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Linking the science needs of water issues with policy; examples from the CALFED Bay-Delta Program

Linking the science needs of water issues with policy; examples from the CALFED Bay-Delta Program

Abstracts with Programs - Geological Society of America 37(7): 391

Dialogue between environmental scientists and policy makers is often characterized by advocacy, or unclear goals. Yet, the credibility of science and scientists is influenced by the nature of the discourse, as much as the content. The CALFED Bay-Delta program is a controversial multi-stakeholder attempt to re-design how 60% of California's water is managed, and restore ecosystems over 40% of the state. The program mandates a Lead Scientist, a science program and an Independent Science Board. Scientific goals are to explain and reduce uncertainties challenging restoration and water management; and develop collaborations among agencies, academics and stakeholders. Less explicit goals include improving the credibility of science in this contentious atmosphere, and informing policy dialogue while minimizing aggravation to existing political differences. The approaches to communicating science can facilitate accomplishing these goals. Science is usually communicated via a "trickle down" approach, wherein managers are left to sort relevant information from discussions of scientific detail. At CALFED this approach was accompanied by forums and program reviews that directly incorporated relevant contributions from different disciplines, directed at an issue. The agendas of the events were constructed to minimize advocacy debate. Similarly, scientists were explicitly asked not to recommend policy, or vote on the success of a policy or program. The science role was an on-going, policy-neutral dialogue that continually updated an advancing state of knowledge. Frustration was common with the slow pace of science and the reluctance to dictate policy (thereby taking agencies off the "hot seat"). But the active, policy-neutral dialogue also provided a forum that kept disparate parties communicating about new ideas. Some political leaders cited it as "smoothing contentious waters". Acceleration of new scientific understanding, accompanied by active communication, influenced decisions on species listings, resulted in unanticipated schemes for managing water, and helped reduce support for unworkable proposals. Rarely were scientific contributions cited as the cause of change, but the effort retained an overall credibility that reflected its essential contributions.

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