Under the verdant surface of Jeju Island lies a treasure just waiting to be tapped; a virtual lake of liquid practically worth its weight in gold.
Fortunately for the thirsty consumer, it is readily available for far less than an ingot or two. And in fact it is being tapped, at a rate of more than 700 tons a year.
This treasure is the groundwater of Jeju, pure mineral water trapped in the volcanic layers of Jeju’s underworld. Since the late 1990’s the Jeju Special Self-Governing Province Development Corporation has been extracting this natural gift from Jeju, bottling it and selling it to an ever-increasing market.
While Jeju natives have of course relied almost entirely on the pure, sweet groundwater bubbling up from island springs as their source of fresh water, Samdasoo is taking that water to the world.
The bottled water can be found in any Family Mart or grocery store, and is also exported to China. Now, production is being increased so exporting can be expanded to include Japan, southeast Asia and the United States. The water is sold in bottles, but production is measured in tons. The amount of Samdasoo brand water exported in 2009 was 20,000 tons, and it is expected to rise to 50,000 tons by next year.
And there’s a lot of money in that much water. The annual net profit is estimated at $19 million this year, increasing to $23 million next year.
So what’s so great about this water, and why can’t you get the same thing by turning on your tap in Jeju?
In layman’s terms, the Samdasoo Water Pocket is like a gigantic water tank surrounded by natural “pollution prevention” walls. It’s like a large gap between the layers of volcanic rock, which over the centuries has filled with some of the copius rain Jeju receives. It is naturally filtered by the porous lava rock and carboniferous volcanic ash on its way down, and protected from the incursion of pollutants by the aforementioned walls. Jeju is essentially one giant Brita water filter.
At more than 500 feet above sea level, it is also immune to contamination from sea water, which affects some groundwater sources at lower levels.
But don’t just take their word for it. Samdasoo water has been tested by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (you can pay them to do that), and found to be as pure as its marketers claim. It is free of arsenic, fluorine and nitrate nitrogen.
It is also free of pollution from inflows of human sewage, polluted wastewater or pesticides. And, it is free of radioactive material. You can drink all you want and you won‘t glow in the dark.
In addition to its natural purity, the processing plant above Seogwipo filters the water further to strain out any microscopic impurities.
Of course the Samdasoo Water Pocket is not the only source of groundwater on the island, and developers are scouting out other locations that could also provide marketable water. The Jeju Special Self-Governing Provincial government has designated three areas which are 550 meters above sea level for study. The sample sites are in Jungmun and Seogwipo. In addition, approximately 50 ground water springs are being studied.
While governments around the world are struggling to make ends meet, Jeju is profiting from a natural resource whose potential has not yet been realized. It may not be oil, or gold, but it tastes a lot better going down.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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