The Yoon Seok-yeol administration returned to the starting point of solving the ‘four major rivers problem’

The plan to treat the five weirs of the Geumgang and Yeongsan Rivers, which the Moon Jae-in administration had verified and reviewed for 3 years and 7 months, was overturned in 15 days by the Yoon Seok-yeol administration. The Four Major Rivers Project, which wasted 22 trillion won of the government budget and caused enormous social conflict and aftereffects, went back to square one after looking for a clue to a solution.

Decision reviewed for 4 years, reversed in 15 days

The National Water Management Committee (hereinafter referred to as the National Water Commission), the highest deliberation and decision-making body for water and river policies, held a plenary meeting on August 4, 2023, and decided to cancel the ‘Geum River and Yeongsan River Weir Treatment Plan’, which was confirmed by itself in January 2021. Decided. At that time, the National Water Commission decided to dismantle Sejongbo and Gongjubo in the Geumgang River and Juksanbo in the Yeongsan River, and to open Baekjebo and Seungchonbo in the Yeongsan River to the public at all times.

The National Water Committee explained, “As a result of the audit by the Board of Audit and Inspection on July 20, 2023, a number of unfair and unreasonable matters were pointed out in the process of preparing a weir treatment plan, and the Minister of Environment requested a review of the weir treatment plan.” In addition, as the weir treatment plan was canceled, the National Water Commission announced that it would hold a public hearing in August to change the 1st National Water Management Basic Plan (2021-2030), which included this content.

The decision of the National Water Commission follows the announcement of the audit results of the Board of Audit and Inspection on July 20, 15 days ago, and the Ministry of Environment’s actions accordingly. At the time, the Board of Audit and Inspection first pointed out that “because of the deadline for handling state affairs (February 2019), a method with limitations in terms of validity and reliability was used to make the economic analysis unreasonable.” Second, it pointed out that “the committee was formed unfairly by leaking the list of experts recommended as expert members of the Four Major Rivers Survey and Evaluation Group to a specific civic group and selecting members mainly from personnel recommended by the group.”

As a follow-up measure, the Board of Audit and Inspection said, “The Ministry of Environment prepares a plan for the results of scientific and objective analysis (modeling) to be reflected in the treatment plan for the Geum River and Yeongsan River weirs, and is responsible for allowing certain civic groups to be involved in the selection of members of the Four Major Rivers Survey and Evaluation Group. We request an investigation,” he said.

However, many disagreements have been raised about this decision of the Board of Audit and Inspection. For example, the Ministry of Environment’s four-river survey and evaluation team used ‘data before weir installation’ and ‘data after weir opening’ to analyze the cost-benefit ( B/C ) of dismantling weirs, but the Board of Audit and Inspection should have used ‘modeling’. claimed to do. It is a big mistake not to use modeling in the analysis process.

In fact, unlike the Geum River and the Yeongsan River, in December 2021, when modeling was applied to the Han River and Nakdong River weir treatment plans by the Ministry of Environment, there was little difference in the analysis results using ‘data before weir installation’ and ‘modeling’. Modeling alone is not an absolutely correct method, and pre-beam installation data were also useful enough for cost-benefit analysis.

Shin Jae-eun, a campaigner at the Pulse Behavior Research Institute, who served as a planning member of the Four Major Rivers Survey Evaluation Group, said, “You might think that modeling should have been used for more accurate estimation. However, experts at the time determined that relatively accurate results could be obtained by other methods than modeling. “I think the committee at the time had the discretion to choose the method of analysis,” he said.

An important national task, judged only by ‘economic feasibility’

Fundamentally, some point out whether it was appropriate to use cost-benefit analysis to determine important issues such as ‘weir treatment of the four major rivers project’. Cost-benefit is a method of evaluating the economic feasibility of a project, and it is whether it is reasonable to judge river policy decisions, an important national task, only by economic feasibility.

Lee Kwan-hoo, a professor at Konkuk University’s Sangheo College of Liberal Arts (political science), said, “Leaving the handling of the four major rivers issue to a committee under the Ministry of Environment or following an economic analysis is the president or the government evading their authority and responsibility. You can listen to the opinions of the committee or conduct economic analysis on these issues, but it is correct that the final decision is made in the political realm. Only then can the president or the government be held accountable.”

There is also controversy over the Board of Audit and Inspection’s point out that it was unfair that many environmental groups’ opinions were reflected in the formation of the Four Major Rivers Survey and Evaluation Group Planning Committee and Expert Committee. This is because the investigation and evaluation team, planning committee, and expert committee were created from the beginning to improve and correct the problems of the four major rivers project. In addition, as President Moon Jae-in’s pledge and a national task, the direction of its handling was determined to some extent.

Lee Cheol-jae, vice chairman of the Special Committee on the River of Life, Korea Federation for Environmental Movement, said, “The committee of the investigation and evaluation group was not a public debate committee that treated the pros and cons equally. It was a committee to implement President Moon Jae-in’s pledge to resolve the problems of the Four Major Rivers Project. Even the Board of Audit and Inspection has already pointed out many problems in the second to fourth audits of the four major rivers project. It is completely unreasonable to form such a committee with half members for and against.”

The problem is that the Ministry of Environment and the National Water Commission made an even more unreasonable decision on the pretext of such an unreasonable audit by the Board of Audit and Inspection. At 2:00 pm on July 20th, at the same time as the announcement by the Board of Audit and Inspection, Minister of Environment Han Hwa-jin issued a press release and announced follow-up measures. First, the National Water Commission requested a re-examination of the ‘Geum River and Yeongsan River Weir Treatment Plan’, and the second was to change the National Water Management Basic Plan in the direction of using weirs. The Board of Audit and Inspection only requested modeling to be reflected in the decision on the treatment plan for the Geum안전놀이터 and Yeongsan rivers, but the Ministry of Environment canceled the plan itself for the treatment of the Geum and Yeongsan rivers.

Professor Baek Kyung-oh of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Hankyong National University said, “The Board of Audit and Inspection has never asked the Ministry of Environment to reconsider the weir treatment plan or to change the basic plan for water management. According to Article 33 of the Board of Audit and Inspection Act, when the Board of Audit and Inspection requests correction or attention, the relevant institution must implement it. Such erroneous follow-up measures by the Ministry of Environment are in violation of Article 33 and can be subject to administrative litigation.”

President Yoon, if you don’t know ‘water policy’, you should listen to experts

Experts point out that the four major river project, which has been controversial for 15 years since the Lee Myung-bak administration started in 2008, is going against river policies of other advanced countries. The United States removed 2016 unnecessary dams from 1912 to 2022, and in 2018, 111 dams were removed. In Europe, 325 dams were removed in 2022 alone. Saving the river ecosystem is seen as a good response to the climate crisis.

Vice Chairman Lee Cheol-jae said, “When unnecessary dams were removed in Europe and the United States, more than 16 unnecessary dams were newly built in Korea as part of the Four Major Rivers Project. It does not fit at all in the era of international trends or climate crisis. Now, the river policy has become a subject of political dispute,” he said.

Yeom Hyeong-cheol, CEO of the Social Cooperative Han River, who served as a secretary of the National Water Committee during the Moon Jae-in administration, ordered two things for the Yoon Seok-yeol government’s water and river policies. “First, the president is not familiar with water policy, so he needs to listen to experts and related public officials. If you give specific instructions without knowing the contents, great confusion arises. Second, when problems such as floods or droughts occur, we should seriously and carefully consider measures appropriate to the situation, rather than just blaming the former government.”

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