City dumped sewage into drinking water reservoir

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City dumped sewage into drinking water reservoir

Namyangju City in Gyeonggi has been under fire for its illegal and secret release of wastewater into the Paldang Reservoir, a source of drinking water for 25 million residents in Seoul and its surrounding areas for the past seven years.

The Ministry of Environment said Tuesday that the Hwado Integrated Sewage Disposal Plant managed by the Gyeonggi city has discharged wastewater since 2005 when the amount of sewage exceeded 43,000 tons of the disposal capacity. The ministry said the plant dumped up to 15,000 tons of toxic sewage on a given day into Paldang Reservoir, a tributary of the Han River.

The Environment Ministry detected unlawful activity by the city government when it was conducting a probe to look into the spread of algal blooms in rivers across the country.

In its defense, city officials said they asked for an expansion of the disposal facility, but were rejected by the ministry. “We requested government subsidies to increase the disposal capacity by 19,000 tons to process wastewater, but were rejected in 2010,” said Kim Jang-eung, a deputy chief of the sewage management team at the city office.

“When we received the request from the city, we asked for sufficient reasons to back up their request before we granted government money,” said Kim Kyeong-eun, the sewage treatment team director at the Environment Ministry. “The city office then withdrew their claim for the subsidy.”

The ministry probed 13 other disposal plants in the city for possible leaking of filthy water but found no other unauthorized activities.

“It is not correct to claim that discharging wastewater is an outright illegal activity, as the Environment Ministry permits us to do so when circumstances required it,” said city officer Kim. “We have also released wastewater through an emergency outlet, not a secret one.”

However, ministry official Kim countered the claim by saying, “The ministry allows local governments to release wastewater only under urgent situations like during heavy rainfall that leave them with no choice but to discharge.”

In response to mounting criticism over its seven-year practice, the city office said it will increase the disposal capacity by 4,000 tons to handle 47,000 tons a day.

The ministry said it will decide whether to press charges against city’s Mayor Lee Seok-woo once a complete probe is carried out. If Mayor Lee is sued by the ministry, it will mark the first time for a local government head to face legal questioning for dumping wastewater.

The latest allegation against the city of half-a-million people has shattered its reputation, as it previously was praised for its eco-friendly water disposal facility and ability to dispose of sewage.

By Kang Jin-kyu, Kang Chan-soo []
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