No time for algae experiments

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No time for algae experiments

Algal blooms have become unpleasant summer visitors, worsening worries about fouled rivers and the quality of drinking water. Minister of Environment Yoon Seong-kyu said in a meeting last month with other senior ministry officials that if there were problems in the restoration work from the last administration on the four major rivers, they should be left untouched so they can be fully recognized.

Minister Yoon ordered the four-rivers project work to be maintained and didn’t want any interference to fix the algal bloom problems. If authorities go out to prevent the algal outbreaks, he argued, they may not discover the severity or exact causes of the proliferation of the green muck. He also ordered the green tide polluting the Nakdong River left untouched to see how bad it can get. His comments, however, can be misunderstood as the chief of environmental policy ordering a critical threat to leave tap water unattended until it worsens without any thought about the health ramifications on the people who depend on the river for drinking water.

The ministry explained that what the minister meant was that if actions are taken before the problems are fully known and understood, water control could be more difficult later. It also cited cases where civil servants cleaned up the algal blooms near the riverside and randomly opened dams in order to disperse them in fear of bad publicity for the Lee Myung-bak administration, which had pushed ahead with the damming and dredging of the four rivers despite environmental concerns.

Regardless of the explanations, the minister cannot avoid criticism and suspicion for experimenting with the algae phenomenon to find fault with the four-rivers restoration project of the former administration. That is an unwise and unprofessional approach toward an environmental problem. Our water sources cannot be used as laboratories on the algal bloom phenomenon. What people are most worried about is the impact on their tap waters.

The ministry must offer immediate and accurate information on the blooms and their development and ease public jitters with scientific actions. Instead of making controversial remarks, the minister should work a little harder on combating the problem. He may have to ask local governments to open dams in order to disperse the blooms to safeguard water quality. At the same time, the ministry should continue with investigation and research on the exact causes and means of prevention.
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