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Managing the connections into the future

A summary of the four days of the 15th International Riversymposium.

Day 1, Monday 8 October

Delegates were welcomed to the 15th International Riversymposium in Melbourne by a moving Australian indigenous Welcome to Country, where participants were invited to take a local gum leaf from the Indigenous elder. The official opening was made by Victoria’s Minister for Environment and Climate Change, the Hon Ryan Smith.

Opening keynote speaker Dr Klement Tockner, Professor of Aquatic Ecology at the Free University Berlin and Director of the Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB), Germany, gave an inspiring perspective on water management in European rivers, describing how domesticated river ecosystems are home to novel animal communities, face novel stressors (such as light pollution) and require novel management approaches. Priyanie Amerasinghe, Senior Researcher, International Water Management Institute (IWMI) Hyderabad Office, India presented on the challenges of managing Indian rivers and drew attention to some confronting statistics on the urbanisation of India and the pressures on water resources, including the doubling of municipal and domestic water demand by 2030, and quadrupling industrial demand.

Groundwater featured early in the sessions with talks on new monitoring and mapping techniques being used in Victoria. Sessions on Cities of the Future outlined the many challenges facing growing cities and their waterways especially as demographics change and liveability grows in importance.

Various international ecosystem monitoring programs featured across the sessions, and discussions on how results can be effectively used to inform decision making and communication with the general public. Case studies of effective river management partnerships highlighted voluntary community involvement and ownership as essential to success. Respect for Indigenous communities' wishes and their active involvement encourages wide adoption and support for river management programs. Effective partnerships also seek to establish strong relationships between researchers and managers to better inform planning decisions. 

Riversymposium 2Speakers encouraged delegates to look beyond catchment boundaries and identify lessons learnt in other countries. Facing similar climatic variability, Australia and Africa have an opportunity for dual learning in managing the cyclical nature of droughts and floods.

The Riversymposium took a relaxed feel for the Welcome Function and Trade Exhibition. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology used the social gathering to officially launch the Australian Water Accounting Standard 1. This Standard is a major step in the Australian water reform and a world first, adapting a financial accounting model to water management in the creation of the new discipline of water accounting.


Day 2, Tuesday 9 October

Melbourne welcomed participants with a beautiful but chilly morning for a second diverse day of the conference. Dr David Molden, Director General, International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), Nepal opened proceedings for the day by discussing the unique challenges in managing mountainous river systems of the Himalayas, an environment foreign to many delegates but a global resource of water, food, energy and biodiversity. Dr Molden encouraged participants to seek “Solutions from outside the Water Box” and look to the custodians of the land for inspiration and move away from traditional text-book approaches.

Celeste Cantú, General Manager, Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority (SAWPA), USA stressed the importance of adopting appropriate language in community engagement processes taking into consideration religion, culture and race. She recognised the need to embrace conflict when managing a shared resource, and to focus on the vision of what stakeholders want to achieve rather than what they want to avoid. The images in her presentation were certainly motivating!

Monday’s Designing River Cities discussions were carried into multiple sessions throughout the day and looked at issues in small rural towns to large global cities. Water sensitive urban design, while focussed on improving water flow and use, has added economic and social benefits, improving liveability, biodiversity and cultural aspects of urban areas.Riversymposium 3

The concept of twinning was discussed, identifying the benefits of partnerships with cities of similar size, population and climate to promote learning and knowledge sharing. Social science is playing a growing role in many river management projects. It is being used to better understand and engage with community and stakeholders, and to find solutions which benefit all users.

In the evening, the stage was set for the Riverprize Gala Dinner. Guests were delighted with a delicious three course dinner and acrobatic and musical entertainment. Mark Angelo, founder of World Rivers Day, gave an inspiring keynote speech encouraging participants to maintain focus and work to protect our rivers for the future. The River Management Young Achievers Award, sponsored by Thiess Services, was awarded to Celine Steinfeld from New South Wales, who has developed her own software package to assist in assessing how and when to release environmental flows. The Australian Riverprize Award went to the Condamine River in Queensland, and the Thiess International Riverprize to Willamette River in the USA. For more information about the prize winners visit:

Day 3, Wednesday 10 October

Prof John Thwaites, Chair of ClimateWorks, started the day with a keynote on how to work with government, outlining the 10 Commandments of influencing government. Although working on a different timeframe and agenda, stakeholders have to learn to work within the political system in order to achieve positive outcomes for rivers. The winners of the Australian and International Riverprizes delivered their summary presentations and everyone was impressed to see how their prize money will help deliver more exciting on-ground activities.

Riversymposium 4The last sessions of presentations continued discussions of important partnerships, research outcomes and water sensitive urban design. The Australia-Netherlands Water Challenge was a dynamic session with the presentation of innovations in water management. IWC Master of Integrated Water Management student Kevin Loh was announced the winner of the Water Challenge Encouragement Award for his Insure Me App, designed to assist people with insurance claims through delivery of information directly to insurers. The Conference Poster Award was presented to Carlo Morris, whose poster discussed the consequence of farm dam regulation.

The Great River Debate saw two teams battle over whether river cities need to make room for their rivers. Always an entertaining and light-hearted discussion, this year’s debate was no different.

Greg Claydon closed off the formalities with a summary of the week’s proceedings. An important theme of the discussions was making and managing connections, within river systems, between function areas, between social, cultural, economic and environmental aspects, between disciplines and between policy and service delivery, science and management. Managing and maintaining these connections is vital for the future in seeking out new attitudes, new skills and even new organisational structures and cultures.

Day 4, Thursday 11 October

Thursday saw delegates departing on the Yarra River Study Tour, hosted by the principal sponsor, Melbourne Water. Delegates visited four sites across the catchment where Melbourne Water are carrying out various catchment and river management activities with presentations from a variety of staff and stakeholders. Not only was it a very informative day, it was punctuated by fun and delicious lunch stops at Domaine Chandon and Fenix Restaurants. Thank you to Melbourne Water for a terrific Study Tour and for their role as Principal Sponsor for the week.

The International WaterCentre, as manager of the International Riversymposium, is eager to continue the dialogue and are seeking input on key messages for the future. Please go to for more details on how you can contribute.

The 16th International Riversymposium will be held in Brisbane from 23-26 September 2013 and will focus on the role of rivers in linking water, energy and food. Details will be available from November on the website.


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