2017 Thiess International Riverprize Finalists

Nushagak and Kvichak Rivers (Alaska, USA)

The Nushagak and Kvichak River catchments in Southwest Alaska are pristine and

ecologically intact, with both catchments flowing into the Bristol Bay basin. They provide minimally disturbed habitat for a wealth of species including moose, caribou, brown bear, 150 species of birds, a rare freshwater seal population, and numerous fish species of which Pacific Sockeye Salmon are globally important. These species continue to support indigenous hunting and gathering societies that have occupied the region for at least 5000 years. The Bristol Bay Land Heritage Trust has protected these rivers and their basins by raising in excess of $14.4 million to purchase fee or conservation easements to protect approximately 35,700 acres of land. Additionally, they have founded an educational program to teach river ecology to young adults;  secured additional protection for salmon under Alaska law by documenting 400+ miles of previously unrecorded salmon streams; initiated reservations of water rights for fish on five major river catchments; collected, mapped and recorded, indigenous ecological knowledge about the Nushagak catchment; developed the Nushagak River Watershed Traditional Use Area Conservation Plan; developed a framework of standards for environmentally responsible mining; developed an application for identifying and prioritizing fish habitat for protection on private lands; and persuaded the Alaska Department of Natural Resources to restore protective land classifications on 4.3 million acres of state land in Bristol Bay.

San Antonio River (Texas, USA)

The San Antonio River flows from its headwaters in highly urbanized San Antonio, Texas, through a largely agrarian area to its confluence with the Guadalupe River where its freshwater inflows into San Antonio Bay support an endangered species, the Whooping Crane. The San Antonio River tells a compelling story of how collaborative efforts can result in a dramatic improvement in riverine health while providing for robust economic development. Since the late 1980s, point-source pollution issues were properly managed allowing for healthy aquatic and riparian habitat to return to once polluted areas. The community continued to support the river by constructing one of the largest urban ecosystem restoration projects in the nation. It was one of the first significant river rehabilitation projects using fluvial geomorphic and sediment transport principles on a river within a semiarid region. The project included restoration of 113 acres of aquatic habitat and 334 acres of riparian habitat, and while the restoration is still in its infancy, it is exceeding expectations in many ways demonstrating that urban ecosystem restoration can be successful. In 2015, UNESCO named the San Antonio Missions a World Heritage Site. The ecosystem restoration project was mentioned in the material supporting the World Heritage nomination and UNESCO’s approval providing a clear indication of the international cultural and historical significance of the river. Annually, the San Antonio River Walk has 11.5 million visitors which stimulates an overall economic impact of $3.1 billion and supports 31,000 jobs.

Tweed River (UK)

The Tweed catchment covers an area of 5000 sq km, straddling the border between England and Scotland. The Tweed is a river with an extremely rich and diverse natural, built and cultural heritage and is also one of the most productive salmon rivers in the UK. It is also designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation under European legislation. Drainage, habitat loss, agricultural intensification, development, and invasive species are just some of the issues that have taken their toll on the condition of the Tweed river. Likewise, at the strategic level, cross border governance disparities and a complex web of environmental legislation and associated fiscal/regulatory mechanisms, complicated management further. Hence the development of the Tweed Catchment Management Plan (CMP) by the Tweed Forum, which aims ‘to conserve, enhance and restore the total river environment through effective land and resources planning across the Tweed catchment’. It sets out a collective agenda for addressing the priority issues under key headings such as water quality, habitats, flooding and tourism. As rivers are very much a function of the land they flow through, the work of the Tweed Forum focuses as much on managing the land as the river itself; and ensuring the right measures take place in the right place, at the right scale. Riparian habitat enhancement, woodland and wetland creation, barrier removal, channel realignment, invasive species control, education and better coordination, are just some of the things that have led to significant improvements to the river (and its management) in the last 10 years.

Pasig River (Philippines)

The Pasig River in the Philippines connects Laguna de Bay to Manila Bay, bisecting the capital city of Manila. The Pasig River Rehabilitation Commission (PRRC), established in 1999, is constantly conducting clean ups along the Pasig River system. In 2016 alone, PRRC collected 4,793,262.8 kilograms of solid waste from different locations along the river system. To date, PRRC has resettled 17,561 informal settler families living along the river system into decent socialized housing units in several relocation sites. Environmental Preservation Areas (EPAs) within the 10 and three meter wide public easement spaces along the banks of the river system are established. These currently developed EPAs serve as buffer zones between the river system and its adjoining areas. Dredging and desilting works are conducted to gather contaminated sediments and to maintain the navigability for ships and other watercraft. Bank riprapping and slope protection to prevent scouring and soil erosion are also implemented. The PRRC monitors water and sediment quality gathering data to assess the impact of various rehabilitation efforts and initiatives. The PRRC also identifies and conducts pilot studies and interventions that aim to improve the water quality of the Pasig River system. Most importantly, PRRC was able to recover, rehabilitate and develop 15 out of the 47 identified tributaries as of 2016. In 2017, PRRC is gearing to inaugurate at least three more project sites.