A balanced review is key
The signature pork-barrel politics used by former President Lee Myung-bak to rehabilitate the country’s four major rivers has helped to moderate flood risks but left questions over security, quality and efficacy, according to findings by a special government panel. The panel comprised of 90 private experts concluded after making 240 field studies that flood risks in 93.7 percent of areas surrounding the four rivers have been reduced. The combined reservoir of 1.17 billion cubic meters (309.1 billion gallons) has also proved a valuable backup against drought.
But the special panel commissioned by the prime minister’s office discovered problems in safety, water quality, and the effectiveness of the damming in some areas. The 16 dams and levees built around the four rivers - Nakdong, Geum, Yeongsan, and Han - were well designed. But underwater, six already have leaks. Some dams and reservoir embankments also showed water leaks or corrosion. Water quality worsened in four reservoirs in the upper Nakdong River.
Many of the problems were caused because construction was pushed ahead without careful consideration of the surroundings. The panel found that some of the ecological parks created near the rivers had plants that are incompatible with the habitat. Some reservoirs were created too far away, offering little help during dry spells.
The Lee Myung-bak government was too eager to complete the construction within the president’s five-year term, which caused the problems. The panel concluded that the government rushed through the four-rivers project without thorough studies and second opinions because it was working against a timetable. Deficiencies were rampant due to the hasty construction process. The entire project had used tax funds worth 22.2 trillion won ($19.9 billion). And it will still require more funds to reinforce the dams. Someone should be held accountable for the water leaks found in the dams that were only recently completed. The builders and supervisory offices need to be investigated.
Some are already calling for the problematic dams to be removed. But it is premature to jump to conclusions that the damming system has been a failure. The successes requires as much attention as the shortfalls of the project. Outlines for improvements should be laid out after closer study and discussions.
JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 24, Page 34