Public diplomacy

Australia inspires Europe in river management

12 September 2013

David Stuart, Australian Ambassador to Austria, presented the inaugural Thiess International Riverprize in Vienna in September 2013. The prize is modelled on the Australian Riverprize. Here is the Ambassador's account in his own words.

Those people who paddled around Austria's Donau-Auen riverpark with me in July will know that I get excited about issues like river conservation.

In 1999, the International RiverFoundation (IRF), Brisbane, first awarded the Australian Riverprize. Since then, the IRF Thiess International Riverprize has been awarded annually in Australia and is the world's most important and financially attractive prize for river management.

This idea has really caught on. The IRF model for rewarding best practice in river basin management has been copied around the world. More recently, the IRF has partnered with the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR), which brings together 14 Danube-basin countries with its headquarters in Vienna, to launch the first European Riverprize.

The first European Riverprize was awarded to the river Rhine in Vienna on 12 September 2013. I attended with senior EU representatives including the EU Commissioner for Environment, Janez Potocnik, and national as well as local government and community representatives from across Europe. While I was a bit surprised to be given such a prestigious opportunity, I soon got the picture of the standing and influence of the Australian organisers.

I spoke about Australia's commitment to sustainable development, and its achievements in water management. Being the driest inhabited continent on Earth, Australia has developed innovative solutions to manage its water resources. As a result of its success, Australia is now exporting its expertise in riverine conservation. Underwater archaeology techniques developed for work in the Murray River, for example, are being applied in the muddy rivers of South-East Asia. Australia also partners with the World Bank and various European countries to improve management of the Ganges, Indus and Brahmaputra rivers under the South Asia Water Initiative.

Riverine research is carried out, among others, by CSIRO, Australia's national research agency. It has assembled the largest water research partnership in the country to address the challenge of delivering sustainable water supplies to communities and industry while minimising impacts on Australia's rivers and water-dependent ecosystems. CSIRO-developed "sustainable yield assessments" are being applied across the world. They quantify the potential impacts of climate change on surface water and groundwater availability across major river basins.

Australian businesses are also actively converting new ideas for water management into a commercial success. Several companies have been exporting their technology, including to Europe such as Rubicon Water (management of water in open channels), WiSA Global (water saving technology) and Philmac (products for plumbers, municipalities and the mining industry).

IRF continues its work of partnering around the world to fund and promote sustainable restoration and management of river basins. To do so, it has just hosted the 16th International Riversymposium in Brisbane from 23-26 September. As the winner of the First European Riverprize, the river Rhine has been invited to attend the next symposium in Brisbane in 2014. You can read about the conference and what the IRF is about on: www.riverfoundation.org.au.

David Stuart, Australian Ambassador to Austria

David Stuart, Australian Ambassador to Austria, presented the inaugural Thiess International Riverprize in Vienna on 12 September 2013

© International RiverFoundation (IRF)