That’s one key takeaway from a review of environmental management and the use of science during the 2012-2016 drought commissioned by the Delta Science Program and published in the June 2020 issue of San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science. “There are lots of mysteries about how to manage water to benefit species, agriculture, upstream and downstream users. I think science is going to be the best solution,” says lead author John Durand of UC Davis’ Center for Watershed Science. Durand and his team based their review on available reports and data, as well as discussions with agency staff, stakeholders and researchers. They focused on water management actions during the drought through the lens of four priorities identified by water managers: public health and safety, saltwater intrusion control, preservation of cold water in Shasta Reservoir, and protections for endangered species. “We’re really in sort of a brave new world of droughts,” says Durand, noting that water managers face new challenges as climate change creates more weather extremes. Durand believes that broad, ecosystem-level experiments that include predictions about, and monitoring the effects of, water releases from reservoirs, can provide needed guidance to water managers. He says his team’s research revealed a surprising—and disturbing—lack of data transparency and organization, in spite of recent legislative mandates. “Certainly with the Interagency Ecological Program there’s been a huge push for data transparency, but there are still gaps in other areas,” he says. “The inability to get data about water management decisions in particular generates a lot of controversy.” Furthermore, he says, agencies generate “really important, invaluable reports that appear and disappear with wild abandon across the Internet. So as far as I can tell, there is no real way to archive for posterity the sorts of reports that are generated before, during and after a major event like the drought, which makes it really hard to learn from history.”

Pearls in the ocean of information that our reporters didn’t want you to miss
Image courtesy of NOAA
 

Better scientific preparation could help Delta water and environmental managers respond to droughts more effectively.

That’s one key takeaway from a review of environmental management and the use of science during the 2012-2016 drought commissioned by the Delta Science Program and published in the June 2020 issue of San Francisco Estuary and Watershed Science. “There are lots of mysteries about how to manage water to benefit species, agriculture, upstream and downstream users. I think science is going to be the best solution,” says lead author John Durand of UC Davis’ Center for Watershed Science. Durand and his team based their review on available reports and data, as well as discussions with agency staff, stakeholders and researchers. They focused on water management actions during the drought through the lens of four priorities identified by water managers: public health and safety, saltwater intrusion control, preservation of cold water in Shasta Reservoir, and protections for endangered species. “We're really in sort of a brave new world of droughts,” says Durand, noting that water managers face new challenges as climate change creates more weather extremes. Durand believes that broad, ecosystem-level experiments that include predictions about, and monitoring the effects of, water releases from reservoirs, can provide needed guidance to water managers. He says his team’s research revealed a surprising—and disturbing—lack of data transparency and organization, in spite of recent legislative mandates. “Certainly with the Interagency Ecological Program there's been a huge push for data transparency, but there are still gaps in other areas,” he says. "The inability to get data about water management decisions in particular generates a lot of controversy.” Furthermore, he says, agencies generate “really important, invaluable reports that appear and disappear with wild abandon across the Internet. So as far as I can tell, there is no real way to archive for posterity the sorts of reports that are generated before, during and after a major event like the drought, which makes it really hard to learn from history.”

About the author

Cariad Hayes Thronson covers legal and political issues for Estuary News. She has served on the staffs of several national publications, including The American Lawyer. She is a long-time contributor to Estuary News, and some years ago served as its assistant editor. She lives in San Mateo with her husband and two children.

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