Award for ‘River Queen’

Bergvliet scientist Dr Jacqueline King.

Dr Jacqueline “Jackie” King, of Bergvliet, has been chosen by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI) as the 2019 recipient of the Stockholm Water Prize, for her ground-breaking contributions to global river management.

This is the world’s most prestigious water award, presented annually since 1991, and is generally considered the “Nobel Prize” of the water world.

She is the fourth woman in the world to receive the award, the first African scientist and joins previous South African winners, such as the former Minister of Water Affairs, Professor Kader Asmal, and Professor John Briscoe.

“I’m very honoured and happy as this shines a light on African rivers and African science,” said Dr King from her garden on World Water Day, Friday March 22.

The 75-year old scientist said she felt humbled by the award.

Working with colleagues Dr Cate Brown and Dr Alison Joubert, she has developed methods and models to show that the benefits that come from dams, such as hydropower and irrigated crops, also have ecological and social costs.

“We all lose if rivers become severely degraded due to poorly-informed development and management. It does not have to be like that. We can now provide structured information on these costs, supporting more balanced decisions about
how to develop water resources,” she said.

Dr King has worked in more than 20 countries, including with the governments of the Mekong, Indus,
Okavango and Zambezi river basins.

Dr King was a freshwater researcher at UCT for 34 years, until she retired in 2008 and set up her consultancy to complete unfinished work.

Ten years later, she is still going strong, working across Africa and Asia, and is an honorary professor at UWC.

On one of her trips to Arizona she met poet and activist, Madeline Kiser, who was fighting to save the Colorado River.

Ms Kiser nominated Dr King for the Stockholm Water Prize, supported by letters from practitioners, institutions and governments from many parts of the world.

Dr King speaks highly of SIWI and also the Water Research Commission which was created in the 1970s by the South African government after a severe drought.

Since then, it has supported almost two decades of her research.

It receives funds from a levy on all bulk-water sales in the country, feeding the money back into research on water.

Recently, having a second stab at retirement, Dr King joined the SANParks Honorary Rangers.

“I serve on the regional management committee and have the training portfolio. As I slow down, my focus turns back to the rivers and wetlands of the Table Mountain National Park,” she said.

Dr King was on the Noordhoek dunes two weeks ago with the Friends of Masiphumelele Wetlands seeking tiny wetlands hidden among heavy infestations of alien vegetation.

She is now working with SANParks to train the Friends to survey their wetlands and put the data on global conservation databases.

In 2016 Dr King was also the recipient of the WWF Living Planet Award. The award is given to exceptional individuals in South Africa who inspire people to live in harmony with nature.

Head of WWF-SA’s Freshwater Programmes, Christine Colvin, tweeted that by winning the Stockholm award, “River Queen has acknowledged all water eco-systems in South Africa”.

Water researcher Anthony Turton writes, “Jackie played a pivotal role in elevating the aquatic science community with her work on environmental flows…

“Her cutting edge
work became the basis for the ecological reserve in the National Water Act. Jackie is a well-deserving recipient of such a prestigious prize. She shows us that South Africans still have the capacity to be amongst the best in the world.”

Announcing the award last week, the SISI said: “Dr King has helped decision-makers understand that healthy river ecosystems are not a luxury but the basis for sustainable development.”

Dr King will receive her award at a prize ceremony and royal banquet at the Stockholm City Hall in August. King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden will present the award to her.