Amid drought, a plan reassessed

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Amid drought, a plan reassessed

On Monday, much welcome rain fell across the nation, and though the drought-ridden South Chungcheong region saw average precipitation of 24 millimeters, that was far from enough.

Following a dry spell over the past year, eight cities and counties in South Chungcheong, including Boryeong, Seosan and Dangjin, are seriously reviewing how to combat drought in the region and adjust water supplies, including taking advantage of the four-rivers restoration project.

The region has not seen adequate rainfall since the 74 millimeters of precipitation that fell Oct. 21, 2014.

The province had a total average precipitation of 564.9 millimeters this year - only 44.9 percent that of past years.

On Monday afternoon at Daeheung-myeon in Yesang County, farmers were still gloomy despite the rainfall overnight.

“It can be a little relief to the upland crop but there is no end to the drought,” said Lee Bok-su, 62, the head of the village. “Under these conditions, we will have to fold farming for next year. Our minister and governor came and promised us they would dig us a well and draw in water from the Geum River, but we don’t know when that will begin.”

Another farmer from the province, 68-year-old Lee Jong-seok from Buseok-myeon in Seosan added, “Farming for this year is already over. Unless more rain comes, the rice paddies on the reclaimed lands will be completely ruined.”

Yet, there are already some 1.166 billion cubic meters (39.4 billion cubic feet) of water preserved across the 16 reservoirs built for irrigation as a part of the Lee Myung-bak administration’s four-rivers restoration project. That’s enough water to fill the Boryeong Dam, which has a capacity to hold 116.9 cubic meters and supplies water to eight cities and counties in South Chungcheong, 10 times over.

But while one area has water sitting idle, other regions are seeing their fields and farms dry up and wither away due to the fact that water distribution is lacking. The scandal-ridden 22 trillion won ($19.5 billion) four-rivers project was aimed at restoring the areas surrounding the country’s four major rivers - the Han, the Geum, the Yeongsan and the Nakdong.

Even now, political strife continues over the project, as its supporters point to its necessity in delivering water to dry areas while its detractors say that such an extreme drought would not be an issue if the project had been properly carried out in the first place.

A project to construct a canal to deliver water from the Baekje Reservoir from the Geum River to the Boryeong Dam has started and is expected to be completed by March.

However, until then, the water from the Baekje Reservoir is but an unattainable mirage.

A project to build a waterway to link Baeje Reservoir, located in Buyeo County and Cheongyang County in South Chungcheong, with the Boryeong Dam, has been proposed since 2012, when the four-rivers project was completed.

But because of the controversies surrounding the project - including bribery, shoddy construction and environmental side effects - the proposal fizzled.

South Chungcheong Governor Ahn Hee-jung, who assumed office in 2010, was opposed to the four-rivers project in the beginning, calling it a waste of money.

Yet, since then, he had reversed his position and is pushing to connect the four-rivers reservoirs to key dams in the province.

Some ruling Saenuri Party lawmakers are insisting that the need for the four-rivers project is just now being revealed, pointing out that even Governor Ahn has switched his position.

Still, main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy lawmakers claim that if the four-rivers project was implemented properly initially, the country wouldn’t be suffering from a drought. “If the government wants to properly manage its major water systems including the Geum, Han and Nakdong rivers, it will be best to properly discuss things with the local autonomous government,” Governor Ahn told the JoongAng Ilbo on Monday.

“There definitely needs to be cooperation among local people on these management plans,” he added.

In response to the drought, Ahn proposed last week to Minister of Public Safety and Security Park In-yong that a 30-meter pipeline be constructed to link the Gongju Reservoir on the Geum River and the dried-up Yedang Reservoir, both in South Chungcheong.

He said that once the pipeline is built, at least 100,000 cubic meters of water could be delivered from the Geum River to Yedang Reservoir.

Since 2012, he has proposed to authorities a route for Geum River water to be transported to the Boryeong Dam.

In response to critics who blasted him for changing his stance on the project, Ahn replied that the plan to link the Geum River and the Boryeong Dam was separate from the four-rivers project. This will bring water from downstream Geum to Boryeong, he explained.

“There cannot be a repeat of a projected funded by 24 trillion won of our national budget without even a proper review,” He maintained in a Facebook post on Saturday.

But in Okcheon County, 60-year-old Jo Yeong-gu has plowed over his fields and given up on farming this year. He was only able to produce a tenth of the peppers and other produce he had compared to the previous year. “My livelihood is unclear because I have botched up dryland farming and fishing as well. I’ve never seen a drought like this in all of my 60 years.”

“It’s idiocy to fight over where the water is coming from when there is a drought,” added Yoon Chun-gyeong, an environmental planning professor at Konkuk University. “Rather than evaluating the merit of the four-rivers project, we need to get wise and effectively manage the water supply that is already in place.”

BY SPECIAL REPORTING TEAM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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