Chairman Norgaard. “The best available science in the very short run is whatever the nearest Delta scientist can say ‘off the cuff.’ But we need to combine the wisdom of diverse Delta scientists to address the big questions central to protecting the Delta and providing water, and that takes time. The Board’s task is to assure the quality of the science, and we are already working on how we can best mesh the schedules of science and planning.”

The next Delta ISB meeting will be December 9-10. The primary agenda item will be addressing letters received from some members of the California State Assembly and the Senate requesting the board to identify key stressors on native fishes in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Response to this request may include convening a public workshop in early 2011 where Delta stressors would be presented, discussed, and evaluated.

The ISB will also begin planning for accomplishing its statutorily required reviews of all Delta programs that support adaptive management.

Another item on the ISB’s agenda is to begin Lead Scientist recruitment efforts to replace Dahm, whose original term ended June 30, 2010, but has been extended on a part-time basis to June 30, 2011. The ISB’s goal is to have a new Lead Scientist by June 1, 2011 to allow for a month of overlap with Dahm’s tenure.