California asks a lot of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. This vast, watery landscape is expected to be the ultimate multitasker—a major source of water for cities and farms, a critical aquatic ecosystem, and a center for recreation and tourism. No wonder it’s showing serious signs of stress.
At the Bay Delta Science Conference last week, experts gathered to present and discuss the science of the Delta’s many difficult challenges.
Speakers focused on ways to make this science more useful for policymakers, linking data and decisions to come up with science-based solutions, and using them as the foundation for stakeholders to find common ground over contentious issues.
Felicia Marcus, the chair of the State Water Board, said more could be done to ensure that decision makers are engaged by the science they’re presented with. For example, she said the policy process would be improved if scientists made their work more accessible and intelligible, and were less reluctant to make recommendations.
Striking a similar note, Phil Isenberg, former chair of the Delta Stewardship Council and a member of PPIC’s board of directors, called for making research actionable by focusing on solutions instead of just defining the problems. Multiple speakers noted that experts who work in teams that include both natural and social scientists are more successful at providing a path forward for policymakers because of their ability to address tradeoffs and find “win-win” scenarios.
Peter Moyle, one of the state’s top scientists on fisheries and the Delta (and a member of the PPIC Water Policy Center research network), said California needs to emphasize solutions that provide flexibility in management. An ecosystem-based plan of action brings such flexibility, which is one reason he recommends focusing restoration efforts on a specific “arc of habitat” in the north Delta.
The event also honored Jeffrey Mount, senior fellow at the PPIC Water Policy Center, who received the Brown-Nichols Award for his scientific contributions to improving the management of the Delta watershed. His decades of contributions go beyond his work here at PPIC. In addition to longstanding engagement in key policy discussions on Delta challenges and California water more generally, he is former chair of the Delta Science Board and a founder of the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis. While at UC Davis, he was also a coauthor on a number of Delta-focused PPIC reports, including Comparing Futures for the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta (2008), and Stress Relief: Prescriptions for a Healthier Delta Ecosystem (2013), which looks at ways to address multiple ecosystem stressors in the Delta while stressing the importance of considering the science, the institutions, the economics, and the law.
Ellen Hanak, director of the PPIC Water Policy Center, said, “This award serves as an example of Jeff’s ability to use science to improve decisions. The community of researchers, analysts, policymakers, and engaged citizens interested in the future of California water and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is fortunate that he has chosen to devote himself to these issues.”
Read California’s Water: The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (from the California’s Water briefing kit, October 2016)
Watch our short video on the Delta
Visit the PPIC Water Policy Center’s Delta resource page