Chas. 2019 Flooding & Sea Level Rise Strategy to go before city council

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Next week, Charleston’s new Flood and Sea Level Rise Strategy will go before city council.

It’s an updated version from what was first released in 2015, and it takes a deeper look at the issues created by storm surge, flooding and sea level rise and the solutions underway to fix them.

CLICK HERE to read the strategy.

“We’re spending a lot of money, and we want to make sure we are spending that money right and we’re spending it on projects that really make a difference,” Mark Wilbert, Charleston’s Chief Resilience Officer, said. “Things have changed, and they are changing rapidly, and we’ve learned a lot. The science has really caught up.”

CLICK HERE to visit the Charleston Flooding and Sea Level Rise webpage.

The Charleston Harbor tide gauge has been measuring sea level continuously since 1921. In that nearly 100-year time span, local sea level has risen 1.07 ft, according to the 2019 Flooding and Sea Level Rise Strategy.

The strategy updates the city's recommendation for building elevations to 2 to 3 feet to compensate for such sea level rise.

It is imperative that we use the most relevant data to make thoughtful, informed decisions. In the 2015 Sea Level Rise Strategy, the City recommended a 1.5 to 2.5 foot elevation increase for new facilities and infrastructure to account for sea level rise over 50 years. Considering the latest sea level rise projections, the City is increasing the recommendation to 2 to 3 feet. The range accounts for varying types of investments: a 2-foot increase is intended for less vulnerable infrastructure such as parking lots, while a 3-foot increase is for more critical long term infrastructure, such as medical facilities.

The strategy also lays out the details of projects already underway, like the reconstruction of the low battery seawall.

“People made mistakes back in the 1700s, the 1800s,” Wilbert said. “Now we’ve got to find ways to remedy that, to retrofit those mistakes that were made when we didn’t understand what the future would look like.”

In early 2019, the City will begin an extensive reconstruction project of the iconic Low Battery Seawall to replace and raise the seawall to account for sea level rise projections. It was built over 100 years ago and the new seawall will be engineered and built to last another century. This presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a signature public space worthy of Charleston’s character and history while also strengthening the City against regular flooding, storm surge and imminent sea level rise. New construction is anticipated to begin where the wall is in the poorest condition, which is on the western side at Tradd Street, and then progress to White Point Garden. Final design concepts for the Low Battery Seawall involve shrinking the median, allowing parking to remain, and a slightly widened and elevated Low Battery walkway with seating to create a signature public space that also better protects the City.

The strategy focuses on flooding from storm surge, rain, tidal changes, and sea level rise.

"We have to be smart about going forward, and that's the bigger challenge,” Wilbert said. “We've got to change where we build, what we build, and how we build."

Officials hope this report will help the public understand how comprehensive the city's plan is to address flooding issues.

Sea level rise can be difficult to see. Nonetheless, even a small increase in sea level can exacerbate extreme wet-weather events, tidal flooding, and drainage issues. The combination of these factors is a recipe for significant flooding in our low-lying City, and Charleston has been repeatedly stormed with this reality in the last few years. As proof, since October 2015, three major events have caused historic flooding in our streets, businesses, and homes. If Charleston is to be resilient to future flooding, we must commit to understanding the multi-faceted problem. We know the issue is not only related to sea level rise. The amalgam of causes also includes geography, frequent extreme weather-related events, increased precipitation, higher groundwater tables, antiquated infrastructure, subsidence and more. All contributors to flooding in our City are and will continue to be monitored and evaluated.

"This requires every homeowner, every business, the city, the county, the state, the federal government,” Wilbert said. “Everybody's got to be a part of this."

Copyright 2019 WCSC. All rights reserved.

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