Water pours out of floodgates at Gunnam Dam in Yeoncheon, 62 kilometers north of Seoul, on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
North Korea has been discharging water from Hwanggang Dam near the inter-Korean border without any prior notice, after heavy rains lashed the country, South Korea’s Unification Ministry said Thursday, expressing regret at the decision.
“North Korea is presumed to have opened the floodgates of Hwanggang Dam as heavy rain continues to pound North Korea since the weekend,” said an official at the Unification Ministry who wished to remain anonymous.
The official said chances that North Korea has been releasing water from its upstream Hwanggang Dam are “considerably high” in light of the government’s comprehensive analysis. But the Unification Ministry said North Korea has not officially confirmed the water release.
The water from Hwanggang Dam on the western inter-Korean border is released into the upper part of the Imjin River that flows downstream into the Gunnam Dam in South Korea.
The distance between the two dams is around 56 kilometers. In general, it takes four to five hours for the released water to reach the Gunnam Dam.
North Korea opened the floodgates a few days ago to lower the water level at the dam in the aftermath of heavy rains across the country, the Unification Ministry and the military confirmed, without sharing the exact date.
But water released from the North, as of Thursday, has not been a lot, the government said, citing water levels at the Pilseung Bridge over the Imjin River in South Korea.
The water levels at the Pilseung Bridge rose to 5 meters at 01:00 a.m. Thursday, but water levels dropped to 3.24 meters at 02:00 p.m., according to the ministry.
The Unification Ministry also explained that the government has sufficient capacity to handle the water release from North Korea’s Hwanggam Dam.
But the ministry “expresses regret that North Korea did not give any prior notice despite South Korea’s request.”
On Tuesday, the ministry attempted to fax a statement to ask North Korean authorities to notify South Korea before discharging water from dams near the inter-Korean border. But North Korea has refused to confirm the receipt of the statement.
In light of the situation, the Unification Ministry said it does not have plans to issue a statement of regret through the inter-Korean communication channel.
North Korea is obliged to provide prior notice before releasing water from its upstream dams in the vicinity of inter-Korean borders in accordance with existing inter-Korean agreements.
Previously, North Korea has discharged waters from Imnam and Hwanggang Dam dozens of times without any prior warning. North Korea’s release of water from Hwanggang Dam in September 2009 killed six South Koreans as it led to a flash flood in the South Korean region.
The Unification Ministry said Thursday that the “government is keeping close tabs on rainfall in North Korea and water release in close cooperation with relevant organizations.”
“We will do our best to ensure the public safety and prevent damage to public property.”