When 12 delegates from China recently arrived in Minneapolis, they knew they were in the right place when seeing a sign announcing, “Minnesota, Land of 10,000 Lakes.” Coming from Hubei Province, known as the “Province of 1,000 Lakes,” the delegates were here to discuss a Sister Lakes program for their Liangzi Lake and our Lake Pepin.
Initiated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the purpose of Sister Lakes exchange would be to share information and ideas.
“We’re interested in working together to improve water quality in both of our countries,” said Rebecca Flood, assistant commissioner for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
Hubei Province, in eastern China, is striving to protect the water quality of Liangzi Lake, the second largest freshwater lake in the province. Located near the city of Wuhan ( population 9 million), this lake faces development pressure. The Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Hubei Department of Environmental Protection have taken steps to protect the lake, including controls on wastewater and industrial pollutants, cultivation of desired aquatic plants, and fish stocking.
Here in Minnesota, we are working to restore the water quality of Lake Pepin, a natural impoundment of the Mississippi River between Red Wing and Wabasha. State and local agencies on both the Minnesota and Wisconsin sides of the lake are working to reduce sediment that clouds the water in the Mississippi and that is filling in Lake Pepin. Clearing up the water will help grow desired aquatic plants for fish and wildlife, as well as enhance recreation.
Liangzi and Pepin are different in size, drainage area, and geography. But the lakes face many of the same challenges. They are both relatively shallow and suffer from excess turbidity, meaning the water is too cloudy to grow rooted aquatic plants. Both Minnesota and Hubei Province need to work with farmers to reduce the impact of agricultural and urban runoff. Both are looking to balance the need for economic development with environmental protection.
“It becomes a challenge for us to find a balance between economic development and environmental protection,” said Shi Xiaojuan, of the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection, through a translator. “We can learn from other countries to solve this problem.... We can collaborate to solve the problems you face, but also the problems we have.”
Funded by the U.S. EPA, Chinese delegates and MPCA staff spent January 14-15 in Red Wing, touring around Lake Pepin and learning about water quality efforts throughout the state. These efforts are of keen interest to the Chinese, particularly the use of permits to control pollutants, studies to determine acceptable levels of pollutants, water monitoring programs, public communication tools, and cooperation across boundaries.
Hosting the Chinese delegation is a follow-up to Minnesota state staff members visiting the Hubei Province in 2012, where they learned about Chinese efforts to protect their water resources. The three Minnesota staff were Rebecca Flood, assistant MPCA commissioner, Steve Heiskary, MPCA research scientist, and Steve Riedel, international trade representative with the Department of Employment and Economic Development.
While an official agreement for a Sister Lakes program still needs to be worked out, the Chinese are ready to move ahead, asking for regular communications and exchange visits with Minnesota.
To learn more about Minnesota’s efforts to establish partnerships with China, visit www.minnesota-china.com.