From The Blog

KICA Focuses on Water Resilience

One of Kiawah’s most significant ongoing challenges is water management. Kiawah isn’t the only coastal community that struggles to find solutions to mitigate flooding. However, KICA is taking an innovative new approach to water management that will allow the association to gain a comprehensive understanding of water flow on the island, put proactive plans in place to resolve identified weaknesses and prepare for potential flooding events.

The key to this new 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. 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, which includes members from OCRM (Ocean and Coastal Management Division), Sea Grant and the College of Charleston. This group shares resources to identify water management solutions for our coastal community. Lucas recently worked with the Town of Kiawah Island 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. We were shocked to see his model show water standing in the exact locations, even at the same depth we recalled,” remarked 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.

As part of his day to day work with KICA’s civil engineers, Lucas will be evaluating the island’s current drainage infrastructure to make recommendations for priorities for pipe replacement. He’ll also look at alternative solutions to keep water from entering Kiawah’s drainage at all – like pervious concrete that allows water to penetrate and absorb directly into the soil, avoiding our ponds and pipes altogether.

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.”

Just as KICA’s engineering staff consults with property owners and neighborhoods, Lucas will spend a portion of his time with 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.”

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.”