November 1, 2013

“We can do better. We must do better”
A newly published, peer-reviewed article this month, “We Can Do Better: Longfin Smelt and a Case Study in Collaborative Science” begins with the concept, “water is a limited resource” and “there should be no question that flows into, through, and out of California's Delta are biologically important.”

The article also acknowledges, “Competing demands for Delta water include flows for native fish, water supply for farms and cities, and cold water held back in large reservoirs to cool salmon streams.”

The following passages attempt to quote and/or paraphrase the article:

Since water is limited, there are inevitable trade-offs. This is where science and policy intersect.

For too long, this tension has been handled one species at a time, one crisis at a time, and usually in court. This has fostered ‘combat science,’ where regulatory agencies, water contractors, and environmental advocates line up their own hypotheses, studies, and conclusions like artillery in the courtroom. It has fed distrust and stymied collaboration. This is a failed approach.

Absent a change in how we manage the Delta, there is no evidence to suggest the situation will improve. We can do better. We must do better.

The Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) takes a more comprehensive approach than the single-species management pursuant to the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Yet, a commitment to a more robust and collaborative science program is also emerging between many of the long-term litigants and between several state and federal agencies involved in the Delta.

All of these positive developments involve a fundamental shift in the way water agencies and regulators interact. Different sides may have different policy overlays, but the science will be the science.

There has to be a better way than arguing about science while species continue to decline and water supply reliability is jeopardized.

This better way starts with applying state-of-the-art scientific approaches, models, and tools. The BDCP sets forth a three-step "decision tree" process to help resolve disagreements over the recovery of longfin smelt requires.

A decision tree is nothing new: In simplest terms, it is a chart that maps successive decision points over time.

In all, we will learn by doing, and evaluate our progress in a structured way. We will measure success by assessing how well stakeholders are meaningfully engaged and committed to the process; by generating science that all agree is sound; by making progress toward achieving the biological objectives; and, by determining how well results from the science research are used to adjust and improve management decisions.

If we can achieve these measures of success, we may be able to avoid the courts and use our best available science to give ourselves a firmer footing for balancing and managing the Delta's co-equal goals.

This work is made available under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution in the San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science, 11(3), by Mark W., Cowin, California Department of Water Resources, and Charlton H. Bonham, California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Copyright 2013 by the article author(s).

Article References
(DSP) Delta Science Program. 2013.
(CA): Delta Stewardship Counci.