Clean water is the keyThe four-rivers restoration project is steaming ahead for a finale. Dam construction is already 51 percent complete and dredging work is 32 percent finished. Work on most of the floodgates is now entering the final stage and restoration work on the riversides is almost done. Still, opposition parties and some civil groups are complaining about the project’s deficiencies. The key issue is whether the project will revive or destroy the environment.
Korea is a country suffering from a chronic scarcity of water resources. The four-rivers restoration project has been pursued by the government out of a realistic need to secure sufficient water resources, prevent frequent damage from floods during the rainy season and revitalizing regional economies. But the project’s success ultimately depends on the quality of the water resources secured thereafter. No matter how perfect the construction work may be, the project will be stigmatized as a failure as long as water quality gets worse. If, on the other hand, water quality improves, all opposing voices will be squelched with a single stroke.
However, environmental problems already revealed by the National Assembly’s inspection of the project during its regular session have given us something to brood over. First, most of the dredging and construction companies have been neglectful of the potential environmental damage they may be inflicting. Some companies discharged foul water into the rivers and did not properly dispose of tons of mud they dredged from the river bottom. Others have pushed ahead without setting up a required center to measure water quality or without considering the possibility that the area could be habitat for endangered species.
In 20 cases, the construction companies violated requirements for environmental impact evaluations, and in eight cases neglected to implement preliminary environmental assessments. That could well translate into an attempt to hasten the construction work. These problems will only tarnish the original goal of the four- rivers project, despite the practical necessity for the work contained therein.
The four-rivers restoration project should proceed as meticulously as possible. If we leave the current situation unchecked, in which illegal waste such as asbestos-tainted bricks are often found, we cannot ensure the project’s success. We should never forget the ultimate goal of the project, which is not the construction of 24 dams, but securing as much clean water as possible.