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Indicators in Practice

Apr 12, 2012

The Water Shed Management Act of Korea

longyoung / CC / Flickr

Scope: East Asia, Korea

Intended Audience: Government

Project by:  Numerous agencies of the Korean Government along with the Korean National Assembly Civil Society, a group of non-governmental environmental organizations, and members of the private sectors.

Issue Addressed: Water quality.

Indicators in Practice: Major watershed management acts implemented in the Republic of South Korea in 2002 led to the development of nonpoint source management programs (including a Total Management Daily Loads (TMDL) system), which seek to remedy major contamination events.  Movement towards improving water quality and environmental health in Korea is monitored by the Ministry of Environment and encouraged by active oversight from civil society groups.  To date, underground water monitoring stations have been established at 2,499 locations throughout the nation to help analyze water quality trends over time and provide high quality measurements of dissolved oxygen, total organic carbon, pH, and other quality parameters, including volatile organic compounds.

Summary: Two accidents in 1991 and 1994 led to the contamination of the Nakdong River in Korea. The incidents led to the release of volatile organic pollutants, including dichromethane, into the drinking waters of the Busan Metropolitan Area and Gyeongsangnam Province. Carcinogenic compounds, such as benzene and toluene were later discovered, and two massive fish kills occurred in the Yeongsang and Imjin Rivers. Following the Nakdong pollution incident, regional management conflicts, and the release of Korea’s water quality ranking in the 2002 EPI stakeholders recognized water quality as a collective action problem for Korea.

The Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Construction and Transportation, Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy, Ministry of Health & Society, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs, and Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and the Board of Audit and Inspection worked together with the National Assembly Civil Society, a group of non-governmental environmental organizations, and members of the private and residential sectors to launch a multi-sectoral approach to begin addressing issues of water quality.

Addressing water quality is a major focus of South Korea’s initiatives due to its involvement in environmental and human health. Three special acts on watershed management were implemented in 2002, which covered four major rivers throughout South Korea. Additionally, in 2004 a Total Management Daily Loads (TMDL) system was developed as a comprehensive measure for nonpoint source pollution management. These new systems for water quality were applied to the Seoul Metropolitan Area, Busan and Baegu metropolitan areas, and have now spread to over 66 major cities.

Stakeholders use indicators pertaining to water quality data for monitoring and guiding management practices and policies.  Indicators include data for BOD5 and total phosphorus, because both measurements for improving and maintaining the quality of water in rivers and ecosystem vitality. Data is collected through the Ministry of Environment, Republic of Korea, to provide the necessary indicator data needed to track performance over time.

There have been significant changes in water policy development including extending the powers of the Ministry of the Environment, expanding budgets for environmental issues, and strengthening regulations for environmental protection. The three acts on Watershed Management and Community Support have heavily influenced practices surrounding water quality throughout Korea. Underground water monitoring stations have been established at 2,499 locations throughout the nation to help analyze water quality trends over time. These stations provide measurements of dissolved oxygen, total organic carbon, pH, and other parameters including volatile organic compounds.

Currently, 66 local governments enforce the mandatory Water Pollution TMDL System. Monitoring requirements were strengthened during a second planning period in 2011, and targets and margins of safety were established to help analyze progress for individual and unit watersheds. Also, Waterfront Zone Systems, or riparian buffer zones, are required as part of the water quality acts to help manage nonpoint pollution sources.

Source materials include: Some Success Stories of Korea Environmental Policies by the Ministry of Environment Republic of Korea, http://eng.me.go.kr/main.do.