First IRF European Riverprize awarded to River Rhine
This September, the first IRF European Riverprize went to the River Rhine, during the 5th European River Restoration Conference (ERRC). The International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine (ICPR), has worked with other stakeholders to radically improve the river’s health as well as that of its biodiversity, after 50 years of river degradation and the catastrophic Sandoz chemical spill in 1986.
The European Riverprize event was initiated by the International River Foundation (IRF), along with the International Commission for Protection of Danube Basin (ICPDR) and the European Centre for River Restoration (ECRR). The prize is worth €40,000 and is sponsored by Coca-Cola Europe.
The European experts who made up the judging panel chose the Rhine because of its leadership and sophistication as well as its integrated approach. ICPR and other stakeholders have worked to change wastewater management and improve water quality, and have also adopted integrated policies to restore large floodplains in the Rhine delta. “As someone who was heavily involved in the successful Thiess International Riverprize bid by the Thames in 2010, I have to say that I was mightily impressed by the achievements of the Rhine,” said Alastair Driver, National Conservation Manager at the England’s Environment Agency and one of the judges. “To have achieved such dramatic improvements in the ecological quality of such a huge river through multi-national co-operation in just a few decades is truly remarkable.”
For ICPR, this is a major waypoint along a path towards restoring the river to good ecological status. “Winning the prize underlines once more the vision of Rhine-Ministers in 1987, when they agreed upon the ambitious goal aimed at restoring the open sewer the Rhine was in the seventies into a living river where the salmon would return,” says Ben van de Wetering, ICPR’s General Secretary. “Indeed, this agreement marked for the ICPR the beginning of the development of an integrated river management for which we are now rewarded.” The prize, says van de Wetering, encourages his organisation to continue its work, as the river still has a way to go. One of the ICPR’s efforts is to restore upstream connectivity for a stable salmon population; it has helped restore upriver access to bypass about 480 obstacles since 2000. With its work programme Rhine 2020, the ICPR aims to put the Water Framework Directive requirements into concrete terms – such as making the river clean enough to swim in – as well as addressing other pan-European regulations such as the Flood directive.
By winning the prize, the Rhine will automatically be considered as a finalist for next year’s Thiess International Riverprize, which this year was awarded to the Mara River in Kenya, the first African river to win the prize in its 15-year history. The Rhine and the Mara now have the opportunity to participate in a “Twinning” program, to share their expertise with a peer river basin management organisation.
“Personally I think the IRF and its partners should be commended for creating this prize,” says Paul Jepson, who leads the communication work package of BioFresh. “In corporate and entertainment sectors, awards and prizes are part of professional sound practice. They showcase and reward best practice and create a culture of aspiration, pride and success that appeals to others. Faced with declines in freshwater biota, it is easy for scientists and river managers to convey a sense of doom and gloom. We need more such prizes to generate an outlook of positive environmentalism.”