PLEASE NOTE: This is an archive article from 2007. It was accurate at the time it was written, but may now be out of date.
Delaware Audubon presented its 2007 Conservation Award to Debbie Heaton at its annual meeting May 20. Debbie was honored for her dedication to preserving Delaware's environment.
2007 Conservation Award Winner Debbie Heaton with her art-print award, and Delaware Audubon President Mark Martell
Ms. Heaton spent more than 16 years with the Sierra Club on both the regional and national level — serving on or chairing numerous committees. In Delaware, she served as Sierra Club Chapter chair, conservation chair, and newsletter editor.
In August 2004 she started working with The Nature Conservancy as Donor Relations Manager, focusing on fund raising and marketing. She also serves as chair of the board of the GreenWatch Institute, which makes grants to environmental organizations which work to protect the lands, waters and air of the Delaware River watershed.
She helped coordinate a gathering of environmental groups at Ashland Nature Center. This became the Delaware Environmental Network (DEN), which for several years met to discuss and work toward common issues. In recent years, DEN has become an email information-sharing network.
After obtaining an undergraduate degree in Interior Design and a Master's of Visual Arts, Debbie Heaton married into the Delaware Chapter of the Sierra Club. Recycling was her original cause of choice, but her interests soon broadened.
Ms. Heaton recalls that 20 years ago many of her peers were frustrated with seeing developments shoot up. They began to worry about the future of their drinking water supplies. She soon became very involved in the Sierra Club's campaign to improve water quality. Although she had little background in the chemistry and biology that scientists use to determine water standards, she found the scientists more than willing to share their knowledge with her.
She describes the Sierra Club's role in Delaware environmental politics as mostly reactive, though in the case of Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs – a calculation of maximum amount of a pollutant that a water body can receive and still meet water quality standards), she takes pride in the role they were able to play. "If we keep on top of the issues, one day we'll be able to proactive."
Ms. Heaton became involved in the Appoquinimink Tributary Action Team when she read about it in the Middletown Transcript. She went to her first meeting about six months after the team was conceived. Thinking it was important for members of the Sierra Club to remain involved in the TMDL issue, she joined in and was welcomed into the team. "It was important to show that we were looking at the whole picture and wouldn't walk away from the problem," she says. Heaton feels that the experience of the members is an important contribution to the teams.
"We understand that there needs to be a culture change and realization of the nonpoint (pollution) impacts citizens have," she clarified. Heaton believes the disconnect between people and their environment, such as not getting outside for enough recreation, is one factor to blame for the state of our waterways. She said that if people were outside and could see their effect on the waterways, they would be more cognizant of how their daily activities impact the environment.
Ms. Heaton has enjoyed playing the part of advocate for the watershed. She sees the Trib Team continuing their mission of support and education to municipalities, schools and land owners into the future.
Ms. Heaton likens the river's subtle beauty to Delaware's marshy land form. She explains, "I wish the Appo was more of a free-flowing river, but it's just quietly there," Although she and the team have been through the hardest part of a team's journey, the research, discussion and recommendation, Debbie Heaton is excited about the future and the difference the Tributary Action Teams have made.
"I'm looking toward the next step," she says.
In receiving her award, Ms. Heaton urged Delawareans to use their power as consumers, their power as citizens, and their power as political constituents to help make a difference for the environment. She challenged the state's environmental groups to get others involved in the effort; and she reminded people to "enjoy the natural world" as a key part of environmental awareness.
See the link below for a complete list of past recipients of the Delaware Audubon Society Conservation Award.