[EDITORIALS]Protecting 3 Major Rivers

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[EDITORIALS]Protecting 3 Major Rivers

Special legislation to protect the environment near the Nakdong, Yeongsan and Geum Rivers cleared the National Assembly's Environment and Labor Committee on Friday. It still must pass the plenary session, but both ruling and opposition parties agree on its passage, so the bill is likely to become law by the year's end. The legislation designates both banks of the rivers' upper reaches conservation zones and allows development there only so far as the resulting pollution is minimized. Thus the government's environmental policy has shifted from cleaning up after pollution occurs to preventing it beforehand. The fact that the bill was drafted after overcoming long-running disputes between upstream residents of the rivers and those further down is also notable.

Frankly, the government's policies on improving water quality upstream have fallen short of expectations. The government has put out new policies every time an environmental accident has occurred since the phenol leakage into the Nakdong River in 1991. It also invested more than 17 trillion won ($13.4 billion) into constructing infrastructure for environmental protection. But just this summer, the amount of algae in a lake that is part of the Geum River reached an alarming level and the highest warning was issued. The water quality in the Naju section of the Yeongsan River in South Jeolla province was graded "extremely poor."

These examples show that monetary investment alone cannot cure water pollution. The legislation moved Friday strengthened regulations precisely for this reason, but other supplementary measures are also called for.

The new legislation will not solve all problems. The 1999 Act on the Improvement of Water Quality in the Han River System also encountered many problems of implementation. Construction companies built high-rise apartments next to a reservoir, saying that particular locale was excluded from the conservation zone. In some cases taxes levied on downstream usage of water were misappropriated.

Local governments may clash while setting goals for water quality improvement. Resident opposition to suppressing development is expected. For the new legislation to succeed, the committees that will be set up for each river should first gather public opinion in those areas and seek cooperation of the local governments.

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