In the first of its kind between the United States and China, officials recently formalized a Sister Lakes Partnership between Lake Pepin in Minnesota and Liangzi Lake in Hubei Province. Initiated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the purpose of sister lakes is to share information and ideas. With U.S. cooperation, China is hoping to accelerate its efforts to control water pollution, a top priority along with controlling air pollution.
In particular, China is looking for help in developing regulations for protecting water resources, improving monitoring and assessment of its waters, and learning more about watershed and in-lake best management practices. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) will play a prominent role in the Sister Lakes partnership as the agency leading the restoration effort for Lake Pepin.
“We’re excited about this partnership because of what it could mean scientifically and economically,” said MPCA Commissioner John Linc Stine. “On the science side, we’ll be able to see if our best management practices can work in other places. We can also collaborate with the Chinese on better ways to address agricultural runoff, which is hurting water quality in both countries. Economically, it may open the door for Minnesota and other U.S. companies to market their technology for water quality monitoring and improvement to China.”
The program aims to strengthen watershed protection via communication, training, public participation, scientific research and demonstration projects.
“It is an honor to be asked by the U.S. EPA to be in partnership with the Chinese. Not only do we have a lot to share, but anytime we have a chance to learn about water resource protection, we want to take advantage of that opportunity,” said Rebecca Flood, assistant MPCA commissioner.
Like many sisters, Pepin and Liangzi differ in several ways. Liangzi Lake is about 117 square miles in size and located on the same latitude as New Orleans, Louisiana. It drains to the Yangtze River, the longest in Asia and third-longest in the world. Lake Pepin is about 40 square miles in size and is part of the Mississippi River, the chief river in the largest drainage system in North America and fourth-longest in the world.
Liangzi’s watershed encompasses about 1,260 square miles while Pepin’s is much larger at 48,634 square miles. The surrounding populations are much different, too, with Hubei Province having 57 million people and Minnesota only 5 million people.
But the lakes face similar challenges. They are both relatively shallow, making them more susceptible to the negative impact of nutrients and sediment flowing in from tributary rivers and surrounding landscape. The nutrients fuel excessive algae blooms and muddy the water, hurting the water quality needed for aquatic life and recreation. The amount of sediment flowing into Lake Pepin threatens to fill in the lake within 300 years. Both Minnesota and Hubei Province need to reduce the impact of agricultural and urban runoff. Both are looking to balance the need for economic development with environmental protection.
Hubei in eastern China is known as the “Province of 1,000 Lakes.” Liangzi is the second largest freshwater lake in the province. Located near the city of Wuhan, with a population of 9 million, this lake faces development pressure. The Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection and the Hubei Dept. of Environmental Protection have taken several steps to protect the lake, including controls on wastewater and industrial pollutants, cultivation of desired aquatic plants, and fish stocking.
Minnesota is known as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” Several partners are striving 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. Reducing nutrient loading and clearing up the water will help grow desired aquatic plants for fish and wildlife, as well as enhance recreation.
The formal Sister Lakes partnership follows a visit by U.S. delegates – Rebecca Flood, assistant MPCA commissioner, Steve Heiskary, MPCA research scientist, and Steve Riedel, international trade representative with the Dept. of Employment and Economic Development – to Hubei Province in 2012. Chinese delegates then visited Lake Pepin and the Red Wing area in early 2013.
To learn more about Minnesota’s efforts to establish partnerships with China, visit www.minnesota-china.com. To learn more about the Sister Lakes, contact Steve Heiskary at 651-757-2419 or Steven.Heiskary@state.mn.us.