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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on June 9)

2018/06/09 09:23

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Efficient water management

Time to make efforts to revive four rivers

The Moon Jae-in administration has taken a significant step toward establishing an integrated water management system. This step calls for the Ministry of Environment to take charge of managing both the quantity and quality of water. This is a far cry from the current dual management system.

The environment ministry has so far been responsible for water quality, with the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport controlling the quantity. This division has long stood in the way of effective water management, resulting in deteriorating water quality, overlapping investment and a waste of manpower and the state budget.

To overcome those problems, President Moon has actively pushed for the new system since his inauguration in May 2017. The National Assembly approved three bills, including a basic water management bill and a government organization revision bill, last month. The approval has laid the legal groundwork for the unified water management system.

On Tuesday, the government decided to transfer 188 land ministry officials as well as financing of about 600 billion won ($558 million) to the environment ministry. The Korea Water Resources Corp. will also come under the wing of the ministry. But it will take a year or so for the Basic Water Management Act to go into effect. Thus, the Moon administration should make thorough preparations for the launch of the new system.

More noteworthy is that the new law calls for the creation of a presidential National Water Management Committee to be co-chaired by the prime minister and a nongovernment expert. This panel is to approve a 10-year basic water management plan which will be worked out by the environment ministry. One of its major tasks is to settle disputes over the use of water resources.

The establishment of the unified framework marks an end to the turf war that the two ministries have waged over water management authority for the last 25 years. If such an integrated system had been introduced far earlier, the country could have avoided former President Lee Myung-bak's four river refurbishment project, which turned out to be an environmental disaster. It wasted 22 trillion won in taxpayer money over nearly four years from 2009.

We hope the new system will prevent a recurrence of the river-destroying project. The environment ministry should speed up its efforts to revive the four rivers -- the Han, Nakdong, Geum and Yeongsan. It also needs to ensure water supply as the country is expected to suffer a water shortage from 2025.

But it is still not without problems. Regrettably, the land ministry still retains part of the right to manage rivers. This is why environmental activists are accusing the Moon government of adopting a half-baked measure. To deflect their criticism, the authorities should do their best to manage water effectively and in a more environmentally friendly manner.

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