DWR Presents New eDNA Strategy in Washington D.C. to Help Improve Water Management


DWR senior environmental scientist Sarah Brown standing next to the banner for her workshop on Marine eDNA in Washington D.C.

DWR senior environmental scientist Sarah Brown standing next to the banner for her Workshop on Marine eDNA in Washington D.C.

One of the primary goals of the Department of Water Resources (DWR) is to use the newest and best available science for water management. DWR also pioneers that science, as shown recently in an article about “Using Genetic Identification to Find Spring-run Salmon and More.” Earlier this month, DWR senior environmental scientist Sarah Brown was invited to Washington D.C. to participate in the 3rd National Workshop on Marine eDNA and to present DWR’s new eDNA Strategy.

Environmental DNA, or eDNA, is the DNA that animals and plants leave behind as they pass through their environment. New genetic tools are allowing scientists to take basic water samples and scan it for DNA of specific species. The power of these new tools to rapidly obtain comprehensive information about biological communities in our fresh and marine waters is opening exciting new doors for natural resource management.

DWR released its eDNA Strategy earlier this year. The new strategy will harmonize with the National Aquatic eDNA Strategy, which was released by the White House at this month’s workshop. Both strategies emphasize development of best practices for using eDNA information in decision-making and the importance of adopting new technologies in a manner that honors the importance of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility for scientists and the public.

“After researching this developing technology for so long, it is exciting to see it emerge on a national level and finally advance to the level of use for important management applications,” said Sarah Brown while reflecting on the national workshop.

In her presentation, Brown described two pilot studies where DWR is already developing eDNA approaches to detect 1) Delta and Longfin smelt larvae near the water export pumps in the South Delta, and 2) Invasive nutria in marshes. eDNA is helpful in these scenarios because these species are hard to find, but if their DNA is detected in the environment then scientists know they were there. This data gives scientists confirmation of where species are, which is important knowledge for species recovery, management, or (in the case of nuisance species) eradication.

“I am thrilled to be a part of a team and a department that has the foresight to utilize innovative tools such as eDNA,” said Brown.

eDNA presents exciting possibilities for efficient, cheaper, and powerful advancements in biological monitoring. The release of the DWR and National Strategies sets the stage for coordination among scientists and managers for its use in decision-making. DWR will be working with federal agencies and other partners to develop implementation plans to move National eDNA Strategy goals forward.

DWR is proud to advance the newest and best available technology, like eDNA, to improve water management not only in California, but also the rest of the country. To see the eDNA team in action, check out this video that was made for International Women & Girls in Science Day.