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Linking Land Use to Changes in Physical Processes in Creeks and Estuaries: Implications for Increased Development and Changes in Climate and Weather

Principal Investigators

Andrew Tweel and Denise Sanger, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources

Project Information

2018-2020 Sustainable Coastal Development and Economy

Project Number: R/CG-4

Research Description

The rate of coastal population growth and associated development has increased rapidly along the South Carolina coast and ranks among the highest nationally. Impervious cover increases proportionately with development, and these surfaces contribute to increases in stormwater runoff. This runoff can alter coastal salinity regimes, lead to shifts in biological communities, and is associated with increases in fecal coliform and other contaminants. Coastal communities are responsible for developing and implementing stormwater management plans, but significant knowledge gaps remain as to watershed characteristics that are associated with the greatest impacts, and how these impacts vary within and between tidal creek systems. This research will quantify watershed characteristics associated with stormwater impacts and the spatial extent of such impacts, and how they may respond to predicted changes in climate and weather patterns.

The overall goals are to characterize the relationships between rainfall and salinity range throughout the length of tidal creeks, to identify the most stormwater-sensitive portions of these creeks, to identify watershed characteristics that are linked to volume sensitivity, and to develop predictive models that can assess these responses under a variety of precipitation scenarios and in watersheds not directly studied. To meet these goals, the PI proposes the following objectives: (1) Quantify rainfall-runoff-water quality relationships within tidal creek systems and between systems along a gradient of coastal development. Investigate how water quality following rain events varies down the length of each system, and compare these responses between systems; (2) Broaden the scope of probabilistic models developed during earlier research to include a wider range of development intensities, differing types of development, and broader geographic coverage; and (3) Collaboratively work with stormwater managers through a series of workshops using an iterative process designed to maximize utility and benefit of the resulting study findings. Results generated here will help coastal stormwater managers develop stormwater management plans that reflect spatiotemporally varying relationships between coastal land use, climate and weather patterns, and estuarine systems downstream. Examples may include targeted retrofits of existing stormwater infrastructure to maximize environmental benefit, watershed-based planning rather than site-level planning, or new stormwater management practices that account for potential changes in precipitation patterns.

Contact for Questions

Dr. Andrew Tweel (