Avery Deboer-Smith says she likes the word ‘passion,’ and she uses it a lot when talking about water and about her work as the water smart ambassador for Nelson and before that in Creston.
In both jobs she helped homeowners and farmers figure out how to save water.
Whether she’s doing a water assessment for a resident (she did 120 this summer) or manning a booth at the market giving away toilet tank bags and low flow showerheads, her passion shows in her friendly, confident way of interacting with the public.
Deboer-Smith was born in Vernon 26 years ago and moved to Nelson when she was two. She graduated from LV Rogers secondary in 2008, then studied international relations and women’s studies at UBC. After that she completed Selkirk College’s two-year diploma in integrated environmental planning. She was a member of the planning team for Hot and Bothered in the Kootenays, a forum about water and climate change earlier this year.
Now she’s thinking about doing a Master’s degree.
In the meantime she has just started a new job as the program manager for the Friends of Kootenay Lake.
This interview with Avery Deboer-Smith been edited and condensed.
When I have seen you interacting with the public, at the market or other events, you always seem to be really happy to be talking to people, and your enthusiasm is contagious. Where does that come from?
It is a great way to actually see change happening. When you can speak with someone and see their reaction, for me that is the best reward, if they walk away with something new that is going to benefit them and benefit the community. So I feel really passionate about making those changes and I really like getting out there into the community.
Was there a moment when you knew that water would be your focus?
I fell into it. One of my Selkirk professors, Allison Lutz, helped me get the job as the water smart ambassador for the city of Creston and RDCK-Erickson in the summer of 2015, that crazy hot and dry summer we had last year. She was my hydrology teacher and her class was one of my favourites. I owe a lot to her. Water was always an important topic to me, and talking about dams, fish, wildlife.
What did you do in that job?
I was doing data analysis in regards to their water system, so I was taking information about historical weather, temperature, precipitation, and creating graphs and working with their metering system, with their agriculture, so I was interpreting data about water usage. The farmers in Erickson were in such a severe drought last summer and we had to restrict a lot of community members on their water usage but we can’t restrict the farmers because that is how they make a living, so you realize where the water should be going. Should it be going to making our lawns green or should it be going to growing food?
I learned a lot of about hydrology, the processes of it, the forest, glacial melt, snow melt, precipitation. Depending on the water system it varies from community to community.
And I did a lot of personal research in my spare time about everything to do with water. I love learning.
What do you think the public is most uninformed about, when it comes to water?
A lot of people don’t know where our water comes from. A lot of ours comes from snow melt and precipitation, so how does that snow travel to our water system? It travels through the forest, so when there are fires or clearcuts, that is taking away from this area the water has to flow through.
It is flowing through the moss and through the tree roots — through the ecosystem — and that cleans the water. People need awareness of the part watersheds play in the health of our water.
There is this whole over-arching structure of processes the water has to go through to come to our homes, to our mouth, to help us shower, to water our gardens, and so I feel fortunate I have the opportunity to educate people about this, and make connections with someone who doesn’t have that knowledge.
It is not their fault they don’t have it, they just have other things going on: bills, children, jobs, we have such busy lives. I paid money to learn those things in school so I feel obliged to share that knowledge with other people.
I challenge everyone to try one little thing, having a shorter shower, or not running your tap as long, in the spirit of water conservation, maybe deciding to change some of your grass to a more drought tolerant landscape, and see how beautiful and rewarding it can be, just one little change.
Tell us about your new job.
I am the program manager with the Friends of Kootenay Lake Stewardship Society. I am going to be doing everything: writing grants, coordinating volunteers, helping with education programs, looking after various programs like osprey nest monitoring, water quality monitoring. I get to work with municipalities, First Nations, the regional district, home owners, lake users of all sorts. They just recently finished their community values survey and I am going to help to implement it.
You have a very positive attitude, but is there anything that worries you?
Last summer a lot of communities almost ran out of water, they had to go into high levels of water restriction and that is what I was worried about this summer.
I was worried that I was going to have to go around telling people they could not water at all, and so climate change worries me, but every little thing we can do in our life can help make a difference. And I worry that people sometimes don’t care enough or don’t have a reason to be motivated to make those changes.
That’s why I work so hard at my job. I want people to feel inspired to make those changes.
There are so many people who don’t have access to fresh water and that really changes a society, and it is not just third world countries, it is the US and Brazil and Mexico, it is other countries that are running out of water as well, and I do think about this a lot. I think we are so lucky that we have this beautiful fresh lake, and I spent some time this summer looking at what other sources we would have here if our current water source was not enough, and we are surrounded by watersheds and it is all fresh and clean.
After university, why did you come back to the Kootenays?
Most of us, when we graduate high school, we just want to get away, especially if we grew up in a small town. For me, getting away was a way to realize what I love about the Kootenays, and studying a very broad topic, international relations, learning about all these problems in other countries and other cultures, I started realizing there was a lot I could do here, in my own home.
That’s why I switched my focus to environmental science because it was a study that could make an impact in my own community for people I care about.
Growing up hiking and being out at places like Jumbo and spending times in these amazing places as a kid, I feel so fortunate to have had those experiences.