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Pepin, Liangzi sister lake relationship explored

Red Wing Mayor Dennis Egan passed out coasters made of leather from Red Wing Shoe Co. to Chinese environmental protection agency officials Tuesday. A group of 16 people from China's Hubei Province were in Red Wing to explore a possible sister lakes relationship between Lake Pepin and Liangzi Lake.

Red Wing has a sister city relationship with Quzhou, China. Now Chinese and Minnesota environmental officials are looking to create a sister lake relationship between Lake Pepin and Hubei Province's Liangzi Lake.

A group of 16 officials from Chinese environmental protection agencies and municipal groups met with officials from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Natural Resources at the St. James Hotel Tuesday afternoon to discuss the potential partnership. The group had spent the morning touring Lake Pepin.

"We're interested in working together to improve water quality in both of our countries," Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Assistant Commissioner Rebecca Flood said.

Liangzi Lake is located in the southern portion of the Hubei Province and drains into the province's main waterway, the Yangtze River. Hubei Province officials drew similarities between these characteristics and Lake Pepin's southern Minnesota location and its location on the Mississippi River.

Zhou Xinxin, of the Hubei Province Department of Environmental Protection, added that the potential relationship with Minnesota is especially fitting because the Hubei Province is known in China as the province of 1,000 lakes.

"It is a very happy coincidence," Xinxin said through a translator.

In addition, some of the issues that Liangzi Lake and Lake Pepin face are similar, including pollution from agricultural runoff.

"What we would like to do is share water quality data and try to do some comparisons," Flood said. "Ultimately, I hope we can see if there are some best practices."

"We really need to learn from other cultures around the world," Xinxin echoed. "We hope that we can do more to preserve the water quality of our lake."

Shi Xiaojuan, of the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection, added that China faces challenges due to economic development.

"It becomes a challenge for us to find a balance between economic development and environmental protection," she said 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."

It's not clear what the sister lake relationship would look like or how long it would last. The Chinese group will travel to St. Paul today to meet with Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development officials to further discuss water quality and the potential relationship.

Flood said the next steps are to determine possible funding sources and work out details of the relationship.

"I'm excited about the potential this possesses from a cultural standpoint, to know and understand how each (country) deals with environmental issues," she said. "I'm hoping we can show some of the work we've done and we can learn some of their techniques."

Both Xinxin and Xiaojuan said that they hope there will be frequent collaboration and exchange trips between Minnesota and Hubei Province in the future.

Red Wing Mayor Dennis Egan, who also welcomed the group Tuesday afternoon, echoed those statements.

"We would like to, with the Sister Cities Commission, look at opportunities to travel to your country," he said.

Sarah Gorvin
Sarah Gorvin has been with the Republican Eagle for two years and covers education, business and crime and courts. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 2010 with a  journalism degree.