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S.C. Sea Grant Consortium Tackles Resilience

Feb 21, 2020 | News

As extreme tides and rainfall have increased in recent years, the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium has focused significant effort on research and outreach programs seeking to improve the coast’s—and the state’s—flood resilience.

Consortium staff have worked with municipal officials in Mount Pleasant and North Charleston on educational flood expos, and with the City of Folly Beach, Town of Kiawah Island, and City of Beaufort on efforts to incorporate sea-level rise adaptation into planning documents.

From collaborative partnerships, such as the Charleston Resilience Network, to developing flood maps, a flood resilience portal, and engaging with communities to inform their adaptation planning, the Consortium strives to put its resources to work for South Carolina.

A map of coastal South Carolina showing stars where the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium is doing resilience projects.

Charleston Resilience Network

Collaborative Partnerships

The Consortium has fostered a regional approach to resilience as a lead partner in the Charleston Resilience Network (CRN). A collaboration of public, private, and nonprofit organizations, CRN has boosted capacity and cooperation with projects including local morning coffee hours for resilience professionals, a presentation on the Dutch Dialogues process incorporated in New Orleans, and a knowledge exchange that brought together scientists and public officials from Charleston and the Norfolk, Virginia, region. For more information about the CRN, visit charlestonresilience.net .

Flood Mapping and Neighborhood Engagement

The Consortium, on behalf of the CRN and in partnership with university, community, and government partners, secured funding through a NOAA Office for Coastal Management Regional Coastal Resilience Grant, to inform more effective infrastructure planning and operation, land-use planning, and water management through research and community engagement. Consortium researchers at the College of Charleston and The Citadel developed maps and models detailing the capacity of critical infrastructure to handle flooding on a parcel-level scale and examined the region’s vulnerability to other potential hazards. In turn, Consortium program specialists shared the flood maps and models with community partners in order to link residents with resources and services at flood expos in North Charleston in 2018 and Mount Pleasant in 2019. Program specialists also provided technical assistance as Folly Beach city council adopted a sea-level rise plan in 2017, explored land-use changes that could improve resilience in 2018, and adopted new beachfront and marshfront management plans in 2019. For more information about the NOAA Regional Coastal Resilience Grant, visit scseagrant.org/regional-coastal-resilience-grant.

Flood Resilience Tool

In addition, with funding provided by the Department of Homeland Security’s National Infrastructure Protection Plan, the Consortium, and the Charleston Resilience Network (CRN), the Consortium led an effort to develop information products useful to small business, local governments, and neighborhoods as they seek to become more resilient to climate and weather events. The project initially identified and analyzed existing resilience tools and indices created to determine vulnerabilities, develop resilience plans, and implement adaptation strategies to minimize impacts and create resilient communities. This information was then used in partnership with the College of Charleston and Charleston-based software company BoomTown to stage a hackathon that challenged groups of software developers to create a flood resilience web resource for the greater Charleston region. After months of refinement, the resulting web application was completed in late 2019, providing a centralized portal for flood resilience tools and resources. Version 1 of the web application is available at cofc.edu .

Working for Resilient Coastal Communities

Kiawah Island

The Consortium has been working with the Town of Kiawah Island and the Kiawah Island Community Association (KICA) for the past few years to offer assistance as they began compiling a Flood Mitigation and Sea Level Rise Adaptation Report. Input from representatives at S.C. Department of Natural Resources, S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control—Ocean and Coastal Resource Management, Carolinas Integrated Sciences and Assessments at University of South Carolina, Union of Concerned Scientists, and the Consortium helped guide the report, which was completed in September 2018. The town has incorporated the report’s findings in infrastructure planning for roads, stormwater systems, and water and electrical utilities. The town also has recommended low-impact development and structural floodproofing strategies for homeowners. In addition, the Consortium and College of Charleston are working with the Kiawah Conservancy and the KICA to install 30 test wells to monitor saltwater intrusion throughout the island. The results will help plan drainage infrastructure. The first well was installed in January 2020.

City of Beaufort

According to a report recently presented by staff of the Consortium and the Carolinas Integrated Sciences and Assessments (CISA) program to the city of Beaufort during a public meeting, 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. The intermediate projection is for more than three feet rise by 2100, and the extreme projection is more than six feet. 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 report suggested the city incorporate the 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, city staff, and local residents. 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. The full report is available at scseagrant.org/flood-vulnerability-assessment-city-of-beaufort-sc.

Southeast U.S. Communities

The Consortium also worked with partners on an assessment of public health risks related to vulnerable water infrastructure for coastal cities in South Carolina and North Carolina. This approach allowed discussion across the health, water utility, emergency management, and planning sectors. A Guidebook for Community Level Assessment is available at scseagrant.org/water-infrastructure-susceptibility-assessment.