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River systems threatened by pollution

Posted October. 25, 2000 13:03,   


With comprehensive water-quality control measures for the Keum River and Youngsan River decided Tuesday, the blueprint for the water-quality control measures begun in 1998 for the four largest river systems has been completed.

Current level of pollution:

As of August this year, the water-quality level of the lakes of the Pal-dang, Yongchon and Ju-ahm dams were found to have chemical oxygen demand (COD) of 3.2-4.3, a C-grade in water quality. The government has proposed to bring the water-quality level of the Pal-dang dam to A-grade level and for the other dams, B-grade.

Prior to the confluence of the Gapchon rivulet from Taejon and Mi-ho rivulet from Chungju into Paldang Lake, the water-quality of the lake recorded a quality level of A-grade, which dropped to C afterward. In August, for the first time, a first-ever algae-warning was issued. The sewage treatment level for water entering the Keum River recorded 60.3%, which is below the national average of 65.9%, while the water systems feeding the Daechong Lake recorded a treatment level of 21.5%.

"Currently, the Taejon area discharges about 800,000 tons of sewage daily, of which only 600,000 tons are treated," a source in the Keum River Environmental Management Agency said. "As the amount of sewage is predicted to increase, the expansion of treatment facility is urgent."

In the case of Yongsan River, the Damyang Dam has a COD level of 6.1, while Kwangju Dam has a level of 8.0, a situation much worse than for the Keum River. The sewage treatment level of the tributaries of the Youngsan River recorded 64.7%.

The major cause of the pollution for these areas has been determined to be the lack of running water. As they are agricultural areas, four smaller dams in the upper water systems prevent the free flow of water during the dry season. As the water-flow level of the middle and lower areas of the river drop, the concentration of pollutants rises gradually.

"In the case of the water systems around the city of Kwangju, during the dry season the pollutants completely cover these waterways," director of the Youngsan River Environmental Management Agency Chung Do-Young said, calling for a review of the minimum water flow level requirement for the water systems.

Government response:

The core of the government's response is to purchase land near the river basins and take greater control of the sewage leakage and treatment facilities.

The three rivers, except the Han River, will be placed on mandatory pollution level management beginning in 2002-2004, which will restrict the amount of sewage into the rivers regardless of types and concentration of pollutants.

The greatest problem for the upper water systems of the Keum and Youngsan rivers is the fact that half of the pollutants released into the water system come from the waste matter of livestock. As such, the government has proposed that the waste matter be turned into compost as much as possible and not be released into the river system, and also plans to mandate a waste disposal facility to treat the matter prior to release.

Public response:

In the case of the Keum River water system, the management responsibility has been shared by a central agency as well as the autonomous local agency leading to a ineffective management. The governmental environmental agency has been less than eager to crack down on polluters, as it might lead to a slowdown in the regional economy, and such discoveries of the polluters only lead to a half-hearted effort toward pollution control.

As such, the government has decided to modify the Keum and Youngsan Rivers Environmental Surveillance Agency into a permanent surveillance and investigative agency that holds the authority to investigate, crack down on and hold administrative authority over the violators.

The Youngsan River measure proposed by the government has met with fierce opposition by the public, leading to three disrupted public hearings on the matter, as the people have alleged that the measure would stunt the further development and economic progress of the region.

"We have met numerous times with the residents of the area to persuade them to realize the necessity of the water-quality protection measure in the upper water-systems, and we have succeeded somewhat," director of the Water Quality Control Agency of the Ministry of Environment Lee Kyu-Yong said. "We will continue to seek and keep in mind the wishes of the residents in order to provide support as we enforce the water-quality control policy."

Kim Joon-Seok kjs359@donga.com