The National Research Council aims to improve government decision making and public policy, increase public understanding, and promote the acquisition and dissemination of knowledge in matters involving science, engineering, technology, and health.
NRC has done extensive research on the Delta resulting in the following reports:
Sustainable Water and Environmental Management in the California Bay-Delta
The National Research Council’s Committee on Sustainable Water and Environmental Management in the California Bay-Delta released its second and final report in 2012.
The main points of the report are as follows:
- Society is reluctant to confront a number of crucial facts, including the facts that: water is scarce; many environmental changes have occurred in the Delta; governments are pursuing independent and conflicting objectives; and there is inherent uncertainty linked to an inability to accomplish comprehensive planning.
- Water scarcity and uncertainty regarding the implementation of the co-equal goals of water supply reliability and ecosystem protection in the Delta are going to continue to be a major challenge, and as such, the authors propose a set of principles for water planning:
- Recognize that not all uses of water are always compatible with each other.
- Provide better definition of competing uses; and acknowledge, specify, and account for trade-offs in planning and decision making.
- Modify practices that do not reflect the scarcity value of water.
Enforce California’s constitutional prohibition against non-beneficial, unreasonable, and wasteful water use.
- Protect values recognized under the public trust doctrine.
- Practice water conservation.
- Improve groundwater monitoring and regulation in all sectors.
- Consider using water markets to address scarcity.
- The report acknowledges that there is a suite of stressors affecting species and processes in the ecosystem in complex and interactive ways: “Only a synthetic, integrated, analytical approach to understanding the effects of suites of environmental factors on the ecosystem and its components is likely to provide important and useful insights that can lead to enhancement of the Delta ecosystem and its species.”
- The authors fail to engage in any ranking or prioritization of stressors because of the difficulty of doing so; this is similar to the response of the Delta Stewardship Council Independent Science Board when it was asked by the State Legislature to rank Delta stressors.
- With respect to Chinook salmon steelhead, the authors conclude that “[a]ltering pump operations or providing an alternative water conveyance system will do little to offset the dramatic effects of habitat loss and deficiencies in existing population structure,” identifying the loss of 80 percent of historical habitat as a fundamental constraint on the species.
- With respect to the decline of delta smelt, the authors conclude that “[a]ll of the analyses agree that water temperature, summer-fall habitat related to salinity and water clarity, and food are important, and there is some evidence for the importance of entrainment and predators.” Notably, the authors repeatedly emphasize the fact that multiple stressors have contributed to the current status of delta smelt and thereby reject the simplistic belief that entrainment is to blame.
- Climate change and levee failure pose significant challenges in the Delta and human-induced changes to the Bay-Delta to date will not allow the return to historical conditions: “Resource managers dealing with the Delta will need to determine the degree of ‘restoration’ achievable through intervention and adaptation. There is agreement that the Delta as it existed before large-scale alteration by humans cannot be recreated.” Therefore, the authors focus on guiding the ecosystem toward desirable states, as opposed to large-scale restoration to some past condition.
- Fragmented governance is a major challenge to addressing the ecosystem and water supply issues in the Delta. To be effective, planning must also encompass upstream watersheds.
- Institutional reform should be implemented as a facet of the overall effort to address water and environmental management in the Delta. The authors contend that water management in the Delta has been reactive and singular rather than proactive and comprehensive, which is a fair criticism of past efforts, although the Bay Delta Conservation Plan is clearly an attempt to be more proactive and comprehensive in order to address the Delta’s challenges.
- Unfortunately, there is a failure in the report to identify the federal and state governments as the entities with principle responsibility for the current state of affairs. The federal government, in particular, has, through its conduct, eroded trust by creating barriers to collaboration to address the Delta’s challenges.
Full report available here
A Scientific Assessment of Alternatives for Reducing Water Management Effects on Threatened and Endangered Fishes in California’s Bay Delta
In 2010, the NRC examined the issue of the delicate balance between the Delta’s role in conveying water south and providing a unique habitat for fish and wildlife, to conclude that most of the actions proposed by two federal agencies to protect endangered and threatened fish species through water diversions in the California Bay-Delta are “scientifically justified.” But less well-supported by scientific analyses is the basis for the specific environmental triggers that would indicate when to reduce the water diversions required by the actions.
NRC completed a comprehensive review of the previous BDCP plan. The plan is now referred to as the California WaterFix and California EcoRestore.
For more information please visit our California WaterFix & EcoRestore page.