Bluffton and Hilton Head, and most of Beaufort County, on up to Charleston is called the Lowcountry. Despite the designation, we often forget – until we are painfully reminded during major storms, which are occurring more frequently – that we are all at or very close to sea level and sea levels are rising.
Beaufort County has seen a steady rise in sea level over the years. The chart here shows the steady rise in mean sea levels for our area.
We have all seen coastal flood warnings with greater regularity appearing in our local weather reports. High tide surges for all of us are a problem.
In addition, heavy inland rains can be problematic as well. Tidal surge can force inland waters to back up.
These problems are not limited to only those whose homes and property are flooded directly. In areas where people get their fresh water through wells, there is always a risk of saltwater intrusion into the groundwater.
An interruption in clean water supply can also occur if flooding damages infrastructure (pumps, supply lines, etc). The water supply for the Greater Bluffton area is from the Savannah River. With the treatment plant in Okatie, the danger is lessened.
However, sewage and waste treatment are a different matter. Flooding and torrential rains, etc. can overwhelm sewage treatment systems. Even if it is unlikely that sewage treatment plants would be overwhelmed or would overtop, structures around the plant can be affected.
Any major damage due to flooding interrupts the ability to treat waste, which can then overflow into our streams and other waterways. In recent years, the health of the Okatie River has been compromised by storm runoff and issues of infrastructure weakness. This has contributed to high levels of fecal coliform in the river, necessitating the closure of shell fishing areas.
In the community of Moss Creek, the board of directors has voted to do a study of its sewage system to determine what might need to be done to mitigate against future flooding.
We need to do more throughout our area in terms of both studying the issues, disseminating the findings in a timely manner and, most importantly, acting in accordance with the findings.
We live in an environmentally sensitive area that we need to protect, not only for ourselves but for future generations. Things are moving so rapidly that change is occurring even within our lifetimes.
John Riolo lives in Moss Creek and is past president of the Nature Club of Moss Creek.