International RiverFoundation

Bill Dennison ·
24 March 2011
Applying Science | 

The International RiverFoundation has a unique role in catalyzing groups of people around the world to achieve river restoration, protection and sustainable management. One way this catalytic role is achieved is through the celebration of exemplary case studies of positive outcomes, publicly acknowledged via the annual awarding of The International Riverprize and the Australian National Riverprize. These competitive prizes are achieved through a rigorous judging process and prize winners become River Ambassadors to promote broader dissemination of best practices and lessons learned. Another way the International RiverFoundation catalyzes river restoration is through twinning projects. These twinning projects are conducted between Riverprize finalists/winners and various groups with less available resources. The Riverprize finalists/winners provide a mentoring relationship in a collaborative process that involves training, advice and hands-on assistance. The annual International Riversymposium provides case studies of the world's small and great rivers, integrates science and the humanities in creative symposium programs, and showcases the Riverprize stories. While RiverFoundation activities do provide important guidance, showcase best practices and create knowledge sharing activities, the most important activity of the RiverFoundation is to instill hope and inspiration for groups around the globe to achieve river restoration, protection and sustainable management.

Christine Coighanowr
Christine Coighanowr recieving the 2010 National RiverPrize in Perth, Australia on behalf of the Derwent Estuary Program

The small, committed staff of the International RiverFoundation strive to increase the financial value of the Riverprizes, facilitate the twinning projects, and disseminate the lessons learned to river managers everywhere. A diverse Board of Directors, of which I am a member, has a long-standing role in leveraging opportunities and providing advice to RiverFoundation staff. A growing number of River Ambassadors promote the International RiverFoundation and share knowledge internationally. The International RiverFoundation staff, Board of Visitors and River Ambassadors all work to create new opportunities and enhanced partnerships to achieve a catalytic role for achieving river restoration, protection and sustainable management.

One of the benefits of the co-location of the International WaterCentre and International RiverFoundation offices in downtown Brisbane is the integration of the Riversymposium, and Riverprizes activities. A side benefit that I particularly appreciate is the mural that adorns an entire wall at the office. This mural is comprised of individual panels created by each Riverprize winner, with a river running through each panel, connecting them together. The diversity of different artistic renditions from each Riverprize winner is fascinating, serving to underscore the universal need for sustainable river management, in spite of different approaches and perspectives. For those of us involved, the journey of the International RiverFoundation is often compared to the journey if a great river from its headwaters to the sea, as depicted on the mural. The mural also nicely blends science, management, engineering and art, a hallmark of the International Riversymposium.

IRF mural
Mural created by RiverPrize winners

The sinuous path of the river also brings to mind the twists and turns that the International RiverFoundation has taken with regard to supporting organizations, financial fluctuations, and staff turnover. However, in spite of the twists and turns, like a river, the International RiverFoundation flows in one overall direction, gaining in volume and momentum. Rivers have sustained human populations for millennia and the International RiverFoundation represents an effort to insure that rivers of the world can continue to sustain our children and grandchildren.

The inaugural Chair of the International RiverFoundation Board, Martin Albrecht, stepped down at the end of 2010, and has been replaced by Dr. Gary Jones. Martin was CEO and then Chair of Theiss, an international engineering company based in Brisbane. Martin's energy and enthusiasm is contagious and his vision and leadership have been exemplary. Back in the 1999, Martin was approached by then Brisbane Lord Mayor Jim Soorley to initiate the RiverPrize, which began his involvement and precipitated the formation of the International RiverFoundation in 2003. In Gary Jones, Martin found a worthy successor as Chair of the Board. Gary is currently CEO of eWater Cooperative Research Centre, and he has emerged as an Australian scientific leader in water issues.

Albrecht and Jones
Martin Albrecht (left) and Dr. Gary Jones (right), former and current Board of Directors, respectively

After a succession of interim CEOs, the most recent being Peter Krause, a former RiverPrize recipient from the Grand River Conservation Authority in Ontario, Canada and Board of Directors member, who stepped in for most of 2010, a new CEO was appointed this year--Matthew Reddy. Matthew comes to the RiverFoundation from a strong background of conservation and business activities. The leadership that Gary and Matthew bring to the International RiverFoundation promises to be exciting new bend in the river journey.

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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