Summer-Fall Habitat Action Monitoring and Science Plans and Structured Decision Making Approach Peer Review


The California State Water Project (SWP) is a multi-purpose water storage and delivery system that extends more than 705 miles – two-thirds the length of California. A collection of canals, pipelines, reservoirs, and hydroelectric power facilities delivers clean water to 27 million Californians, 750,000 acres of farmland, and businesses throughout our state.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) issued an Incidental Take Permit (ITP) in 2020 to the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) for the continued operation of the SWP in March 2020. The Delta Smelt Summer-Fall Habitat Action (SFHA) is a critical component of an adaptive management plan for the SWP. It is designed to improve habitat conditions for the critically endangered Delta Smelt (Hypomesus transpacificus). The ITP Adaptive Management Team, composed of representatives from CDFW, DWR, and water contractors, is responsible for coordinating and updating the SWP adaptive management plan and facilitating key adaptive management tasks associated with specific actions in the ITP. The 2020 ITP requires an independent review of the SFHA in January 2024.

The SFHA is intended to improve habitat conditions including the overlap of key physical and biological attributes (e.g., salinity, turbidity, and food availability) to support Delta Smelt growth, survival, and recruitment. Summer-Fall conditions are hypothesized to be a bottleneck on the population due to limited suitable habitat for juvenile and subadult life stages. A set of habitat and food subsidy actions within the SFHA are currently prescribed, discretionary, or conceptual. In addition, each action has varied work plan assessments for monitoring and efficacy evaluation. However, there remains some uncertainty in the ability to detect ecological responses, test hypotheses, and evaluate the efficacy of the SFHA and/or individual actions.

DWR and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, through collaboration with the Delta Coordination Group (U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, CDFW, DWR, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, and State and Federal Water Contractors), have developed Monitoring and Science Plans for the SFHA that are updated annually, with several additional action-specific monitoring and research plans (e.g., Suisun Marsh Salinity Control Gates reoperation, North Delta Food Subsidy, and Sacramento Deepwater Ship channel studies). In addition, a structured decision-making (SDM) approach using the PrOACT decision model (i.e. Problem, Objectives, Alternatives, Consequences, and Tradeoffs model) was adopted to determine the suite of Summer-Fall actions to recommend in a given hydrologic year based on a transparent and standardized tradeoff assessment of key objectives (e.g., Delta Smelt growth, habitat, and food) and performance metrics.

The purpose of this Independent Scientific Expert Review is to assist the Delta Coordination Group and ITP Adaptive Management Team in improving the evaluation and adaptive management of the SFHA.

Individual Letter Reviews

The Delta Science Program coordinates reviews in accordance with its mission to provide the best possible unbiased scientific information to inform water and environmental decision-making. As requested by DWR, each panel member will submit an individual letter and address the Charge questions based on their expertise.

View DWR’s request letter to Delta Lead Scientist, Dr. Laurel Larsen.

View Dr. Larsen’s response in PDF format.

Review Materials

Background documents

Review documents

Supplemental Material (optional)

Final Panel Letters

Charge to the Independent Review Panel

The Charge to the independent review panel provides the direction, context, and timeline for the review. The Charge includes orientation and focus for the review effort, support materials to be considered, and specific questions for the panel to address during the review process.

View the Charge.

Review Panel Members

Lars Rudstam, Ph.D.

Professor in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment at Cornell University, Director of the Cornell Biological Field Station on Oneida Lake, and the owner of Rudstam Consultants LLC

Dr. Lars Rudstam’s research is at the interface between basic and applied science with special interests in food web dynamics and the interactions between fisheries management and ecosystem processes. He received a Master of Science degree from the University of Wisconsin working on inland lakes and a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Stockholm University in Sweden working on food web interactions in the Baltic Sea. Currently, he works with lower trophic levels and fisheries in all the Laurentian Great Lakes, with long-term analysis of ecosystem processes in Oneida Lake, and with comparative analyses of aquatic ecosystems across the globe. He teaches fish ecology and works with managers, mostly in New York and Canada, as part of technical committees.

Isa Woo, M.S.

Biologist, U.S. Geological Survey Western Ecological Research Center

Isa has over 20 years of experience designing, developing, and implementing science-based adaptive management assessments for Federal, Tribal, State, and local agencies. She has a Master of Science degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of California, Berkeley. Her research interests are applied and management-oriented and include topics such as: assessing restoration performance and benefits to wildlife, benthic invertebrate prey availability and bioenergetics of estuarine habitat types, carbon sequestration and soil carbon storage in restoring wetlands, juvenile salmonid invertebrate prey dynamics, food webs for native fishes and birds. Ms. Woo co-established an Invertebrate Ecology Laboratory at the San Francisco Bay Estuary Field Station, which processes invertebrates in terms of energy production for food web analyses. She partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Nisqually Indian Tribe to establish a restoration monitoring and applied science program at the Nisqually River Delta, WA, and produced several publications to assess restoration benefits and bioenergetic potential for juvenile Chinook salmon. Her interests are to provide data-driven adaptive management and decision support tools at the local level through publications and serving on science committees.

Kelly Robinson, Ph.D.

Assistant Unit Leader at U.S. Geological Survey, Georgia Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit and Adjunct Associate Professor at Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, University of Georgia

Dr. Robinson’s research focuses on science to inform decisions for conservation and management of natural resources, as well as fisheries ecology and management. She received her Master of Science degree in Marine Biology from the College of Charleston and her Doctor of Philosophy degree from the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources at the University of Georgia. She completed a postdoc at Cornell University and was previously an Associate Professor at Michigan State University. Dr. Robinson has conducted numerous research projects applying decision analysis (structured decision making and adaptive management) to systems including invasive species (grass carp, sea lamprey), harvest management (walleye, white-tailed deer, turkey), and climate resilience in large ecosystems (wetlands, rivers, estuaries). She has served on review panels for a decision analytic project for the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and multiple projects for the Canadian Science Advisory Secretariat, and she is currently chair of the Great Lakes Fishery Commission’s Sea Lamprey Research Board.

Robin Gregory, Ph.D.

Senior Research Scientist at Oregon Research Institute and Adjunct Professor at the University of British Columbia

Robin is a social scientist who works on problems of environmental risk management, accurately incorporating social and cultural impacts, stakeholder engagement, decision skills for teenagers, and policy choices under uncertainty. He received his Master of Arts degree in Environmental Economics and his Doctor of Philosophy degree in Interdisciplinary Studies: Psychology and Economics from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. His research and applied work emphasize the use of dialogue and analysis as aids to collaborative approaches for helping participants understand the short and long-term consequences of actions characterized by multiple dimensions of value, uncertainty regarding consequences, and perspectives-based controversy. He has written and consulted extensively on the subject of informing public policy choices and is the first author of the book Structured Decision Making: A Practical Guide to Environmental Management Choices (Wiley-Blackwell Press, 2012).