News+Opinion » Features

Final Dutch Dialogues report recommends using water to Charleston's advantage

High Water Mark?

by

comment

After 14 months of planning, talks, meetings, and more planning, the Dutch Dialogues final report was released on Thurs. Sept. 26.

The 252-page document, which details new and innovative strategies to combat flooding, is one of the latest tools the City of Charleston is using to combat the rising waters in the Lowcountry.

"What they focus on are principles, and not specific projects," says Mark Wilbert, the city's chief resilience officer. "The Dutch approach things from a slightly different angle. They approach things from the design. They go into things with the design approach — how do you design an area to live with water? Then they go from there."

The final report urges local governments, businesses, developers, and residents to make a coordinated effort to work with water instead of against it. Leveraging nature to Charleston's advantage, tree planting campaigns, and embracing water as an asset are among the pieces of advice given.

On the development side, recommendations included updating building codes, privatizing risk as to not leave it to the local government, and embracing policy changes.

But, just like other climate change issues, solutions need to be used before they actually solve a problem. This was marine biologist Ana Zimmerman's main concern after the Dutch Dialogues final presentation.

"I think that, although these ideas are really great in theory, I really wonder — a lot of them are common sense, and we seem to have not really followed common sense with a lot of the development that's gone on," she says.

"Moving forward, there are some things that we could do very easily," she continues. "We could revisit permits, we could ban fill-and-build development."

The report encourages the city to "eliminate, or substantially reduce, the placement of fill or other structures that decrease the infiltration and absorption performance" of flood-prone areas.

Phil Dustan, a CofC scientist and sea-level rise expert, agrees that intensive infill development is destructive to the land, but he shows more concern for the permits already approved on Johns Island. "If those are built out, it's history, so the question is, 'Will the city revisit those permits?'"

Construction on historically low-lying areas resulted in a FEMA-granted buyout of nine homes and 32 condos that were prone to flooding in the Church Creek area of West Ashley near the Shadowmoss subdivision. Some worry that this will happen elsewhere in town if fill-and-build-style development continues.

How vigorously the city plans to pursue improved development practices in the future is unknown.

Zimmerman adds that flooding on James Island, which the report did not focus on, deserves more attention.

For the purposes of the report, six distinct local development types were examined: Johns Island, the medical district, Eastside, Church Creek, coastal zones, and the peninsula. The report includes unique conclusions for each, favoring strategic, instead of forceful, approaches to managing water.

Dustan remains optimistic about the Dialogues, saying that the outside experts bring new weight to the issue.

"I think we're moving down the right path. A lot of their suggestions for Johns Island basically mimic what we put together for the Johns Island Community Plan."

DUSTIN WATERS FILE PHOTO
  • Dustin Waters file photo

It will take time for the city to implement recommendations in the report, but some projects have already grown out of the Dutch Dialogues. The new Charleston Rainproof initiative kicked off on Wed. Sept. 25 with a workshop on rain gardens and rainwater harvesting systems.

The Dutch Dialogues are a trademarked program that offers cities advice based on water management techniques developed in the Netherlands. The first program was hosted in Louisiana between 2008 and 2010, as a response to Hurricane Katrina.

With the release of the final report on Thursday, the Charleston Dutch Dialogues clocked in at roughly 14 months to complete.

In August of last year, the city conducted a three-day meeting that allowed the Dutch Dialogues team to gather information about Charleston. The project, in partnership with Historic Charleston Foundation, officially commenced in January of this year.

In July, a public engagement event gave citizens a chance to voice their opinion and perspective on flooding. In the same month, a Colloquium Report was released, that provided experts with key takeaways from each area of study. These talking points were used to build the final report.

To fully implement elements of the report, Charleston will need to incorporate portions of the final report in its 10-year comprehensive plan, which is set to be approved in 2021.

Wilbert believes that the Dutch Dialogues, the city's vulnerability and risk assessment, and the Army Corps of Engineers flood risk reduction study will heavily inform the city's Comprehensive Plan update.

"This is a forward-looking document," says Wilbert, "So I think the principles that come out of this, the recommendations — in addition to principles, there's a lot of recommendations in here — the recommendations are certainly going to be things that will be embraced in many different areas of city work, going forward."

The full Dutch Dialogues report can be found online at dutchdialoguescharleston.org.

Add a comment