[Outlook]Canal education needed

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[Outlook]Canal education needed

A plan to build a canal across Korea was suggested to create a waterway for freight, which would reduce logistics costs, and generate clean water by refilling four dried-up rivers.
Canal proponents said other urgent issues can be resolved as well, if construction is completed.
For instance, the tourism industry will receive a boost, inland areas will be developed and more jobs will be created.
But a concrete blueprint has not been presented to the people because it has become mired in politics. From feasibility to usability, the debate between opponents and proponents is ongoing. There is still a long way to go before reaching a conclusion or one side makes a concession.
The first thing for the new administration to do is to reflect a variety of opinions and draw up a detailed plan that could lead to a consensus among the people.
An examination of public opinion shows many have positive expectations about building the artificial waterway.
For instance, they expect the canal will enhance tourism and create jobs. However, the expectations that it will reduce logistics costs and increase and improve the quantity and quality of water are low.
Threats to drinking water and the possibility that a 20-kilometer tunnel will be needed are the biggest concerns.
Opponents also worry about the amount of aggregate and the number of old bridges that will have to be restored.
Some of the reasons for opposing the plan are political, but all the possible objections people might have need to be addressed thoroughly.
To induce a political consensus about the waterway, a plan that ensures clean and safe tap water must be prepared. At the same time, the administration must persuade and convince people that the cross-country canal project is aimed at cleaning up and revitalizing existing waterways. It must be clear that improving water quality is a top priority.
Most of the rivers where drinking water comes from already have serious problems. During heavy rains, a huge amount of waste, sand and all types of pollutants pour into the rivers, and a green tide phenomenon repeats itself year after year.
Each year, several billions of dollars are spent to manage the problem, but so far efforts have been to little avail.
To resolve this problem, regardless of the cross-country canal, advanced measures to secure drinking water must be introduced. For instance, a dam can be built to ensure a stable supply of drinking water, resources for drinking water can be moved or pumps that move drinking water can be installed not directly in a river but at a small distance away.
Most importantly, water from rivers where ships travel must not be used for drinking. At the same time, to improve water quality and restore the ecosystem, the administration must seek other measures to keep pollutants out of rivers, refill dry rivers and create wetlands.
The administration must also adopt a plan to build an artificial waterway near Mount Songni, rather than building a tunnel in Joryeong. Building a tunnel has several merits, such as not harming forests, not interfering with the ecosystem and not freezing in winter.
But a large-scale tunnel will damage the environment significantly. If a ship travels inside a tunnel for more than two hours, the journey will draw fewer tourists. Later, an extra tunnel will have to be built to accommodate two-way traffic.
More accurate information about the amount of aggregate and the height of bridges must be presented to address unnecessary worries. It is already possible to estimate the profit from selling aggregate and the number of old bridges that will need to be rebuilt. A fair and trustworthy institute must analyze the cost of building the canal. The cost reports so far make several different estimates.
To persuade people, a more reliable analysis must be performed and made public as soon as possible.
If need be, the layout of the waterway can be changed. Logistics are prioritized in the current layout so large-scale vessels can travel at high speed.
But many suggest that improvements to water quality, river maintenance, the creation of wetlands and the restoration of the ecosystem are more important issues.
People must be educated more deliberately if the government expects them to support the project. Problems of land transportation, water management, development of inland areas and measures against global warming must be explained to people.
The varied benefits of building the waterway depending on the area of the country must be clarified and measures to maximize those benefits must be sought.

*The writer is a professor of environmental engineering at Ewha Womans University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Park Seok-soon
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