Felicia Marcus received the prestigious Dorothy Green Award at Heal the Bay’s Bring Back the Beach Gala on the sand in Santa Monica, June 9. Green founded Heal the Bay in 1985 with a group of concerned Angelinos. She passed away in 2008, with an annual award presented to an outstanding environmentalist each year. Marcus first learned of Dorothy Green while working for then-U.S. Congressman Tony Beilenson. Green and Marcus met in person when they were both at a Regional Water Quality Control Board meeting in Los Angeles in 1985. “Within five minutes of meeting Dorothy I had agreed to be her lawyer,” Marcus said. Marcus is now the Chair of the State Water Board in California. “Right now we are in water crisis but there is plenty of water to meet our real needs in California if we understand how to use it,” Marcus explained. “Water is wondrous, precious. We need to be grateful and respect it.
To start, we need to understand it and not take it for granted. “Urban Californians spend half of our urban water outdoors on ornamental landscapes and lawns – trying to trick our lawns into thinking we’re really in Scotland. “In the 80s and 90s we focused water saving efforts indoor use, on toilets and dishwashers and showers. In our current drought cycle we are focusing on water use outdoors.
“More importantly we are in a decade of experimentation as we figure out what we could do differently.” Marcus is an Angelino, born in West Hollywood, she attended Birmingham High School in Van Nuys before entering Harvard and then law school at NYU. “I didn’t know about East Coast schools and I only knew about Harvard from the movie ‘Love Story’ but I applied,” Marcus recalled. “When the letter came from Harvard I was at camp.
My Aunt Charlotte called and asked if she should open it. “Yes,” I said. She did and we both burst out laughing in a combination of relief and happiness.” “I was a California girl going from the newness of L.A. to a school where everything was old,” she added. “I loved it. For me it was a fascinating exposure to all the ways to be and think.” The Root Tilden Fellowship at NYU attracted Marcus to the law school. “I was interested in issues of environmental health and public health – issues which affected everyone. I wanted to become an environmental lawyer,” she explained. Marcus went on to clerk for Judge Harry Pregerson and later, when working at Munger Tolles and Olson, she represented Heal the Bay on the Clean Water Act case, requiring Los Anegles City to meet water quality standards for treatment plants discharging into Santa Monica Bay. “Judge Pregerson heard the case and he made us all sit together. It meant we got to ask our questions of the people and the agencies we saw as the polluters. It also meant we had to listen to their answers. There were a myriad of “aha” moments as we began to understand each other’s skills, problems and the potential solutions to protect water quality,” she explained. Marcus now has a distinguished resume as an environmental attorney. As Chair of the California State Water Board, Marcus talks about the seriousness of her responsibilities, “Water is part of everything. It’s essential to life. We can’t take water for granted. We must use water intelligently so we can meet all our needs. “Drought has accelerated the conversation about water use. Climate change accelerates it more. With even a few degrees rise in temperature we get more rain than snow and that’s a disaster because our snow is about 1/3 of our water storage in a typical year.
“The only way we can approximate that storage capacity is to use our aquifer. Even in agriculture one farmer’s flood irrigations can be another’s ground water recharge. It’s a geologically complex issue. “To deal with the freight train of climate change means there can’t be just one solution. We have to do everything. Conservation is first. We also must capture storm water, recharge our aquifers, manage our ground water basins. We have to make ourselves water resilient.” “I learned from Heal the Bay and from Dorothy Green that our greatest strength, our power, comes from not just caring about the ocean and the environment but honoring and caring for people,” Marcus concluded.