Lowcountry Flood Mitigation
Flooding and Drainage Issues
Flooding in the Lowcountry is not a new problem. Just ask any resident of Charleston – and you will likely hear a story. Due to its low lying coastal elevation, close proximity to rivers and the ocean, and poorly planned development on filled-in wetlands, the City of Charleston has experienced drainage and flooding complications since before its founding. Flooding in the city is attributed to:
- Tidal flooding and storm surge resulting from extreme weather.
- Flash flooding that overburdens the City’s outdated drainage infrastructure.
- Riverine flooding caused by heavy and prolonged rainfall that inundates the capacity of river and stream channels.
In 2016 alone, Charleston experienced 50 days of tidal flooding. This is a staggering increase from an average of four days just five decades ago. The booming growth rate exacerbates the threat that sea level rise already poses to the City of Charleston and Lowcountry region as a whole. It no longer takes a catastrophic storm to cause flooding in the region. Rainfall paired with a high tide floods numerous neighborhoods and key corridors causing major disruptions to transportation patterns. All too often drivers are forced to try and maneuver through dangerous flooded streets or avoid major roads altogether to save their vehicles. Millions of dollars worth of property has been damaged due to flooding in the Lowcountry. As if our coastal region is not vulnerable enough, the Berkeley, Charleston, Dorchester region ranks in the top 15 U.S. metro regions prone to hurricane-driven storm surge damage.
It is time for the City of Charleston and Charleston County as a whole to address the problem. Charleston must be better equipped to recover from flooding after extreme rain events. Scientists predict that sea levels are expected to rise 2.5 feet over the next 50 years. What does this mean for Charleston? Simply put, tidal flooding could occur as or more frequently than 180 days in the year 2050.
Funding the Solutions
We already know that over $1 billion in drainage infrastructure is needed to bail out Charleston County residents struggling to keep above water. This goes beyond a flooding issue into a livability and public health crisis. Mayor Tecklenburg stated that flood and drainage mitigation is a top priority for the City of Charleston during his annual State of the City address. Problem areas have been identified and their respective drainage issues have been studied extensively by local governments. However, few solutions have been identified to fund these projects in their entirety.
In 2016, Charleston County taxpayers voted to raise the local sales tax an additional half-cent in order to fund mass transit, capacity improvements to numerous roads, and for the protection of greenspace. The ½ Cent Sales tax money is a $2 billion source of funding which is available now and must be used to fund drainage infrastructure projects in Charleston. It is the largest and most readily available funding source to address countywide flooding. The self-imposed decision to raise taxes was a result of residents determined to solve a problem after years of inaction by local and state leaders. There are desperately needed drainage improvement projects in neighborhoods throughout the county, from Shadowmoss in West Ashley to Pepper Hill in North Charleston to The Old Village in Mount Pleasant to the East Side of downtown Charleston that are being severely and repeatedly flooded. County Council must proceed with these and other drainage projects before investing in new roads. If residents are not able to safely live in their homes and travel to and from work, then how will they be able to pay taxes to fund new roads? If funds are left over following completion of the drainage projects, then Council can begin appropriately deciding how to allocate the remainder of money.
Let your voice be heard and influence the powers at be! Charleston County residents need to demand that Council pass a resolution to prioritize using half cent funds for drainage infrastructure. Citizen attendance and participation at local city, town, and county council meetings is imperative to make change. We urge residents of Charleston to form a collective voice and demand that their representatives fix the flooding first!
In the meantime, regarding development that is inevitable in the Charleston metro region, the City and County need to demand green infrastructure be incorporated in new developments and revitalization projects and avoid filling the wetlands that serve as the sponge in our soggy environment. Rising tides and increased frequency of nuisance flooding affect all residents of Charleston in one way or another. Flooding and drainage must be addressed before the city or county begins other infrastructure or development projects.