Award: Lake Eyre Basin partnership wins $500,000 International River Prize

Professor Richard Kingsford
Wednesday, 23 September, 2015
Deborah Smith

For helping protect the Lake Eyre Basin from development, pollution, mining and other threats, a team including UNSW scientist Richard Kingsford has won one of the world’s most prestigious water conservation awards.

Professor Kingsford, Director of the UNSW Centre for Ecosystem Science, helped spearhead the Lake Eyre Basin Partnership two decades ago, bringing together local communities, governments, traditional owners and scientists to help preserve the iconic river network.

Thanks to their efforts, Lake Eyre Basin remains one of the world’s largest free-flowing river systems, covering almost one sixth of Australia.

The partnership was awarded the $500,000 Thiess International Riverprize from the International River Foundation at a gala dinner in Brisbane last night, held in conjunction with the 18th International River Symposium.

The Lake Eyre Basin was up against the Jordan River in the Middle East and the River Mur in Austria as one of three finalists for the annual international award this year. Last year the partnership won the $200,000 Australian Riverprize.

Professor Kingsford said the team was thrilled to receive the award: “This is a fantastic example of science having a strong impact on river policy and communities.”

He said the prize money will be invested in continuing the work to protect the rivers and creeks which flow into the basin from NSW, South Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland.

“We will pour the prize money back into the Lake Eyre Basin and use it to link science on the rivers to management of biodiversity and invasive species,” he said.

Janet Brook, a member of the Lake Eyre Basin community and Chair of the South Australian Arid Lands Natural Resources Management Board, said she was proud to accept the award at the ceremony on behalf of the large number of people in the partnership.

“The Lake Eyre Basin partnership is the culmination of around 20 years’ worth of collaboration, intense and effective networking and, of course, science, and we've been working towards protecting our unique desert river systems.”

The International River Foundation said the partnership had been the driving force behind the protection of the Lake Eyre Basin. It had emerged through the Lake Eyre Basin Intergovernmental Agreement, which focused state, territory and Australian governments on protecting its free-flowing rivers; the Community Advisory Committee; and the Scientific Advisory Panel appointed by the Lake Eyre Basin Ministerial Forum.

“Using its cohesive network of community, river people, scientists, industry and government, the partnership has effectively protected the natural flows of the basin’s rivers from water resource development, mining, pollution and other threats.

“This 20-year partnership has kept rivers healthy while encouraging sustainable economic growth, particularly in the areas of tourism and organic beef production,” the foundation said.

Mr Bill Dennison, Chair of the prize judging panel, said the Lake Eyre Basin partnership faced strong competition but had a number of distinguishing features which helped it win.

These included “its strong integration of science and management, engagement with diverse and disperse communities, and focus on prevention, rather than restoring degraded waterways”, he said.

The Thiess International Riverprize has been awarded annually by the International River Foundation since 1999, with previous winners including the River Rhine, the Danube River and the Mekong River.

It has not been awarded to an Australian river since the Blackwood River in Western Australia took out the coveted prize in 2001.

Janet Brook and Professor Richard Kingsford

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