“The Danube is one of the great rivers of the world that has been able to take integrated river basin management [IRBM] and make it something real,” said Karin Krchnak, the newly appointed global partnerships director for the GRP. “I am originally from Slovakia and the Danube flows right by the capital of Bratislava, so it is very special for me.”
Krchnak, an environmental lawyer, is part of the Conservancy’s External Affairs Team and has advised on development of policy strategies with national governments, multilateral institutions, river basin organizations and others to advance freshwater conservation. She has also worked for organizations such as the World Resource Institute and American Bar Association. In addition, she represents the Conservancy on the World Water Council Board of Governors and co-chairs the Board of Directors of the Alliance for Water Stewardship.
In her new role, Krchnak will be responsible for leading development of the GRP’s global network and building capacity to support IRBM on great rivers around the world. This fall she hit the ground running with a visit from Philip Weller, executive secretary of the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR).
“We have a lot to learn from the Danube,” said Krchnak. “In fact, you might say the challenges of that river are more complex than ours on the Mississippi because of the number of languages spoken, the various levels of economic development, complex political processes, et cetera. I’m so pleased Philip was able to visit the Mississippi and inspire people to continue the long road of working together on sustainable, integrated management of such a large watershed,” Krchnak said. “My hope is that we can establish a synergy whereby we also bring new ideas to the Danube and loop in other partners of the GRP network.”
During Weller’s time with the GRP in November he met with key partners and donors and toured the Conservancy’s Emiquon Preserve, a floodplain restoration in the Mississippi basin and proof-of-concept site for the GRP.
Krchnak also met with Weller and colleagues while in Brisbane, Australia, in late September for International Riversymposium — an event that brought together leading scientists, community groups, government agencies and corporate leaders from more than 25 nations to explore solutions to common dilemmas affecting river systems. Building off momentum from that event, the GRP has proposed a memorandum of understanding with International RiverFoundation (the event host), Weller’s ICPDR, Global Environment Facility and The Nature Conservancy to collectively leverage resources and lessons learned to benefit river basins globally. The organizations also hope to reach out to other groups engaged in advancing IRBM worldwide.
One of the greatest strengths of the Great Rivers Partnership is its capacity to provide technical and financial assistance to partners working in river conservation throughout the world. Over the past five years, for instance, the GRP has shared monitoring techniques and provided supplementary funding to support the Yangtze River Fisheries Research Institute (YRFRI) in fostering a long-term biological monitoring network on the Yangtze River.
Recently, the GRP received news from Dr. Chen Daqing, deputy director of YRFRI, that the Institute has secured two major grants related to the development of this monitoring network. A grant of approximately $2.5 million (USD) provided by the Chinese government will allow YRFRI to build a new field station using modern concepts and new techniques near the city of Chongqing on the upstream terminate of Three Gorges Dam.
“The commitment to build a state-of-art field station is a major achievement for river conservation on the Yangtze – one that we helped lay the groundwork for through technical and financial support of YRFRI during the conceptualization and application process,” said Dr. Yao Yin, GRP director of international strategies.
YRFRI also received a second grant of approximately $220,000 (USD) from the Three Gorges Dam Project Company to build a Yangtze River fishery database. This database will allow the Institute to archive and provide fish data online, making it available to researchers everywhere. Both grants tie back to the GRP’s relationship with USGS Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center at La Crosse, Wisconsin, and the monitoring exchanges led by the Center’s research statistician Brian Ickes, who also serves as the GRP’s Yangtze River fellow.
Ickes is helping to create fish sampling protocol for the Yangtze River in conjunction with Chinese scientists—the goal being to help launch a successful first year of data collection using methods developed on the Mississippi. More on this work and updates on the field station to come.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers formed the Interagency Recovery Task Force earlier this year to assess damage related to spring flooding along the Mississippi River system and to develop solutions for future risk management.
“This task force is not only the right thing to do to for the future of the Mississippi River Basin, it is also the best time to do it, as it exploits the momentum from the strong relationships that have formed in the response to the 2011 flood season,” said Maj. Gen. Michael Walsh, commanding general of the Corps Mississippi Valley Division and president of the Mississippi River Commission.
Following initial assessment activities, the Corps task force reached out to the NGO community — including the Conservancy and its Great Rivers Partnership — to participate in discussions related to Lower Mississippi River flooding reset, recovery and reevaluation. Corps reset efforts involve rapid development of interim measures to provide protection before the next flood season and address floodways, dredging and levees. The recovery focuses on development and installation of permanent solutions designed to return the system to its full level of protection and functionality.
Perhaps most intriguing to the GRP, however, is flood reevaluation. This component allows for review of the Mississippi River & Tributaries Project in place during the 2011 flood and overall flood capacity design. It’s an opportunity to explore potential needs for improved flood storage and the possibility of green infrastructure in the form of floodplain reconnection.
Brig. Gen. John McMahon, commander of the Corps Northwestern Division, met with Conservancy staff on September 15 to discuss the agency’s response to the Missouri River flood, including efforts to ensure human safety, prudent federal expenditures and ecological health. Among many key areas, he asked Conservancy representatives including the GRP to respond to the Corps’ damage assessment and scenario planning, and to participate in the development of sustainable options moving forward.
“Being approached by the Corps to help in this capacity is testimony to the strong partnership we’ve fostered over the years and particularly this past spring,” said Michael Reuter, GRP executive director. “It’s an important opportunity to contribute to the recovery of these river communities, and find ways to learn from this event to better manage rivers and floodplains in the future. We’re looking forward to continued collaboration with the Corps in support of these national priorities.”