Getting used to droughts
The Soyang River Dam on the upper tributary of the Han River showed a water level of 157.41 (516.44 feet) meters this month, the fourth-lowest ever. It is the first time the dam’s water level fell so low after hitting 156.41 meters in 1997. The central region, including Gangwon, has been hit by an unprecedented drought since last summer. The dry spell has expanded to Gangwon, North Chungcheong and the northern part of Gyeonggi. Some of the reservoirs are showing dry, cracked beds. The coming months are a bigger worry. Weather authorities predict the dry weather will continue into May. The capital area may be short of water. There is no scientific evidence to back that the spring drought has been caused by global warming. But most experts agree that global warming has shaken the Earth’s equilibrium, causing opposing extremities of downpours and droughts in certain areas.
After a study of the climate, the National Disaster Management Institute last year warned that lengthy spells of dry days in spring can cause various natural disasters on the Korean Peninsula. The Korean Peninsula is getting warmer faster than the average global pace. Even without considering future dangers, we must not forget that Korea is a water-deficit country. South Korea gets an average annual rainfall of about 1,300 millimeters (51 inches), more than the world average of 715 millimeters. But per capita water resources hover below the global average due to our high population density. Water availability per person totals 1,452 cubic meters (51,277 cubic feet), way below the water-stressed nation threshold of 1,700 cubic meters. South Korea’s livelihood and industrial capacity could be threatened if countermeasures against water crises are not planned.
Rains in the Korean Peninsula are concentrated in the summer. Dams and irrigation serve to keep the rainfall in reservoirs. Multipurpose dams constructed under past military regimes helped the country prepare against droughts. But dam projects are stalled by protests of residents and environmental activists. The country may have to consider building smaller dams that do not disturb the environment. Water supplies should be more closely watched so they are not wasted. About 500 billion won ($452.3 million) worth of tap water is being lost every year due to old pipes. There must be more recycling of water waste as well.
JoongAng Ilbo, Mar. 24, Page 30