South Carolina

Does South Carolina need a new lake? New report says it’s worth a look

A state flood commission is recommending construction of artificial reefs and new lakes, while preserving wetlands to help South Carolina brace for rising seas, more flooding and powerful storms in the future.

In a draft report released late Monday afternoon, the S.C. Floodwater Commission says the state needs to plan for the effects of flooding that have hit home in recent years.

Since 2015, the state has been blasted by historic rainfall and three major hurricanes that have sent water pouring across the landscape. The state also is feeling the effects of rising sea levels, which are causing some coastal communities to flood even on sunny days.

“Our efforts are not a destination but rather a start to establish a plan to address our ‘new normal’ and determine how best to protect families across our state,’’ according to the task force report, which was unveiled at a public meeting Monday in Cheraw, a community hurt by flooding from Hurricane Florence last year.

The commission’s 52-page report caps months of work by panel members who include scientists, business people and government environmental officials. The commission, formed by Gov. Henry McMaster last year, will seek public comments on the proposals. The report will be discussed again in detail Nov. 8 after the public comment period.

Recommendations deal with how to respond to floods and storms, instead of taking action that studies show are needed to directly address the causes of climate change. Rising greenhouse gases are causing the oceans to heat up and storms to become more intense. But the United States has been cool to efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

The commission’s report includes 10 major recommendations, some of them traditional methods of dealing with flooding, such as protecting and enhancing wetlands. But others are nontraditional ways.

While some of the recommendations have been championed by environmentalists, others are sure to raise questions. Among the recommendations:

Building up to two artificial reefs in the ocean in an attempt to reduce erosion along beaches and marshes, and to prevent flooding. The report notes that the proposal would be difficult to engineer and it would require study for its environmental impacts. But it could help protect beaches and oceanfront property better than seawalls. The two reefs would be experimental to see how they work.

Protecting salt marshes from development and setting aside areas that could become wetlands in the future. Marshes absorb storm water and rising seas. When such natural systems are lost to development, it can increase flooding. The report says the state should discourage floodplain development.

Developing channels and new lakes to help control flooding. Lakes would not only help hold water to control flooding, but they would help the economy by providing parts of the state “with lakefront property, business and recreational opportunities and energy.’’ Efforts to create new lakes could run into opposition from environmentalists, who oppose damming natural rivers and creeks. It has been decades since a major lake was built in South Carolina.

“We know the costs from that are huge,’’ said commission member Joe Ellers. “But the economic benefits of lakes .... could be fairly significant.’’

Renourishing beaches with extra sand and protecting dunes as ways to preserve coastal property. Still, the report says renourishment isn’t the answer forever because “rising sea levels present a longer-term threat to coastal property and economies.’’ The state should continue to evaluate the “viability’’ of trying to maintain the shoreline through renourishment in the long-term.

Burying power lines, when possible, to help protect the electrical system during storms. The study notes that a bill now before the Legislature would require all utilities to bury new transmission lines starting next year and bury existing transmission lines by Jan. 1, 2025.

A spokeswoman for state-owned Santee Cooper said Monday the company has buried many of its distribution lines to people’s homes, but burying transmission lines is an expensive task.

“It is not something you do overnight,’’ spokeswoman Mollie Gore said.

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Sammy Fretwell has covered the environment for more than 20 years at The State. He writes about an array of environmental subjects, including nature, climate change, energy, state environmental policy, nuclear waste and coastal development. Fretwell is a University of South Carolina graduate who grew up in Anderson County. Reach him at 803 771 8537.
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