"The program gave me a close-up view of political, business and social issues and trends, information that is invaluable to me as an entrepreneur and active participant in the success of our great state. The speakers were incredible� they inspired us and stretched our minds. The opportunity to connect with successful and dynamic California women leaders was a main highlight. Being part of Leadership California is like being part of a powerful sisterhood."

—Ursula C. Mentjes, M.S., ACC
President and Certified Business Coach
Potential Quest, Inc.
"I have enjoyed my involvement with Leadership California. Our trip to the state capitol was most enlightening. As a result I have gotten involved with the Los Angeles African American Women's Political Action Committee. Thank you, Leadership California, for sparking a genuine interest in the political process."

—Shawn Farrar
Director Corporate Diversity
Sempra Energy
"The CIT program brings together successful women from all over California, and gives them the opportunity to build a network with other successful women. It's a way to learn about the important issues in our state, and to get ready to take the next step in your professional life."

—Isela Vilchis Hoenigmann
"Leadership California has provided me a panoramic view of issues, challenges and opportunities for this lovely state that I live in. The program was my introduction to women of unbelievable talent, experience and passion who are set to make a difference. The feeling to want to be more, to accomplish more, is simply contagious. I hope to know these women for the rest of my life."

—Rosario Montes-Arena
Manager, IBM Software Executive Briefing Program
Silicon Valley & Worldwide Briefing Program
"As a young immigrant woman working in the nonprofit sector, it was inspiring to see women leaders in action, to be able to network with them, and talk about the issues that are relevant to our communities and our state. I feel honored and privileged for the opportunity to participate in such an awesome program that weaves women leaders from different sectors and geographies of California to engage in a conversation about the social, political, and economic fabric of California."

—Winnie Hui-Min Yu
Development Associate
Asian Law Caucus
San Francisco
"I've spent half of my work life in the corporate world, and the past ten years in the nonprofit world, but neither taught me how to be who I am at work�the whole pastiche of talent and spirit. I found role models who excited me, the true state of our state of California (which frustrated me), work partners continually learning like me, and friends."

—Peta G. Penson, Ed. D.
Oakland Unified School District
"Leadership California sessions feature influential speakers and lively discussion on timely issues shaping the economy and workforce. The session on work-life balance struck a chord with me, where key leaders advised us to map out a personal career plan. Networking with other women was invaluable. Leadership California is an engaging and downright fun experience."

—Roberta Tinajero-Frankel
Kaiser Permanente Community Benefit Dept.
Healthy Eating, Active Living Project Manager
"Simply put, Leadership California is time well spent that will benefit me personally and professionally for years to come. I've not only kept in contact with my fellow classmates on a social level, but have had opportunities to work with some of them on business projects as our professional paths crossed. The sessions gave in-depth looks at the critical social issues that many Californians face, inspiring me to get more involved in my community�s outreach programs."

—Teena Massingill
Manager of Corporate Public Affairs
Safeway Inc.








Monday, May 2, 2016
2016 Legacy of Service Award        

PRECIOUS COMMODITY – On issues from the drought to water rights, Felicia Marcus sees her role as building bridges between bureaucracy and the lives of real people. She works with policy makers and communities on California’s most precious commodity: water. She will be honored with a Legacy of Service Award at Leadership California's Legacy of Leadership celebration on May 2, 2016 in San Francisco.

FELICIA MARCUS was appointed by Governor Jerry Brown to the State Water Resources Control Board in 2012 and became Chair in 2013. The Board implements laws on drinking water, water quality and water rights; sets statewide water policy; hears appeals of local regional board water quality decisions; decides water rights disputes; and provides financial assistance to communities to upgrade water infrastructure.

Felicia has held leadership positions in government, the non-profit world, and the private sector. She was regional administrator of the U.S. EPA Region IX in the Clinton Administration, where she worked to bring unlikely allies together for environmental progress and to make the agency more responsive to the communities it serves, particularly Indian Tribes, communities of color, local government, and agricultural and business interests. While at USEPA, Felicia worked on environmental issues including air quality, Bay-Delta water, tribal, and US-Mexico border issues. Prior to that, Felicia headed Los Angeles’ Department of Public Works, garnering national awards for environmental excellence for the agency. Felicia was also a public interest lawyer and community organizer, and was a co-founder and general counsel for Heal the Bay.

In the non-profit world, Felicia was the Western Director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. Prior to that, she was the Executive VP/COO of the Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national non-profit devoted to conserving land for people. She has served on many non-profit boards and advisory councils and is an Obama Administration appointee to the Commission on Environmental Cooperation-Joint Public Advisory Council (U.S., Mexico, Canada).


Chair, State Water Resources Control Board

Felicia Marcus: Water Decision-Maker Brings all Sides to the Table

by Carol Caley
March 3, 2016

Q: The California drought now affects day-to-day decisions of every Californian, from how we care for our gardens and cars, to how we take a shower. We’ve seen increased danger of fires and diminished opportunities for recreation—less snow for skiers, smaller lakes for boaters. We know there’s diminished habitat for animals, and growing water quality issues. It’s becoming a crisis. You hold the lead role on a pivotal board that is responsible for water decision-making that’s crucial to all of us. Talk to us about the drought and what it means right now.

A: CALIFORNIA HAS THE MOST VARIABLE HYDROLOGY in the country, with extreme swings between dry years and wet. It hasn’t been this extreme since we’ve been keeping records—about 120 years or so. We tend to have a three-year drought cycle—that is, three relatively dry years, punctuated with rainy years. This time we didn’t. Last year we ended up with the worst snow pack in 500 years.

MOST PEOPLE DON'T UNDERSTAND the drought. The majority of people in California live in large urban centers on the coast. Their water comes from hundreds of miles away. They don’t know where it comes from. They just assume that it will come out of the tap, and that it’s going to be clean, safe and affordable. Conversely, in our small rural communities here—and in most places in the world—people know where their water comes from and they don’t take for granted that it will come out the tap or be safe if it does.

OUR DROUGHT IS A COMBINATION of lack of precipitation, coupled with heat and lack of snow. We’ve got over half a million acres of fields fallowed, groundwater basins dropping precipitously, fish and wildlife being decimated. We actually have small rural communities that have run out of water and the state and local agencies are delivering water in bottles and tankers, and we’re running pipe and drilling wells.

Q: I’ve seen withered orchards in Paso Robles, where so much water has been pumped from their aquifer, there is no longer enough to go around.

A: IT'S HAPPENING all over the state. People don’t necessarily see it, but groundwater’s role is significant. In some places, we’ve had neighbor-versus-neighbor impacts. Paso is one of the places where we’ve engaged the community to come together on how much everyone can pump, and how they’re going to get more water back into the ground, in order to have a sustainable groundwater system.  That started before the drought as new wells went in to support vineyards, in some cases being deeper and stronger than the pre-existing wells.

THIS DROUGHT CYCLE is alarming. Everybody keeps thinking, it’ll rain next year since it’s been three, now four years—because it always does. But in fact, it always doesn’t. If we look at geophysical evidence, we’ve had 40-year droughts, 400-year droughts, and even much longer droughts.

AUSTRALIA HAS HAD THE SAME 3-year drought cycle for the past 120 years that we did. Then they went through a ten-or-twelve year drought, called the Millennial Drought, in the mid 1990s to mid 2000s. They let it get away from them in the first six years, hoping it was going to rain. Then, they were forced to employ every measure at once: infrastructure building, conservation, storm water capture, recycling, and even building a fleet of desalination plants. It cost billions, and there was tremendous social and economic dislocation. Then it did start raining—because eventually it will—and they haven’t even used most of those expensive desalination plants though they have continued to have to pay for them.

Q: Those same measures—conservation, recycling, water capture, desalination—look like what we Californians have to do right now.

A: ALL OF THAT AND MORE. Before the drought actually hit, we came out with our Water Action Plan, which is all about the long term, what to do to build a sustainable water future.

UNDER CLIMATE CHANGE SCENARIOS, California is going to lose our snow pack in two, three, or four decades. With even a few degrees of warming, more precipitation will fall as rain rather than snow. We’ll have more flooding in the spring, and snowpack to melt out slowly in the spring and summer, refilling reservoirs and replenishing streamflow. Our snow pack is currently one-third of the storage system for the state. The conflicts we’re having now will seem like a picnic in the future if we don’t act now. So we laid out a comprehensive all-of-the-above strategy:

  • Conservation, first and foremost—the cheapest, easiest way to extend our water resources
  • Recycling
  • Storm water capture
  • Desalination in appropriate circumstances
  • Building all kinds of new storage capacity—above ground and below
  • Managing our groundwater basins for storage in wet years and to draw on in dry years

GROUNDWATER BASINS ARE KEY: they capture water in wet years to use in dry years, and are sizeable enough to approximate the size of our snow pack. We need to carefully watch over our groundwater supplies to prepare for the next drought. So we pushed for historic groundwater management legislation, which passed in 2014.

The conflicts we’re having now will seem like a picnic in the future if we don’t act now.  

Q: Predictions about an El Niño in 2016 so far haven’t panned out. What’s up with the climatologists on that one? What should we know, and what do you see as your role in leading our communities to better understanding of the drought, climate change and policy making on both?

A: WHEN YOU'RE TALKING about weather—I keep thinking, there must be people in Las Vegas laying odds on it—because you really can’t predict it. I’ve learned more about it in the past couple of years than I ever thought possible. At best, experts can predict only a week to 10 days out.

AS TO AN EL NIÑO, we haven’t had that many massive ones to measure. In these hundred or so years of recorded weather, it’s 50-50 on whether there’s going to be one that actually brings a lot of precipitation or not. The strongest predictions were that we would end up with a lot of rain in Southern California, and that everything would be really warm. People would think the drought was over, but we wouldn’t get rain or much snow in Northern California. That was the scenario.

Q: Yet it’s been the opposite. Northern Cal got quite a lot of snow; Southern Cal got not very much rain and a lot of cold.

A: THAT'S WHAT'S A LITTLE CRAZY about it, but thank heavens. That scenario was not good, because Southern California is particularly dependent on reservoirs and snowpack in the north. So the fact that a high-pressure zone in SoCal sent rain and snow up north, and the fact that it was cold—actually has been a godsend. It’s been a good thing for the snowpack, but the snowpack is still less than average. And our reservoirs are well below average for this time of year. So that is still not going to pull us out of the drought without a lot more.

WE NEED MORE RAINFALL through March and April, and more snow. It’s a nail-biter. We’ve just got to play each week as it goes. We’ll have a real sense of how we’re doing in April.

  We need more rainfall through March and April, and more snow. It’s a nail-biter.

Q: Some might think the role of water czar—as you’ve been called—means attending a lot of meetings, engaging in high-stakes legal negotiations, settling disputes and making far-reaching decisions. But I saw a photo of you in a rice field, bending down with a tape measure, checking groundwater levels. So you do field work as well. Tell us what your day-to-day experiences are like.

A: I HATE THAT TITLE “WATER CZAR!” The only reason I’m in America is that my family fled the czarist times in Russia near the turn of the last century. I’m actually part of a team that interacts with a lot of people around the administration. I’m just more visible than others. The Water Board is front and center on so many facets of the drought. We do open meetings every other week, and it’s very much a team effort with our colleagues in Fish and Wildlife, the Department of Water Resources, and Food and Agriculture. One of the hallmarks of our approach to the drought, and frankly, our approach to this water action plan, was to break down some of the traditional walls between agencies, to say, how do we make sure everything gets better for all Californians?

Q: When I saw the photo of you kneeling down with a tape measure, I thought—this is not a czar; this is someone who is out there in the trenches. It really interested me, what you do in the field, and what you do day-to-day.

A: WE DO SO MANY DIFFERENT THINGS. We implement the water rights system for the state, we set statewide policies, we manage water quality programs and we hear appeals from our colleagues on the regional boards. We have oversight of the state’s drinking water. We give out hundreds of millions of dollars—if not billions—in low cost loans and grants to help communities improve their drinking water and wastewater programs.

THE GOVERNOR GAVE US THE AUTHORITY to set emergency urban conservation regulations, which have gotten a lot of media play. We also work as water rights hearing officers. We spend a lot of time going to see farmers, going to small rural communities and environmental justice communities, to see what they’re facing on a daily basis. We meet with mayors and city councils and look at their facilities.

IT'S THE ROLE OF THIS 5-MEMBER full time board to open government more fully to the experiences of real peoples’ lives around our state. It’s about being able to ground ourselves in the real-world implications of what we do. If we’re going to be making decisions about agriculture, communities, fish and wildlife, we should go out there and learn what we’re talking about. It’s a wonderful bridge between the real world and bureaucracy.

TI really believe that public service is about service. Service requires respect for, and listening to, the public.  

Q: Is that what you would consider the best part of your job, creating that bridge?

A: YES. I'VE WORKED NOT ONLY as a community organizer, but I also ran a public works department, which was regulated by the state and federal government. I really believe that public service is about service. Service requires respect for, and listening to, the public. My favorite part of the job is when I feel I have created a bridge between people—when a state worker and an advocate for a particular interest group realize they can come together when they thought they couldn’t. Or when we can make decisions on behalf of people who would never expect that government would care about them.

Q: You’ve held key roles: in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, you worked on air and water quality, tribal affairs, and U.S.-Mexico border issues. You were head of the LA Department of Public Works, you’ve been a public interest lawyer, a community organizer, and a co-founder of Heal the Bay. You’ve been the western director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. You were also an executive with the national Trust for Public Land, dedicated to conserving land for people. All your past roles show you have a strong affinity for public advocacy and public service, and for the environment. What motivated you to seek out these careers? Was there an experience or person who guided you toward a passion for this work?

A: I THINK I'VE HAD THE ULTIMATE accidental career! I haven’t intentionally sought out these roles—I’ve tried to do the thing that’s in front of me as best I could. I always like where I am. But I’ve been fortunate that folks saw what I did and encouraged me to do the next thing. If I do have guardian angels—and I must—they have a sense of humor, because about five times now I have been recruited for a job where I used to criticize things that were not being done right, then, when I got that role, I had to do it.

I BELIEVE RELATIONSHIPS are what make things happen. I worked as a public interest lawyer representing Heal the Bay, in an epic struggle with the City of LA over their sewage treatment capacity. I negotiated a consent decree that essentially negotiated us into a relationship with the city for 12 years. Over the years that I was monitoring the city’s compliance, an LA deputy mayor saw that I was working to help city engineers improve the wastewater program, even though I was opposing counsel. He said, what you’re doing is helping people see things in another way, and helping them achieve things they perhaps couldn’t see they could achieve—that’s what a good manager does. He talked me into coming into Public Works.

I HAD NEVER WANTED TO BE an organizational or people manager, but I did it, and I found out I had that skill. Then I spent 20 years as an organizational manager in the nonprofit and the government sector. I loved doing it, and I’m good at it, but I never would’ve dreamed of doing it if he hadn’t told me, and noticed what I could do. I try to do the same for others now.

  I think leadership comes from people who—no matter what their job title or where they are in their career—follow their heart, and connect with other people and allow them to accomplish things in the world.

Q: I talk to a lot of women leaders, and I hear that women often undervalue their strengths for all kinds of reasons.

A: WOMEN IN PARTICULAR tend to undervalue their skills. They tend to worry about what they’re not good at, rather than actually asking for input on what they are good at. Conversely, a lot of men overvalue their skills.

Q: You’ve been known as someone who can bring unlikely allies together for environmental progress, and for making a public agency more responsive to the communities it serves. Can you tell us more about that? Is there one particular accomplishment that you’re especially proud of?

A: MY EXPERIENCE WITH HEAL THE BAY is the formative story. Over time, we ended up with some really big “ahas” on our part and on the City’s part—that we were all just humans in this, looking for the best solutions. Once we were connected, Heal the Bay ended up being the best friend the city ever had, because we persuaded the city council to find the resources to properly treat the sewage. It became a historic partnership that lives to this day, one that created the biggest turnaround environmentally in the nation in the 1980s, and continues to provide dividends in terms of LA’s leadership on environmental issues.

WHEN I WAS AT EPA during the Bay Delta accords era in the 1990s, the administration team worked hard to meet with farmers, urban water users, the environmental community and the business community to get folks to agree to a truce in the water wars. I’m in this job now because we need to bring people together once again. There are miracles happening all over the place: there are farmers in the Sacramento valley who work with environmental groups to help protect fish. That never gets the headlines. There are stories during the drought of Indian tribes and local communities who never got along, coming together to help other local communities that are running out of water. When you can connect people as people, and not cardboard cutouts, you can really solve problems.

Question 6: Can you share an experience, a moment or milestone with us that really meant a lot to you as a leader?

A: WHEN I WAS AT EPA, I had the privilege of working with federally recognized Indian tribes across the Southwest and nationally. My team was able to bring together tribes, regional staff and EPA national, to jointly help build the tribes’ capacity to run their own environmental programs. What I was most proud of was going to the annual tribal meeting the last year I was at EPA and looking at a sea of 625 tribal environmental professionals who were running their tribes’ programs in concert with us. The first annual meeting that I went to had about 15 in attendance. I was privileged to be a part of a historic change in tribal capacity to manage their own environmental affairs.

Q: Any advice for our women leaders?

A: LEADERSHIP COMES IN MANY SIZES and shapes. The bombastic leaders that we see on TV and in the movies are just one variety—the least important one. I think leadership comes from people who—no matter what their job title or where they are in their career—follow their heart, and connect with other people and allow them to accomplish things in the world.

THE MOST IMPORTANT ADVICE I could ever give anyone is to bring themselves—their true selves—along on their leadership journey. Try to see the person who is in front of you in every situation, rather than seeing someone’s role. Whether that’s a lawyer, or an advocate, or an opponent, if we see each other as people, with respect, and give each other the benefit of the doubt, breakthroughs happen all the time.



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