Charleston could see ‘major’ flood improvement in next five years

The combination of heavy rain and high tide led to several flooded streets Sunday in downtown...
The combination of heavy rain and high tide led to several flooded streets Sunday in downtown Charleston.(Live 5)
Published: Jul. 11, 2022 at 4:31 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Heavy rainfall paired with high tide caused more flooding in Charleston Sunday. Despite road closures and a messy evening for travel, it’s not something that’s uncommon to see.

The city’s elevation is very low, and climate change is worsening an already difficult flooding situation, City of Charleston’s Stormwater Management Director Matthew Fountain said.

“We get more intense rains, we get more total depth of rain, and then we get higher tides as our sea level rises,” Fountain said. “What we need to do is then come in and mitigate the areas that are currently having problems because they’re going to get worse, not better.”

The city is currently spending more than $50 million a year on drainage improvement projects. Fountain said the city is installing check valves to keep the tide from flowing in, building drainage improvement projects so it drains as the tide comes out, and building pump stations in the lowest-lying areas to be able to pump water up and over the incoming tide.

“The city has decided over the last few years that this is 100 percent worth doing, and we are going to invest, and we are going to make it better, but it does take a little bit of time to kinda catch up to that history of flood issues,” Fountain said.

Capitol improvement processes typically take a few years for projects to go through design, permitting, and construction. To make improvements in the meantime, Fountain said they’ve been doing work on aggressive rehabilitation maintenance, which are things they can do quickly to make an immediate impact in neighborhoods.

Fountain said many of the roads that were closed Sunday have improvement projects that are in progress or underway. It’s not just on the peninsula, either. Projects are in the works in West Ashley, Johns Island, and James Island. He said they already see a big improvement in certain areas.

Sunday brought the kind of rainstorm that causes the intersection of King Street and Huger Street to flood. Phase one of drainage improvements for that intersection was completed a few months ago, a collection system to take the water to what phase two will be, a pump station to move that water out during intense rain. Right now, they have completed a preliminary design for the station.

“Over the last three years, and then the next five years, we’ll see that major improvement for a lot of areas in the city,” Fountain said. “Not perfect, but much, much better.”

To fight the threat of climate change, Fountain said they’ve changed their regulatory practices. As all new development projects or redevelopment projects come in, they have to account for future climate change in their designs. If they’re in areas that currently flood, they have made the flooding situation better as part of building their project.

“We would like to be conservative and assume things will get worse,” Fountain said.

If you are still seeing flooding issues, you can reach out to Citizen Services Desk.

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