Getting From Here to There - The Delta Science Plan and Developing ‘One Delta, One Science’

Managing California’s water is an immense challenge, since many factors affecting economic development and the sustainability of our environment must be balanced. This has been captured succinctly in the coequal goals of improved reliability of water supplies and creating a more resilient ecosystem. On July 25, 2012, Governor Brown and President Obama’s Administration made a joint announcement on California’s water future:


“Through our joint federal-state partnership, and with science as our guide, we are taking a comprehensive approach to tackling California’s water problems...”


The responsibility of the science community is to provide the highest caliber of science available at the time decisions must be made, and to clearly articulate alternative futures or expected outcomes from management decisions. It is not the responsibility of scientists to make the ultimate decision, because different societal values must be considered that are beyond the facts, predictions, risk assessments and quantification of uncertainty that are the realm of scientists.

The Delta Stewardship Council’s Delta Science Program sponsored a session at the State of the Estuary Conference Oct. 29-30 in Oakland entitled “The Delta Science Plan - Working Together to Build an Open Science Community.”

Delta Stewardship Council Lead Scientist Dr. Peter Goodwin outlined the recently accepted Delta Science Plan. He said in the future an interdisciplinary community will need to be “honest brokers of science, approach science at the scale of the problem, and build effective mechanisms to support innovative policy and management.” Goodwin said the Delta Science plan is a living document that provides the framework to “try something grand” in the Delta and address water and environmental quality issues that directly or indirectly affect virtually all Californians.

Goodwin praised the broader science community for delivering the science plan with strong support from scientific organizations, agencies, and stakeholder groups in less than a year. California has some of the top-ranked universities in the world, and this is also reflected in the quality of scientists and engineers engaged in addressing the complex issues surrounding California water. He stressed:

  • The urgency for action - doing nothing is not an option

  • Delta issues are not isolated - investigation and solutions will require an Ocean - Bay - Delta - upper Watershed continuum approach

  • Science is not a mechanism to make value-based decisions but a critical guide for policy and management

  • Commitment and infrastructure (people, tools and structural funding) are critical to achieve short- and long-term goals

The session provided a panel discussion on what is needed to increase scientific understanding of what we know and don’t know about solving critical environmental issues by stakeholders, policymakers, and managers and to ensure science is effectively addressing current and future challenges in the Delta ecosystem and statewide.

The panel discussion focused on two general questions: “What needs to be done to achieve effective science-based adaptive management of natural resources?” and “What are the highest science priorities?” The panel identified current challenges and future needs to move forward as a flexible coherent community. Balancing these issues will help achieve the Delta Science Plan’s broad goal of creating ‘One Delta, One Science’.

The panel members also stressed that synthesis activities, led by the Delta Science Program, are critical to crystalize the current state of knowledge, identify gaps, and develop clear objectives for future investigations.

The members acknowledged collaborative monitoring and investigation efforts, like the Interagency Ecological Program and others, as invaluable approaches to develop knowledge about the Delta ecosystem and better detect and understand the drivers of change over time. They also agreed that communication is critical to minimize disagreement and ensure accurate information is available for planning and decision making.

Finally, they identified areas that the science community needs to address in order to meet the “grand challenges” (large complex problems at the national and/or global scale, requiring numerous researchers, many years, and appropriate resources to solve). These include:

  • Strengthen the interdisciplinary community through open scientific debate, (includes controversial ideas and hypotheses), and enhance communication across planning and implementation - ‘early and often’ - not simply through publications.

  • Identify common objectives, meaningful questions, and anticipate emerging issues.

  • Develop trust among agencies, stakeholders, and the scientific community - scientists and agencies can lead by example by ‘modeling good behavior’.

  • Support synthesis and outreach activities to reduce the distortion of facts and findings.

  • Simplify things where possible to improve communication to policymakers and the public.

  • Increase the independence of science and investigation.

  • Build coalitions, share responsibility, and investigate new funding models to ensure long term support for monitoring, new scientific investigations and professional development.

The session closed with a few questions posed in the form of an electronic poll and an invitation to the audience by Dr. Hoenicke to participate in the development of the Science Action Agenda.