California Bay-Delta Authority Issues Review Panel Report On Proposed Water Project Changes

On Jan. 6, the California Bay-Delta Authority announced that it released an independent review of the scientific information used by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) to assess the impacts of proposed changes in federal and state water project operations. The review found that the scientific information that was used was not the best available.

The review was undertaken at the request of NOAA Fisheries and examined the scientific data and approach used by NOAA Fisheries to prepare a Biological Opinion (BO) that addressed a proposal by the US Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) and the state Department of Water Resources (DWR). That proposal, known as the Operations Criteria and Plan (OCAP) covered future operations and closer coordination of the federal Central Valley Project and the State Water Project, both of which impound and store water in the Central Valley and pump water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

California Bay-Delta Authority staff recruited the panel and facilitated the review, but did not participate in developing or critiquing the panel's conclusions. The panel members unanimously concluded that the scientific information used in the BO was not the best available. The report identifies the reasons for this conclusion and specific suggestions for improvements. The panel also recognized the complexity of the issues involved and the rather short timeline NOAA Fisheries had to prepare the BO.

NOAA Fisheries ignored the potential effects of climate change in their analyses in the BO, and NOAA Fisheries used a temperature-mortality model that does not produce credible estimates of temperature-induced mortality, according to the report. Other important factors, such as variable ocean conditions or the risks associated with hatchery-released fish, are described in parts of the BO, but how these factors were related to the conclusions regarding jeopardy were unclear to the panel.

The panel identified three overarching issues, which if addressed, would improve the presentation of the analyses in the BO. Specifically, the BO would have benefited:

1. From a clearly articulated conceptual model.

2. From an analytical framework (based on the conceptual model) for the various data analyses, statistical models, and analytical tools that were used.

3. By placing its analyses in the context of an explicitly defined life cycle approach.

The BO was issued on Oct. 22, 2004. The BO assessed the impacts of changes in operations of the CVP and SWP on listed Chinook salmon and steelhead in the Sacramento River, and coho salmon in the Trinity River system.

A subsequent audit by the U.S. Department of Commerce Office of the Inspector General recommended that NOAA Fisheries undertake an objective evaluation of the scientific integrity of the BO, which led NOAA Fisheries to ask the California Bay-Delta Authority (CBDA) last July to conduct the review.

Additional information on the report can be accessed at http://science.calwater.ca.gov/workshop/workshop_ocap.shtml.

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/2006 issue of Environmental Protection.

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