Take care in restoring rivers

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Take care in restoring rivers

The government’s recently released plan to revitalize the country’s four major rivers fell short of easing environmental concerns and instead gave ammunition to the administration’s critics. Environmentalists raised serious concerns over water contamination and ecosystem disruption. Economists questioned the government’s rosy estimate that the river project would create 190,000 new jobs and 23 trillion won in benefits from manufacturing.

We agree with this criticism to a point. The possibility of water contamination is most worrisome. Under its plan, the government will build 16 reservoirs near the four rivers - the Han, Nakdong, Geum and Yeongsan - with small- and medium-sized dams to store 1.25 billion tons of water. But such a move will disrupt water flow and worsen water quality. Test results from the National Institute of Environmental Research showed that dams and reservoirs on these rivers would aggravate water quality.

We nevertheless endorse the idea of reviving these four major rivers and believe the project should not be delayed. Authorities need to fix the problems, not whittle the project down or call it off in the face of opposition. The project is imperative not because the state of the economy calls for job-creating construction projects and regional development, but because of the country’s dire water shortage and flood risks. We believe the heart of the project lies in salvaging the country’s water supply.

If we can secure 1.25 billion tons of water from the project, as the government claims, we would be saved from chronic drought. Civic and environmental groups are nevertheless vehemently against the project because they suspect the government has an ulterior motive. We hope that they would support the idea first and put forward constructive ideas and suggestions to minimize contamination and help make the project successful.

The government should also be aware that pushing and shoving is not always the best way forward. It did not even bother to go through proper environmental impact assessments, which usually take a year, before announcing the plan.

It aims to start construction of reservoirs and dams by September, but only began tests late last year. Few will have faith in the project’s success if it fails to pass a thorough evaluation. Construction can wait, but the government should conduct environmental assessments carefully and thoroughly because we cannot make mistakes with nature.

The government needs to make changes before the final master plan is released in late May. We need to restore the four rivers, but without damaging other natural resources.

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