Two South Korean rivers exceed 300 miles in length, the Nakdong, and Han, and these pass through some of the country's largest cities, including Daegu. These two rivers provide water to most of the Koreans and their industries. People fish and irrigate their farms from these waters. Together with other rivers in Korea such as the famous Imjin River and Geum River, the water bodies of Korea have had a significant role in the Korean Peninsula. For the mountainous country of South Korea, these rivers provide the needed fertile alluvial soils for agriculture.
The Korean Nakdong-gang River is the longest river in South Korea, passing through the major cities of Daegu and Busan. From the Taebaek Mountains, it flows 326 miles to the Korean Strait. The river sources from the junction of the Hwangjicheon and Cahelamcheon stream Dongjeom-dong in Taebaek City. Along the course tributaries such as the Nam, Geumho, and Yeong drain, providing water to the residents of North and South Gyeongsang provinces and small portions of Gangwon, North Jeolla, and South Jeolla. In the Korean history, the river played an important role by providing dwelling places of the people living on the Korean peninsula. Early civilizations such as the Byeonhan confederacy of the 1st Century and the Silla of the 6th Century explored the river for navigation and commercial purposes in the armor and weapon trade. The Nakdong Valley has numerous floodplain wetlands such as the Joonam Reservoirs which provide habitats for rare and threatened species of birds, including the Baikal teal, and white-naped crane alongside many fish, and plants. Water pollution and ecologically-destructive developments such as reclamation of wetlands for housing and industry and construction of the Miyeonji Bridge threaten the river.
The Korean Han-gang river arises from the western slopes of the Taebaek Mountains and flows westward across the Peninsula country through Kangwon, Kyonggi, and North Ch’ungch’ong provinces and the city of Seoul before draining into the Yellow Sea. 200 miles of its 319 miles length is navigable, providing transportation since ancient times most notably the Yi Dynasty (1392–1910). Civilizations such as the Baekje Kingdom developed along its banks recognizing the Han River strategic location as a primary waterway link to the central western region of Korea with the Yellow Sea and also for the fertile alluvial soils, a rarity in the mountainous peninsula. During the Korean War, South Korean military destroyed the Han Bridge in an attempt to slow the North Koreans. It has a basin of around 10,000 square miles, providing water for agricultural activities along its course, industrial water, and water for general use. In the upper courses, the river is used to generate hydroelectric power. The Han River belongs to South Korea even though some of its tributaries come from North Korea. After years of pollution from the burgeoning industries and urban refuse, it no longer has a central role in trade or transportation. Efforts are underway to clean the river and transform it to a green jewel of the capital.
The Geum River is sourced from the Jangsu-eup area in North Jeolla Province. It flows northwards through the provinces of North Jeolla and North Chungcheong and then changes direction in the Great Daejeon running southwest through the province of South Chungcheong and finally drains into the Yellow Sea in Gunsan city. The Geum River is the third longest in Korea with its 245 miles and has a basin of 3,807 sq miles. Extensive meandering occurs in the upper parts of the river while downstream the river course is gradual with fewer meanders. Tributaries such as the Gap, Miho, Yugu, Unsan, Seokseong, and Nonsan Cheons also join the Geum River. The Geum and its tributaries have formed many small alluvial plains such as the Honam and Nonsan Plains. The river and its tributaries were a means of cultural contact in the prehistoric times through the Three Kingdoms of Korea as transportation routes developed along the west coast to penetrate deep into the interior. The Bronze culture, lasting between 850 B.C. and A.D. 100, flourished along the Geum River. Other kingdoms that rose along the banks of Geum River are the Mahan, Ungjin, and Sabi. Today the river has many dams to facilitate water for agriculture, industry, and general purpose. The city of Greater Daejeon and the industries and farms, and people of South Chungcheon Province depend on Geum and its tributaries.
The Rimjin River flows from north to south, crossing demilitarized zones to join the Han River downstream of Seoul near the Yellow Sea. The river is around 158 miles long and even though short, and it is home to two major battles sites. Namely, these are the sites of the Battle of the Imjin River in the Korean War of the 1950s and the Battle of the Imjin River in the Seven-Year War in 1592. The Imjin River sources from the Turyu Mountain in Poptong, Kangwon in North Korea and mouths in the Han River in Paju, Gyeonggi South Korea. During the rainy season of Korea, the river's smooth flow changes to a raging torrent confined only by the rocky banks that stand at an impressive height of 75 feet. In the winter, icy winds sweep along the Imjin causing thick ice layers on the river. Today, it is nicknamed the “River of the Dead” due to the large number of bodies that have floated down it from the north.
Territorial Disputes With North Korea Over Major Rivers
The Demilitarized Zone has been a major focus of international disputes between North Korea and South Korea for decades. South Korea claims that the Northern Limit Line is a maritime boundary have facilitated periodic incidences with North Korea. Rivers in Korea serve to provide water for agriculture, industry, and domestic use. Water pollution from domestic and industrial waste threatens these rivers.