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[Opinion] The Taehwa River Cleanup

Posted December. 05, 2005 07:09,   


Only a few years ago, the Taehwa River that runs across the heart of Ulsan was a “dead river.” Residents in the area weren’t able to open the window, let alone going for a walk, due to the stink.

In June through August 2000, 10,000 mullet and crucian carp died in a river fish kill. Deformed fish with crooked backbones and protruding sides were discovered at one point. All the above situations happened after the amount of DO (dissolved oxygen) decreased as a tremendous amount of factory wastes and domestic waste water flowed into the river.

However, the Taehwa River, once dead, has revived. As the clarity of the water becomes increasingly clear and polished, a salmon that only lives in clean water has excited Ulsan residents with its first appearance in the river in 40 years, in November 2004. At present, a school of salmon, sweet fish and mullet are swimming in the river, and flocks of birds such as egrets are coming to the river. The fifth-grade water quality, which was equivalent of sewage until the 1990s, improved to third-grade in the early 2000s, and now the quality is rated second-grade.

Nearby ecosystems have come to life as well.

The tireless efforts Ulsan City made to revive the Taehwa River clearly deserve to be used as a model for other local governments.

Beginning in 1995, the city spent 240 billion won to install drain pipes, establish sewage disposal plants and remove impurities at the bottom of the river. However, many say that the revival of the Taehwa River would have been impossible without cooperation from 141 local environment groups and corporations. These groups and corporations chose their own areas for purification and launched massive cleanup movements in their own areas. They are now strictly monitoring the river to make sure no one dumps waste into it.

An increasing number of local bodies are reviving rivers. Seoul City is working hard to repair 50 rivers, including Yangjaecheon, Choenggyecheon and Banpocheon. In order for these purification projects to succeed, there should be a strong support from environmental groups. The success story with the Taehwa River shows that a true environmental movement can be achieved when environmental groups directly help residents, not when they fight against national projects with political motivations.

If environmental groups try hard to improve the environment for residents, society will look at them from a different angle, and the harmony between development and environment will appear in reality, not in slogans.

Song Yeong-eon, Editorial Writer, yeongeon@donga.com