Lisa Borre, David Barker, Ph.D.

From its second-floor office in a converted Eastport residence, a small, nonprofit organization is tackling some large-scale freshwater resource restoration and protection issues---and is producing a very positive ripple effect on lakes around the world. The mission of LakeNet is focused on the fact that 90 percent of the world's accessible freshwater is held in lakes and that much of that water supply is in crisis.

LakeNet is a global network, consisting of more than 900 members in 90 countries, including individuals, government agencies, businesses, research and education institutions and nonprofit grassroots groups. The Annapolis office employs a small core staff and serves as a coordination center for the rest of the network. The organization, formerly known as Monitor International, changed its name last year to reflect its narrowing focus from both freshwater and marine issues to full-time concentration on the health of lakes and the communities around them.

The husband and wife team of David Read Barker and Lisa Borre heads up the LakeNet Secretariat as president and director, respectively. Borre grew up near Lake Michigan and enjoyed boating and camping with her family throughout the Great Lakes region. She earned a bachelor of arts degree in geology with honors from the University of Vermont in 1986 and a master's degree in environmental management from Yale University in 1989. From 1990 to 1997, she was the director of a multi-state financial program called the Lake Champlain Basin Program.

Barker was educated as a medical anthropologist and, before LakeNet, was working as an advisor to the minister of public works in Jakarta, Indonesia, under a U.S. government project in that location. "The minister asked me to help develop a strategic plan to protect Lake Toba, a huge volcanic crater lake on the island of Sumatra," he says. "It was suggested that we identify a sister lake in the United States." Barker, though he had never heard of a sister lake, explains, "Since my family was all from the Lake Champlain valley, it only took about one picosecond to decide that, of course, Lake Champlain was going to be the sister lake!" He called home and asked his mother, "Who knows about Lake Champlain and can come to Indonesia to create a sister lake?" Her answer was, "Lisa Borre."

About a year later, the pair discovered that there were, in fact, a number of "twinning" or sister-lake relationships in existence and that each thought they were unique in the world. "We realized that there was a need to create some sort of open mechanism for sharing experience and expertise [and] basically, that is what we do---help people share experience," says Barker.

There has been a movement of international water policy discussions going on for the past few years. LakeNet has been involved in those key meetings, trying to raise awareness and elevate lakes within that agenda, "because they are such important resources and they tend to be overlooked," says Barker. "Literally, there are thousands of people now involved in LakeNet...and we find that everybody is dealing with the same issues, many of them very similar to what we deal with here on the Chesapeake Bay: invasive species, water quality, how to manage land so the water is healthy."

Many of the problems in lake regions are caused by global forces, whether political or economic. Transatlantic freighters that come through the St. Lawrence Seaway into the Great Lakes, for example, are the source of most of the invasive species that have entered the Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes, according to Borre. Excessive water withdrawals and diversions are also concerns shared by lake communities worldwide. "We can't just always look at it as one little issue at a time," says Borre. "Some of these issues are so complex that we really believe there is a need for global communities of people trying to solve them together."

Almost every lake in the world is regulated in terms of surface water level and is drawn down seasonally for hydropower generation and irrigation purposes. "Trying to find management processes that balance the requirements of farmers or hydropower plants and local lake shore residents is a major set of issues," Barker says.

In many developing countries, there is heavy reliance on water resources as the basis for the health and economic growth of the community. "You can have prosperity and economic growth, and you can have conservation and a healthy environment at the same time," says Barker. "We definitely learned in the 20th century that pillaging the environment does not get you to prosperity on any kind of permanent basis. Over the long haul, if you don't take care of the soil, forests, land and water, prosperity will eventually recede."

A lot of what LakeNet is trying to do involves identifying leaders and strengthening the capacity of organizations who are working on lakes. "We don't want to come in and fix things ourselves," Borre says. "We want to try to identify the right people and help them get access to information or financial resources or technical resources---whatever they need."

Much of the world's surface water is trans-boundary, such as Lake Ocrid on the border of Macedonia and Albania. Borre was in the region in 1996 when tension was high between the two countries. Their relationship focused solely on management of the lake. "I was on a boat that started in Macedonia with Macedonian officials, and we were met out in the middle of the lake by the Albanian officials who came aboard and we went across the lake," says Borre. "It was the first time in 50 years that a boat had taken officials of one country into the other-a pretty amazing moment."

"There aren't many other organizations our size with the scope that we're trying to tackle," Borre says. "And I think part of what makes it challenging, but also what makes it work, is that we are so focused on something. That helps keep things moving and keeps a very positive momentum."

For more information about LakeNet, visit

Martie Callaghan is a freelance writer and native Marylander who enjoys spending time with her five grandchildren.


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