Modesto farmer Bill Lyons resigns as Governor’s ag liaison

February 25, 2020
by Lois Henry
Lois Henry

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Bill Lyons resigned his post as agricultural liaison to Gov. Gavin Newsom effective immediately, according to an email from the Governor’s office Monday afternoon.

Lyons, a long time Modesto farmer, was touted as being the “voice of the valley” in the Newsom administration when he was appointed to the unique post almost exactly one year ago.

Lyons referred all questions about his resignation to the Governor’s office.

“I am grateful to Bill Lyons for his service to this administration—his institutional knowledge and agricultural experience were particularly helpful during my first year. I look forward to continuing to collaborate with him in the future and wish him well in his endeavors,” was Newsom’s statement about Lyons’ resignation.

There was no reason given for Lyons’ departure but it appears to have been more of a personal nature, than political.

It is unclear if Lyons will be replaced.

His resignation comes at a tumultuous time in California water.

Shortly before Lyons’ resignation, the Newsom administration announced it made good on a threat to sue the Trump administration for approval of new standards for water operations in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta that many environmental groups have said will kill off the estuary’s dwindling native fish populations.

Those operational standards are contained in biological opinions released by the Bureau of Reclamation last October and signed by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt last week just before a campaign-style rally where President Trump told a Bakersfield audience these “biops,” as their called, would bring a great deal of water back to Central Valley farmers.

Newsom had threatened to sue over the biops when they were released last fall, but held off for several months.

Speculation has been that Newsom didn’t pull the trigger on that lawsuit right away as his administration has been negotiating with several water districts over allowing more water from several Central Valley rivers to flow into the delta.

The State Water Resources Control Board had called for 40 percent of the unimpaired flows (that means the natural flow of the river had there not been dams, weirs and other diversions built) of several rivers including the  Merced, Tuolumne, Stanislaus, American, Yuba, Feather, Cosumnes and Mokelumne.

Newsom had hoped for a series of voluntary agreements from water users along those rivers that would increase flows and improve habitat for native fish.

But several of those water users, including the giant Fresno-based Westlands Water District, had threatened to cease negotiations if Newsom sued over the new federal biops.

The federal biops were signed last week with Newsom’s lawsuit coming soon after.

Agricultural water managers are now looking to see if the Governor maintains the ag liaison position, which was created for Lyons after Newsom declined to appoint him to the State Water Resources Control Board, as requested by Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

“I am sorry to see (Lyons) leave the administration and hope Governor Newsom replaces Mr. Lyons with someone with a comparable understanding of the valley,” wrote Tom Birmingham, General Manager of Westlands Water District.

Lyons owns Mapes Ranch a 3,500-acre cattle ranch and farm. He grows a variety of crops including almonds, tomatoes, grapes and beans. He has also been chief executive officer of Lyons Investments Management, LLC since 1976 and 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.

SJV Water is an independent, nonprofit news site dedicated to covering water in the San Joaquin Valley. Get inside access to SJV Water by becoming a member.

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