Rising Sea Waters in Charleston – Inside Business LIVE Recap

As the ongoing rise of sea waters continues to threaten businesses in coastal areas, The Post and Courier decided to use its Inside Business LIVE platform to spread awareness of this issue.

In this virtual edition of the quarterly discussion series, four panelists joined environmental reporter Chloe Johnson and business reporter Warren Wise for a live video conference streamed to viewers. Panelists included Josh Dix, Director of Government Affairs at the Charleston Realtors Association, Erin Stevens, President & Landscape Architect at Surculus, Christine Von Kolnitz, Sustainability Manager at MUSC, and Dr. Norman Levine, Professor of Geology & Environmental Geosciences at College of Charleston.

As waters rise, so does awareness

The discussion focused on a range of topics and solutions to the issue of rising sea waters in coastal communities. As a whole, the panelists believe more people are educated about flooding than ever before. This can be partially attributed to rainy day flooding becoming more of an issue, outside of just hurricanes. 

On the real estate front, Stevens is seeing a rise in people seeking solutions. People are looking for effective landscaping implementations to make land adaptable to changing climate.

“The idea of the resilient landscape is being reflected in how people are setting up their business” Stevens said. There are a number of factors businesses have to consider when building on land. They have to understand their microclimate and are faced with larger issues than just whether the property floods or not. This includes things like the question of if employees can get into the office on a heavily rainy day.

Protecting Charleston together

The panelists jointly discussed how their organizations are building solutions and working toward the common goal of protecting the Charleston peninsula. Von Kolnitz discussed how MUSC has been a part of the Dutch Dialogues in order to adopt a plan to slow, store and drain flood waters downtown.

The dialgoues are an ongoing study and hazard mitigation plan in Charleston that every member of our panel has been involved in. Other solutions MUSC has adopted include cleaning out drainage in the medical district, securing funding for a dropshaft system in the lowest area of MUSC, and a system for storing roof rainwater in an underground reservoir that can hold equivalent water to a 7 year storm.

College of Charleston’s Professor Levine also mentioned solutions he believes will be important. Levine said nature based solutions will improve and enhance water flow. Both water storage and wetlands need to be improved in ways that can account for marsh expansion.

“We need to accept that there are going to be areas that will be reclaimed by the sea” Levine said. He believes we have expanded our reach and development into places that are too susceptible to being retaken by rising waters. He also highlighted that over 8000 businesses will be impacted if nothing is done.

Educating and planning

Dix also outlined measures that the Charleston Realtors Association is adopting to inform its members. “We are trying to change, this isn’t a new phenomenon”, Dix said. His organization has started a class for members on the issue. “We have to be educated, our buyers are more educated, so our members have to be educated in the best possible way.”

One major topic of discussion during the panel was the proposed Charleston sea wall. Levine believes the wall is one of many solutions, and will not be the end all be all problem solver. “The sea wall is a necessity, but not the only piece”, Levine said.  He pointed out that it should be integrated with the architecture of the peninsula.

The goal of preserving the natural allure and structure of the Charleston peninsula was a sentiment shared by the entire panel. The natural beauty of Charleston’s waterfront is a major tourist pull. And citizens are concerned about the barricade blocking the view of the ocean. “I think it needs to be carefully designed from a human perspective”, Stevens said.

Von Kolnitz emphasized MUSC’s support for the sea wall. She said we need to let the experts decide where it needs to be and how it should be built. “ We want it to enhance, not take away from the reason why we all want to be downtown.” Von Kolnitz said.

The conversation continues

In the end, this issue is much larger than just the Charleston downtown peninsula. Dix pointed out that we are not a single topography in this area, so it is hard to say one size fits all with our solutions. The discussion ended with panelists agreeing that some of the largest hurdles are government funding, but more importantly, government prioritization.

Levine said that we currently don’t have “anywhere near the level of funding from federal or state that would be necessary to augment what needs to come from the private sector.” 

From developing businesses, to long standing businesses, to the large majority of the United States population that lives on the coast, this issue affects a substantial amount of people.

“As a society we have to completely change how we think of how we live, between the built and natural environment,” Stevens said toward the end of the panel. “This is an ongoing issue, the climate will continue to evolve”

The entire live-streamed panel discussion can be viewed by clicking here.