Taehwa River Regeneration Project
Planning & Coordination Office, Ulsan Metropolitan Government

The Problem

Ulsan is the seventh-largest metropolis of the Republic of Korea, located in the south-east of the country. Ulsan is the country’s industrial powerhouse with more than 1,000 companies (including the world's largest automobile assembly plant, shipyard and refinery). The heavy industrialization provoked a massive population increase, from 85,000 in 1962 to more than 1 million currently.

Since the 1970s, the negative effects of that massive industrialization, such as polluting discharge and untreated waste from the industrial complexes as well as the tremendous waste generation from households, caused severe damage to the natural environment and ecosystem in the area around the city, leaving the Taehwa River heavily polluted. Inadequate river management, which included poor ecological conservation strategies and reckless rapid urbanization, made the situation of the Taehwa River even worse. This resulted in its nickname, “river of death”.

Solution and Key Benefits

 What is the initiative about? (the solution)
Nowadays, the Taehwa River can be seen as a role model of urban river restoration in the Republic of Korea, even though the work is still ongoing. Biological diversity has already returned, an ecological park and recreational facilities were built and property values have risen. Reversing the river degradation took political will and impressive policy changes, bundled into the Taehwa River Master Plan, which was initiated under the umbrella of the Ulsan Ecopolis Plan. The plan builds on a joint declaration by the city government, business owners, residents and NGOs to “build a joyful city where the environment and economy live together and humans coexist with nature by restoring our blessed nature and conserving our precious cultural heritage”.

The followings are what the Taehwa River regeneration project has done;

1. Policy initiative: Water quality deterioration in the Taehwa River was mainly regarded as a consequence of the lack of environmental infrastructure, such as sewage treatment facilities, which was largely caused by the sudden increase in demand due to rapid urbanization. To tackle the negative effects of the deterioration of the Taehwa River, such as unattractive river banks for housing and recreation purposes as well as decreased ecological habitat, the Ulsan metropolitan government initiated a variety of long-term comprehensive policy measures.

2. Technical management: The most prominent characteristic of the Taehwa River Restoration Project is that the city government takes a precautionary approach on river management. The majority of policy measures are concerned with the treatment of wastewater downstream of local rivers, using local sewage treatment plants in order to prevent the inflow of wastewater into the Taehwa River from households and industry. Given the comprehensive sewage scheme, municipalities at both the metropolitan and district levels have employed multi-year action plans for a sludge-dredging project for building pollutant-treatment and sewage-treatment facilities. In addition, a tele-monitoring systems is used to control wastewater from both households and industry that discharge over 200 square metres of wastewater per day.

3. Institutional arrangement for implementing: Recognizing that the river management has been fragmented in the past, the Ulsan metropolitan government took a comprehensive and integrated approach to the Taehwa River management, making sure that an overview existed of available resources and capacities and that implementing practices were specified. In that way, the Ulsan metropolitan government was able to deal with various policy agendas, including water quality, ecological recovery, urban regeneration and cultural and historical restoration. Practically, this means that in addition to plans for cleaning up the river, there were also plans to develop an ecological park and recreational facilities to enhance its use among the city population.

Actors and Stakeholders

 Who proposed the solution, who implemented it and who were the stakeholders?
The project was proposed by the incumbent mayor, Mr. Maengwoo Bak, as the foremost mayor election campaign promise. The city government has been in charge of planning and implementation of the project, while others such as local NGOs and businesses are involved in monitoring and public campaigns of the project.

In particular, the inclusion of local NGOs in the Taehwa River Restoration Project contributed to the successful sensitizing of the public on the importance of river restoration and in more comprehensively examining the relevance of policy measures for the project. Due to the former central government-driven policies on river management, little local knowledge existed on how to counter deteriorating rivers with the help of local people and their knowledge. The NGOs assisted in improving the policies and promoting local knowledge for revamping the river. The following table shows main activities of local NGOs involved in the Taehwa River restoration Project.

The private sector also contributed significantly to the project. Contrary to other Korean cities, where the government is often the only player in environmental projects, 73 businesses and industrial companies by 2008 had participated in the river clean-up project as part of the campaign “One Company, One Kilometre;” each took responsibility for one kilometre of the river. The diversity of parties in the project helped to raise business owners’ social responsibility as well as to mobilize resources for environmental improvement projects. The involvement of NGOs in the river management has reduced conflicts and confrontations due to inclusive planning and development and helped to generate creative alternative policies that promote sustainable river management.

(a) Strategies

 Describe how and when the initiative was implemented by answering these questions
 a.      What were the strategies used to implement the initiative? In no more than 500 words, provide a summary of the main objectives and strategies of the initiative, how they were established and by whom.
The Taehwa River Restoration Project has been implemented under a two-tier planning system: the Ulsan Ecopolis Plan and the Taehwa River Master Plan. The Ulsan Eco-polis Plan provides overall ambition and objectives for the Taehwa River Restoration Project as a non-legally binding strategic plan, while the Taehwa River Master Plan proposes specific and sector-based projects. To prevent non-effective cooperation between different city divisions and ensure efficient implementation of the restoration project, a special task force unit for river management was initiated. To ensure environmental issues were not overlooked, concerns of local NGOs were integrated into the Taehwa River Restoration Plan. The following table shows example of division responsibilities for the water-quality improvement projects within the Taehwa River Project Master Plan.

(b) Implementation

 b.      What were the key development and implementation steps and the chronology? No more than 500 words
Ulsan has experienced negative environmental externalities due to industrialization and urbanization since the early 1970s. In particular, rapid population influx had imposed great environmental burden on Taehwa River, the mainstream of urban river running through Ulsan, in which there were little environmental pollution with the exception of floods and natural disasters prior to the 1970s. Yet, the environmental consequence of urbanization and industrialization in Ulsan had brought about a wide variety of environmental problems at Taehwa River such as poor quality of water and the depletion of natural habitats since the 1970s. There were a variety of several causes in terms of urban infrastructure and policy measures. It is often mentioned that the deficiency of urban environmental infrastructures, the lack of institutional arrangement of environmental governance, reckless urban development have been responsible for environmental degradation during the early industrialization period.

Specifically, the main driving force behind the deteriorated environment of Taehwa River is directly attributed to rapid urbanization and its negative externality such as deficiency of urban infrastructure properly responding the rising demand on sewage treatment. In fact, total population of Ulsan is explosively increased from 85, 000 in 1962 to 1,099,995 in 2007. Yet, the supply of the necessary urban infrastructure had been inappropriate due to the limit of financial and institutional resources from public sectors. The severe water pollution of Taehwa River during the period of 1970s and 1980s is a typical example of the bottleneck of such insufficient urban environment infrastructure in Ulsan.

Compared to air pollution discharged from local industrial complex (petrochemical, non-ferrous metals) emissions as a stationary pollutant source, water quality deterioration at Taehwa River is regarded as the consequence of the lack of environmental infrastructure such as sewage treatment facilities, which is largely caused by the sudden increase in demand due to rapid urbanization. As a result, it is required to improve water quality at Taehwa River through a variety of approach and long-term policy responses, while there is remarkable improvement in air quality management in the region due to the more practical practices and tougher emission regulations over a relatively short period.

In order to tackle down negative external effects, Ulsan metropolitan government has initiated a variety of long-term comprehensive policy measures in which the improvement of water quality, ecological restoration, development of riverfront, and cultural and historical renovation have been established as the main components of Taehwa River restoration project. In particular, ‘Eco-Polis Ulsan Plan’ and ‘Taehwa Master Plan’ play great role in effective implementation of the river’s restoration project.

(c) Overcoming Obstacles

 c.      What were the main obstacles encountered? How were they overcome? No more than 500 words
The most prominent obstacles at the implementation stage is attributed to policy framework and institutional arrangement.

Recognizing that local river management has been frequently fragmented in the past, Ulsan metropolitan government stresses a comprehensive framework for formulating plans on river management as well as implementing specific management practices. In given background, the metropolitan government takes a leading role on formulating territorial planning on Taehwa River project, organizing a special taskforce unit for river management (Taehwa River Taskforce Team), and integrating environmental concern of local NGOs into Taehwa River Restoration Project.

Concerning the formulation of plan on local river management, the government takes an integrated and comprehensive approach on sustainable urban river management that deals various policy agendas including water quality, ecological recovery, urban regeneration, and cultural and historical restoration relating Taehwa River. In given regard, Taehwa River restoration project is being implemented under two-tier planning system, Eco-polis Plan and Taehwa River Master Plan. Eco-polis Plan provides vision and objective of Taehwa River restoration project as a non legal-binding strategic plan, while Taehwa River Master Plan proposes specific and sectoral projects as an implementation plan. The followings are the details of Taehwa River Master Plan

Regarding inefficient river management at local level, Ulsan has a multiplicity of metropolitan agencies and commissions with overlapping responsibilities for managing local rivers. Because a number of divisions in the metropolitan government typically focus on only one type of river management, the concerned decision-making tends to be fragmented. In addition, different divisions and agencies at metropolitan government often have conflicting plans to manage local rivers.

To address such problems of local river management, the city government establishes an effective institutional arrangement (setting up “Taehwa River Taskforce Team”) that is intended for encouraging river-related divisions and agencies to coordinate for the management of river basins at Taehwa River. As a result, this institutional arrangement is regarded an effective means not only in exercising efficient implementation of river management but also in avoiding inefficient operations of the concerned related project. In mid-long term, it hence contributes to implement all related policy agendas on Taehwa River restoration project in consistent manner.

(d) Use of Resources

 d.      What resources were used for the initiative and what were its key benefits? In no more than 500 words, specify what were the financial, technical and human resources’ costs associated with this initiative. Describe how resources were mobilized

The financial sources for the major projects of the Taehwa River Restoration Project are predominantly channelled through the central and metropolitan governments, and are associated with the division of roles on the river’s projects: the central and metropolitan governments took exclusive responsibly for the downstream Taehwa River, while the districts were responsible for local river streams connecting to the river. As a consequence, the share of total budget for the Taehwa River Restoration Project from the central and metropolitan governments together reached 95 per cent, while the districts accounted for less than 5 per cent of the total budget.

The financial modality of the Taehwa River Restoration Project was heavily dependent on subsidies as the major financing source at the early stage. Yet, as demands of social welfare and other urban sectors enhanced, the Ulsan metropolitan government attempted recently to seek a financing alternative, based on public-private partnerships. For example, a newly built sewage facility was constructed through a build-transfer-operate contract with a private company. Additionally, a cost-recovery scheme was initiated, applying pollution charges based on the principle that “polluters pay”. The metropolitan government impose business-user levy to cover the costs incurred from wastewater treatment.

<Key benefits>

The key benefits of the initiative can be identified through an assessment of eco-efficiency on the Taehwa River restoration Project; As shown in the following table, the benefits of the this urban river project include environment, ecological, socioeconomic, and technical aspects.

1. Environmental and social benefits: The most remarkable achievement of the Taehwa River Restoration Project is the rapid improvement of the water quality, which brought about a rating of “very good” by national standards on water quality and aquatic ecosystems. This improvement of water quality has resulted in increased ecological habitat. The necessary improvements in turn have resulted in increased attractiveness and use of the river front for people (ecological parks and recreation).

2. Economic benefits: The restoration project is not only contributing to reduced environmental load but is generating economic value through urban renovation. Property values in the newly built-up areas (up to 1,500 metres radius) along the Taehwa River have increased much more (by 30–40 per cent) than other areas of the city.

Sustainability and Transferability

  Is the initiative sustainable and transferable?
The initiative, “Taehwa River Restoration Project” can be a bench-marking case for other cities that are eager to build an eco-efficient water management. In realty, the economic and environmental consequences of inadequate river management during rapid urbanization has, however, affected adversely the quality of water and contributed to the degradation of aquatic ecosystem. In part, this has resulted because misleading policy priority and short-eyed approach on local river management have often overlooked the cumulative environmental degradation that would cause huge socioeconomic costs later. Specifically, such episodes in many Asian cities have resulted not only in water quality but also in ecological management of local rivers. From eco-efficiency of local river management, it should be essential for local government to implement various cost-effective policy measures such as appropriate policy framework of water quality improvement; comprehensive environmental restoration and protection plan; relevant public investment priorities; and effective financial modalities on river management.

In this regard, as river restoration projects require consistent and sizeable interventions and investment over a long period of so that a local government must prepare long-term comprehensive plans along with strategic considerations on financing modalities. It is also encouraged that the involvement of NGOs as major players can be effective in raising public awareness on the importance of river restoration and in examining the relevance of various policy measures.

Lessons Learned

 What are the impact of your initiative and the lessons learned?
There are sevreal policy implications of urban environmental infrastructure drawn from the experience of Ulsan case study.

First of all, all policy responses on urban environmental infrastructure should be considered from mid-long term perspective. As matter of fact, the majority of urban environmental infrastructure project including, river pollution remediation projects, upgrading and expansion project of sewage treatment facilities require consistent and huge investment in long term. In addition, a closer examination of cumulative effects on environmental condition of local river projects is essential.

Second, a review of Ulsan’s river improvement project demonstrates the value of comprehensive master plan in strategic consideration on resources and capacities at local level. Hence, local municipalities in Asian cities are required to establish well-designed master plan in advance, and then to formulate implementation plans under comprehensive planning framework.

Third, local government should be cautious concerning the environmental consequence of riverfront development. Local policymakers must be aware of consequence and priority of the concerned development project. As seen in Ulsan’s case that local people put more priority on ecological aspects, it should be noted that excessive riverfront development hampers ecological recovery of local rivers that should be a virtual goal of river management project.

Fourth, public involvement on local environmental projects is increasingly significant in many Asian cities. It is widely recognized that local environmental issues such as air pollution, water contamination and waste generation can not be addressed by conventional approach, in which local government takes an exclusive player driven by supply-led policy measures based on limited capacity of local resource. Therefore, the participation of local business and industrial sector as a major stakeholder should be strongly recommended.

Fifth, the diversification of financing resources on urban environmental infrastructure should be taken seriously. As examined in Ulsan’ case, a local government is often facing financial deficiency to exclusively meet the increasing demanding of urban infrastructures because of other provisions of municipal services such as social welfare and public health are also growing. Therefore, new financing alternatives such as PPP and other innovative modality should be strongly recommended for a few Asian cities that are struggled for severe deficiency of urban infrastructure.

Lastly, political commitments from local political leaders can be mentioned one of key factors contributing for effective implementation of Taehwa River Restoration Project. Indeed, the elected-mayor of Ulsan Metropolitan City has always put higher policy priority on the improvement of urban environment among several urban policy agendas. Such political commitment is to greater extent effective not only in implementing the concerned policy measures, but also in mobilizing local resources on local river project. In this sense, strong commitment from local leaders should be emphasized for effective river management project.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Planning & Coordination Office, Ulsan Metropolitan Government
Institution Type:   Government Department  
Contact Person:   Sungtae Kim
Title:   Team member  
Telephone/ Fax:   82-52-229-2142
Institution's / Project's Website:   http://taehwagang.ulsan.go.kr
E-mail:   kst6624@korea.kr  
Address:   201, Jungang-ro
Postal Code:   680-701
City:   Nam-gu
State/Province:   Ulsan Metropolitan City

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