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Flood Study Helps City of Beaufort Plan for Rising Sea Level

Feb 4, 2020

Reacting to a presentation on projected climate trends and the potential for major flooding in the coming years, officials from the City of Beaufort discussed mitigation possibilities in a packed public meeting on January 28, 2019.

Nearly one-third of The Point district on the tidal Beaufort River would be inundated with three feet of sea level rise, and 30% of the entire city would be inundated with six feet, according to the report presented by the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium and Carolinas Integrated Sciences and Assessments (CISA). The report detailed the history and science of rising sea levels, including a range of projections by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The intermediate projection is for more than three feet rise by 2100, and the extreme projection is more than six feet.

Flooded shoreline walkway in Beaufort, S.C.

The Beaufort River reached into Waterfront Park during King Tides in October 2015. Jeramie Stanley/S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control MyCoast.

The Consortium and CISA team also discussed steps other communities in the region have taken to reduce flood hazards and provided an overview of funding possibilities for engineering studies and mitigation projects.

The presentation drew about 30 people, including Mayor Billy Keyserling, council members, city staff, and local residents. The mayor and council members asked questions about the nuts and bolts of the study, which was based on historical records and future projections at the nearby Fort Pulaski, Georgia tide gauge and factored in elevation of some of the city’s flood-challenged areas.

Four of the five highest tides on record at Fort Pulaski have been in the past five years, flooding many areas of the city and accentuating the need for mitigation planning. The Point, which features grand homes dating back to the early 1800s, is particularly low-lying, as are the city’s historic business district and newer residential areas south of downtown.

The study estimated that with each foot of sea level rise, another 2-4% of the city would be inundated. NOAA provides ranges in its forecasts for sea level rise in the region by 2100 of 1.38 feet at the low scenario, 3.84 feet at the intermediate scenario, and 10.57 feet at the extreme scenario.

The study also found that 14% of the city would face flood impacts from a six-inch rainfall, or the type of “rain bombs” becoming more common with the moisture-laded atmosphere created by rising temperatures.

The study suggested the city incorporate those projections into building codes as well as its own new construction and drainage projects. The presentation led to a free-flowing discussion that included the mayor, council members, and others in the audience.

Topics included the challenge of maintaining transportation infrastructure as sea level rises, the need to prioritize agricultural and fishery impacts, and the possibility of repurposing excess water as an asset through electricity generation.

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