International Riversymposium 2018 – a special conference for emerging and mature river professionals

ARI Emeritus Professor Angela Arthington,

Attending the 21st International Riversymposium (IRS) held in Sydney (Darling Harbour) earlier this year was a personal highlight.  This symposium is famous for its diverse and inclusive program on the theme of global river basin science and management.  Delegates come from far and wide, from river managers to policy developers, scientists, consultants, students, NGOs, indigenous and community organisations and business and industry representatives.


River Symposium

IRS offers dynamic Keynotes, diverse themes for oral presentations (e.g. Environmental and Cultural Flows), exciting sponsored workshop sessions (e.g. The Resilient Rivers Blueprint), River Expo, River Prize, Vera Thiess Fellowship for Women, a fabulous social program, and two special events for ‘emerging water professionals’.

The Emerging Water Professionals Program (EWPP) offers a tailored series of events throughout the symposium, all designed to advance the training and careers of young delegates within the first ten years of their career.  I was fortunate to join the early EWPP breakfast event on Tuesday morning at a Jones Wharf restaurant, Darling Harbour.  The morning was brilliant and we all welcomed the coffee and pastries while getting to know each other.  Activities that followed were fun, and succeeded in mixing up the emerging and emerged.

We were primed for one-on-one conversations to share important events in our careers.  I really enjoyed this because it encouraged me to look back over my career and identify events, and my responses to them, as possible lessons for emerging water professionals.  The story I told involved working for a consulting firm which was commissioned to advise on the environmental impacts of new dams in Queensland..  My work began some way into the project, but when I read documents already submitted I found myself being critical of factual and predicted environmental impacts. The outcome was a threat of libel from the consultants, and later, a demand to delete large sections of my final report to the client.  Lessons for me were: (1) how to engage tactfully and honestly in situations involving contractual agreements, (2) how to garner support from my institution, and (3) how to persist in delivering appropriate evidence in the face of strong objections and threats.  The final report from the work with a colleague was eventually released through a Freedom of Information (FOI) process, and thus became publicly available.

I also engaged with the Emerging River Professionals Award (ERPA) as one of three judges.  ERPA recognises, rewards and fosters those in early stages of their careers in river science and management.  The award is presented to those who have demonstrated innovation, excellence and leadership in river basin or river-dependent community management.

The judges were amazed at the professionalism, skills and passion of the three finalists, Nantale Nsibirwa (University of KwaZulu-Natal), Julie Francis (Melbourne Water) and Jose Lopez-Lavalle (AQUAFONDO, Lima), as well as the other applicants.  Written submissions were excellent and the presenters at IRS followed through with dynamic stories, high quality Powerpoint text and graphics, and a video, telling the audience about their original and inspiring work in exciting fields (see Abstracts, IRS App).  This year the ERPA session was attended by the EWPP group, who joined in with commentary and some good advice to speakers.

River Symposium 2

The judges were delighted to share the thrill of the announcement at the IRS Gala Dinner on Tuesday evening.  Here we learned that the 2018 ERPA winner Jose has applied for an IWC Master of Integrated Water Management scholarship to study at Griffith University in 2019.  Watch out for a dynamic young man from Peru, a passionate river professional and also a gymnast / acrobat.  Congratulations also to the other finalists for their excellent innovative work and presentations.

I look forward to seeing some emerging water professionals, ERPA finalists and ARI colleagues at the 22nd IRS to be held in Brisbane in 2019. Abstracts will be opening soon. The theme is “Resilient Rivers”. We have so much to contribute, and we could also offer a booth at River Expo.  Don’t miss out on this fabulous event beside the Brisbane River at South Bank, where the International Riversymposium started 21 years ago!

RS 2019
Next year the event returns to Brisbane. Photo:

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