SC releases plan to address climate change and routine flooding: ‘Now is our opportunity’

South Carolina wants to be the leader in preparing for flooding caused by a changing climate. And on Friday Gov. Henry McMaster joined other state leaders to discuss just how they’re going to do it.

For a year now the Governor’s Floodwater Commission has brought together elected leaders, scientists, industry leaders and lawyers to determine how South Carolina can deal with the future of flooding. The end result was the South Carolina Floodwater Commission Report, over 600 pages of state-wide studies and recommendations.

The plan was released at the final quarterly meeting of the commission on Friday on Coastal Carolina University’s campus. CCU Professor Tom Mullikin said the plan is just the first step toward making the state more flood resilient for future generations.

Over the past decade, areas across the state have dealt with river, coastal and flash flooding. The floodwater commission was created in the days following Hurricane Florence in 2018, one of the most devastating natural disasters in state history, to see what could be done.

The situation isn’t static, Mullikin said, and understanding how to mitigate flooding will require a lot of work from people who might not live to see the fruits of their labor.

“Our job is not an easy one … this is what climate change looks like when it knocks on your door,” Mullikin said. “There is not a soul here who will see how this plays out, but this is how our generation will be measured.”

Some recommendations within the plan can be done immediately, like planting one million trees or cleaning out debris from waterways. Already, the floodwater commission has held action days across the state, including one in Horry County on Friday.

As a part of the floodwater commission meeting, crews of volunteers from across the county were working to clean up Horry County’s rivers. Teams from Socastee, Bucksport, Conway and Loris went out by foot and on boats to find any kind of trash that could be slowing water flow.

Other recommendations from the plan are broader and will require follow through in order to accomplish them. Some include creating new canals and lakes to divert floodwaters, encouraging green infrastructure, implementing man-made reefs in the ocean and increasing coordination across agencies.

Some of the recommendations drew criticism when they were released earlier this year. For example, The Senior Conservation Leadership Alliance wrote a letter criticizing ideas to build new lakes.

Ultimately, Mullikin said these recommendations are just a starting point. He encourages people to debate the plan, challenge it and propose changes when the public comment period reopens. People’s comments need to be productive, he said, and not a part of “toxic conversations” popping up online.

The next step will be hearing from concerned people and begin getting all layers of government to start acting on recommendations through policy and economic incentives.

For McMaster, the key issue is not about if climate change is or isn’t happening, it’s about protecting the environmental heritage of the area. People come to South Carolina because of all the beauty of the state and because of the people living here, he said. We owe it to future citizens to be good stewards of the state.

“I believe there is more talent per square inch in South Carolina than anywhere in the world,” the governor said. “We have to be good ancestors and now is our opportunity.”

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Development and Horry County reporter Tyler Fleming joined The Sun News in May of 2018. He covers other stuff too, like reporting on beer, bears, breaking news and Coastal Carolina University. He graduated from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2018 and was the 2017-18 editor-in-chief of The Daily Tar Heel. He has won (and lost) several college journalism awards.