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California Colloquium on Water - Christina Swanson

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Published on Sep 14, 2009

California Water and Fisheries as a Living Laboratory for Adaptive Management: A Big Picture Perspective from a Scientist Advocate

Christina Swanson, Director, The Bay Institute

Abstract: As we enter the 21st century, California faces new challenges for management of its water and fisheries resources. Most of the scientific, resource management, legal and political attention to these issues focuses on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the crossroads linking Californias largest watershed, the west coasts largest estuary, and one of the worlds largest and most complex water management systems. If you take a big picture and expansive view of it, the Delta we have today is the result of decades of "adaptive management". Unfortunately, the current status of water resource management and our fisheries in the Delta and its watershed indicates that further adjustments are needed.

For improved adaptive management of this critically important confluence of water resources and aquatic ecosystems, I suggest five key questions that must form the foundation for developing, implementing and evaluating the plan. First, we need start with clear understanding of "what have we got?" For example, adaptive management of water resources should start with fact-based and accurate evaluation of supply, intra- and inter-annual variability attributable to uncontrolled (i.e., non-managed) factors, the current level of exploitation and/or management, and science-based projections on changes to those parameters in the future. Second, we need to decide and agree on "what do we want?" Management goals should be based on both scientific understanding of what is necessary for sustainability, consider societal needs and objectives, and be very clearly articulated. The next question, "what factors affect the things that we want?" requires scientific understanding of the key physical and biological drivers, both controlled and uncontrolled, that influence the desired management outcomes we have identified. After implementation of management actions, the first evaluation of monitoring data should be to ask "have we changed the system?" For example, has a management action designed to improve flow conditions actually done so? And finally, we need to answer the question "are we there yet" using quantitative indicators or performance measures that are clearly linked to management goal. In this presentation, I will discuss and provide some recent examples of how these questions have (or have not) been addressed in the past and ongoing planning and management efforts.

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