At the Delta Independent Science Board’s May 4, 2021 meeting, the board members will discuss potentially restructuring thr Delta Independent Science Board’s scientific reviews. Due to a lack of funding for board members to do the scientific reviews themselves, the board is considering changing the structure of reviews to rely more on staff.
As mandated by the Delta Reform Act, the Delta Independent Science Board is a standing board of 10 nationally or internationally prominent scientists “with appropriate expertise to evaluate the broad range of scientific programs that support adaptive management of the Delta.” The board is mandated to “provide oversight of the scientific research, monitoring, and assessment programs that support adaptive management of the Delta through periodic reviews of each of those programs that shall be scheduled to ensure that all Delta scientific research, monitoring, and assessment programs are reviewed at least once every four years.” (Water Code section 85280(a)(3).)
In fall of 2020, the Delta Stewardship Council changed the compensation of Delta ISB members to a per diem salary of $100 per day. Delta ISB members were previously compensated by contracts which paid typical academic consulting rates, so this was a major loss of funding.
Since that time, meeting notices by the Delta ISB have stated that the agenda and activities of the Delta ISB have been curtailed to a much lower level, and that “[s]ubstantial delays in many of the Delta ISB’s anticipated and legislatively mandated reviews, products, and activities are expected.”
The proposal for new approaches to reviews is here. It states:
New Possible Approaches
Agency science program reviews (A normal agency practice, where every major program is reviewed every four years). This will include State agencies (Department of Water Resources, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, State Water Resources Control Board, Delta Stewardship Council, etc.), and Federal agencies (United States Bureau of Reclamation, United State Geological Survey, Fish and Wildlife Service, Environmental Protection Agency, etc.)? The Delta ISB can review a certain number of agencies each year with a standard template. Approach can be less-time intensive for Delta ISB members if significantly more staff time is used to gather documents, arrange panel presentations, organize interviews, administer a standard questionnaire, etc. Approach would be to ask agencies for their science goals and plans and review the science and make recommendations. An advantage of this approach is that it uses well-established protocols and the audience is clearly defined.
Problem-focused reviews (hydrodynamics and water quality modeling, sea level rise, review of agency science review processes, etc.)
Other types of reviews?
Mix of types
A major concern about the new approaches is that the Delta ISB currently has no staff that report directly to the board. A December 2020 request by the Delta ISB Chair to the Delta Stewardship Council for senior staff for the Delta ISB was refused.
The Delta Reform Act mandates that the Delta ISB members “shall not be directly affiliated with a program or agency subject to the review activities of the Delta Independent Science Board.” This should apply to staff who assist the Delta ISB with reviews as well.
The Delta Reform Act created the Delta ISB not only to exercise oversight of the Delta Science Program, but also to ensure that the Delta Science Program provides “the best possible unbiased scientific information to inform water and environmental decisionmaking in the Delta.” The reviews by the Delta ISB should continue to be independent of the Delta Stewardship Council’s collaborative Delta Science Program.