The Charleston region has a flooding problem. Our problem is not new, but the scale and urgency of our region’s flooding challenge is greater now than at any time in our long history.
The naturally deep harbor and navigable rivers that define our region and still drive our economic prosperity have always demanded that we adapt to living with water. Empirical evidence, recent experiences and future projections demand that we now increase the scale and accelerate the pace of adaptation.
Adaptation means maintaining and improving existing infrastructure and investing in new infrastructure to protect people, homes and businesses from flood impacts. It also means adjusting our public policies and investment patterns, and, in some cases, accommodating additional water by altering our behavior.
The Charleston Metro Chamber believes a comprehensive approach to address flooding must address, head-on, the following factors:
Increased Tidal Flooding
The frequency and severity of tidal flooding has increased. Five of the ten highest storm surge events on record in the Charleston region have occurred since 2014. None of those included a direct hit from a strong hurricane.
Sea Level Rise
The data on sea level rise is sobering. The average sea level measured in Charleston Harbor has risen slightly more than one foot over the last 100 years. The number of days with tidal or “sunny day” flooding has increased from an average of two per year in the 1970’s to 11 experienced in 2014. Even the most conservative projections anticipate accelerated rise over the next fifty years.
Continued Population Growth
The Charleston region has experienced a long run of steady population growth. We’ve added roughly 2% to our population annually since the 1970’s. We are projected to top 1 million people by 2030. The question is not if we will continue to grow, but how we will grow and improve resiliency. Solutions to effectively adapt to this growth should be combined with policies and an investment cycle to define and manage acceptable flood risk, and provide a suitable and sufficient housing stock and transportation network.
The current shape of the Charleston peninsula bears little resemblance to the shoreline 300 years ago. Around the region, buildings now sit on property that was once marsh or tidal creeks. While the same sites wouldn’t be developed under today’s standards, they are a part of our region’s legacy that we must manage. Other legacy challenges include inconsistent maintenance of stormwater facilities and inadequate funding for known infrastructure needs across the region.
The Charleston Metro Chamber believes a comprehensive approach to address flooding must include the following outcomes:
To advance sustainable development, governments region wide must adopt stormwater regulations that are clear, objective, effective, rooted in science, forward-looking and appropriately tailored to specific areas. Regulations must be shaped by input from diverse stakeholders including engineers and design professionals.
Systemic Regional Collaboration
Water knows no jurisdictional boundaries, so flooding solutions must be studied and applied regionally and respect the natural watersheds. Government entities at all levels – municipal, county, state and federal – must collaborate on flood adaptation, mitigation and stormwater management strategies. The region needs a comprehensive and multi-faceted stormwater master plan with management practice tailored to watersheds. Close coordination among jurisdictions on drainage easements and maintenance schedules for existing stormwater facilities should be a regional priority.
Flooding is a threat to our economic future. The opportunity cost of inaction, or inadequate action, is high. The region will need revenue and financing options beyond the capacity of current sources to make necessary capital improvements, enhance maintenance, and adequately staff departments responsible for implementing strategy. The state and federal governments have responsibility to identify and commit financial resources. The region will need an empirical cost-benefit analysis methodology to prioritize available resources to the highest impact projects and efforts.
The threat posed by flooding to people, homes, infrastructure and businesses affects us all. Flooding, and some proposed strategies to address it, has an impact on other critical issues for the region including housing and mobility. Successful approaches to address flooding cannot exacerbate other critical challenges. Identifying and implementing those approaches will require us all working together in good faith.
Using these principles as a guide, the Charleston Metro Chamber will focus on the following roles in response to the flooding challenges facing the region:
- Informing members and other opinion leaders;
- Advocating for standards, collaboration and funding;
- Serving as a collector of flooding impacts upon the region’s businesses, large and small, and a conduit for business engagement on flood issues;
- Representing the region’s business community