The US shares sister relationships with cities and states across many Asian countries, but less well-known are the relationships shared by rivers and lakes. Similar to the sister city concept, sister bodies of water relationships embody the spirit of exchange and cooperation among the two regions. Since the signing of the first sister lake relationship in 1996 between Lake Champlain in Vermont and Lake Toba in Indonesia, sister lakes are gradually becoming a more common form of partnership between the US and Asia.
The most recent of these sister relationships was established in October 2013, under the auspices of the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Minnesota’s Lake Pepin and Lake Liangzi in Hubei Province, China, officially formed a sister lake partnership to exchange and share information on watershed issues, such as water quality and water pollution, issues that concern both the US and China. An important trait shared by both lakes is that they drain into their respective countries’ largest and most important river watershed systems–the Mississippi River for Lake Pepin, and the Yangtze River for Lake Liangzi.
The Mississippi River also has an additional sister connection with Southeast Asia. In 2010, the Mississippi River Commission signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Mekong River Commission, as part of the Lower Mekong Initiative. The sister partnership explores the Mekong River’s trans-boundary issues with assistance from the Mississippi River Commission’s expertise. In May 2013, Mississippi River Commission officials went to Asia as part of an exchange with the Mekong River Commission. Two of the main goals of the exchange were for the local officials to learn about governance techniques from the traveling delegation, as well as learning about the Mississippi River Commission’s modeling tools for risk-assessment and the role it plays in the decision making process.
Sister river agreements have also been signed on a city-to-city level as well. In 2006, Los Angeles signed a sister river agreement with Seoul after seeing the Cheonggyecheon River’s successful revitalization. Los Angeles hopes that through this sister river relationship, lessons can be learned from Korea’s river rehabilitation and applied to the Los Angeles River.
Though still relatively few in number, the importance of these sister river and sister lake partnerships cannot be understated, as communities work together to protect their important natural resources.
Nina Geller is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and a recent graduate of the Monterey Institute of International Studies.