Water Journal : Water Journal December 2011
regular features 54 DECEMBER 2011 water conference reviews The Value of Rivers Discussions from the 14th International Riversymposium "The strength of the Riversymposium lies in its ability to bring together the usually autonomous sectors of industry, science, government, community and environment to enable knowledge exchange and integrated river basin management." -- Mr Barry Ball, Chair, Riversymposium Management Committee. From 26--29 September this year, over 600 delegates discussed, debated and shared their knowledge and experiences at the 14th International Riversymposium in Brisbane. Throughout the three- and-a-half-day program, delegates explored the economic, ecological, cultural and spiritual values of rivers. Opening Ceremony Delegates fell silent as the sound of a single didgeridoo filled the room for the start of the opening ceremony. Kargun Fogarty performed a number of didgeridoo pieces, followed by indigenous songs related to rivers and water, before his official Welcome to Country. He then introduced an indigenous painting that he designed specially for the 14th International Riversymposium and invited selected delegates to give their thumb print to begin the completion of the painting. All conference delegates were then invited to help complete the painting throughout the duration of the conference. Mr Ian Robinson, Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder, officially opened the conference after reflecting on the devastation Australia has seen this year and stating that "rivers have a tremendous power to impact the lives of all of us". Room for the River Opening keynote speaker, Mr Ingwer de Boer, General Director of the Programme Directorate, Room for the River, of Rijkswaterstaat in The Netherlands, described the 'Room for the River' project, where a range of measures is being implemented to reduce the risk of flooding. The project is lowering floodplains, relocating dikes further inland, lowering groynes in the rivers and deepening summer beds, thereby taking a central role in the transition of water management practice from 'fighting against water' towards 'living with water'. Innovations in Flood-Proofing Another Dutch example of the evolution of river basin management, from hard engineering to green infrastructure, was presented by Professor Toine Smits of Radboud University. Professor Smits described how managing rivers from an engineering approach resulted in increased flooding, deterioration of the fluvial system, and high management costs to river basin management focused on land use adaptation. Experiments facilitated in the Rhine region by government organisations and knowledge institutes are enabling people to make their own flood-proof land use designs and are identifying innovative financing mechanisms for sustainable river basin management. Need for Green The 'need for green' infrastructure in river restoration featured throughout the Riversymposium program. Sessions hosted in partnership with the Australian Society of Limnology explored 'Engineering the Restoration of Rivers' using soft approaches, and shared lessons learned through successful case studies of river restoration. The Australian chapter of the Society of Wetland Scientists hosted 'Maintaining and Restoring Wetland Values' sessions, where speakers delved into topics ranging from climate change to using stormwater for urban wetlands. Quantifying Economic Value A common theme of many presentations was the challenge of securing funding for restoration projects. In the feature session 'International Carbon Markets and Market Based Instruments: Funding Catchment Priorities', speakers discussed using markets to fund projects to restore nature, giving examples of nitrogen and salinity trading schemes. A case study demonstrated how Blue Carbon sinks can play a crucial role in maintaining climate, health, food security and economic development in coastal Australia. Market-based systems have potential to work where there is data, resources and trust among stakeholders. However, due to the challenging, dynamic and complex context of catchments, quantifying the economic value for accounting purposes is difficult. Cultural Flows Mr Phil Duncan, Chair of the newly established First Peoples' Water Engagement Council and Senior Policy Officer at the Aboriginal Land Council, told the story of his Song Line. He described the strong connection between Aboriginal peoples in the Murray-Darling Basin and their traditional lands, waters and natural resources. Mr Duncan, a member of the Gamilaroi/ Gomeroi Nation, argued the need for indigenous engagement in water planning, allocation of cultural flows, and indigenous access to the consumptive water pool for economic purposes. (See page 40 for an edited extract of his speech.) Healthy Waters, Healthy Community The spiritual and cultural values of rivers, wetlands and groundwater featured highly in the program. Speakers described the sanctity of rivers and waterways across the world, with their intrinsic links to creation stories, deep spiritual relationships with indigenous peoples, the land and waterways, and personalised experiences building identity and sense of place. The message was: If lands and waters are healthy, community is healthy. Delegates engaged by Ingwer de Boer's keynote presentation. Delegates enjoy refreshments at this year's Riversymposium.
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