Outrageous water qualityThe 23 million inhabitants of the Seoul metropolitan area depend on the Han River for their water supply. Because of this, the government spent the astronomical figure of 1 trillion won ($870 million) to improve the water quality of the Han, and the people approved of this decision.
But as it turns out, the water in the river is actually worse than it was a decade ago. A Ministry of Environment report showed that the chemical oxygen demand of the Han, measured at the Paldang Dam, was 4.0 parts per million on average last year, up from 3.2 in 2000, indicating that the amount of organic pollutants had grown. Biochemical oxygen demand was 1.3 ppm, just 0.1 ppm less than in 2000. These figures indicate unacceptable levels of pollution, despite the 2.8 trillion won reportedly spent to improve the water quality of Paldang Lake from 1999 to 2005. Where did all that money go?
The water of the Han River near Gwangjin Bridge is supplied as tap water to residents of Seoul and Gyeonggi. But its BOD and COD values have also significantly worsened compared to 2000. The water quality further down the Han River is in an even more serious state. Near Noryangjin, Yeongdeungpo, Gayang Bridge and Haengju Bridge all the water was below level III quality. Water at this level can be used for drinking only after undergoing extensive purification, and water-based leisure activities are prohibited.
Meanwhile, it has come to light that the water of the Han River is swarming with colon bacteria. The number detected at Jamsil was 12,917 per 100 milliliters, which is more than 10 times higher than the 918 recorded in 2000.
People had vague expectations that water quality was improving due to publicized policies: the introduction of a total water pollution load management system and the raising of the water quality along the lower end of the Han River to level II water. According to a recent survey by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, one out of two people drink tap water without any filtration, and eight out of 10 people use tap drinking water when making their coffee or tea or when cooking food.
Tap water directly affects people’s health. We should examine the full spectrum of the water management policy, in addition to a new prohibition of reckless development operations and regulations on illegal sewage discharge into our streams.
Whenever the issue of water quality surfaces, the authorities simply avert their eyes to the reality, saying, “It’s still drinkable.” However, this irresponsible attitude is the suspected culprit behind the deteriorating water quality. It’s past time for some serious self-examination.