Opportunities for Science Collaboration and Funding in the Delta

Delta data station (2)

by Aston Tennefoss

The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (Delta) is central to California’s water supply system, and serves a diverse group of stakeholders, including local, state, and federal agencies, elected officials, and water users. Its islands, channels, and wetlands also are home to an expansive but highly disrupted ecosystem, which is studied extensively. Many studies are done to meet regulatory obligations or to inform management decisions. Because many organizations make up the Delta science enterprise, there are multiple approaches and reasons for this science, as well as highly variable funding.

As part of the master’s program in Environmental Policy and Management at the University of California, Davis, I examined whether a path to shared funding to promote shared decision-support science exists for the Delta. My research involved a literature review, attending meetings relevant to Delta science, and 23 interviews with individuals from federal and state water, agricultural, and environmental agencies as well as non-governmental organizations and interests. The full report, found here, was provided as a white paper for completion of a volunteer practicum with the office of the Delta Watermaster at the State Water Resources Control Board.

The study evaluated current collaborative Delta science and its funding to identify gaps between the current organization of science and underachieved policy aspirations for science. It also identified barriers to funding and collaboration for scientific research on the Delta. Finally, the report recommends opportunities to overcome existing barriers and to move to more reliably funded and efficiently organized interagency science. A summary of the report’s seven recommendations follows:

  1. Implement stronger coordination of science across agencies. Existing fragmentation of mandates and efforts among agencies hampers collaboration and efficiency. Creating opportunities for improved collaboration requires a governance structure including decision-makers and scientists. Several options are available to strengthen science coordination and integration across agencies. Such arrangements should promote trust, provide actionable authority, and maintain agency sovereignty.
  1. Establish a competitive and targeted incentive grant fund through the state budget act, to provide matching resources for research and technical partnerships across agencies, and between agencies and other qualified entities. Such grants, administered by the Delta Science Program, would match State agency funds for collaborative studies aligning with the Science Action Agenda and/or Delta Science Plan. By requiring data management and reporting consistent with the Open and Transparent Water Data Act, these grants also would advance the open data legislative mandate while promoting One Delta, One Science – an efficient use of general funds to leverage consistent funding from both State and non-State sources.
  1. Provide ongoing, consistent long-term funding for adaptive science to inform Delta restoration projects as part of adaptive management programs, Eco-Restore, and other mitigation and restoration programs. Adaptive management programs are a proving ground for science and management; funds for capital projects should include a percentage for ongoing synthesis, analysis and evaluation of project actions. These projects directly align with the co-equal goals of enhancing the Delta ecosystem and water supply reliability. Monitoring and learning from these projects would constitute a tangible general fund commitment to those long-term priorities.
  1. Develop funding for critical synthesis from existing data, with priority of projects and agency co-lead responsibility. Regulatory requirements drive agencies to focus on data collection and reporting, supporting little analysis of how the data can aid decision-making. Agency scientists, when given synthesis priorities and a regular management audience, are better positioned to identify trends in existing data and opportunities for actions that will be evaluated against measurable objectives and outcomes.
  1. Allocate science priorities based on agency and stakeholder areas of expertise, capacity, and jurisdiction. Science priorities span a diverse range of topics and action areas. For each priority to be addressed, actions should be allotted among agencies and stakeholders to achieve full breadth of coverage, take advantage of existing efforts, harness experienced leaders, and respect jurisdictional boundaries. No one agency or stakeholder can achieve all science priorities independently or integrate findings effectively to inform decision-making across agencies.
  1. Establish a regular system of workgroups and discussions to bring science and policymakers together. Examples of science gatherings and policy gathering abound but, separation of science and policy discussions is the norm. The value of science for policy cannot be realized if its relevance is not communicated regularly and succinctly to managers. Science and policy interactions promote new ideas for both science and policy.
  1. Seek federal funding for science priorities across the Bay-Delta. Trillions of dollars in economic output are tied to Bay-Delta water, which directly affects the national and global economy. The federal government has an economic interest in the continued viability of the Bay-Delta water supply and ecosystem. Federal funding for Bay-Delta science and projects throughout the entire Delta watershed should be comparable to that for other major national estuaries.

Guidance from the Delta Stewardship Council and Delta Science Program already has moved the science enterprise toward greater integration and collaboration. A recovered estuary will provide broad societal benefits to stakeholders across California and an accountable science enterprise can inform this recovery; therefore, long-term financial support for Delta science is in the public interest. Commitment of tax revenue to match the resources of agencies, water users, and NGOs, processes can support future science and enable more frequent, trust building, transboundary engagement to better inform management decisions.

Aston Tennefoss (atennefoss@ucdavis.edu) completed this work as a practicum for his Masters in Environmental Policy and Management at the University of California – Davis, working with the Delta Watermaster.  He is the program’s first graduate.  The opinions he expresses are his own.

Further reading

Delta Stewardship Council. The Science Enterprise Workshop: Supporting and Implementing Collaborative Science. Davis, CA. 2016.

Gray, B., Thompson, B., Hanak, E., Lund, J., & Mount, J. Integrated Management of Delta Stressors: Institutional and Legal Options. San Francisco: Public Policy Institute of California. 2013.

Mearns, A.J., Allen, M.J., & Moore, M.D.; S.B. Weisberg, D. Elmore, eds., The Southern California Coastal Water Research Project – 30 years of environmental research in the Southern California Bight. Westminster, CA: Southern California Coastal Water Research Project, 2001.

Mount, J. Advice on Voluntary Settlements for California’s Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan Part 3: Science for Ecosystem Management. California WaterBlog. 27 February 2018.

Tennefoss, A. Shared Science for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Environmental Policy and Management MS practicum paper, University of California, Davis. October 2018.


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1 Response to Opportunities for Science Collaboration and Funding in the Delta

  1. J Rizzi says:

    Shipping channel is the DELTA’s biggest problem, since it is dredged yearly and provides a channel for the (heavy) salt water intrusion all the way to the ports of Sacramento and Stockton. We can help the Delta only if we look and open our eyes to what we have and continue to do, which is dredging, and how it is negatively impact the Delta.

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