275,000 more expected to move to Horry County by 2040. What does that mean for flooding risks?

Grand Strand

For Bill and Linda Foster, walking their kids through flood waters to get to school has become a sort of a routine.

“It’s a big problem,” Bill Foster said. “It’s a big problem. One year we had it in October and December, both right back to back, and it wasn’t really hurricanes. It was just a lot of rain.”

Horry County families have dealt with one devastating flood after another for the past five years. The latest was in February.

Now, the Fosters’ keep an eye on river levels in North Carolina.

“You constantly watch that to see upstream if the water is rising, so you can start preparing,” Bill Foster said.

The headwater of the Yadkin-Pee Dee basin starts in the mountains of North Carolina, with several rivers flowing through, and comes out in Winayh Bay in Georgetown.

Rainfall and flooding that starts in North Carolina eventually makes its way down to Horry County, leading some state lawmakers to demand answers from Duke Energy and Cube Hydro believing their dams in North Carolina are responsible for flooding.

“We have taken the brunt of this for the last several years,” Rep. Heather Ammons-Crawford said during an April legislative hearing.

The energy companies denied any wrong-doing during the hearing.

News 13 asked Scott Harder, a hydrologist with South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, about that theory.

“They have limited storage availability, so when you have a big rainfall at the end, their reservoirs will fill up quickly and they have to release whatever’s coming in,” he said.

Harder said the area is in a wet pattern, and believes the main factor for flooding is the amount of rainfall events over the last five years.

“Much of the drainage area of the basin that’s contributing to flooding in the coast is coming below where Duke Energy regulates water,” he said.

Flooding is a natural behavior of any stream, he said and why the area needs to re-think how it develops.

“We can develop in such a way to maintain wetlands, or even convert back to wetlands because wetlands often will provide functions such as flood storage, reduce local run off,” he said.

By 2040, 275,000 more people are expected to move to Horry County, driving the growth of more than 116,000 new housing units.

Almost a quarter of Horry County’s total land lies within the 100 year flood plain and is vulnerable to flooding, according the the county’s Imagine 2040 plan.

The plan states that a major component of flood resilience is discouraging development within the flood plain and along river corridors.

“We have a lot of concerns,” said April O’Leary, a flood victim and founder of Horry County Rising, and organization working for smarter development standards.

She said that 500 new homes have been built in the special flood hazard area since 2015. The area applies to a hundred-year flood event.

“If we are going to build in these areas, we want to make sure that the homes are high enough,” she said. “Right now, the community at bare minimum, supports a three-foot elevation standard for the special flood hazard area.”

Horry County Council approved re-zoning for three developments that could put more than 100 units in a floodplain.

“Approvals like that, votes like that, do increase flood risk naturally because we’re putting more capital investments in these areas and future families in these areas,” O’Leary said.

The council also recently rejected a rezoning request in Carolina Forest after community members expressed concerns about flooding.

Horry County sent a letter of intent to the Army Corps of Engineers to help fund a watershed study to find ways to mitigate flooding and see if it’s feasible to construct a floodwater diversion canal. For the study to even happen, it must be approved by Congress.

“Rosewood should never been built to begin with,” said Congressman Tom Rice. “I mean that area has been flooding since I was a child.”

Rice said he’s worked to bring millions of dollars to get families out of their flood-prone homes.

“We brought $156 million in money for flood mitigation,” he said. “They’re just now being applied in Horry County.”

Steve Pfaff, the warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Wilmington, said that while land management is key, a community must look at the future of climate changes in order to be resilient.

“What were anomalous heavy rainfall and flooding events are becoming unfortunately quite normal,” he said. “We’ve had about six significant coastal  flood and heavy rainfall events since Floyd and, these are events we should be seeing every 200 to 500 years.”

For families like the Fosters, it’s a cycle they can’t escape.

“When you’ve lived here, as long as I have you, you hate to have to give everything away just to walk away. I can’t afford to do that,” said Bill Foster.

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