National Research Council Committee Issues Final Bay-Delta Report

The National Research Council's Committee on Sustainable Water and Environmental Management in the California Bay-Delta issued its final report (pdf) entitled Sustainable Water and Environmental Management in the California Bay-Delta.  The report is 220 pages and includes five chapters as well as a number of appendix.  The National Research Council established the Committee at the request of Congress and the Departments of the Interior and Commerce.  The task statement for this final report was as follows:

  • Identify the factors that may be contributing to the decline of federally listed species and, as appropriate, other significant at-risk species in the Delta. To the extent practicable, rank the factors contributing to the decline of salmon, steelhead, delta smelt, and green sturgeon in order of their likely impact on the survival and recovery of the species, for the purpose of informing future conservation actions.
  • Identify future water-supply and delivery options that reflect proper consideration of climate change and compatibility with objectives of maintaining a sustainable Bay-Delta ecosystem.
  • Identify gaps in available scientific information and uncertainties that constrain an ability to identify the factors described above.
  • Advise, based on scientific information and experience elsewhere, what degree of restoration of the Delta system is likely to be attainable, given adequate resources. Identify metrics that can be used by resource managers to measure progress toward restoration goals.

The report includes chapters on the subjects of (i) water scarcity and water planning, (ii) stressors on the Bay-Delta ecosystem and its components, (iii) environmental change in the Bay-Delta with a focus on climate change, and (iv) constraints and opportunities with a focus on preconditions for successful resource  management in the Bay-Delta including institutional reform.

Among other things, the Committee finds that many stressors contribute to the current status of the ecosystem and at-risk species of the Bay-Delta, there is a dearth of tools and data to accurately assess and rank these stressors, and there is a failure to acknowledge the fact that there is insufficient water to meet all desired uses in California all of the time.  The Committee opines that fragmented governance is a major challenge that requires institutional reform and that greater collaboration among scientists from different backgrounds and with different funding sources would be beneficial.  A number of news outlets covered the release of the report; most focused on the Committee's inability to rank stressors and propose solutions.  "If there's a silver bullet to solve the environmental problems in the Delta, some of the nation's brightest minds can't find it," reported Mike Taugher in the Oakland Tribune (March 29, 2012).

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