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Grant Funds South Atlantic Flood Resilience Program, Georgetown County, S.C. One of the Pilot Study Areas

May 7, 2020 | News

Research Partners to Evaluate Solutions for Cost-Effective Flood Mitigation in Coastal Cities

As the world and oceans become warmer, rising sea levels will continue to cause flooding and storm surge in low-lying areas. A new grant gives researchers throughout the Southeast, including a team in South Carolina, the opportunity to discover green infrastructure solutions to mitigate the effects of this flooding on coastal communities.

The Institute for Water and Environmental Resilience (IWER) at Stetson University is collaborating with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office for Coastal Management and Sea Grant College Programs in Florida , Georgia , South Carolina and North Carolina to evaluate green infrastructure interventions for reducing flood risks. The research opportunity is made possible by funding from a $404,000, two-year Karl Havens Memorial South Atlantic Regional Research on Coastal Community Resilience Grant .

“The goal of the project is to assess how green infrastructure interventions — like natural land conservation and restoration of coastal wetlands, oyster reefs and beach dunes — may provide cost-effective flood mitigation within essential transportation networks,” said Jason Evans, interim executive director of IWER and the grant project’s team leader. “Each state team is working closely with its partner communities to develop project recommendations. The team works very well together because of its overall spirit of collegiality, collaboration and commitment to furthering long-term resilience of coastal communities.”

A military-style vehicle drives through a deeply flooded roadway.

Photo: Georgetown County flooding 2015. Tech. Sgt. Jorge Intiriago S.C. Army National Guard.

The South Carolina component of the project will be led by Daniel R. Hitchcock, associate professor of agricultural sciences at Clemson University’s Baruch Institute of Coastal Ecology and Forest Science. Georgetown County is the focus area of the study. Hitchcock’s team will include Baruch Institute associates Marzieh Motallebi, an assistant professor in applied economics; Amy Scaroni, an assistant extension professor; Bo Song, an associate professor in landscape ecology; and Thomas Williams, a professor emeritus in hydrology. They will conduct county-wide geospatial analyses of flood hot spots and the economic effect of flooding in coastal communities. They also will work with the other three states to provide technical guidance for green infrastructure projects in the communities.

“We’re pleased to provide funding to Clemson University to support their contributions to this important regional resilience research initiative,” said Rick DeVoe, executive director of S.C. Sea Grant Consortium. “Evaluating green-infrastructure techniques for use in flood-prone areas is a critical step and we look forward to their technical guidance, which should ultimately help coastal communities with flood mitigation.”

Unprecedented storm events over the past five years have revealed the need for more accurate and readily available hydrologic information, as well as economic analysis of flood impacts and mitigation efforts. Community leaders and residents need a better understanding of how extreme rainfall and high tides affect access to and from communities in flooding hot spots. Researchers will examine grey and green infrastructure and costs to mitigate access and transportation issues.

“In coastal South Carolina and beyond, nuisance flooding from extremely high spring or ‘king’ tides can disrupt life for residents and visitors in our communities. These flood events are more routine than our unprecedented tropical events over the past few years. Recent large tropical events have certainly opened our eyes to potential adverse impacts and demonstrate the need for better data and predictive tools, as well as socioeconomic assessment,” said Hitchcock.

A group of people in life jackets and safety equipment navigate a boat through a flooded neighborhood.

Photo: Georgetown County flooding 2015. Tech. Sgt. Jorge Intiriago S.C. Army National Guard.

In addition to the South Carolina team and Stetson’s Evans, project researchers include Chris de Bodisco, assistant professor of economics at Stetson; Shana Jones, planning and environmental services unit program manager at Stetson; J. Scott Pippin, public service associate at Stetson; Jon Calabria, associate professor of environment and design at the University of Georgia; Narcisa Pricope, associate professor of geography at the University of North Carolina Wilmington; and Tara McCue, director of planning and community development, and Luis Nieves-Ruiz, economic development program manager, at the East Central Florida Regional Planning Council.

Partner communities also include Cape Canaveral, Florida, Garden City, Georgia, and New Bern and New Hanover county in North Carolina. The cities and counties will be working with the lead researcher in their respective state to identify specific project sites for possible green infrastructure interventions as well as develop cost-benefit analysis models for providing a range of estimates for long-term values, including flood protection, habitat creation and preservation, contaminant mitigation and the integration of green spaces within a built environment.