Delta Plan Interagency Implementation Committee: Actionable Delta Science

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The interagency committee charged with implementation of the Delta Plan endorses a list of high priority science actions for the Delta

By: Chris “Maven” Austin

As implementation of the first Delta Plan enters its third year, the Delta Plan Interagency Implementation Committee held the first of two semi-annual meetings on May 11, 2015.

The Delta Plan Interagency Implementation Committee (DPIIC) is comprised of eighteen heads of the state, federal, and local agencies that are responsible for implementation of the Delta Plan, and serves as a forum for these agencies to increase their coordination and integration in support of shared national, statewide, and local goals for the Delta.

At the meeting, the Delta Science Program presented their list of high-priority science actions for the upcoming years, based on interviews and discussions with agencies.  Committee chair Randy Fiorini reminded that at the November meeting, the Delta Science Program presented the Interim Science Action Agenda, a list of 320 science actions compiled from a lengthy survey of more than 20 agencies to determine the top priority science actions. “That was in many ways a historic list,” he said. “This effort to inventory what agencies felt was a high priority action items had never been done before. You received that, and thanked the Delta Science Program for its input, but told them it wasn’t good enough; to take it back and to hone that down to a few select high impact science action items. The science program staff has followed through on your recommendation.”

Dr. Goodwin then discussed the history behind the list.  Dr. Goodwin 1In the past two years, you have fostered a very different environment for undertaking science, and its moved us from the era of combat science towards collaborative science,” Dr. Goodwin said. “In November of 2014, you asked us to develop a short list of high impact science actions that could be implemented in 2015-16, and we’re bringing that back to you today.”

Dr. Goodwin then discussed the workgroup effort to develop the short list. “This has been pretty much a unique effort within the Delta,” he said. “It’s brought together the various Delta agencies represented here to collaboratively identify high priority science actions. Many of the participants said this was really a valuable exercise because we’re very good at bringing together folks on the science side to look at a specific problem or a particular management action, but to actually allow some of the top scientists and managers in the system to get together and to look at how everything fits together from a long-term systems approach was somewhat of a unique opportunity.”

Item_2a_Delta_Science_PowerPoint_Page_02It was not our intent to come up with a short list from the 320 science priority actions which were identified across all of your agencies, so we had to develop a technique for winnowing that down,” he said. “And it’s not the intent to cover what has already been recovered adequately by agencies or programs. What we were targeting the gaps in the glue – what’s missing right now to understand how this immensely complex and dynamic system is evolving over time. The National Research Council, when they produced their review, pointed out that there’s world class science going on around specific issues, but what was really missing was how does that all fit together. They referred to it as synthesis.”

Dr. Goodwin said they used the Delta Science Plan as a guide. “The concept of One Delta, One Science intends to do four things,” he said. “First of all, we’re looking for multi-agency relevancy of the science. Secondly, we’re looking for credibility – is the scientific method being followed, has it been peer-reviewed and will it stand up to scientific scrutiny? The science must also be legitimate, and by that we mean that all the experts from whatever side or perspective you come from was part of the development of the science, so it’s not excluding part of the information or part of the experts. And of course, all of this has to lead to informed decision making and efficiencies in being able to make decisions.”

Item_2a_Delta_Science_PowerPoint_Page_03Dr. Goodwin briefly reviewed the Delta Science Plan, noting that was was developed with over one thousand comments and inputs from various scientists from academia, local government, and agencies. “The science plan itself is a three part strategy: The plan describes the process by which we do things, it describes the infrastructure which we need to do science more collaboratively and more efficiently, and also to generate actionable knowledge much faster,” he said. “The two other elements of that are the State of Bay Delta Science, and the Science Action Agenda, which is the workplan that describes priority science activities and how these science activities fit together across agencies and programs to give that system perspective.”

Taryn Ravazzini 1Dr. Goodwin then turned the floor over to Taryn Ravazzini to discuss the process.  “In November, the committee did accept the Interim Science Action Agenda; however, at that time, you also did ask that we look at pursuing a slightly more pared down list than 320 actions, so upon acceptance, the committee members expressed their collective interest to take the next step towards prioritizing and implementing the science actions within that action agenda,” said Taryn Ravazzini. “The Committee members agreed to commit a group of science and policy managers to secure cross-agency understanding to priority science needs in the Delta, and to identify that short list of high-impact, multi-benefit science actions for implementation within 2015-2016.

The Delta agency science workgroup is a compilation of science and policy managers, many of which were identified and hand selected by the Committee members themselves to represent their individual agencies,” she said. “We asked them to come into the room with not only their agency hat on, but also their Delta experience hat and if they could speak to the issues that they had noticed over the years that needed to get addressed from a science perspective, so we were really challenging their loyalty. But it was more about the Delta, so we had a nice comfortable environment which we could ask the people around the table to look at the Delta as a whole, comprehensively, and what are the needs and could we decide on some important actions to take.”

Item_2a_Delta_Science_PowerPoint_Page_06She explained that for the first workgroup session and recognizing everyone’s limited time capacity, the Delta Science Program took the 320+ actions of the Interim Science Action Agenda along with the IEP 2015 workplan recommendations and drafted an interim list of 16 potential high impact science topics. The 16 topics were identified by applying three criteria based on staff interpretation of the implementation committee request: The actions had to be actionable, they had to answer a specific question or a management need that could be addressed through a project or a program; the action had to have cross-agency relevance and it also needed to be an action that could be initiated or implemented in the near-term, meaning feasible to at least initiate within 2015-16.

The remaining science actions were then organized into 16 topic areas based on a similar scope or issue and were presented to the workgroup members at that first meeting, she said. “At that meeting, they all agreed that the 16 were a very good beginning reference point and through facilitated discussion, they whittled that down to identify four high priority areas. These four priority Delta issue areas directly support the California Water Action Plan, the Delta Plan and the Delta Science Plan.”

Item_2a_Delta_Science_PowerPoint_Page_08Ms. Ravazzini then the listed the priority areas, noting they were in no particular order:

  1. Assessing drought related effects on the Delta: “There is a regional consensus regarding the urgency of understanding the full range of drought effects on the Delta system,” she said.
  2. The effectiveness and implications of habitat restoration actions. “In light of ongoing and proposed landscape scale restoration projects to begin in the near term, there is a need for pre-restoration data and synthesis of the efficacy of past projects to guide current restoration,” she said.
  3. Science support for management of estuarine and migratory species. “This issue encompasses several elements identified as priority topics, including native fish distribution, food web dynamics, and flow effects on native species,” she said. “Projects addressing this issue will identify key informational needs for endangered and estuarine species management.”
  4. Science supporting flood risk reduction and the economies of Delta communities: “This issue incorporates many aspects of Delta as a place, including flood protection, invasive aquatic vegetation, and the Delta economy,” said Ms. Ravazzini. “Increasing our understanding of these topics is the critical step in protecting the unique cultural, natural, recreational resource and agricultural values of the Delta.”

Reiner HoenickeDr. Rainer Hoenicke then gave a quick presentation on the content of Tables 1 and 2, and the intended next steps. “I was impressed how engaging the workgroup members were right from the first meeting,” he said. “While we’re discussing these potential action items, it became apparent that our list fell into two unique categories. One category could be characterized as something that could be addressed fairly rapidly and feasible to implement in the upcoming year, providing results in two or three year time frame; these actions are more narrow in scope and can be quickly implemented through directed actions or a request for proposals that are described in Table 1. These fulfilled the committee’s request of providing near-term, high impact actions.”

Table 1

An example would be Topic 1A, which is a near-term science action that we started to implement, he said. “The Delta Science Program has a SeaGrant fellow that is prime to move forward with gathering information for a comprehensive drought assessment as well as organizing a lessons learned workshop,” he said. “Another example is topic 2G in Table 1. The workgroup discussions really highlighted the importance of the salmon life cycle model and the urgent need for its peer review; and NMFS is really poised to move forward with this process already and anticipating the committee’s endorsement of the plan.”

The second big category is longer term science that can be initiated in the upcoming year but provide results farther down the line where it takes a little longer to get proposals framed and reviewed and implemented,” said Dr. Hoenicke. “The committee’s request initiated an opportunity for workgroup members to focus attention on those longer term research needs that are critical to start now, and these actions have a broader scope and are more appropriate for the form of proposal solicitations or SeaGrant science fellows. The proposal solicitations would engage a wide variety of science organizations and stakeholders in developing more detailed research plans to address each of the four priority issues, and similarly the Delta Science Fellows program provides an opportunity to contribute to this effort and is ready to move forward upon your endorsement.”

Table 2: High Impact Science Actions - Longer Term

The result of the first meeting was a suite of science actions with a range of starting points that could be addressed by multiple implementation mechanisms, Mr. Hoenicke said. “The second workgroup meeting involved further developing, refining, and reorganizing these suites of science actions. During this meeting, workgroup members also acknowledged funding challenges and opportunities, and began to discuss how to manage multi-agency funding and joint implementation. It’s really easy to put a wish list down on paper, but then how do you operationalize it and how do you make it actually workable? So that is one of the items that definitely will be part of the next steps.”

The draft list was vetted during a public meeting where they received comments as well as a sense of how stakeholders who were not part of the workgroup composition would react to it, he said. “The stakeholders really felt that they wanted to have a role in the implementation of the science agenda, and wanted to participate and ready to participate in the development of the implementation mechanisms, so we have a commitment from other stakeholders to join and help us with implementation.”

Taryn Ravazini then presented the staff recommendations to the committee. “Overall, the committee tasked us with quite a charge, and it resulted not only in a one of a kind, multi-agency proposal, but it also fostered valuable exchanges among key Delta science managers and policy makers who have openly expressed interest in continuing to work together on behalf of the Committee,” she said. “We haven’t wanted to move too far forward without having an opportunity to run this past the committee, but there are a few key actions that are really poised to move forward.”

Taryn Ravazzini 2There are challenges, absolutely, but until everything is proven impossible to do, I think we should forge ahead,” she said. “Staff therefore is returning with the recommendation to endorse this list. Endorsement for the committee’s purposes would be a consensus based actions consistent with the guiding principles which you did approve last November. Endorsement in this case is intended to empower staff to work together to identify joint funding opportunities and promptly, where feasible, initiate implementation efforts.”

The workgroup would also be empowered to form subgroups for each of the actions where those agencies that have identified a particular science action to be relevant to their agency could get more involved and take more of a leadership role there, she said. “So every agency around this table would not be looking to fund every single action or be the lead agency for every action, this is about moving forward together, being behind one effort of collaborative, filling in the gaps, and providing the glue for important science needs in the Delta.”

Planned next steps include continuing workgroup participation to identify where we can move forward on each action, she said. The science program and staff will initiate scoping documents to provide to the workgroup to help develop the actions, she said. “The list is very concise, so we’ll expand on that, have the workgroup look at that, and they can make more determinations. At that point, we’ll be wanting to move forward with involving more stakeholders. They proved to be extremely valuable, and along with that, we have to broaden our scope as well because we want to ensure that other collaborative efforts are being incorporated and included in this.”

The workgroup members that we had around the table had already been involved with the collaborative adaptive management team, with the IEP, and their MAST efforts, so we have collaborative efforts that this particular effort is intended to support, so this is about enhancing those, not overlapping with them, and not pulling funding away from those important things.   This is about where can we enhance and fill in spaces of science knowledge that do need to get addressed.”

Mark SoggeMark Sogge, Regional Director with the USGS, noted that he has seen similar attempts, sometimes successful, sometimes not, and sometimes it takes years. “So I really want to commend the group for coming back in just six months with something that synthesizes so well. It struck me as I read it that it provides a pretty compelling story of what we really need to know, and even though you haven’t got everything worked out and there are still challenges, I really can’t help but believe that it’s going to be a very useful framework for us to do even more collaborative science.”

Mark CowinDWR strongly supports the recommendations and looks forward to engaging on the more detailed implementation plan,” said Director of Department of Water Resources Mark Cowin. “Beyond that, I want to commend your efforts for fostering interagency cooperation in the form of the dialog that took place. I believe that making that a way of doing business in the future is going to be essential for success on so many fronts, and as we move forward, trying to better describe the mosaic of different collaborative efforts underway right now … I think it would benefit the person at large to better understand all the different efforts underway …

Campbell IngramCampbell Ingram, Executive Officer of the Delta Conservancy said the Conservancy is supportive of moving forward. “I just wanted to highlight one item. It’s number 2E, development of landscape vision decision support framework for the northeast Delta,” he said. “I just want to highlight that that is now really synonymous with the subregional ecosystem restoration plan that we need to do; it’s recognized in the Delta Plan, it’s now recognized here as a high impact action item, and also recognized in the Governor’s announcement for EcoRestore. … I think what it does come down to is in the near term, we’re going to need agency staff to be actively participating in those restoration planning efforts so that we’re ensuring that we’re in real time working with subject matter experts, agencies, and local stakeholders to ensure we get the best restoration outcomes moving forward.”

This list is highly relevant to management,” said Maria Rea. “It raises a lot of really good scientific lines of inquiry where we definitely need additional support, and yet it looks concise and feasible, so congratulations on getting to that. We look forward to continue to engage through the workgroup and at this level, to track those.”

Chair Fiorini noted that they are not a voting body, so he asked if any Committee member was dissenting. “Seeing none, I will rule that you have received endorsement.”

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