[Letters] Importance of the Post Four-River Project Maintenance

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[Letters] Importance of the Post Four-River Project Maintenance

Today, the rivers are going through an ordeal. As the dams from the four-rivers project keep water in the reservoir, the water flow is reduced, which worsened the water quality especially during the winter, when the rainfall is small. Also, the flow of the stream becomes slower, making mud and sand to accumulate. The riverbed is elevated towards the lower reaches of the stream. As a result, the riverbed became higher than the adjacent farming land, causing frequent floods. It is an outcome of focusing on development instead of providing appropriate maintenance of the rivers. It is the result of recklessly abusing the rivers for domestic and industrial water supply for over forty years. The four-rivers project was started in order to resolve all these problems.

The main work of the four-rivers project contains dredging to lower the riverbed and the construction of weirs to reinforce the reservoir’s capacity. First of all, dredging the riverbed is inevitable in order to restore the function of the river. Moreover, the rivers need to be better maintained since we need more water but can no longer build more dams. The capacity of the rivers should be expanded to have greater volumes of water available for wiser usage. Not only we need to prepare for the draughts and floods but also for the climate changes. At the World Water Week in Stockholm, Sweden, a Dutch scholar reported a serious concern over a disturbance in the ecosystem as the water temperature of the rivers rise due to global warming and other environmental factors. He proposed to expand the river capacity as a solution. There has been much criticism and misunderstandings about the four-rivers project from the beginning on, mostly because of its association with the president’s campaign promise to build canals. However, even if the current administration wishes to turn the four-rivers project into a canal construction, we don’t have the time and technological resources. Wouldn’t it be too farfetched to oppose the project for canals that might be built in the next administration when you can’t even foresee what will happen tomorrow?

The four-rivers project has to put more emphasis on the future maintenance. The water quality issue is mentioned as a vulnerable point of the project. If the weirs are built, the water flow might become slower or pollution may increase. The main cause of the bad water quality are the pollutants that flow into the rivers. As a solution to the pollution problem, facilities preventing pollutants from entering the river should be built just like at the Taehwa River in Ulsan and the river improvement works in Germany. The fourrivers project includes plans to build pollutant processing facilities and to expand the swamp for more ecosystems. If the plans are successfully implemented, we might have hopes to revive the rivers destroyed in the course of reckless use for forty years.

There has not been a consistent policy about the river management or an official in charge of the job. Rather than wasting time and energy on the dispute over the four-rivers project, we need to have a serious discussion about how to maintain the rivers after the project. We need to make sure that the rivers in Korea become a hope for the future.

Yun Ju-hwan,

a professor of environmental system engineering at Korea University
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