The demand for clear and clean water is ever-growing as the living standards and environmental consciousness of Koreans rise. Since the 1960s, the need to address the deterioration of water resources due to the industrialization, urbanization, and population growth has been increasingly recognized by the government and the public, especially after the major pollution accident involving phenol on the Nakdong River in 1991. Accordingly, the Ministry of Environment (MOE) established the Comprehensive Measures on the Provision of Clean Water in 1993 for the protection of public health and the creation of pleasant water environments.
More recently, MOE established the Comprehensive Water Quality Management Measures for the Four Major Rivers between 1998 and 2000. The four major rivers are the Han-gang, Nakdong-gang, Geum-gang, and Yeongsan/Sumjin-gang, which meet the water needs of more than 40 million Korean people. Major policies include the total water pollution load management system, riparian buffer zones, land purchasing, a water use charge and resident support measures.
To ensure the smooth implementation of these measures through legal backing, the Act on Watershed Management and Community Support was enacted for each of the rivers between 1999 and 2002. These measures and acts were developed through more than 420 discussions and public hearings with stakeholders including residents, local governments, and experts over a period of five years from 1998 to 2002. With 11.1 trillion Won (9.65 billion USD) in total investments, the overarching goals are to raise the quality of water resources to Grade 1 or 2 according to the Korean index (see table below) and to raise the proportion of the population connected to sewerage facilities to 72.6~84.4% by 2005.
Grade Level Index
Below 1 (1)
Below 25 (1)
Below 3 (3)
Below 25 (5)
Below 6 (6)
Below 25 (15)
Below 8 (8)
Below 100 (15)
10 (Below 10)
No floating trash
* Unit: mg/L for all except Colon Bacilli, MPN/100ml * BOD: indicator for streams, COD: indicator for lakes and marshes * ( ) and T-P, T-N apply to lakes and marshes
The Total Water Pollution Load (TPWL) management system contributes to the sustainable management of water resources by setting a target water quality, which has been differentially set based on the results of an environmental survey conducted in each river basin and in consideration of the specific water use. This is in direct improvement to the previous regulations based on pollution concentration. For the Han river basin, using the TPWL management system is optional, and Kwangju City is the first to voluntarily establish a TPWL management plan, to be implemented between July 2004 and the end of 2007. In other river basins, water quality goals have been established in 8 locations of the Nakdong river basin, 9 locations in the Geum river basin, and 7 locations in the Yongsan/Sumjin river basin. For achieving these targets, five cities and provinces in the Nakdong river basin have already established TPWL management plans in early 2004 and other local governments in the Geum and Yongsan/Sumjin rivers are following suit.
As a precautionary measure, riparian buffer zones are being established for up to 300m~1km from the water edge along the upstream banks of the four major rivers where the development of new restaurant, lodging, livestock faming, and industrial facilities are restricted. Currently 1,015 km² have been designated as riparian buffer zones. Moreover, the government is involved in land purchasing, currently around 3,300 km², to prevent water pollution from non-point sources, among others.
In accordance with the user-pays-principle and for equitable cost sharing strategies, the MOE has levied a water use charge on downstream residents since 1999 in proportion to the amount of water usage. The collected revenue supplies the Watershed Management Fund, which supports upstream residents and local governments under land use regulations set forth to protect water resources. The Fund supports community projects and provides funding for the construction and operation of basic environmental services, as well as land purchasing. The estimated budget for 2004 is around 524.3 billion Won (456 million USD) for all four river basins.
Short-term plans include amending the Special Act on the Han River to shift the TWPL management system from optional to mandatory. Also, the TWPL system will be gradually applied on a wider scale per region and watershed, and the local support activities of the Watershed Management Fund will be expanded to incite voluntary cooperation from residents and local governments for protecting water resources.
In the field of industrial waste, the Sector Based Environmental Action Plan (SBEP) was established in January 2004. Its contents include 1) allowable emissions standards differentiated according to differences in treatment levels and costs between industries and watersheds, 2) an increase of items listed as specific water pollutants, 3) the introduction of testing and management of bio-toxins, 4) upgrading the permits system to take into consideration industry and watershed characteristics, and 5) improvements for more efficient monitoring. Furthermore, a Council for the Industrial Waste Management System Improvement Plan (24 members) has been created to facilitate the participation of stakeholders such as business, environmental technology professionals, environmental organizations, and local governments.
For advanced industrial waste management, short-term plans include pilot projects for improving monitoring and making necessary amendments to related legislations. Mid- to long-term plans include developing concrete measures for differentiated allowable emissions standards by 2008, providing an industrial waste management policy to control bio-toxins by 2007, and increasing the number of special water pollutants from 17 to 27 items by 2008.
Lastly, the management of non-point source pollution, including livestock waste, is being actively improved through the new Comprehensive Non-point Source Pollution Management Measures for the Four Major Rivers, settled in March 2004. This set of measures represents the growing focus of MOE water policies on non-point source pollution in light of the fact that point-source pollution is being largely prevented through the widespread increase in sewage systems and treatment facilities. Also, a Task Force Team on Livestock Waste Management and Use was created in April 2004 with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. (Please go to page 59 for a full story.)