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From Climate Change to Ecosystem Restoration: State, Federal Agencies Provide Critical Funding for New Delta Science Investigations

One of the projects funded by the Delta Stewardship Council’s recent joint research solicitation will produce the first ever, multi-year data set of the complete carbon budget of a Bay-Delta tidal marsh. Funding for these studies will help fill knowledge gaps in Delta science and inform critical management decisions in the Delta. Photo Courtesy of Patty Oikawa.


By John Callaway, Louise Conrad, and Dylan Stern

May 13, 2019


When the Delta Stewardship Council approved nearly $10 million for scientific research last month, it marked the first large, multi-agency, competitive Delta science research solicitation in close to a decade.


The Council, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation combined funds from each of their agencies last fall to issue a solicitation for new Delta science studies, attracting 62 proposals requesting a whopping $43 million in funding. After a rigorous, multi-step review process that included nationally recognized subject matter experts as well as leading scientists in the Delta, the Delta Science Program identified 15 projects that will receive a total of nearly $10 million in funding from the Council and Reclamation, with an additional $7 million in funding expected to be allocated by CDFW in the coming weeks.


Proposals were selected for funding based on their scientific merit, whether they address essential knowledge gaps in Delta science, and for their potential to inform critical management decisions in the Delta. The latter is especially significant because there is no pause button for resource managers to press while they make decisions about land, wildlife, and water resources in the Delta. Moreover, the suite of funded research projects will enhance the science available to managers and policy advisors for resource management.


Collectively, these new projects are intended to advance our knowledge of climate change, habitat restoration, food webs, native fish, aquatic vegetation, water quality, levees, and recreation in the Delta. All of the projects are responsive to one or more Delta science priority areas listed in the 2017-2021 Science Action Agenda:


1. Increase investigations of the human dimensions and the impacts of natural resources management decisions

2. Enhance science synthesis, or the integration of currently disparate data and information to fully address a management topic

3. Research to support and evaluate habitat restoration

4. Research to understand interactions between environmental stressors and managed species and their communities

5. Modernize monitoring, data, management, and modeling


The five priority areas outlined in the Science Action Agenda are the result of a multi-year, multiagency effort to identify, prioritize, and address the critical science and management needs in the Delta. The Agenda is also the cornerstone of the shared One Delta, One Science vision of a Delta science community that works together to build a common body of scientific knowledge.



It is important to point out that, unlike the majority of Delta science funding, these awards are for scientific research and synthesis – not monitoring. The value of continuous monitoring to understand changes in the Delta cannot be overstated; however, there is a critical need for new and novel investigations and synthesis of existing data. When combined with ongoing monitoring efforts, this new research will help us understand human uses of the Delta, ecosystem dynamics, and potential ecosystem responses to climate change and major management actions such as habitat restoration and wastewater treatment plant upgrades.


The last call for competitive research proposals of this type was in 2010. That effort demonstrated the tremendous value of bringing fresh perspectives, approaches, and expertise to the Delta science community. Usable science to inform and develop the Chinook Salmon Life Cycle Model and the Delta Smelt Resiliency Strategy, new computational models linking climate, water movement, and food webs, and the completion of more than 70 peer-reviewed papers are just a few examples of how these projects continue to improve understanding and inform management in the Delta today.


While this particular joint proposal solicitation is an enormous accomplishment for the Delta Stewardship Council and for our agency partners, we must prioritize long-term, reliable funding for science so that we can offer consistent opportunities for innovative Delta research. We are committed to ensuring that the next large, multi-agency solicitation will come much sooner than a decade. We look forward to collaborating with local, state, and federal agencies in the future to advance the next-generation of Delta science research and researchers.


To learn more about the Delta science proposal solicitation and see the details of selected projects, click here.


About the Authors

Delta Lead Scientist John Callaway, Deputy Executive Officer for Science Louise Conrad, and Senior Environmental Scientist Dylan Stern are all part of the Council’s Delta Science Program, which provides scientific information and syntheses for the state of scientific knowledge on issues critical for managing the Bay-Delta system. The Delta Science Program supports the Delta Plan by promoting adaptive management and the use of best available science.


Coequal goals

The Delta Stewardship Council was created in legislation to achieve the state mandated coequal goals for the Delta. "'Coequal goals' means the two goals of providing a more reliable water supply for California and protecting, restoring, and enhancing the Delta ecosystem. The coequal goals shall be achieved in a manner that protects and enhances the unique cultural, recreational, natural resource, and agricultural values of the Delta as an evolving place." (CA Water Code §85054)