Gov. Henry McMaster isn’t taking three once-in-a-lifetime floods in South Carolina in four years lightly.
He created a commission of dozens of government officials, business leaders and academic experts and told them their job is to solve the problems for generations to come.
More than 50 of them agreed, heading to Columbia on Dec. 20 for the first meeting of the South Carolina Floodwater Commission.
Environmental attorney Tom Mullikin is chairman of the commission and created 10 task forces that will study issues ranging from how artificial reefs could decrease coastal flooding to building better culverts and drainage ditches to stop neighborhood nuisance flooding.
The smaller groups will also tackle getting federal funding for projects to stop flooding, encouraging better landscaping and permeable asphalt in cities, the role of safety of dams on rivers and how to protect critical infrastructure like bridges and power plants from floodwaters.
“It’s very likely that the storms of the last several years are not an anomaly, but rather a new normal. If this is true, many of our families across our beloved state will soon be in harm’s way again. Maybe today,” Mullikin said.
The first flood came in 2015, as rainfall enhanced by Hurricane Joaquin moving offshore dumped up to 24 inches (61 centimeters) of rain, causing massive flooding in Columbia, Sumter, Manning, Kingstree and surrounding areas and about $2 billion in damage.
Then there were the twin blows to northeast South Carolina. Hurricane Matthew in 2016 saw up to 16 inches (41 centimeters) of rain in North Carolina that caused floods downstream in South Carolina and about $320 million of damage.
Nearly the same scenario unfolded in September with Hurricane Florence, when 30 inches (76 centimeters) or more of rain fell upstream, flooding the same places and spreading further, causing an estimated $600 million in damage.
But it isn’t just big floods. The task force wants to figure out what to do about rising sea levels that cause more than a flood a month on average in downtown Charleston. They want to review places where roads were built without adequate drainage ditches and culverts, so a heavy rain every other month leads to standing water.
“How do we make water our friend? How do we accommodate it? How do we use it?” McMaster said, summing up the questions the commission wants to answer. “We can’t fight it. It is with us forever.”
The task force includes Tom Rice and Joe Cunningham, who together will soon be the state’s U.S. House members from coastal districts. It includes mayors from oft-flooded places like Conway, Georgetown and Charleston. There are eight state agency directors.
“Bring a lunch bucket,” Mullikin said. “We’re going to work after Christmas.”
The full committee has already scheduled four meetings across the state. On Feb. 8, they meet in Charleston, where Mayor John Tecklenburg promised a tour of the massive tunnels the city is building 150 feet (46 meters) underground to move floodwater out. They will meet in June near Greenville, August near Cheraw and November near Greenwood.
“When this commission has finished this work, we will hand over to our children and our grandchildren a state that is as beautiful protected and prosperous as the one we were blessed to inherit,” Mullikin said.
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