Opening Weirs Reduces Some of Negative Impacts of 4 Rivers Project

According to the Yonhap News (June 28th 2018):

“Three major rivers in South Korea have shown marked improvement in water quality and ecosystems after the opening of some weirs built across the rivers under a controversial project (the Four Rivers Project) of former President Lee Myung-bak, the government said Friday…The government of President Moon Jae-in opened 10 of the 16 weirs in the Kum, Nakdong and Yeongsan rivers three times over the past year, and the opening led to marked improvements in water quality with up to a 41 percent reduction in green tides, officials said.”

The so-called Four Rivers project (see here for some of the history and scope) entailed between 2009 and 2012 the deep-dredging and canalisation of extensive stretches of five of the nation’s major rivers (the Han, Geum, Yeongsan and Nakdong, with the Seomjin added later); the construction of 100s of kms of cycle ways and roads through previously sensitive natural areas; the construction of multiple dams and weirs; and the conversion of many natural riparian wetlands into sterile “ecoparks”, with mown and chemical-sprayed lawns, ornamental trees, concrete paths and expensive boardwalks built right across formerly inaccessible ponds and reedbeds.

In addition to huge economic and substantial social costs, the environmental costs of this control-and-concrete project have included a terrible worsening of water quality; the decline or loss of some species from affected areas (including a coincident fall nationwide between 2009 and 2012 in the numbers of Anseriformes recorded by the MOE Census, from 1,675,000 down to 780,000, though with some recovery subsequently);  and the loss of much, irreplaceable natural beauty. Some of this uglification of the countryside came through alteration of the rivers themselves, of course. But equally worriesome, much is now coming from the ongoing replication of  these kinds of ecoparks away from the rivers,   e.g. at Hwajinpo and at many dozens of sites nationwide, including in the supposedly protected Nadong Estuary.

We welcome the deliberate manner in which the opening of weirs on the nation’s rivers is being pursued; and continue to hope that the national discussion will soon (finally!) evolve from issues of water quality alone to include the conservation of biodiversity affected by the current development model.

Conservation of biodiversity is in the national interest of course; and wise use of wetlands is a key component of sustainable development. This should be well-known to decision-makers at least. After all, the ROK benefitted from a UNDP-GEF / Ministry of Environment wetland biodiversity initative at the beginning of the century; then hosted the Ramsar COP in 2008; and followed this by hosting the Convention of Biological Diversity COP in 2014.  This is the kind of expertise – built up over the past two decades –  that now needs to help guide the nation’s policies going forward, not only domestically but also in proposed joint development projects with the North.

Typical Four Rivers ecopark: lower Nakdong River (as of February 2018) © Nial Moores

And this is an ecopark of similar design built in the last two years in the eastern Nakdong Estuary. The entrance to this”boardwalk” states ironically that it is a “Swan-Ecoroad” © Nial Moores

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