The state of South Carolina is no stranger to extreme weather. South Carolina is especially vulnerable to flooding hazards with its subtropical climate, low-lying topography, severe thunderstorms, numerous rivers, and large coastal zone. As of 2020, the state had experienced six major flood-related disasters in five years, resulting in the displacement of South Carolinians from their homes and financial devastation of hundreds of millions of dollars. Given a history of severe flooding, the Palmetto State has enacted numerous public policies to aid in flood prevention and mitigate harm.
These solutions range from state-level laws to engineering specifications and provide a template for other flood-prone regions to study and emulate nationwide.
One tried and true mitigation policy is that of flood-resilient infrastructure, such as dams. There are currently over 10,000 dams in the state of South Carolina. Due to most flooding taking place in the Lowcountry (the non-mountainous region closer to the coast), dams in this region bear a weighty responsibility of holding back torrential downpours from hurricanes and tropical depressions. Due to frequent flooding, many dams are left in poor condition, as documented in a 2020 report by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. Because many of these dams require regular maintenance, other flood mitigation infrastructure is needed for support.
New water engineering strategies have proved fruitful in the prevention of extreme flooding in the Palmetto State. One example is stormwater piping located under the streets of Charleston, S.C. The pipes are part of a complex water system designed to allow excess precipitation on the Charleston peninsula to flow into the Ashley or Cooper rivers.
A different push for flood mitigation construction focuses on restoring natural flood engineering, like marshes to filter and store stormwater along waterways. They can also help to reduce erosion from harsh tides. At times, they can benefit from the assistance of developing living shorelines. By allowing modern engineers to study the growth of such marshes, we can deliberately create oyster reefs and marshes to reduce flooding. These engineering feats are just some of the innovative ways that South Carolina can lead the future of flood resilient infrastructure.
Another preventive policy enacted by the state is the South Carolina Floodplain Mapping Initiative. This initiative works to create and routinely update flood hazard maps to ensure the safe and sustainable use of land in South Carolina. The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Risk Map Program is integral to generating awareness of effective planning and decision-making regarding the life and property of South Carolinians. A similar floodplain management initiative is the Bluebelt program in Charleston. Bluebelt works to lower the risk of flood hazards by recovering natural floodplain functions. Initiatives like these are all-encompassing in terms of awareness, planning, and access to financial relief, such as grant opportunities.
In 2020, South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster signed the Disaster Relief and Resilience Act, responsible for two programs that fund flood mitigation projects. This law created the Office of Resilience, a government agency that studies previous and future flood models to best prepare for natural disasters. The Office of Resilience supports two major flood mitigation programs, the Disaster Relief and Resilience Fund and the South Carolina Resilience Revolving Fund. Both funds will emphasize the use of nature-based flood solutions.
Every state-level public policy relies on the measure of awareness. Understanding how extreme flooding in South Carolina can pose enormous threats to life, property, and communities pushes innovation for new policies forward. With the proper figures and facts, policymakers and experts can accurately map out flood mitigation measures for the sustainable future of South Carolina. These examples may serve others looking to improve their flood resilience and safeguard their state’s or regions economy, populations, and environments.
Written by Rachel Spencer, Communications Intern
The Alliance for Innovation and Infrastructure (Aii) is an independent, national research and educational organization. An innovative think tank, Aii explores the intersection of economics, law, and public policy in the areas of climate, damage prevention, energy, infrastructure, innovation, technology, and transportation.