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EGLE, Japanese govt. sign agreement to preserve, restore lake environments

By: Nick Mordowanec | C&G Newspapers | Published March 18, 2020

 Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy Director Liesl Clark shakes hands with Shiga Director General Yasuhisa Ishikawa Jan. 27 after signing a memorandum of understanding aimed to further preserve and advocate for freshwater bodies.

Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy Director Liesl Clark shakes hands with Shiga Director General Yasuhisa Ishikawa Jan. 27 after signing a memorandum of understanding aimed to further preserve and advocate for freshwater bodies.

Photo provided by Michigan EGLE

LANSING — The state of Michigan is working with Japan in a joint effort to preserve and restore lake environments.

On Jan. 27, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, or EGLE, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Lake Biwa and the Environment of the Shiga Prefectural Government of Japan. The agreement not only allows both countries to share knowledge and expertise in order to protect some of the world’s largest freshwater bodies, but to advocate for lake conservation efforts worldwide.

It’s an overall recognition of how water impacts life, culture and identity for all citizens.

“I am honored to be able to continue our long-standing relationship with Shiga, Japan, which reflects the strong bonds our two countries have,” EGLE Director Liesl Clark said in a statement. “By signing this agreement, we affirm our shared desire for stewardship of our freshwater resources and vow to continue learning from each other for the benefit of the citizens of both countries.”

Yasuhisa Ishikawa, the director general of the Department of Lake Biwa and the Environment of the Shiga Prefectural Government of Japan, said he was “happy and honored” to contribute to over a half-century of friendship. Michigan and Shiga became sister states in 1968, celebrating their 50th anniversary in 2018.

He said the agreement is poised to accomplish two things. One involves using the friendship to protect lake and reservoir environments, due to a connection between the Great Lakes and Lake Biwa.

“After that (50-year) milestone, we thought it would be good to share our experience and knowledge to use in initiatives and programs to protect what our friendship was built on,” Ishikawa said.

Second, the goal is to extend the protection of lake and reservoir environments worldwide. He cited United Nations statistics, referring to “a strong possibility” that 40% of the world’s population, or approximately 3.9 billion people, is predicted to experience water supply shortages by 2050.

“With the rise in population, pollution and, of course, the effects of climate change, we’ve seen in recent years, water issues have become an important challenge (around) the world,” Ishikawa said.

Lakes and reservoirs hold about 90% of accessible water reserves worldwide. The Great Lakes hold more than 20% of that amount.

“Considering these circumstances, and what links us, we thought that we should join forces to tell the world how important lakes and reservoirs are, and help advance their conservation,” he added. “Living near these bodies of water, knowing all of their virtues, protecting them — we think that there are some things that only we can really convey.”

Shunsuke Nishimura is the 23rd Shiga visiting official in Michigan. He operates out of the Consulate General of Japan in Detroit, established in 1993 by the Japanese government to serve the states of Michigan and Ohio.

According to Christopher Hauer, the cultural and public affairs coordinator for the consulate, the office preserves the interest of local Japanese citizens and strengthens the nations’ bond through various collaborations.

For example, there are 1,819 university students enrolled in Japanese language courses throughout Michigan, in addition to another 4,321 students enrolled in the K-12 demographic.

Japan is among the leading foreign direct investors in Michigan, Hauer said, with 503 Japanese business facilities producing 39,803 direct jobs.

“The consulate’s foremost goal in Michigan and Ohio is to preserve the interests of local Japanese citizens in Michigan and Ohio,” Hauer said. “This includes the interests of Japanese citizens and Japanese corporations. Beyond that, the consulate strives to promote better understanding of Japan and Japanese culture through educational and cultural programs. This is why supporting grassroots initiatives such as sister cities is also a core part of the consulate’s mission.”

Shiga has sent a visiting official, like Nishimura, since 1989. There are 13 sister-city relationships between Michigan cities and Shiga, leading to school student exchanges and delegations.

“Shiga was able to propose the memorandum of understanding because we firmly believe we have deep understandings and mutual trust nourished through those grassroots activities,” Nishimura said. “In other words, without the mutual trust based on those ‘people to people’ exchanges, the memorandum of understanding would not have been possible.”

The sister-city concept is nothing new to people like Clinton Township Supervisor Bob Cannon. The township entered in a sister-city cultural exchange program with the Japanese city of Yasu in 1993.

It is still an annual event, with each country’s citizens traveling every other year to gain a different perspective of life on the other side of the world.

“I have been to Lake Biwa and, of course, many times the Great Lakes and Lake St. Clair,” Cannon said. “Anytime you get two great governments working together to solve mutual problems and to share information for each other’s benefit, it is a win for all of us.”