Healthy Waterways Champion Award speech

Bill Dennison ·
24 June 2011
Science Communication |     1 comments

I am not sure exactly what I said upon learning that I had received the award for the Healthy Waterways Champion, as it was a big surprise and unexpected honor, but the following is what I was trying to say.

Bill award speech
Bill giving his Healthy Waters Champion Award speech.

"Thank you for this unexpected honor. I am staggered by this award and would like to thank the judges and the award sponsor, Queensland Urban Utilities. I would to like acknowledge some key people who made this possible, reflect on the healthy waterways journey and inspire you to continue to strive for healthy waterways.

First, I want to acknowledge my University of Queensland colleagues, Professor Paul Greenfield and Dr. Eva Abal for sponsoring my sabbatical in Queensland. I also want to thank Mark Pascoe and Barry Ball from the International WaterCentre for their personal and professional hospitality. Peter Schneider and his staff at Healthy Waterways have been very accommodating and allowed me various opportunities to contribute. Finally, my wife, Dr. Judy O'Neil and our girls have made this sabbatical possible and enjoyable.

One advantage to living abroad and coming back to Southeast Queensland is the perspective that it offers. When I first came to Brisbane to visit in 1986 and then to live in 1992, I heard quite a bit about the 1974 flood. I feel quite fortunate to actually be in Queensland for the 2011 floods, as we arrived the day before the floods began. Thus I had the opportunity to contribute to the challenge of understanding the impacts of this event.

Thinking back to the waterways of Southeast Queensland in the early 1990s, it was quite a different situation than we have now. Sand and gravel mining with large dredges and barges operated daily throughout the Brisbane River. Coral dredging occurred around the islands of Moreton Bay, and a huge dredge that barely fit under the Brisbane bridges made daily round trips from upriver to the Bay. Buildings and houses had their backyards facing the rivers, and the riverbanks were littered with trash and rubbish. Unmetered water use led to waste and unnecessary use. There were few access points to the rivers, and no pedestrian bridges. Sewage overflows occurred regularly and only rudimentary sewage treatment occurred. The Southbank site along the Brisbane River was an abandoned park.

This began to change with the advent of Healthy Waterways. In 1998, Brisbane Lord Mayor Jim Soorley said that it was time to stop using the river as a mine and a sewer, and the sand and gravel mining was shut down as well as the coral dredging. Brisbane City Council initiated the City Cat ferries, and constructed bikeways and footpaths along the Brisbane River. Water use was metered and water conservation encouraged. Southbank Parklands was created and became a signature feature of Brisbane. Healthy Waterways sent out clean up crews to remove rubbish from the river, and clean up days attacked the stream side litter and garbage. Various festivals celebrated the waterways, like the Brisbane Riverfestival (now Brisbane Festival) and Festival of the Rivers. Houses and buildings started to look out toward the rivers, rather than away from them. The people of Southeast Queensland once again embraced the waterways.

Political leaders emerged, with Mayors like Allan Sutherland from Redcliffe and John Nugent from Ipswich championing healthy waterways. Queensland Ministers for Environment like Rod Welford were instrumental in delivering healthy waterways outcomes.

The situation that we now face, with the prolonged droughts and the recent devastating floods, create an unprecedented challenge for Healthy Waterways. The change in water utilities, council amalgamations, personnel turnover and budgetary constraints have made for tumultuous times. But the inspiring stories of the award winners and finalists that we heard tonight show just what Queenslanders are capable of in difficult times. Just as the Volunteer Army turned out after the floods, Queenslanders can respond to and meet this Healthy Waterways challenge.

Thank you again for this wonderful honor and I hope that you will visit me in Chesapeake Bay, where I will be returning soon. I will be following the Healthy Waterways journey from afar and I wish you well on your continued journey."

Bill and Allan
Bill Dennison being congratulated by Mayor Allan Sutherland, Moreton Bay Council.

A postscript to this speech that I would like to add is to acknowledge the other finalists for the Healthy Waterways Champion Award, Samantha Beckmann, Ted Gardner, Brian Hallinan, Dianne Hausler, Brian Ludlow, Greg McKean, and Bill Thompson. What they have been doing over the past years and I trust will continue to do in the coming years is what makes Healthy Waterways such a fantastic program. I trust that their good works will be acknowledged in future awards or by acclamation in other ways.

About the author

Bill Dennison

Dr. Bill Dennison is a Professor of Marine Science and Vice President for Science Application at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES). Dr. Dennison’s primary mission within UMCES is to coordinate the Integration and Application Network.

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  • Carl Mitchell 12 years ago

    Congratulations Bill!! Well deserved!

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