Wednesday, July 12, 2023 Blog · News

A new plan for statewide resilience

by Lily Abromeit

Blazing a trail for resilience in South Carolina

We’re thrilled that the South Carolina Office of Resilience has released its Strategic Statewide Resilience and Risk Reduction Plan after working with hundreds of stakeholders to inform our state’s resilient path forward. Our Conservation League staff served on various ad hoc committees, contributing to some of the 54 recommendations that came out of this multi-year effort. 

While plans can be incredibly helpful, we know the hardest work comes when it’s time to actually implement them. The Conservation League is fully committed to ensuring this effort is meaningful and we’re happy to share that we’ve already rolled up our sleeves and been hard at work for years, blazing a trail for resilience in South Carolina. 

Please keep reading below to check out some of the highlights from the plan and how the Conservation League has already taken action on items related to real estate disclosure, wetlands protections, and marsh migration. 

While we recognize this plan is a step in the right direction, we also know there is more work needed to address other hazards such as wildfire risk and drought. Just last week we observed the hottest global temperature ever recorded.

We applaud the Office of Resilience for its dedication to start tackling some of the greatest challenges of our day, and we look forward to continuing to make South Carolina a more resilient state alongside you. In addition to the below, check out the full Resilience Plan here. As always, we appreciate your interest in our work and please feel free to reach out with any questions.

Real Estate Disclosure 

For nearly five years, we have worked closely with the Southern Environmental Law Center to develop recommendations for updates to the real estate disclosure form in South Carolina that would require much more comprehensive information be provided to people looking to purchase property. Since 2019 the form has accounted for FEMA flood claims, but there was a growing need to provide additional information around potential flood impacts and hazards that can occur when living in a coastal community or adjacent to a body of water. 

Thanks to the hard work and leadership of the South Carolina Real Estate Commission, the disclosure form was updated with many of these changes earlier this year and went into effect in June. This will provide much more transparency for consumers and education for property owners who increasingly must understand the risks associated with owning property in vulnerable areas. 

The Resilience Plan highlights these recent updates and identifies the need to include future additions that speak to the risks and vulnerability associated with owning property in coastal communities, such as along beaches. The Plan also identifies the need to include these updates in the statute, to ensure these requirements are made permanent in law. Additionally, there is information and data publicly available to inform more of these risks and vulnerabilities, but it needs to all be in one easily accessible place. The Conservation League is very committed to working with state resource agencies and the Office of Resilience to develop this moving forward.

Protections for Wetlands 

Wetlands like South Carolina’s iconic Carolina Bays are integral for the water we rely on to drink, fish, and recreate in. Wetlands are also essential for flood protection by acting as natural sponges, storing water and allowing for groundwater recharge. Despite all this, the U.S. Supreme Court recently stripped away federal protections for isolated wetlands, and with that decision, gave developers far more leeway to disturb lands previously regulated under the Clean Water Act. 

The Resilience Plan recommends the development of laws and regulations for isolated wetlands, which will be necessary in order to fill the gaps created by this decision. A state framework of protections is urgently needed to help safeguard our wetlands.  

The Conservation League has long challenged ill-conceived projects that threaten wetlands, and we’ll continue to fight for further protections to preserve these valuable natural resources. Our North Coast team has also worked throughout the last year on a Wetlands Working Group that makes scientific-based recommendations about buffer sizes to protect wetlands and maximize their benefits for wildlife, flood management, and water quality.   

Marsh Migration and Nature-Based Solutions 

We know our estuary ecosystem is crucial to keeping our coastal communities resilient, providing key habitat for marine mammals and birds and maintaining ecotourism. In order to keep this unique habitat from drowning as sea levels rise, salt marsh needs to be able to migrate landward. Recognizing this, we have worked over the last few years as a member of the South Atlantic Salt Marsh Initiative to craft recommendations for ensuring this habitat continues to survive. Many of these recommendations were incorporated into the Resilience Plan.  

The Plan recommends we continue to map high resolution land cover data to help prioritize areas for conservation that would support marsh migration. Acknowledging the important role of nature-based solutions such as living shorelines or land conservation, the Plan recommends we promote the use of these in communities across the state by establishing a recurring grants and loan fund to support implementation. 

For years, Conservation League staff have served on a stakeholder group established by state resource agencies to advocate for a more streamlined permitting process to construct living shorelines. While much progress has been made, the Resilience Plan makes it clear that more local and state planning is needed to identify and remove barriers to permitting and implementation of more nature-based solutions.  

Action at the Local Level

The Resilience Plan also includes a recommendation that the Office of Resilience will develop best management practices and strategies to support local governments in implementing their own resilience policies in alignment with their comprehensive plans, zoning and land use codes, overlay zones, floodplain managements, and stormwater ordinances. 

For decades, the Conservation League staff has worked with municipalities to update and strengthen these guiding documents and laws. Recent examples of this work include the City of Charleston’s ordinance to ban slab-on-grade and our South Coast team’s continued efforts to advocate for the adoption of the Southern Lowcountry Stormwater Design Manual in the Beaufort/Jasper region. 

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