Delta Science Program Welcomes New Lead Scientist

Dr. Peter Goodwin took over the reins of the Delta Science Program March 1, 2012 from Dr. Cliff Dahm, who served as Lead Scientist for the past three-and-a-half years.

New Lead Scientist Goodwin is an internationally-recognized expert in ecohydraulics (linkages between physical processes, management actions, and ecological responses), ecosystem restoration, and enhancement of river, wetland and estuarine systems. Goodwin is the DeVlieg Presidential Professor in Ecohydraulics and professor of civil engineering at the University of Idaho. He also is the founding and current director of the Center for Ecohydraulics Research and a former CALFED Independent Science Board member. Science News (SN) recently met with Goodwin for a Q & A, which includes his goals for the Delta Science Program.

SN: What prompted you to seek the Lead Scientist position?

PG: This is arguably the most sophisticated attempt anywhere to integrate science, engineering and policy to address pervasive societal challenges - reliable water supply and ecosystem restoration at the landscape scale. Many outstanding scientists and engineers are working on potential innovative solutions creating a very exciting environment. It is also coming back to where my professional and graduate career started.

SN: What are your goals for the Delta Science Program?

PG: The staff of the Science Program and previous Lead Scientists (Drs. Luoma, Moore, Healey and Dahm) have established a strong legacy of independent and objective science to support policy and management decisions. The Delta Stewardship Council has made it clear that they will base their decisions and recommendations on science.

Our first priority is to ensure that this legacy and uncompromising commitment for fair, objective and peer reviewed science conducted through transparent processes is maintained. Secondly, we aspire to ensure that grant programs and review panels are conducted with the same rigor as might be expected at the National Science Foundation - widely regarded as the gold standard world-wide.

Our role is to be a catalyst for science activities and help promote a systems approach at the landscape scale to the incredible complexity of the Bay, Delta and watershed. There are numerous stressors requiring a suite of solutions. Our priorities will be toward fostering and facilitating synthesis activities that may include new knowledge discovery from available data, testing assumptions, quantifying uncertainties and looking to emerging technologies for monitoring and data-driven models. These activities will develop a deeper scientific understanding for the future but many problems require immediate action. We need to simultaneously explore appropriate and defensible analyses that can help guide the decisions of today.

Conducting or facilitating good science is a necessary but not sufficient condition! It is important for all scientists and engineers to be able to communicate their findings to a broad audience in a comprehensible way. This requires a range of outlets from the Delta Science Program’s online newsletter Science News and the peer-reviewed San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science online journal, to web outlets, (an excellent example is the set of Levee Condition Maps,, presentations, social media and materials that can be adopted in place-based K-12 education. Clearly this is a responsibility of all scientists, engineers and planners, but we hope DSP can support activities which disseminate science findings and promote the value of science.

SN: How will your experience and background in ecohydraulics influence the direction the Science Program will take as it addresses key Delta issues?

PG: I am not sure that it will influence the direction of the Science Program - but hopefully it will provide a bridge between the science and the implementation of the Delta Plan.

The International Association for Hydro-Environment Engineering and Research (IAHR, created the field of Ecohydraulics in the early 1980s with a very simple objective – engage traditional hydraulic or water resources engineers with aquatic biologists, ecologists, planners and other disciplines to improve our understanding and ability to manage aquatic ecosystems. IAHR has developed a global network of experience and researchers active in the field, and we can exchange experiences with other similar programs around the world and facilitate interactions between students, agencies and researchers.

SN: What key issues do you see ahead as challenges for the Science Program to address?

PG: The Delta is a highly complex and heavily manipulated system. Restoration to some natural historical condition is simply not an option due to the massive changes that have occurred and many of these processes are irreversible and are compounded by climate change impacts and sea level rise. The challenge will be to clearly articulate the future target physical condition and the processes that will sustain the ecological functions of the Delta while addressing water reliability. This desired target condition may not be static but a dynamic target that allows for the adaptation of the ecological resources.

Another key challenge will be the identification and testing of robust performance measures with a strong signal-to-noise ratio that are capable of detecting trends in a reasonable time-frame.

The National Research Council report (“Sustainable Water and Environmental Management in the California Bay-Delta”) released on March 29, 2012, provides a comprehensive and concise summary of the major scientific challenges facing the Delta and we will be using this as a guide as we set priorities.


“The Delta is a highly complex and heavily manipulated system. Restoration to some natural historical condition is simply not an option due to the massive changes that have occurred... The challenge will be to clearly articulate the future target physical condition and the processes that will sustain the ecological functions of the Delta while addressing water reliability.”

--Peter Goodwin, Lead Scientist


SN: Chapter 2 of the Delta Plan requires the development of a Delta Science Plan - when do you envision that happening and what would be the first steps?

PG: The current draft Delta Plan recommends that the first version of the Science Plan be completed by the end of 2013. The Science Plan will be a living document, designed to support the Delta Plan and both plans will be subject to periodic updates. We are currently in the process of researching and assembling Science Plans from other major natural resource management plans to see what has been done elsewhere and we welcome recommendations of programs to include in this review. Most importantly, this Science Plan cannot be conceived and implemented through the Delta Science Program and Independent Science Board alone. There are processes that have been used successfully by the National Science Foundation, the Department of Interior Landscape Conservation Cooperatives, and major programs for specific regions such as the Everglades that we will use as guides in the development of our Science Plan. Our goal is to create the Science Plan through broad engagement and input from the science and engineering community. These are difficult times in universities and agencies and we need to be respectful of people's time but at the same time allow meaningful engagement and a final product that represents the science community.

SN: During the last Delta Independent Science Board meeting you mentioned you’d like to develop a strategic plan for the Science Program. Can you expand on that?

PG: Any change in leadership provides an opportunity to step back and reflect on program goals and the aspirations of individual staff. Clearly, the staff talent pool of the Delta Science Program is very deep - but they have been very short staffed during the past few years making it difficult to plan beyond the ‘crisis du jour.’ Although the program is not yet at full strength, several new hires allow us to look at how we can be most effective in the future and how we can best assist building the community that will solve the long-term challenge of sustainable water resource management in California. The latest National Academy report and the Independent Science Board have made some excellent recommendations for the Delta Science Program to consider and the strategic plan will be one mechanism to respond to this advice.

SN: Any final thoughts you’d like to share?

PG: The vision of coequal goals achieved through best available science and the structure of the Delta Stewardship Council is potentially a transformative concept and a great service for the future of California. I encourage scientists, planners and engineers to actively engage in development of the Science Plan to support the Delta Plan and to continue building this vibrant and open science community.