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Flood control effectiveness of controversial rivers project to be inspected

The government plans to launch a joint inspection of dams and weirs installed in the nation’s four major rivers for their possible flood control effectiveness, following President Moon Jae-in’s earlier call for the effort.

The Ministry of Environment said Wednesday it will join forces with civilian experts to verify whether the so-called four rivers project helped mitigate flood risks during the recent torrential rains, as claimed by the conservative opposition United Future Party.

The mammoth 22-trillion won project, pushed during the conservative President Lee Myung-bak administration from 2008-2013 centered on building weirs on Han, Geum, Yeongsan and Nakdong rivers. Moon ordered a reevaluation of the work soon after taking office to possibly remove the manmade structures and allow the dammed pools to flow naturally.

The reservoirs were made to supply water for farming, and river bottoms were dredged for flood prevention. The project was finished in October 2011.

As the latest heavy downpour which started on Aug. 1 caused significant casualties and property damages, environmental activists and politicians have questioned whether the project actually helped in controlling the water level across regions.

From the start of this month to 6 a.m. Wednesday, the country has reported 33 dead, nine missing and eight injured as a result of the rain. More than 7,800 people have been displaced from their homes while a total of 24,203 incidents of property damage have been reported.

Moon told senior secretaries Monday to consider this downpour as “an opportunity to conduct an empirical analysis to measure the effectiveness of the reservoirs created through the four major rivers projects to control floods.”

The main opposition United Future Party has been praising the Lee administration’s project for reducing the flood damages, while Moon and the ruling Democratic Party of Korea have criticized the program since the project kicked off in 2009.

An Environment Ministry official said it is hard to verify the flood control effectiveness of the four rivers project with the given data, adding that more empirical data will be compiled. The official expected the inspection would not take long.

By Ko Jun-tae (