After the Flood: Changing views on floodwater policy at the local and statewide level

February 27th, 2020
By Megan Chase

Link between Upstate growth and downstream flooding

Recent flooding around the Upstate has sparked a conversation about how land use and rapid growth have led to increased runoff from storm events. Erika Hollis, our Clean Water Director, talked about this connection and local efforts to curb flooding impacts in a recent article in the Greenville Journal. Read How will development impact future flooding and water quality?

As rapid development destroys our ecosystems’ natural stormwater management abilities, more flooding is expected to come. What we do now to control flooding will have statewide impacts, as our efforts to slow the flow of floodwater in the Upstate will help Midlands communities downstream.  

At the local level, we can ask our elected officials and city planners to consider floodwater management tools like green infrastructure, floodplain protection, riparian buffers and other measures that allow rainwater to be absorbed back into the ground before it becomes a problem downstream.

The South Carolina Floodwater Commission

With rising sea levels and a dramatic loss in areas that provide natural floodwater retention, South Carolina has seen unprecedented flooding in both coastal and inland communities. In fact, South Carolina has experienced four catastrophic flood events following hurricanes and tropical storms since 2015: Joaquin, Matthew, Irma and Florence. This trend is expected to continue.

In 2018, Governor Henry McMaster established the South Carolina Floodwater Commission in response to this growing crisis. The Commission brought together experts in emergency management, disaster preparedness, engineering, meteorology, and representatives from academia, environmental organizations, legislators, and mayors with the purpose of developing solutions to floodwater management throughout the state. The Commission was split into 10 task forces and met quarterly in 2019 to develop a Final Report, which was released in November 2019 and outlines recommendations for state and local floodwater management.

Upstate Forever, along with representatives from Conservation Voters of South Carolina, SC Wildlife Federation, Coastal Conservation League, Senior Conservation Leadership Alliance, American Institute of Architects, and the US Green Building Council, formed an issue team within the Conservation Coalition to address flooding issues around the State. Through this group, we coordinated with the SC Floodwater Commission to include recommendations in their 2019 Report, such as requirements and incentives for green infrastructure; preserving and restoring rivers, floodplains, wetlands and coastal areas to their natural state to provide floodwater storage; use of native vegetation; requiring local governments to address proactive flood planning in their comprehensive plans; and other initiatives to improve floodwater management throughout the state.

The initial results of the Floodwater Commission are promising, and several sound strategies have been developed to implement some of the recommendations from the 2019 Report. Moving forward, clear objectives and detailed strategies will be needed to establish roles and responsibilities, develop implementation plans, and identify funding sources.

Recently in the 2020-2021 Executive Budget, the Governor requested funding to implement three of the recommendations from the 2019 Report:

  1. $10 million (non-recurring) to connect the Medical University of SC’s storm water drainage to the City of Charleston’s deep well storm drainage project.
  2. $7 million (non-recurring) and $559,697 (recurring) for the creation of a research facility on Waties Island to foster collaboration among state agencies and universities for research related to flooding and erosion.
  3. Funding for a “chief resilience officer” (appointment by the governor) to create a strategic resilience plan so that the state can maximize federal assistance and coordinate a long - term strategy for climate change - related disasters.

Recommendations at the Local Level

These are short-term solutions to problems that will take many years to address. In addition to providing funding for research and personnel, there are several initiatives that can be organized at the local level to improve floodwater retention and disaster mitigation:

  • Plant more native vegetation to control erosion and slow the flow of water.
  • Protect and restore riparian buffers and forested watersheds.
  • Update county stormwater regulations to include requirements for green infrastructure.
  • Address deferred maintenance of drainage systems.
  • Expand access to discounts on flood insurance premiums, offered by FEMA to cities that implement flood protection activities. The City and County of Greenville and Pickens County are the only Upstate municipalities that participate in this program. 

As the Floodwater Commission continues to develop strategies to address statewide flooding, we will stay engaged, continue to advocate for sound floodwater management, and will keep you up to date on how to get involved.

Megan Chase is the Clean Water Advocate at Upstate Forever and can be reached at

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