Delta Science Program Convenes Independent Scientific Panel to Review BDCP Effects Analysis

The Delta Science Program recently conducted the first of a two-phase review of the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) Effects Analysis.

The BDCP is a major project considering major changes in water conveyance and large-scale ecosystem restoration in the Delta. The BDCP is being developed to satisfy permit requirements for the Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) (as a Habitat Conservation Plan) and the California Natural Community Conservation Planning Act (NCCPA) through implementing several conservation measures such as habitat restoration and reducing the adverse effects of diverting water on certain listed species while providing a reliable California water supply. When complete, the BDCP will provide the basis for issuing ESA and NCCPA permits for operations of the state and federal water projects in the Delta.

One of the key questions associated with such plans is what effects the combination of actions in the plan will have on the species of concern, thus, the Effects Analysis.

At the request of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Delta Science Program convened a panel of independent science experts to conduct the review. The panel started with a review of a draft of the conceptual approach and methods to be used in the analysis (Appendix A: Conceptual Foundation and Analytical Framework). To help the panel understand how this analytical framework would be applied, the panel also reviewed a draft of the Entrainment Technical Appendix (Appendix B). The panel met publicly on October 25-26, 2011 to receive additional information and discuss its initial findings, then released its initial review of these two draft appendices on November 28, 2011.

In its report, the Panel found the Conceptual Foundation and Analytical Framework provide “an admirable start to a vision of how to systematically assess BDCP effects.” However, the report also said that the Effects Analysis does not yet provide the “big picture” necessary to evaluate how the effects of complex flow and restoration changes in the Bay-Delta are going to be analyzed as a whole to ensure long-term protection of covered species.

To ensure that the Effects Analysis achieves its intended purpose and provides measures adequate to protect and improve populations of covered species into the future, the Panel provided 11 recommendations for addressing major issues prior to completing the next version of the BDCP Effects Analysis. Among the recommendations were the following:

  • The goal of the Effects Analysis needs to be clearly defined.

  • The Framework appendix needs to follow a logical flow and provide a “road map” indicating how the Effects Analysis will build toward the overall goal.

  • The Panel believes the common currency for comparing effects should be species population viability.

  • The Framework should use the best science available and describe why some current science was excluded, including justification for the exclusion.

  • Adaptive management needs to be an explicit component of the Effects Analysis to deal with fundamental uncertainties.

The Panel’s review and report received praise from Secretary of Natural Resources John Laird, who said, “Having a panel of well-respected, independent scientists peer review the adequacy of the many vital science components of this plan and publicly, openly presenting those findings will help set the stage for the many important conversations we will have with stakeholders. Also, this independent peer review helps create a more dynamic, sound plan that will stand the test of nature and time.”

The seven-member panel will convene for a second time in spring of 2012 to review the entire draft BDCP Effects Analysis and technical appendices. The Panel's findings and recommendations are expected in early June.

Detailed information on the BDCP Effects Analysis Review and the Panel’s report can be found here.

A critical role of the Delta Science Program is to facilitate independent scientific review of activities in the Delta including those associated with water supply reliability, water quality, ecosystem restoration, and levee integrity. The review and recommendations provided by these independent scientific review panels help ensure that the investments being made in support of Bay-Delta planning and decision-making are supported by the best available science.

In addition to the first phase of the BDCP Effects Analysis review, the Science Program also conducted independent scientific reviews of the Delta Protection Commission’s (DPC) draft Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP) and the Implementation of Reasonable and Prudent Alternative Actions Affecting the Operations Criteria and Plan (OCAP) for State/Federal Water Operations.