By Kim Se-jeong
Experts called on the government Monday to take measures to release more water from upstream dams into the four rivers to improve diminishing water quality and algal bloom in the rivers affected by the Four Major Rivers Project.
The study came almost two years after an independent group of experts announced in December 2014 that the river project had a major negative impact on the environment. The panelists urged the government to act to minimize consequences. The affected rivers are the Han, Nakdong, Geum and Youngsan.
The study shows the new approach should focus on lowering water level requirements for 16 small dams. By lowering water level requirements, authorities can release extra water any time of the year, which would wash away algae and other toxic elements in the river.
"By releasing water from the dams, the river can clean itself which will keep algal bloom under control,"the Ministry of Environment said in a statement.
Currently, small dams are open only a couple of times a year during monsoon season. Droughts in recent years encouraged the dams to be used to store water, causing the water to move slowly or stagnate. The bad water quality of those four rivers can pose a public health threat because they are a source of water for people in the region.
It is uncertain if the government will pay heed to the study in the policy.
The river project was a flagship green-growth project spearheaded by former President Lee Myung-bak and cost 22.2 trillion won ($17.3 billion) of taxpayer money. It created 16 dams, along the rivers with the aim to prepare for droughts.
The four-year project ended in April 2012. With droughts in the following years, algal bloom spread in the rivers near the dams and water quality worsened. It took several months for the government to admit the algal bloom was a result of the river project.
In December 2014 under another conservative administration, a group of experts announced the river project caused more environmental damage than predicted and urged the government to act.
Currently, the government sends a warning to water supply sources when the quality hits a low level as well as toughening regulations on wastewater that is released back into rivers after treatment.
Environmentalists opposed the project from the outset, warning of the environmental impact. They said Monday's report demonstrated the government's project was a failure.
"The only way to solve the problem is to open all 16 small dams completely so that water can flow freely," according to the Korea Federation for Environmental Movements. The NGO has long advocated keeping the dams open. "This study shows the government lied about the project."