International Riversymposium 2013

Bill Dennison ·
15 October 2013
Environmental Report Cards | 

The 16th annual International Riversymposium was held in Brisbane, Australia during September 2013. I traveled to Australia with Heath Kelsey and we made presentations during a stimulating session on environmental report cards, which featured the long-term Southeast Queensland report card program, the Great Barrier Reef report card, our fledgling Mississippi River report card effort, and a bit about the process of creating and maintaining report cards. As chair of the report card session, I took the prerogative of drastically shortening my presentation (starting from the last slide and moving toward the beginning) so that we could have a more robust discussion. I also launched the eBook that Peter Oliver and I produced, "Dancing with Dugongs: Having fun and developing a practical philosophy for environmental teaching and research" as part of the opening reception.

Riversymposium dinner
Riverprize Gala Dinner at the 16th International Riversymposium.

The Riversymposium featured a series of excellent plenary talks: Karlene Maywald talked about the Murray-Darling river system and the work of the Australian National Water Commission that she chairs; Jeremy Bird, Director General of the International Water Management Institute in Sri Lanka talked about the urban water cycle; Jianchu Xu from the World Agroforestry Centre talked about the challenges facing the great river systems of China; Rohan D'Souza from India talked about the sustainability solutions for water management; Bob Costanza, now at the Australian National University, talked about ecosystem services and replacing the Gross National Product with Genuine Progress Indicators; Stuart Orr from WWF International in Switzerland, talked about the engagement of the corporate community in developing better water management.

Bob Costanza
16th International Riversymposium.
Bob Costanza displaying his new Australian affiliation name tag at the

The theme of this year's Riversymposium was "Rivers: Linking water-energy-food". This was accomplished by having sessions on River Cities, Rivers and Energy, River Health, River Systems and Rivers Globally. The Riversymposium finale was the entertaining and stimulating Great River Debate which Professor Gary Jones, CEO of eWater, moderated. This topic of the debate was the following: "For the developing world, water supply for food and energy is more important than protecting the river environment".

Bill Dennison and Des Lord
Bill Dennison and Des Lord at 16th International Riversymposium.

Heath and I found a great breakfast restaurant in downtown Brisbane named Brew and we had breakfast each morning with our friends from Oregon, Pam Wiley and Ken Bierly who won the International Thiess Riverprize in 2012 for their work on the Willamette River. I especially enjoyed connecting with several long term colleagues who have played key roles in my career: Barry Hart from Melbourne, Des Lord from Perth and Bob Costanza, who recently relocated to Canberra.

Bill Dennison and Barry Hart
Bill Dennison and Barry Hart at the 16th International Riversymposium.

The highlight of the Riversymposium was the Riverprize Gala Dinner in which the River Management Young Achievers award, the Australian National Riverprize and the International Thiess Riverprize were awarded, sponsored by the International Riverfoundation. The River Management Young Achievers Award recipient was Kathy Hughes, a Freshwater Programme Officer with WWF-UK, the Australian National Riverprize was awarded to the Glenelg Hopkins Catchment Management Authority in Victoria, and the International Thiess Riverprize went to the Mara River Water Users Association, Kenya. The Glenelg River group had planted over a half a million trees and constructed enough riparian fencing to protect streams to create a fence that would stretch from Melbourne to Brisbane. The Mala River group had overcome the transboundary issues (the Mala River originates in Kenya and flows through Tanzania in route to Lake Victoria) to develop water allocation schemes that help preserve the unique biodiversity in the region and provide for agricultural uses. Johnny Sundstrom from the Siuslaw River in Oregon (2004), Amos Brandeis from the Alexander river in Israel (2003) and Gayle Wood from Lake Simcoe, Canada (2009) were on hand to welcome Kennedy Onyango from Kenya to the 'club' of previous International Thiess Riverprize recipients.

Kennedy Onyango
receiving the 15th International Thiess Riverprize.
Kennedy Onyango from the Mara River Water Users Association, Kenya

This was the fifteenth year of the International Thiess Riverprize and there were a couple of notable firsts. One first was that previous Riverprizes have gone to North American, European, Asian and Australian river systems, but this was the first African recipient. Another first was the establishment of the European Riverprize, which was awarded to the Rhine River earlier this year. The concept is that the continental riverprizes (currently Australia and Europe) could be expanded to include all six inhabited continents and then the International Riverprize would be selected from the continental riverprizes.

Gayle Wood, Johnny Sundstrom & Amos Brandeis
Amos Brandeis (Alexander River, Israel; 2003).
Previous International Thiess Riverprize recipients: Gayle Wood (Lake
Simcoe, Canada; 2009), Johnny Sundstrom (Siuslaw River, Oregon; 2004),

Immediately following the 2013 Riversymposium, we had a large gathering of the Marine Botany group at a West End Vietnamese restaurant. Paul Greenfield, former University of Queensland Vice-Chancellor, joined us and I used a quote I had read from someone's slide at the Riversymposium, "Without engineers, science is just policy". This quote was particularly apt, since Paul was an engineer, and our group of marine scientists worked on the Healthy Waterways program that Paul chaired. Jane (Rogers) Hjelmqvist organized the dinner with her husband Peter Hjelmqvist, Eva and Sonny Abal, James and Nicola Udy, Ben Longstaff, Mara Wolkenhauer, Emily Saeck, Michele Burford, Simon Albert, Joelle Prange, Andrew Watkinson, Chris Roelfsema, Diana Kleine, Kate (Moore) Hodge, Mark O'Donohue, Caroline Gaus, and Heath Kelsey.

One of our activities was to make signs and video messages to three of our colleagues who were suffering; John Bertram from the University of Queensland Botany Department suffering from cancer, Jane Thomas from the Integration and Application Network recovering from surgery and Judy O'Neil from the University of Maryland Center of Environmental Science who lost her mother. I am incredibly proud of the accomplishments of the former Marine Botany group members, both professionally and personally. They found great partners, produced beautiful children, provided leadership in a variety of different jobs, and maintained integrity in their various endeavors.

Marine Botany group
Marine Botany group gathered in Brisbane sending a message to friends.

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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