|Minister of the Interior and Safety Lee Sang-min talks to reporters in front of Geumil Reservoir in Pyeongil Island, Wando County, South Jeolla, Wednesday, where low precipitation through the past six months has been drying the reservoir to a dangerously low level. Yonhap|
South Jeolla hit hard; ministers scramble to fetch emergency funds
By Ko Dong-hwan
Houses were inundated and people were stranded in farms after Uljin, Donghae and other eastern coastal cities in Korea were flooded by over 180 millimeters of rain over two days earlier this week.
However, regions on the other side of the country are now reeling from a completely opposite kind of climate disaster. The low levels of precipitation over the past months are causing reservoirs ― that provide tap and drinking water in South Jeolla Province and Jeju Island ― to reach a dangerously low level, putting on edge the central government, responsible for addressing the hardships of local communities.
Minister of the Interior and Safety Lee Sang-min on Wednesday visited Geumil Reservoir, which is located on the country's southern island of Pyeongil in Wando County, South Jeolla. Due to the latest autumn drought, Wando is one of the country's worst-hit regions. The reservoir, which took the hardest hit in Wando, remains at just 4.3 percent of its capacity when the minister checked it on site. It's only good for the next 18 days ― for a total of 1,390 local residents ― who rely on the reservoir. Currently, the reservoir remains open for public use for only two days a week.
Due to the low amount of precipitation during the past six months, which is less than the previous year, Wando saw its water in local reservoirs and natural underground streams gradually run out. Starting in October, the county government turned off, for hours or in some cases even for days, the pipes for drinking and tap water for 6,300 local residents from over 3,400 households.
After further scouting local community centers and households equipped with water tanks, the minister reportedly said that the situation was "serious."
|Geumil Reservoir in Wando County, South Jeolla Province, has run dangerously low due to drought-caused rain shortage. Yonhap|
"This autumn drought happened every year here, and it seems like authorities each time had mended it only in a temporary manner," said Lee in Wando. "It would be economically more efficient to draw a large budget from the central government and fix it once and for all." He was hopeful about getting some $123 million from the country's central coffers in order to lay down a new pipeline in Wando to draw water from the nearest metropolitan city ― which would be Gwangju.
However, the city of 1.4 million people in South Jeolla is also in a dire situation. Low precipitation has caused the local lakes of Juam and Dongbok, (each servicing different parts of the city), to possess insufficient amounts of water. Declining water levels are more clearly visible upstream from the lakes, which are controlled by dams.
On Tuesday, Environment Minister Han Wha-jin visited Dongbok Lake in Hwasun County, South Jeolla, to check the problem. Gwangju Mayor Kang Gi-jung, Yeongsan River Environment Agency Chief Kim Seung-hui and Hwasun Governor Gu Bog-gyu joined her, to check how little water was being distributed to Gwangju now and any alternative water sources for the city.
The drought has affected Dongbok Dam, which has been providing water for the city's northern and eastern regions. In fact, it is now shallower than the water level at Juam Dam, which has been providing water for the city's western and southern regions. The mayor suggested to the minister that water from Juam Lake can be diverted to Dongbok Dam so as to even out the difference, thereby slowing down the pace of water loss in the latter.
The job of adding a new pipeline requires 9.5 billion won ($7.15 million) to complete, 70 percent of which should be funded by the central government, the mayor informed the minister. The minister said she will deliver the information to the ministries of economy and interior and the Prime Minister's Secretariat to seek funding.
|Environment Minister Han Wha-jin, second from left, and Gwangju Mayor Kang Gi-jung, second from right, check Dongbok Dam in Hwasun County, South Jeolla Province, onboard a vessel, Tuesday, as Dongbok Lake, which provides water to parts of Gwangju, has been running low with water due to months-long drought. Yonhap|
While Juam Dam on Wednesday saw its water level at 31 percent, Seomjin River Dam, another major water source for South Jeolla, saw the water level reach only 18 percent of its normal capacity. Worringly, the water levels are only getting lower every day.
Back in Wando on Wednesday, 15-ton dump trucks were coming out in line from a closed mine on the island of Nowha, some 30 kilometers south of Wando Harbor. Each of the rigs was filled with underground water taken out from the mine.
Each day, some 250 tons of the water was delivered to local islands. Although it wasn't considered safe to drink by a study, there was no choice for the local residents who were desperate for water ― including drinking water. Some islands saw their taps running only once a week, while seaweed farmers saw their produce, which was hung outside to dry, going rotten due to etiolation, which happens when drought causes maritime minerals like dissolved inorganic nitrogen to run lower than usual in sea water.
The Korea Meteorological Administration on Thursday expects that an expected downpour will soak the entire country next Monday and Tuesday. But average precipitation throughout December and January is expected to be either equal or less than that of the previous year ― which won't be enough to offset the damage. The authority is now keen to discover how much rain will drop at the beginning of next week.
The reason for the ongoing drought in South Jeolla, according to a KMA official, is due to the La Nina effect, a sudden change in water temperature across the Pacific Ocean which pushes warm water towards Asia while upwelling cold water towards the west coast of North America. The official said that the country under La Nina tends to get chillier than usual in December, receiving less-than-usual precipitation.