Commentary: Act Now to Restore the Balance between Land and Water in the Lowcountry | Remark


The Post and Courier’s excellent Rising Waters series clearly shows one thing: the climate has changed and it’s not good for your rivers.

Nature designed our land and water to work together – flooding and drainage – in balance to create a rich ecosystem capable of supporting us and the fish, birds, turtles and dolphins around us.

In no time, we have broken the balance between concrete and pollution. Aggressive growth, lax environmental oversight, and poor choices about where and how to build in our estuary have dramatically altered the relationship between land and water. And now our community and our waterways are vulnerable.

Climate change is making the situation worse. We see it every day.

The local salt marshes are not healthy. The once vast green bands are now short and thin, stressed by rising sea levels and extremely high tides. Some stands have died, leaving bare mud flats. The swamp cannot adapt by migrating to land because it is blocked by roads, dikes and buildings.

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Heavy rains and flooding carry bacteria, pesticides, oil and gas into the water. Sewers overflow and septic tanks wash up, contaminating our waterways with bacteria and pathogens. Plastic debris and garbage is picked up and transported to the nearest creek or river after each flood.

Tidal streams erode and become wider and shallower as they silt with sediment. Critical shorebird rookeries are disappearing under rising tides, threatening the health of pelican, tern, skimmer and gull populations.

The ocean and our estuary are becoming more and more acidic, making it difficult for oysters and clams to reproduce and survive. Acidic water also supports less zooplankton, an important link in the marine food web and carbon recycler.

Polluted floodwaters flood our homes and businesses and disrupt traffic. It also threatens our health, exposing us to harmful pathogens and toxic chemicals. This is especially true for communities of color that have long been overlooked for flood protection and improved drainage.

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Whether we notice these connections or not, the health of our ecosystem and our community is at risk. The pace is accelerating and threats are increasing every day. We must make significant progress before it is too risky and too unhealthy to live here.

To restore the fragile balance between land and water, we must act now to:

  • Examine watershed-wide flooding, sea level rise and stormwater pollution to develop holistic solutions. We need to consider ways to optimize our entire watershed as we adjust to the new normal.
  • Encourage low-impact development (and redevelopment) that prioritizes our waterways and people, and discourage development that contributes to runoff and fills wetlands that are our first line of protection against water hazards. ‘flood.
  • Implement layered nature-based solutions that restore the natural relationship between land and water, improve infiltration and maximize floodwater storage in the landscape.
  • Incorporate reflection on resilience at the watershed scale into local and regional planning to preserve swamp migration corridors, establish consistent rules on waterway buffer zones, protect native soils and prohibit development in wetlands. vulnerable areas.
  • Support data collection, authorization and law enforcement efforts in our national and local resource agencies to protect our health and our local wildlife and fish populations from climate change.
  • Protect coastal marshes and freshwater wetlands, and build new ones to trap and filter floodwater.

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Our rivers, streams, marshes and wetlands are the first line of defense. When our estuary is vulnerable, so are we. Sustained action and bold vision from all levels of society – individuals, businesses and government – are needed if we are to truly become resilient and protect ourselves and our waterways. Are we brave enough to choose nature over concrete?

Andrew J. Wunderley is Executive Director of Charleston Waterkeeper.

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