wolk drive 1 tuesday after irma.jpg (copy) (copy) (copy)

Wolk Drive in Shadowmoss has been one of the areas frequently flooded in the Church Creek drainage basin. 

Crosstowne Church off of Bees Ferry Road in West Ashley has a very serious flooding problem. It’s so bad that the church privately funded a $60,000 study to figure out what keeps going wrong and what could be done to fix it.

That’s an extreme situation, of course. But it points toward the importance of preventing similarly vulnerable development in flood-prone areas. Getting it wrong is costly, frustrating and potentially dangerous.

It’s too early to say for sure how helpful efforts to address flooding along Church Creek will end up being in the long-term, but there are some encouraging signs.

Late last year, City Council adopted new stormwater rules for the Church Creek area. As a result, at least one major new residential development near Crosstowne Church paused its plans and may not proceed at all.

Blocking development is not the point of the rules, of course. They’re simply supposed to ensure that, at a minimum, new construction in the basin avoids harming existing residents and business owners.

Ideally, guidelines would require developments to handle water so well that they actually improve the situation in surrounding neighborhoods.

At the very least, future growth near Church Creek will contribute directly to funding planned fixes via a recently designated tax increment financing district set up specifically to raise money for flood prevention and mitigation.

Charleston officials have identified at least $44 million of needed improvements near Church Creek, and revenue from the TIF district is expected to cover much of that cost, albeit on a time frame measured in years and decades.

For more urgent problems, an even more creative approach is needed.

That’s why Church Creek is such an interesting component of a citywide planning process called the Dutch Dialogues, which asks national and international experts to make recommendations on high- and low-tech fixes for flooding that are specific to different neighborhoods.

In some ways the Church Creek area has more potential for benefiting from creative approaches to water management than more fully developed and historically significant areas like parts of the Charleston peninsula.

An ongoing move by city officials and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to buy out a few dozen homes in West Ashley that have flooded repeatedly offers a particularly important opportunity to build flood prevention tools that double as community perks, for example.

Instead of razing the homes and simply leaving the lots empty, their footprints could be converted into rain gardens and pocket parks to help absorb stormwater. That kind of thinking is central to the Dutch approach, which evolved over hundreds of years to see water not as a threat but as an amenity.

In that way, Church Creek could transform from a warning of the follies of building on low, flat land into a road map toward a more responsible, sustainable city.

Put stronger rules in place to prevent new mistakes, figure out how to fund solutions to remedy past errors and think creatively to make water something worth embracing rather than something to fear and avoid.

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