Sister Lakes Project
(January 2, 2003)
By Beth Weiss
The idea for the Sister Lakes Project was hatched in 1993 by James Braver while on a boat in Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire. Braver was accompanied by Robert Varney, state Department of Environmental Services Commissioner (now EPA's regional head for all of New England), Jody Connor, Director of Limnology Labs for the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (NHDES), and Chaim Shenar, an Israeli environmental official. After joking about what a shame it was that the concept of sister lakes, like sister cities, doesn't exist, the four men decided to get the project known today as "Sister Lakes" underway.
Today the project has been in existance since then with the help of NHDES, the University of New Hampshire (UNH), Cooperative Extension Water Resources Program, and Monitor International based in Annapolis, MD.
On April 12, 1995, Stephen Merrill, the governor of New Hampshire, officially declared Lake Winnipesaukee to be the Sister Lake of Israel's Sea of Galilee. The project grew to incorporate the promotion of Arab-Israeli coexistence, and various educational exchanges. "We're trying to create an international agenda by bringing together cultures for a common goal," said Braver. "Water is a global resource and we want to show that it shouldn't represent boundaries."1
In New Hampshire, Lake Winnipesaukee is the main source of water for the state. The beautiful landscape and outdoor activities around the lake attracts tourists, and it is important for New Hampshire to protect its water resources to continue pulling in revenue from tourism.
In Israel, the Sea of Galilee, or Kinneret, provides similar scenery, hiking and boating opportunities, as well as potential money from tourism.
Israel organizations such as the Union of Local Authorities (ULA), an organization of Israeli governments in the Galilee area, and the Ministry of the Environment, among others, worked with the U.S. groups to make the project possible. In 1997 ULA paired up with Sister Lakes in an attempt to foster cooperation between the two regions. Israeli mayors Yossi Peretz of Tiberias and Israel Amrussi of Migdal visited New Hampshire to learn about the lake and its importance to the region. They also came to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with area officials. "We have a great deal to share with Israel. But I think a lot will come the other way especially in the areas of water conservation techniques," said Department of Environmental Services Commissioner Robert Varney.2
Although New Hampshire is blessed with an abundance of water, Israel is not. Water resources from the Kinneret are as low as ever, although it supplies Israelis with 22 - 33 percent of their water usage, and a larger percentage of drinking water. Recently a certain algae has grown in the Kinneret, and treatment is necessary for any water taken directly from the reservoir. The source of the algae is unknown, but two nearby sewage plants are suspected culprits.
In the 1950's, an attempt at preventing the spread of malaria in the region forced much of the land surrounding the sea to be used for agriculture, and the draining of many swamps near the sea. As a result, water funneled into the Kinneret no longer naturally filters out unneeded materials. Another surprise was that the peat at the bottom of the old swamps combined with combustion, producing useless square feet of arid land. The solution? Returning some of the water back to the old swampland.
But another problem will be created when new water is added. Israel must introduce aquatic life into the new bodies of water that have no natural predators. The unchecked growth of such aquatic life will compromise water quality.
Lake Winnipesaukee has also had its share of ills, including E-coli bacteria, oil and gas. Boat traffic accounts for the oil and gas increases, and an increase in boat rental fees helps to pay for this cleanup.
Cooperation between the two regions will help in the development of solutions to these problems. As Varney said during the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding ceremony said: "We can't deal with environmental issues on an isolated basis anymore. We need to deal with them on a world context."3
As part of this international project, government officials from Arab countries were brought to participate. In June of 1997, Hussein Tarabieh, an environmental engineer from the town of Sakhnin in Israel, is heavily involved in water preservation in the Arab world. Tarabieh was able to persuade the Arab officials of his hometown to allocate 20 acres of land to establish an environmental technology demonstration center which would study water purification and management. He is also instrumental in educating youngsters and other Arab officials about environmental awareness. Tarabieh believes that although a lot of work is being done by the Israeli government, much can be done by promoting ecological awareness among residents. A month later, participants in the New Hampshire town meeting with Deputy Director of ULA Avi Rabinovitch included officials from Jordan, Egypt, Oman, Yemen, the United Arab Emerits and Saudi Arabia.
In 1998 a U.S. delegation traveled to Jerusalem to attend the International Conference on Sister Cities and Municipal Organization. The conference, which Braver attended, was hosted by the Union of Local Authorities in Israel. He hopes that an international conference will be hosted by New Hampshire sometime in the near future.