Rein in the rivers project

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Rein in the rivers project

The Ministry of Environment has reportedly asked the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs to provide a new water quality improvement plan for the four river restoration project. Creating reservoirs and cleaning up the riverbed will alter the quality of the water, the Environment Ministry said, asking for a plan to manage water quality.

The National Institute of Environmental Research announced in May its forecast for the change in water quality that would result from the project. The study, however, was conducted before the decision was made to build movable dams by constructing floodgates on reservoirs. Now, the master plan for the four river restoration project has to change.

It is belated but fortunate that the Environment Ministry has stopped the hasty environmental reviews. President Lee Myung-bak has repeatedly emphasized that the four river project is not a matter of choice, but a requirement. Various ministries have banded together to hold joint press conferences to persuade the public. In May, officials from the Lee administration even toured the nation to present the master plan.

And yet, various polls show that most people aren’t convinced of the need to push forward with the project. Some still see it as a disguise to build a grand canal, while others express concerns that the 22 trillion won ($18.7 billion) project is being implemented too quickly.

In order to clear up all the suspicions surrounding the four river project and win public support, it is necessary to slow down the entire program.

A small procedural flaw, after all, could lead to enormous distrust on behalf of the public.

It is not too late to carry out the project step by step, to re-evaluate the environmental outcome and to assess the change in water quality. The selection of a construction firm should also be made carefully, and the process should not be rushed.

Instead of insisting on a deadline of 2012, it may be possible to prioritize different phases of the four river project and carry out development of them one at a time.

All concerned ministers should also engage the public more often by holding open discussion sessions.

The four river restoration project is a state-run program of massive proportions, and it requires a national consensus and careful consideration along the way.

The Environment Ministry’s recent request for another environmental evaluation should serve as a reminder that we should take our time with the project.

It also could help avoid hasty implementation.
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