San Francisco wins; Delta smelt to be extinct


For the first time ever, a fish survey that the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) conducts every autumn turned up zero Delta smelt throughout the monitoring sites in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in September, October, November and December 2018. -- Bacher,, Feb. 5, 2019


San Francisco could not abide the State Water Resources Control Board's policy, advocated by its former chairwoman, Felicia Marcus, that the three largest tributary rivers to the San Joaquin River provide between 30 and 50 percent of unimpeded flows between February and June to the Delta. San Francisco's O'Shaughnessy Dam on the Tuolumne River at the lower end of the Hetch Hetchy Valley, has guaranteed the city some of the best water in the state since the 1930's along with the support of the other users of major portions of the water of that river.

It may not have taken more than a short letter from US Senator Dianne Feinstein to Master Gavin Newsom, our new governor (both former mayors of that city), to convince him to oust Marcus from the board. Feinstein's idea to replace Marcus with former secretary of the state Department of Food and Agriculture, Bill Lyons, Jr., is evidence that Feinstein is getting senile. However, it responds to a real problem Newsom has: he lost six of the eight San Joaquin counties, winning only San Joaquin and Merced.

Newsom finessed the problem of Lyons' mental incapacity to grasp water issues except in the simple slogans of the Modesto Irrigation District, on whose board he once sat, by appointing a former staffer of the former US Sen. Barbara Boxer, to the chair of the water board. Newsom's choice, Joaquin Esquivel, has extensive experience with California water policy in Sacramento and Washington. His background is more substantial than Lyons' background, which, except for the post he bought in the Gray Davis administration in return for raising $250,000 for the candidate, consists of numerous offices and prizes granted by the US Department of Agriculture from 4H up, which most people, even farmers, have never heard of.

But in a brilliant stroke guaranteed to appease the knuckleheads on every irrigation-district board in the north San Joaquin Valley, Newsom created a position for a Valley agricultural liaison to the governor's office, and appointed Bill Lyons' to the post. So Lyons gets paid $175,000 per year by the state to lobby the governor on ag issues.

Newsom's reward for this delicacy with public funds will be to listen to incoherent ag-babble from time to time. But it won't help him politically in the Valley; our farmers are used to much, much larger bribes that the starting salary of one incompetent lobbyist.

Utterly lost in this elegant San Francisco political quadrille is the fate of the Delta smelt, which may not even survive Mme.. Senator Feinstein. -- blj




Modesto Bee

Felicia Marcus removed from State Water Board. ‘It was time for a change.’

Ken Carlson

Felicia Marcus, whose push for larger river flows angered farmers and community leaders in the Northern San Joaquin Valley, won’t continue as chairwoman of the State Water Resources Control Board.

Gov. Gavin Newsom named Joaquin Esquivel as chairman of the powerful water regulatory board. In his first State of the State Address, Newsom said Tuesday that Esquivel would bring balance to state water policy. His appointment is considered a positive sign for voluntary settlement agreements that are less onerous for water agencies like the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts.

In December, the water board approved a Bay-Delta plan requiring 30 to 50 percent of unimpaired flows February through June in the Tuolumne, Stanislaus and Merced rivers to improve the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and boost salmon populations. Newsom and former Gov. Jerry Brown have leaned toward settlement agreements to find creative ways to improve the ecosystem; ongoing settlement talks with water districts are expected to continue until March.

“With the change in the board, we’re hopeful we’ll see movement to more flexibility in meeting our water supply and ecosystem needs,” said Mike Wade of Modesto, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition.

Laurel Firestone, co-founder of the Community Water Center, was appointed as the replacement for Marcus, whose term expired Jan. 15. Firestone’s appointment is consistent with Newsom’s push for clean drinking water for communities. It’s estimated a million people in California live without it.

Firestone has been an advocate for addressing wells contaminated with nitrates.

During the sometimes testy hearings on the Bay-Delta plan last fall, valley leaders gave credit to Esquivel for visiting communities that would be affected by the water board plan. MID, TID and local agencies in Stanislaus County fiercely opposed the flow requirements, saying the plan would cut water deliveries to farmers and undermine the sound management of reservoirs in drought years.

“Joaquin took time to come and tour and has expressed willingness to listen,” Stanislaus County Supervisor Kristin Olsen tweeted Tuesday.

Supervisor Vito Chiesa said he liked Marcus personally, but “It was time for a change. There were so many hurt feelings in the valley and a sense she had lost some credibility with the water districts.”

Esquivel and fellow water board member Sean Maguire have expressed openness to agreements using a variety of measures to restore salmon in the rivers. Board member Dorene D’Adamo of Turlock voted against the Dec. 12 water board decision and also has favored voluntary settlements.

Speaking at a Rotary meeting in Modesto on Tuesday, D’Adamo noted that Newsom talked about a “portfolio” approach to water solutions in California. She said conservation and additional storage by themselves won’t solve the state’s water challenges; a solution is going to take a combination of storage, conservation and recycling.

In another appointment announced Tuesday, William Lyons of Modesto will work for the new governor as an agricultural liaison, focused on farm and water policy. Lyons, 68, is a former secretary of the state Department of Food and Agriculture. The position pays $175,000 a year.

Lenny Mendonca, co-owner of Half Moon Bay Brewing Co., and a former Turlock resident, was appointed chief economic and business advisor and director of the governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development. Mendonca, who holds a master’s degree in business administration from Stanford University, also was appointed to the High-Speed Rail Authority.


E. Joaquin Esquivel, Chair

E. Joaquin Esquivel was appointed to the State Water Resources Control Board by Governor Jerry Brown in March 2017 and designated by Governor Gavin Newsom as Chair in February 2019. Previously, he served as Assistant Secretary for federal water policy at the California Natural Resources Agency in the Governor’s Washington, D.C. office, where he facilitated the development of policy priorities between the agency, the Governor’s Office, the California Congressional delegation, and federal stakeholder agencies.

For more than eight years prior to that he worked for U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer of California, most recently as her legislative assistant covering the agriculture, Native American, water, oceans, and nutrition portfolios, in addition to being the director of information and technology.

He was born and raised in California’s Coachella Valley. He holds a BA from the University of California, Santa Barbara in English.

Laurel Firestone, 40, of Sacramento, has been appointed to the State Water Resources Control Board. Firestone has been co-founder and co-director of the Community Water Center since 2006. She previously served as the director of the Rural Poverty Water Project at the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment from 2004 to 2006. She served on the Tulare County Water Commission from 2007 to 2012, and co‐chaired the Governor’s Drinking Water Stakeholder Group from 2012 to 2014. She earned a Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School. This position requires Senate confirmation and the compensation is $153,689. Firestone is a Democrat

... William Lyons, 68, of Modesto, has been appointed Agriculture Liaison in the Office of the Governor. Lyons has been chief executive officer of Lyons Investments Management, LLC since 1976. He previously served as Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture from 1999 to 2004. Lyons was selected as the western regional finalist for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation 2010 Conservationist of the Year Award and received the United States Department of Agriculture National Environmentalist Award. He has an extensive background in agriculture and water policy. This position does not require Senate confirmation and the compensation is $175,008. Lyons is a Democrat. -- Office of Govrnor Gavin Newsom, Feb. 12, 2918

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The Foundation’s efforts focus on five conservation priorities: (1) restore and protect imperiled species, (2) promote healthy oceans and estuaries, (3) improve working landscapes to the benefit of landowners and wildlife, (4) advance sustainable fisheries and (5) restore water for wildlife in balance with community needs. --  US Fish & Wildlife Foundation, Wikipedia

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A letter from U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein could have helped lead to Felicia Marcus’s ouster as State Water Resources Control Board chair last week.

  • Surprised? Don’t be: The moderate Democratic senator has a long alliance with Central Valley ag.

Marcus inflamed agriculture and Bay Area water users by proposing more water from the San Joaquin River watershed go to environmental needs such as bolstering the salmon population. Gov. Gavin Newsom had to decide whether to keep the otherwise highly regarded Jerry Brown appointee.

  • On Jan. 31, Feinstein wrote asking Newsom to appoint Bill Lyons, a Modesto farmer, to the post Marcus held. Feinstein’s letter, which doesn’t name Marcus, cites Lyons’ knowledge of “environmental restoration and agriculture innovation”:

“This unique background makes him perfectly qualified to guide the board through its present serious challenge of restoring California’s imperiled fisheries while maintaining the confidence of our world-leading agriculture industry.”

In 2016, Lyons called the water board’s allocation plan “a takings” of property without compensation and was quoted as saying because of it, the board had “lost the trust of an entire region.”

  • Citing a need to restore “balance,” Newsom named Joaquin Esquivel, former aide to U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, as water board chairman. He also appointed Lyons as his “agriculture liaison,” a new position at an annual salary of $175,008. Lyons, 68, was Gov. Gray Davis’ agriculture secretary from 1999-2004.

The shakeup suggests Newsom is resetting the years-long process to reallocate water from the San Joaquin River watershed. That includes rights held by San Francisco, where he and Feinstein were mayors. -- Dan Morain, CALMatters, Feb. 19l, 2019

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Lyons is well-known in Modesto, where he is CEO of Mape’s Ranch (which specializes in cattle and various crops) and Lyons’ Investments (a land development company with interests throughout the San Joaquin Valley). He was a member of the Modesto Irrigation District board of directors (1984-93), ran for county supervisor (2010) and has served on community boards ranging from Little League baseball to Haven’s Women’s Center to the Howard Training Center to Salvation Army to the Gallo Center for the Arts. --Staff, Modesto Bee, Feb.Staff, Modesto Bee, Feb.0, 2019