Ensuring Clean Water for All: Implementing a Tele Monitoring System to Better Manage Water Quality in the Republic of Korea(2007–2021)
In 1991, a toxic substance called phenol was discharged from an electronics factory into the Republic of Korea’s Nakdong River, poisoning the local tap water supply. That incident—and other similar catastrophes—forced the government to improve the management of hazardous materials being treated and discharged into Korea’s waterways.
Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, the Ministry of Environment made incremental progress in improving water management by tightening regulations on wastewater discharged into rivers. In 2007, however, the ministry decided a new approach was necessary to reduce the risk of pollution incidents occurring.
That year, the government launched a Water Quality Tele Monitoring System, requiring facilities that discharged wastewater to install devices that measured pollutant levels automatically and transmitted those measurements in real time to a control center operated by the Korea Environment Corporation, an organization affiliated with the Ministry of Environment.
To operationalize the new system, the government had to overcome capacity, coordination, and economic challenges. Free technical support and government subsidies drove high levels of compliance from companies that discharged wastewater—even from small businesses that faced relatively high compliance costs. The new approach—which was implemented iteratively over more than a decade—helped improve water quality across Korea. The average concentration of most major pollutants declined as the Tele Monitoring System expanded nationwide.
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