Don't Touch our Rivers
Friday, April 23, 2010 8:19:08 AM
The South Korean government's Four Major Rivers Restoration Project calls for building 16 dams, dredging 570 million m3 of sand and gravel to deepen nearly 700 km of riverbed, renovating two estuarine barrages, and constructing bike trails, athletic fields, and parks along the waterways. It is one of the costliest engineering projects in South Korea’s history. It is attracting fiery opposition and ignoring expert panel recommendations on issues such as water quality, flood control, rainfall patterns, and environmental impacts. One thing is certain: the project will dramatically transform the Han, Nakdong, Geum, and Yeongsan rivers.
The Four Rivers Project is out of step with the way river management is evolving in Europe and the United States where we now aim to give rivers room to meander and flood. This approach is more ecologically sound, and eliminates river maintenance imposed by dredging and embankments.
In a survey of October 2009, before construction started, the Korea Society Opinion Institute reported that 26.4% of respondents wanted to see the Four Rivers Project cancelled immediately; another 73.5% wanted it postponed until there was a social consensus. Dozens of South Korean and international
environmental organizations have issued statements opposing the plan.
At the beginning the United Nations Environment Programme seems to have supported the project, but a November 2009 draft overview from the United Nations Environment Programme on South Korea’s Green Growth vision notes that the Four Rivers project is controversial and urges the country to assess and mitigate potential impacts on wetlands. So the United Nations Environment Programme seemed to back off from the previous endorsement of the Four Rivers project.
Wetlands play a crucial role in flood control, water supply and water purification. The construction of levies and dams on rivers to improve flood control has often had the reverse effect. Floodplain restoration and removal of nearby structures should be considered as an alternative solution.