07/25/2011 04:07

Officials aim to create exchange for research on maintaining water quality, availability on Lake Michigan, Kinneret
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Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and National Infrastructures Minister Dr. Uzi Landau signed a Memorandum of Understanding in Jerusalem on Sunday establishing a “Sister Lakes” relationship between Lake Michigan and the Kinneret, to foster an educational exchange for research toward maintaining the two very critical bodies of water.

Some issues of common interest between the two leaders include maintaining water quality, preserving fisheries, eliminating harmful invasive species, curbing algal proliferation and keeping water levels high – all of which are crucial to supplying ample water to the respective populations, the officials said.

Polish native walks on Kinneret’s waters, sort of
Weekend Walk: Mount Arbel

In forging the partnership, Landau and Quinn said they hope to see a direct exchange of ideas and work on projects in both places. Illinois has already formed such collaborations for Sister Lakes (and Rivers) with Poland, Korea, Ireland and Japan, and will soon be establishing one in China, Quinn told The Jerusalem Post after the ceremony.

“It’s beneficial to have comparisons with other bodies around Earth,” he told the Post, pointing to Israel as a leader in sustainability.

“Israel is certainly showing the way.”

During his speech, Landau said that Israel too could benefit from the partnership, as administrating the country’s water needs “is a delicate equilibrium between our environmental needs and all of our other needs – agriculture, industry, domestic use.”

Meanwhile, however, he also expressed confidence that research being conducted in the Kinneret would help those conducting similar studies in Illinois.

“Lake Kinneret, like the rest of our country, may serve as a laboratory for lots of other problems taking place in the world,” Landau said, citing Israel’s Mediterranean climate, desert and plentiful soil as perfect microcosms for international research.

“If we simply go on with this agreement and join hands there is much to achieve,” he added.

The two lakes also have many distinctions from one another that could benefit research, according to Prof.

Barak Herut, director-general of Israel Oceanographic & Limnological Research, who led a tour of the Kinneret for Quinn and his delegation on Friday.

“The large differences between the two lakes make their comparison an attractive natural laboratory,” Herut said, noting that Lake Michigan is 350 times the size of Lake Kinneret. “This might explain why our partnership should really be called Sister Lakes, not Twin Lakes.”

Herut’s office, which is affiliated with the Earth Sciences Research Administration in the National Infrastructures Ministry, will be leading the collaboration from the Israeli side, while the Illinois Department of Natural Resources will head the American team, Herut said.

During his tour on Friday around the Kinneret, Quinn said he visited the Mount of the Beatitudes, a kibbutz and the fishing village of Capernaum, where he lunched on St. Peter’s fish that tasted “pretty good” and understood the importance of protecting fisheries.

In Lake Michigan, fisherman are currently battling a particularly invasive species, the two-meter, 50-kg. Asian Carp, which “literally as it’s coming up river and hears a motorboat, comes out of the river and knocks people off of their boat,” he explained.

To combat smaller invaders – algal blooms – Illinois has banned the use of phosphorous and fertilizers that encourage growth, the governor added.

But one way to ensure a healthy Lake Michigan and Kinneret is by fostering public support through the establishment of official “friends” groups “where people band together and work for clean water,” according to Quinn.

“We would want to work with you on a ‘Friends of the Sea of Galilee’ so that people all over earth who have read the Old and New Testament can [give their support],” he said.

Quinn’s entire trip to Israel was “totally his own initiative,” according to Michael Kotzin, executive vice president of the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago, whose group organized the governor’s visit.

“We are pleased to act as a catalyst for steps that have practical implications and also symbolize the value in bringing people together to the benefit of both Israel and Illinois,” Kotzin told the Post.

Others joining Quinn included Illinois State Senators Jeffrey Schoenberg and Ira Silverstein, and Skip Schrayer, chairman of the Jewish United Fund.

During the visit, which began on Tuesday, Quinn also met with President Shimon Peres, Minister of Industry, Trade and Labor Shalom Simhon, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and Ron Dermer, senior adviser to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the governor told the Post.

The delegation visited Better Place, where Quinn told the Post he enjoyed driving an electric car. Illinois, he explained, has just approved a $10 million budget to install electric vehicle infrastructure.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, the governor participated in a ceremony at Ben-Gurion University in which the Negev institution and the University of Illinois at Chicago signed an Agreement on Academic Cooperation for faculty and student exchange and joint research projects, also expanding existing public health partnerships, a spokeswoman from the Jewish United Fund said.

But even this partnership stems back to water, according to Quinn, who told the Post that “part of public health is clean water.” Stressing the historical importance of hydrating liquid, both Quinn and Landau cited legendary 19th-century American novelist Mark Twain during their speeches.

Referring to The Innocents Abroad, where Twain wrote about his 1868 travels, Landau spoke about how the author describes “those years when he was traveling on a mule through a desolate land.”

“He also mentioned the Lake Kinneret, but it wasn’t as flourishing as it was today – it was a place that suffered from much of the phenomena of a dry country that he came across then. If you travel across Lake Kinneret today, it’s a different story,” Landau said.

“Since the modern Jewish return to our ancient homeland, much of the attention has been focused on the environment and Lake Kinneret…all that has turned the Kinneret into a major body of drinking water in Israel.” Also quoting Twain, who lived along the Mississippi River, which borders Illinois, Quinn said, “When it came to water he was an expert – he said, ‘Whiskey’s for drinking and water’s worth fighting for.’”

Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.