In September 2018, a subcommittee of the Town of Kiawah Island’s Environmental Committee submitted a report to the Town Council. This report, Flood Mitigation and Sea Level Rise Adaptation for Kiawah Island, SC, was the result of 18 months of study and provided over a hundred recommendations for how the island could respond to the challenges of sea level rise and climate change. Both the town and the Kiawah Island Community Association (KICA) responded positively to the report and undertook a variety of proactive actions in response to the recommendations.
A key recommendation in the report was the implementation of an Adaptive Management Plan (AMP) to monitor conditions on Kiawah that may require intervention. KICA has established a task force, with endorsement by the town, to guide the initial phase of development of this plan. The goal for this first phase is to identify conditions that property owners find undesirable or unacceptable as a result of flooding induced by continuing sea level rise, as well as the environmental consequences of increasing periods of drought broken by periods of intense rainfall. These conditions, or “thresholds,” are situations that we never want to reach. The total AMP Plan will include “trigger points,” warnings that actions are needed to avoid a threshold breach; a monitoring program that will follow “indicators” related to the trigger points; and a “response plan” to either prevent the threshold from being reached or take actions to adapt to that threshold. Additional information on these terms and processes will be provided as the AMP is developed.
The development of the AMP is likely to take about a year, with the first step being the identification of “thresholds.” Thresholds will be established by considering impacts on public infrastructure, private property and the island’s environment. Since thresholds are primarily value judgments, their identification needs to reflect the diversity of community values. In order to reflect the values of the Kiawah community, the task force is planning for two opportunities for community input in this initial phase of the AMP development: virtual focus group meetings and a community survey. While face-to-face feedback is preferred, the COVID-19 outbreak limits our opportunities for face-to-face community input.
For the virtual focus groups, the AMP Task Force is seeking to put together small groups of property owners representing full-time or part-time residents with diversity of geographical location on the island, type of housing, and property usage. The participants are expected to contribute about five hours of time to read preparatory materials and participate in the virtual meeting with other property owners to help develop threshold statements. The virtual meetings will be held during the month of August. These threshold statements will then be used to develop a community survey that will be distributed to property owners and interested Kiawah parties to gain a consensus on the key thresholds that are of concern. The results will be presented to the Town Council and the KICA Board of Directors in November 2020.
If you are interested in learning more about participating in the virtual focus groups, please contact task force chair and KICA resilience specialist Lucas Hernandez at email@example.com by July 31. Decisions about participation will be made to ensure a diverse representation of the Kiawah community. In your email please include the following information:
Thanks for your interest in this important initiative on behalf of Kiawah Island.
Sent on behalf of the AMP Task Force,
Lucas Hernandez, Chair
This month, KICA’s flood mitigation efforts commence. Construction will begin on a new outfall at an existing inlet off of the Kiawah Island Parkway, across from the fire station. This new outfall will relieve the Beachwalker drainage system, providing the western half of the island with a secondary outlet for water to drain. Off of Governors Drive, near Trumpet Creeper Lane, a drainage inlet filled with sediment will be dredged. This will revive the channel so that water flows away from the island, as intended.
We are pleased to announce that an overwhelming 82% of voters cast their ballot in support of the special assessment required for infrastructure improvements that will mitigate Kiawah’s commonly recurring flooding issues. The vote passed with the participation of 59% of community members. Alleviating hazardous flooding and maintaining passable roads in many heavy rainfall scenarios is an exciting step forward for our barrier island.
It is heartwarming to see the community support this effort with such unity. In these difficult times, the community came together for the common good. We had close to 200 people participate in flood mitigation discussion meetings, either online or in person (before lockdown). Many of you also submitted your questions to the association so that you could make an informed choice. We appreciate the time and effort made by each of you to research, question and participate in the vote to select a path forward for our community.
KICA has received the appropriate permits to begin work on Project Two, the new outfall at Pond 30, and Project Six, where an inlet will be dredged near Trumpet Creeper Lane. Project Two will have the greatest overall impact, mitigating many hazardous flooding issues that occur in central Kiawah. According to current construction timelines, this project will be complete by the end of the year. All projects are scheduled for completion by the end of 2022. The association will provide updates to the community throughout the project timeline, and the effectiveness of the infrastructure solutions will be evaluated and reported.
The first special assessment will be billed on June 1 and due July 1. Members will have the option to pay the single-year amount of $65 per unimproved property or $130 per improved property, or the full 5-year total special assessment.
We want to thank the community members who were part of the task force. Barry Abrams, Rajan Govindan and Chris Widuch all participated in our planning meetings and made valuable contributions to the final plan. We also had tremendous staff support. Shannon White, Jane Ovenden, Will Connor, Lucas Hernandez and Leah Burris spent countless hours working through the details to analyze the issues, make recommendations and communicate the final plan. Our outside engineering firm, Stantec, made themselves available whenever needed and provided excellent technical support. None of this progress would be possible without the initial planning and continued support of the KICA board members.
Finally, we want to thank our island partners who provided insights and support to our efforts. The Town of Kiawah Island, the Kiawah Conservancy and Kiawah Partners all came together for the benefit of the community. We all have a role to play in the health and stability of our island. Each entity contributed to the final outcome, and are committed to moving forward together to create an adaptive water management strategy for Kiawah.
Again, we are grateful for the support of everyone involved in this project and we hope it is a model for how significant decisions are made in the future.
Water Management Task Force Chair
KICA Board Treasurer
In January, community members were asked to share their direct input with the board in regards to three potential improvement projects at The Sandcastle.
The Project Options:
This pool is 17 meters by 10 meters. The intent would be to extend the swimming season, but not year around. Depending on weather, we anticipate this to be approximately April 1st until Thanksgiving.
Upgrade the furniture around the family pool to reflect the quality and comfort of the furniture around the new oceanfront pool, including more chairs and additional umbrellas to provide more shade.
Replace the wooden deck around the Castle Grille with the same IPE decking that surrounds the new pool and other deck areas that were a part of the renovation. The current decking is a lower grade pressure-treated pine. This potential project is re-decking only with no increase in size or shape of the deck.
Over 1,000 community members shared their preference, ranking the projects from most beneficial (#1) to least beneficial (#3).
KICA’s Lakes Management team is conducting multi-year pond-edge pruning project to support the health of our island’s pond system.
Our scenic ponds provide vital habitat for wildlife, but also serve another critical function; Kiawah’s 122 ponds are interconnected, operating as the master drainage system for the island.
Stormwater runoff enters into the ponds through the curb and road drains. The tide flows in and out of the pond system through twelve outfall structures that connect to the Kiawah River and inlet creeks. This free-flowing movement of water through the drainage system allows for the water to be properly oxygenated, it discourages the growth of harmful algae and encourages the establishment of beneficial bacteria communities.
By pruning overgrown vegetation that blocks sunlight and expels debris into the pond, pond health and water quality can be improved and drainage impediments prevented.
This project began in 2019 along edges in ponds #24, 27, 29, 30 between West Beach and Night Heron Park, and is again underway for 2020. This year, KICA plans to prune edges around ponds #8, 2, 18, 19, 23, 36 in the West and East Beach areas.
KICA is working to understand, anticipate and mitigate flooding on Kiawah. We need your help to confirm and/or increase the accuracy of our knowledge about water movement on the island. If you experience flooding, whether on your property or on a roadway while driving, please report that information to KICA’s resilience specialist, Lucas Hernandez.
The form at kica.us/floodreport allows you to share the date, location and type of flooding you witness, and you can even request to have Lucas visit your property.
This year, KICA’s board of directors assertively prioritized flood mitigation planning, establishing two task forces: Water Management and Infrastructure Funding. Together, their goals are to develop solutions for currently vulnerable areas on Kiawah and create long term water monitoring and management plans. The task forces report to the board, and are comprised of KICA community members and staff. Their work stems from action items the town identified in their 2018 Flood Mitigation and Sea Level Rise Adaptation Report.
Underway since the beginning of the year, the Water Management task force started by identifying seven problematic locations on Kiawah and developing plans to enhance drainage in those areas.
The areas are:
• Kiawah Island Parkway near Sora Rail
• Governors Drive near Turtle Point Maintenance
• Governors Drive near Trumpet Creeper Lane
• Kiawah Island Parkway near the V-gate
• Kiawah Island Parkway at Green Dolphin
• Pond 29 to Pond 24 between Surfwatch Drive and Sea Forest Drive
• Sea Marsh Lane
These susceptible areas were shared with the engineering firm Stantec, which came back with proposed infrastructure solutions in July. KICA Resilience Specialist Lucas Hernandez then worked with the task force to add the new infrastructure into a digital model of Kiawah Island, which simulates island water movement. Not only does the model give the task force data on if the water is removed effectively from the area, but it also helps identify where the water will be displaced, and if it creates an excess elsewhere, or leaves the island through the drainage basin.
Through this process, the task force should be able to approach the board with practical responses to flooding, and the board can be confident about investing association resources. The priority list will be decided at the Water Management task force’s upcoming meeting.
With the priority list, the Infrastructure Funding task force will tackle the challenge of determining a funding source for this new infrastructure. Although the association has a reserves fund to maintain infrastructure that was originally conveyed to KICA by developers, there is no funding source for new infrastructure.
Both task forces are working quickly to provide a recommended project and funding solution package to the board in time for the 2020 budget, which is approved at the November board meeting. The goal is for KICA to be able to complete the proposed infrastructure projects within 3-5 years.
According to board treasurer and task force member Dave Morley, these projects are just the first phase of work for the task force. In the second phase, likely launching in 2020, the task force will look at ways to prevent water from entering the island, like in the event of a storm surge. “We started by addressing known problems, will then determine preventative tactics, and will continue by establishing an adaptive strategy for monitoring and assessing the water management plan. We won’t ever eliminate risk, but our goal is mitigation,” remarked Morley. “Our work will provide a platform for Kiawah to monitor and adapt for anticipated rising sea levels, decades before we see any visible impact.”
Dave acknowledges that this work isn’t just about mitigating water events. “By addressing our island’s susceptibilities, we’ll improve the quality of life for our members. We’re also demonstrating that we’re a proactive community, willing to deal with issues head-on, and that can only have a positive impact on property values.”
The work of these task forces will be followed closely and updates will be shared with the community through email, in Digest and at kica.us.
One of Kiawah’s most significant ongoing challenges is water management, and Kiawah isn’t the only coastal community that struggles to find solutions to mitigate flooding. Following the release of the Town of Kiawah Island’s (TOKI) Flood Mitigation and Sea Level Rise Adaptation Report, KICA’s board felt compelled to ensure the association was leading the charge and responding proactively to the report’s findings. KICA began this work with the appointment of two task forces, one which evaluates new infrastructure projects for water management (which includes precautions for flood mitigation, and other incidents such as storm surge and rain events) and another to determine funding sources for that new infrastructure.
KICA’s new approach to water management includes incorporating this work into the Strategic Plan. Ensuring that staff projects, association funds and high-level planning are directed toward water management goals, and establishing key metrics for success in achieving those goals, are important priorities for our board of directors. KICA is working to identify immediate priorities and establish a monitoring plan that adapts to our dynamic ecosystem and the challenges we face in the future. This forward-looking perspective will allow us to address the challenges in a responsible way.
One of the keys to this approach is KICA’s newest employee, Lucas Hernandez. Lucas was hired in June as KICA’s first-ever resilience specialist. COO Jimmy Bailey notes that “Lucas is perhaps the first resilience specialist hired by a community association in the entire country.” Lucas’ title refers specifically to water resilience, the primary goal of KICA’s water management strategy. With his specialized experience, he has a diverse toolbox to tackle this challenge.
Lucas has master’s degrees in Environmental Studies and Public Administration, and is heavily involved in the Charleston area flood mitigation conversation. He is a member of the Charleston Resilience Network and worked with TOKI to create simulations in for their sea level rise research. When KICA initiated the Finance Committee Infrastructure Task Force earlier this spring, Lucas came into focus as an essential piece of KICA’s strategic water management planning. He’s asking the same questions KICA has been in recent years: “how do we respond to flooding or to a natural disaster? How do we get people thinking about it in a different way?”
Lucas uses Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software to answer these tough questions, simulating how surface water moves on the island in detail down to the square meter. It includes details like elevation and soil types to account for how these characteristics affect water movement. When a water event, like a storm surge or rapid downpour, is simulated, the model shows how water levels will be impacted across the island and can pinpoint areas where drainage infrastructure could be overloaded.
“When we first met Lucas, we had him simulate the storm surge from Tropical Storm Irma, where we knew the outcome and we could test his model. His model showed effects that were remarkably similar to our experience during the storm,” commented Bailey.
There are almost endless ways this type of information can be used to better prepare Kiawah for the future. The first task Lucas will tackle is embedding about ten potential infrastructure projects within his Kiawah model to test how they would impact water flow and evaluate if the designs are successful or should be altered. The potential projects would affect areas of concern identified by the Finance Committee’s Infrastructure Task Force. By modeling the data in advance, KICA can be a better steward of its resources by implementing solutions that are likely to improve our water management abilities. It can also help us discard sub-optimal solutions before a costly implementation.
In the fall of 2019, KICA anticipates releasing a plan which will focus on actions that can be accomplished in the next five years to deal with various storm scenarios. This plan will include recommendations (pretested by Lucas’ modeling) by the Infrastructure Task Force, and funding plans for the potential new infrastructure.
Lucas will spend a portion of his time on education and outreach. In a community as close as Kiawah, “any time someone changes the flow of surface water, by raising the property elevation for example, that water has to go somewhere else. This can cause issues for neighbors or cause infrastructure to overload. Being thoughtful with how we approach this and considerate of others is crucial for a community like Kiawah.”
Lucas talks a lot about bridges, but not the sort you might expect from a person so heavily involved in infrastructure. Again and again, he goes back to bridging the gaps within KICA’s departments and island entities to ensure the island faces its challenges in the best possible way. “Resilience to me is about bounce back,” he says. “What ways can we be proactive? How can this information help everyone? I think the answers are in KICA already but how can we flesh those out?”
While Lucas’ work is just getting started, it is part of a larger strategy for water management that KICA has been working on for some time. He shares KICA’s perspective on the challenges that face this special place. “Kiawah is a premier community — we want to keep the island ahead of the game. By being flood ready, it shows that we’re pushing toward becoming a community that can respond quickly and can potentially become a model for other coastal communities.”
KICA’s Lakes Management team has put together a multi-year project for the health of the island’s pond system, which serves as the master drainage system for the island. Over the years, the vegetation around some of the ponds has grown significantly, becoming problematic for both water quality and drainage. The goal of this project is to improve pond health and water quality while optimizing the drainage function of the pond system.
The ponds scheduled for 2019 have been selected with the following conditions in mind:
• significant quantities of live and dead debris present in or growing out over the water,
• a history of poor water quality issues, to include fish kills and/or hydrogen sulfide events,
• or they are part of the Beachwalker drainage basin, the main artery for water flow for one of the island’s largest drainage basins.
KICA has spent significant funds over the past several years working on the Beachwalker drainage basin, both in pipe repair and spot excavation. Cutting back overgrowth in pond vegetation is another step in protecting our financial investment in this drainage basin.
For 2019, the project will occur in the following ponds:
• Pond 24 – at Bittern Court, Red Bay Road, Palm Warbler Road and Catbrier Court, along Cougar Point Golf Course holes 12 and 13.
• Pond 27 – at Amaranth Road and Green Winged Teal Road, the Oceanwoods neighborhood and the Sora Rail Road utility area.
• Pond 29 – by the Night Heron Cottages neighborhood and the Sora Rail Road utility area.
• Pond 30 – by 71 and 73 Salthouse Lane and the Kiawah Island Parkway.
The project began in April with pond 24, where the general scope of work focused on the cutting and removal of vegetation falling into the pond. After pond 24, the contractor will move to pond 27, followed by ponds 29 and 30.
KICA’s contractor will be working within the pond and within our easement area. 95% of what will be targeted for this work are wax myrtles that are growing out over the ponds.
Our contractor will cut back canopy which has closed in over areas of the selected ponds, in order to permit sunlight back to the pond, as well as cut back overgrown shoreline vegetation which is depositing debris in the pond. KICA does not intend to impact screening vegetation for homes. KICA’s contractor will be working within the island’s normal commercial hours.
If you have questions about this project, contact KICA biologist Matt Hill at Matt.Hill@kica.us or 843-768-2315.