HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — Horry County Rising, the Grand Strand-based flooding advocacy group, wants better protections for wetlands and says incentives may be the way to go.

April O’Leary, the organization’s founder and president, said wetlands are key to preventing flooding.

In Horry County, wetlands cover 38% of the total land area.

There has been a 20% decrease in forested wetlands over the past 25 years and a 59% increase in land developed over the past 25 years.

“We don’t have a lot of land where this water can go,” O’Leary said. “So it’s really critical that we protect our natural flood storage, like isolated wetlands and jurisdictional wetlands, because they’re providing a significant flood reduction benefit for us.”

Wetlands contribute to local and national economies by producing resources. They help prevent storm damage by absorbing a significant amount of stormwater, and they improve water quality in nearby rivers and streams by effectively removing pollutants from water that flows through them.

Wetlands also can increase residential property values. By increasing the distance from a wetland by 1,000 feet, the value increases by $436.

Courtesy: Horry County Rising

Home and property owners can protect wetlands by building buffers — areas with grass and trees between a wetland and a home. O’leary said she would like to see a 50-foot minimum buffer.

“The further you are away from those types of wetlands, the less risk you face from flooding,” O’Leary said.

To encourage property owners to build larger buffers, she thinks there should be incentives. She presented her ideas to members of the Horry County Infrastructure and Regulations Committee during a meeting this week.

“When we’re looking at wetland protections, the best, most-meaningful way to get people to do the right thing is setting up a mechanism to build in incentives,” O’Leary said.

Incentives could be, a buffer width reduction, stormwater credits, density, reduced impact fees, insurance discounts or an expedited review of a project.

“We’re either going to be forced to look at these things and implement them, you know, and it’s going to be a top-down approach where the federal government’s going to require us to manage these lands very differently,” O’Leary said. “Or we can set up a framework.”

A proposed wetlands ordinance will now get sent to a workshop where county leaders can discuss O’leary’s proposed incentive idea.