CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - George Jenkins monitors the weather religiously, taking special note of any forecast that calls for rain. He knows firsthand it doesn’t take much before his home is threatened by water rushing off the streets and onto his property.
Jenkins lives on the corner of Jessen Street and Simmons Avenue in Summerville. A third street, Shepard Street, butts up against his back yard. He has video of the Shepard Street turning into a river, funneling water straight into his yard.
“We bought it in 2007, I asked the realtor if there had been any flooding in the area and he said absolutely not,” Jenkins said. “In 2009, all the flooding started. We have been flooded six times since then.”
What has changed in that time is the gradual buildup of new homes and properties. What hasn’t changed in the storm water infrastructure.
“There’s a total lack of upgrading the infrastructure. Town Council continues to approve building in this area and the infrastructure has never been upgraded,” Jenkins said. “The piping is too small to handle the volume of water that comes through here. Some of it is 14 inches some it is 16 inches. It just cannot handle the water coming through.”
The Town of Summerville commissioned a flood study in the area that was finalized in 2019. The study concluded the storm water infrastructure needs serious help.
“In general, 90% of the stormwater management conveyance system in the study does not meet the Town of Summerville’s capacity requirements for the 10-year design storm event,” the study concludes.
In layman’s terms, the pipes are too small and there is nowhere for the water to go.
Russ Cornette is the town’s engineer and public works director. He says they are aware of the flooding problems and are implementing some of the study’s recommendations, chiefly the addition of a 2.6-acre stormwater pond.
“The proposed pond is designed to hold the 100-year storm event,” Cornette said. “The study also recommended diverting stormwater down Peters Street through a new piped conveyance system which flows to the Azalea Park basin. By diverting water through the new conveyance system on Peters Street, this has a positive effect on the time of concentration in the Azalea Park Basin by spreading it out and reducing the peak.”
Cornette likens the solutions to having three buckets of water. Right now, all of the water is flowing into one bucket, essentially Jenkin’s property. By adding a new bucket, the pond, and a third bucket, the diversion plan, he says the regular flooding will be averted.
The town’s finance committee approved a plan on March 8 to begin developing the pond. It will be located near Parkwood Drive and Shepard Street.
“The Stormwater Department will be mobilizing within the next 30 days to begin installing this system,” Cornette said. “Once these improvements are in place, the Town is confident residents will notice a significant improvement on how the drainage system functions in the study area.”
Jenkins and many other residents in the area say the pond is doomed solution. They believe it might help but say the ground water is so high that the pond will fill up well before it starts raining. Cornette dismisses that argument and says the pond is a pretty big pond for a neighborhood.
Diverting water, adding the pond and regular ditch maintenance, are just about the only solutions for the area right now. The flood study laid out other solutions – like upgrading and replacing all of the pipes - but ruled them out as cost-prohibitive. On top of that, a complete pipe replacement would simply move the water to a new area, creating problems downstream. With limited resources and an entire town to consider, Cornette says the detention pond will have to do.
Meanwhile, years of flooding has taken its toll on the Jenkins and not just physically and emotionally. In December he had to spend $20,000 fixing the foundation in his home.
“The piers are sinking into the ground because of all the flooding. They’re not even touching the floor structure at all,” Jenkins said. “I just want the problem corrected. This is the Lowcountry and we expect a little bit of flooding. That’s the be expected but this is ridiculous.”