Willamette River recognized with prestigious Thiess International Riverprize

Winter 2013

The International RiverFoundation awarded the 2012 Thiess International Riverprize to restoration partners in the Willamette River Basin. Riverprize recognizes outstanding, visionary, and sustainable programs in river basin management. The award is considered one of the most prestigious environmental prizes in the world. This year, the Australia-based group recognized the Willamette, noting the persistence of Oregonians' efforts to take care of the river and the collaborative nature of current restoration programs. The Meyer Memorial Trust's Willamette River Initiative, which entered the competition on behalf of a number of public agencies and non-governmental organizations, will receive a $300,000 award, $100,000 of which will be used to establish a 'twinning' program with a river basin in a different country.

A Willamette side-channel under restoration

The award speaks to the progress of Willamette River restoration over the past two decades. Dozens of grassroots organizations, government agencies, scientists, businesses, and landowners are working to protect and restore the Willamette. Through its Willamette River Initiative, the Meyer Memorial Trust has invested over $6 million in these efforts since 2008. In cooperation with four partners – the University of Oregon, Oregon State University, the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, and the Bonneville Environmental Foundation – the initiative provides technical assistance and coordination services to grantees and other groups working to improve the river's health. Through these efforts, Meyer Memorial Trust and its partners aim to make meaningful and measurable improvements in the Willamette River by 2018.

These partnerships are critical to implementation of NOAA Fisheries' recovery plan for salmon and steelhead in the Willamette Basin. Upper Willamette River Chinook and steelhead are both protected under the Endangered Species Act, and the recovery plan provides a strategic approach to recover these populations based on the best available science. Meyer Memorial Trust and the contributions of other partners are key to advancing salmon recovery.

In the mid-1900s, some stretches of the Willamette River were so polluted that many fish died as they migrated through these reaches. The river has been straightened and simplified, and lowland forests have been replaced by agricultural and urban development. Flood control efforts have also altered natural river processes and habitats. In spite of these ongoing challenges, partners continue to improve the Willamette's water quality, protect key lands, and restore habitat for salmon and other native species.

In her acceptance of the award, Pam Wiley, director of the Willamette River Initiative, thanked all of the stakeholders and said that attending the International Riversymposium was a very encouraging experience. "Someone once said to me that in this line of work, there is no final victory, but there is progress. The last couple of days has been a lesson to me in progress and has made me very hopeful for my children's generation."

"Riverprize validates the thoughtful and tireless efforts of the many organizations and individuals working on behalf of the Willamette River," said Meyer Memorial Trust CEO Doug Stamm. "While improving river conditions across a basin as large as the Willamette is a daunting challenge, the right partners working together, using strong science and sharing a common agenda, is making a real difference. We are extremely honored to play a role in bringing this recognition to the Willamette."

The other finalists this year were Prespa Lakes (Greece), the Okavango River (Angola, Namibia, and Botswana), and the Nushagak River (Alaska).

To learn more about restoration efforts in the Willamette River, please visit: NOAA Fisheries' Willamette Salmon Recovery, Meyer Memorial Trust Non-govt link, Willamette River Initiative Non-govt link.

Home Page: Mount Hood, visible from Portland Harbor on the Willamette River; photo by Sarah Eastman
Above Right: A Willamette side-channel under restoration; NOAA photo