Gov. Henry McMaster's state floodwater commission on Friday released its full report detailing how the state should address its flooding problems.
“We’ve been charged with a daunting task,” the commission’s chairman Tom Mullikin said, “to meet the great challenge of extreme weather associated with climate change. We no longer debate whether sea level is rising, but rather how much it will rise and how quickly.”
The Coastal Carolina professor spoke at the commission’s quarterly meeting held at the university, where McMaster and state Lt. Gov. Pamela Evette made an appearance.
That meeting corresponded with the Horry County Service Day that saw a few hundred volunteers clearing local waterways and roads of debris in Conway, Socastee, Bucksport and the Loris/Longs area. Flooding from Hurricane Florence ravaged parts of those communities last fall.
“I can’t describe to you what it’s like to watch the river take over your home,” said state Rep. Heather Ammons Crawford, whose home flooded last year. She spoke to a crowd that included Service Day participants and government officials like McMaster. The group gathered near the Socastee Boat Landing.
Many flood victims in Horry County are fed up, particularly those whose homes also experienced a flooding in 2015 and 2016.
Mullikin stressed there is no simple fix.
“Our job really is not an easy one, and the urgency is on us,” he said. “This is what climate change looks like when it knocks on your front door.”
In addition to providing suggestions for flood resilience, the commission’s efforts have included holding days for community cleanups.
The commission includes scientists, environmentalists and elected officials. It has been broken down into multiple task forces. Hundreds of pages long, the group’s collection of strategies is a broad, holistic approach meant to offer the group’s initial findings after poring over various sets of data and research.
From overtime, environmental changes and coastal erosion to riverine flooding resulting from rushing watersheds in North Carolina, Mullikin admitted the state faces a unique challenge.
The release of the report coincides with the launch of a new public comment period that lasts until the end of January. Mullikin said he welcomes any ideas, including criticism.
In regard to the commission’s advice, there are nature-based solutions the commission has considered, and one of the group’s primary recommendations is planting a million trees over a 10-year period.
Not every idea that’s implemented, though, will be completed in the short term.
“Many of the recommendations that we will initiate — there’s not a soul in this room that will live long enough to see how some of this plays out,” Mullikin said. “But this is how our generation will be measured.”
The group also suggests considering new reservoirs and identifying high-priority wetlands and open spaces.
One example of green infrastructure that could be instituted is the maintenance of tree canopies. For the coast, healthy beach and dune systems can also provide natural buffers for protection from storm surge.
The commission recommends cleaning ditches and culverts in all counties in the state, planting vegetation along the coastline, and ensuring rivers and canals are free of major debris.
Also recommended is studying the feasibility of a manmade reef system and developing a water flow model of South Carolina rivers under different conditions. Additional proposals include enhancing flood security around military installations and the creation of a state resiliency officer position.
April O’Leary of the Facebook group Horry County Rising has been engaging local flood victims and helping them stay informed. The former program officer for Winyah Rivers Foundation and the Waccamaw Riverkeeper program’s own Busbee Street home in Conway flooded in 2018.
She hopes for more involvement from stakeholders and wariness when it comes to carrying out future engineering and design projects, particularly those relating to riverine flooding.
The governor echoed Mullikin’s words on the importance of putting protections in place for future generations.
“We’ve got to be good ancestors,” McMaster said. “And now’s our opportunity.”