Mighty Nushagak, Kvichak Rivers come up short for international prize in 2017
The 280-mile Nushagak River is wild and healthy, supports one of the strongest Chinook salmon runs on the planet, and this summer beckoned home probably the most sockeye salmon in its recorded history (2.8 million counted as escapement with a district harvest of 11.7 million).
The 50-mile long Kvichak drains Alaska's largest lake, (Iliamna), running from its storied, trout-rich braids to a shared estuary with the Naknek River in the salmon capital of the world.
These "pristine" and "ecologically" intact rivers also support bountiful wildlife, half a dozen villages, and are the lifeblood for thriving sport and commercial fishing businesses in Bristol Bay.
But they were passed over for the prestigious Theiss International Riverprize (again, for the Nushagak), which was bestowed upon the San Antonio River in Texas.
"The San Antonio River Authority (SARA) have been managing point-source pollution issues effectively in their 10,000 square-kilometre basin since the late 1980s, leading to the return of healthy aquatic and riparian habitat," the International RiverFoundation wrote about this year's winner.
The San Antonio River has a "compelling story of how collaborative efforts can result in a dramatic improvement in riverine health while providing for robust economic development," said a SARA representative on hand to receive the award at a late September gala in Brisbane, Australia.
Similar sentiments were shared about the Willamette River when it topped the Nushagak in 2012, signaling the seven-judge panel's preference for rehabilitation over conservation.
The Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust was the sponsor, and was praised for raising $14.4 million to purchase conservation easements protecting 35,700 acres of land, helping document 400-plus miles of previously unrecorded salmon streams, and other ways BBHLT has worked for long term protections to the rivers' fish and wildlife habitat.
The Tweed River, which is a productive salmon river straddling the border between England and Scotland, was a third finalist.
The fourth was the Pasig River that bisects Manila, Philippines, which was cited for the many efforts to clean its highly polluted waters.