Gleen McConnell Drainage Pipes (copy)

S.C. Department of Transportation employees check a drainage pipe under the Glenn McConnell Parkway. James Island residents say their drainage systems have been neglected. Brad Nettles/Staff/File

Abby Wilson thought her property in Woodland Shores was safe from flooding. 

The waters didn't rise into her James Island home during the historic flood of 2015, a few months after she and her husband moved in. It didn't flood during Hurricane Matthew in 2016 or Tropical Storm Irma in October.

But in a heavy rain in July, the home's crawlspace filled up with about 6 inches of water, causing nearly $7,000 in damage. She hasn't figured out exactly why it happened, but she has a theory.

"My personal opinion is it’s because our ditches haven’t been maintained. There were like 3 inches of water in the culverts," she said, adding she thinks new residential development nearby was possibly adding more water to the equation.

She said the worst part was trying to figure out whose job it is to fix the drainage problem, which turned out to be the S.C. Department of Transportation in her case. 

"Citizens don't know who is responsible for maintenance," she said. 

Many residents echoed the same concern at a meeting this week with officials from the city of Charleston, Charleston County and the town of James Island, all of which have jurisdiction on the island. 

One drainage ditch might be in the county, while one across the street might be in the city or the town. DOT has authority over many of them, and it's often hard to tell who owns what. 

Residents say they feel like when they complain about drainage problems to one agency, they're directed to another one. 

Eileen Dougherty, who lives next to the new Spyglass Seaside apartments on Folly Road, said she thinks the runoff from that development is making it more difficult for water to drain off of her property.

She's in the county, but the apartments are in the city. She said she went to both municipalities for help and they each told her it was the other's responsibility.

"There’s not really much recourse for a property owner who is being affected by either a development or a faulty drainage system," she said. 

What she wants is more coordination among all the island's governments.

"We have to look at the long-term projection with sea level rise, with development, with drainage — that’s where I would like to see our three governments working together," she said.

Jason Crowley of the Coastal Conservation League, one of the organizations working on the Fix Flooding First initiative, agreed.

"Water doesn’t know jurisdictional boundaries," he said. "In a place like James Island that is doughnut hole after doughnut hole, it doesn’t matter what color your trash can is. Everyone could be under water if our local governments don’t work together."

Elected officials say they realize that's been a problem. 

"We want every agency accepting their piece of it," said state Sen. Sandy Senn, a Republican who represents the area. "We are looking to do more intergovernmental agreements."

She mentioned an island-wide drainage study Charleston County is leading to identify the major problem areas. From that, about 10 drainage basins will be selected for improvements. 

"That should bring some relief for a lot of James Island residents," she said.

In many cases, solutions are relatively minor, such as unclogging a drainage pipe.

"Here we are at hurricane season, so, let’s fix what we can first," she said. 

But even small projects can involve working with neighborhood groups or other public agencies to get access to drainage easements, which can be complicated and time-consuming, according to Charleston City Councilman Bill Moody.

"We’ve got a lot of places, when they were built, there were never any easements issued," he said. 

In general, though, he thinks the city and other governments can address those problems more quickly. While the city has beefed up its drainage maintenance staff recently, he said governments need more resources to go clear out all the ditches and drains, then get on a routine maintenance schedule. 

"We have got to get these systems flushed out," he said. "We’re kind of like the fire department, responding to fires, and we’ve got to get a more systematic method."

Reach Abigail Darlington at 843-937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail.

Abigail Darlington is a local government reporter focusing primarily on the City of Charleston. She previously covered local arts & entertainment, technology, innovation, tourism and retail for the Post and Courier.