Friday, April 19, 2013

Lessons to be learned from South Korea's Four Rivers Restoration Project

Our country needs to gear up with short-term and long-term proactive measures to manage flood situations in the oncoming months. While the river interlinking ideology has more takers within the administrative community rather than environmentalists and sustainability vanguards, it cannot be dismissed on the grounds of an expensive 'hard engineering'concept alone with potential of disastrous consequences. There could be further lessons to be learned.

In recent times, the best case I have come across is the Four Rivers Restoration Project in South Korea. It not only seeks to restore four of the biggest rivers, Han, Nakdong, Yeongsan and Geum; but also tackle flood control, while ensuring increased water reserves.

In a unique three phase plan, the project has just completed the first phase with restoration of the riverine system along the 14 tributaries. The other two phases look into the small streams feeding into the larger river streams and of course, the four major rivers itself.

Hard-core Hard Engineering can also work hand in hand with Soft Engineering as has been exemplified in this project. Dredging riverbeds and cleaning up of streams shall not only facilitate movements with desiltation, but also cleanse the river water polluted over the years. River flows are better gauged and thus managed more effectively. Floodplains and wetlands creation maybe 'Hard Engineering' but maybe looked upon as a proactive interpolation of river managements, as executed in this Project.

The flood prevention programme seeks to tackle the problem with creation of floodplains, in addition to strengthening old levees and increasing the number of water gates along estuary banks. While 40 industrial wastewater treatment facilities have been built, standards for discharge from wastewater treatment works are to be revised.

Small dams are to be built strategically for augmenting electricity generation as well as to manage water reserves. Banks of existing agricultural reservoirs at 94 sites are being raised to target creation of 240 million cu.mtrs of water reserves. Two types of weir have been installed at 16 sites. A fixed weir to help maintain water levels and a moveable weir for flood prevention. These weirs are designed to incorporate fish migratory routes and wetlands. They also add to the aesthetics of the local area, interspersed with multi-use open green areas along the rivers and streams.  These initiatives are being augmented by river harvesting efforts elsewhere in the country.

The Project has already witnessed positive results with minimal flood damage last year despite two and a half times the average rainfall. The rivers have more water to support an ecosystem and water scarcity problems have eased up to some degree.

Although South Korea predominantly witnesses extreme flood-drought cycles, the reason why river banks are not as populated as in India, the nation has kick-started a very ambitious project with the Four Rivers Restoration Project. What's more, it is planned as a mere two-year period of implementation with a $18 billion budget.

The Water Community all over is watching this project and its outcomes with great interest. Time will reveal the success vs. risk ratios.

With the first of the two-year phase having witnessed great results, I wonder if we could not take lessons from such nations for tackling our river management problems. We do have a similar situation with our Kosi river.

Interesting videos have been posted on Rivers Network. Can this project be feasibly emulated elsewhere?


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