From The Blog
Land Meets Water: Tending and Improving the Island’s Essential Spaces
All KICA’s departments perform essential functions that make life better for property owners, but few contributions are more visible than those of the Land and Lakes Management Department. If you’ve brightened at seeing the vibrant landscaping at the entry to the island or pops of color outside your window as you travel, you’ve experienced the effects of their work. It’s a big part of what makes Kiawah so special.
The Land and Lakes Management Department cares for two important island elements, land and water. Overseen by Director Doug Walter, the combined department is responsible for managing and maintaining common property amounting to approximately 1,005 acres (along 60 miles of roadway and 19 miles of leisure trails), 122 ponds, 318 formal landscaped areas, 118 cul-de-sacs and 50 miles of pond shoreline.
The department includes trained horticulturists and agronomists who are continually planting, mowing, blowing, trimming, spraying, reforesting, and controlling litter. There is a dedicated crew for each of the five management zones on the island, and each crew has experience with the particular challenges of their zone. There are also crews dedicated to irrigation repairs, fertilization/spraying, and maintenance along leisure trails. In total, there are 30 full-time, three seasonal, and eight temporary H2B budgeted positions in the Land and Lakes Management Department.
Over 20 years ago, Land Management began a focused program to transition from a formal manicured look to the use of more native plants. These plants not only enhance the barrier island feel but are more likely to survive in island conditions, meaning they have to be replaced with lower frequency. The plants also support wildlife habitat. Doug notes that “in everything we do, we want to promote sustainable practices, blending colorful tropicals with foundations of native plants.”
While Kiawah’s landscape palette is primarily natural, focal point landscape beds allow for vibrant annuals and other plants that create a beautiful contrast. These plants are replaced seasonally. To reduce costs, in 2014 KICA enlarged its greenhouse space. Even with more landscaped areas than the island had at that time, today about half of the plants used in landscape beds are grown in KICA’s greenhouse. The greenhouse has also turned into a true community gathering place. For years, the Kiawah Garden Club has assisted in the greenhouse, contributing their time and knowledge to the beautification of the island by nurturing plantings alongside staff.
An irrigation pipe is repaired.
Stewardship of resources is something Doug takes seriously, especially in terms of water usage. When he came to KICA in late 2019, Doug brought technology (including portable moisture meters and surfactants) from his prior career as director of Grounds for the Forest Creek Golf Club. Doug has been working with his irrigation team to update the island’s irrigation to more modern equipment, which can be controlled remotely. The team is also putting in stationary moisture meters that tie in with the irrigation systems, allowing for more responsive use. For instance, when it rains in West Beach but not in Rhett’s Bluff, KICA will be watering based on the different conditions in each area. KICA will have about 20 moisture meters in use around the island this summer. Even with these measures partially in place, the Land Management department’s water usage was down 10% year over year in 2022, and that trend is continuing into the first half of 2023. This is good news for the association budget as water rates increase.
The department’s goal is to maintain the consistent aesthetic and quality members expect. As a 47-year-old community, one key focus for Land Management is reinvesting with larger projects to keep the community vibrant.
A new easement planting beautifies the roadsides in The Preserve.
- Updated landscape standard – Doug and his team planned and planted for months before the 2021 PGA Championship and it paid off, with landscaping updates throughout Kiawah’s visually prominent interior corridor. The celebratory blooms proved popular with members and the board of directors budgeted for the elevated landscaping once again in 2022. In 2023, it became the new standard.
- Irrigation and planting in the Preserve – Irrigation technology in the Preserve neighborhood was upgraded to a more intelligent system. The technology is internet connected so it can be accessed remotely by irrigation technicians. Plantings were updated to reduce water usage by turf in the area.
- Cul-de-sac planting and irrigation upgrades – Each year, the department budgets about $15,000 to landscape common area cul-de-sacs.
- Update plantings along Kiawah Island Parkway and Sea Forest Drive in the area of Night Heron Park.
- Renew park and median area at Glossy Ibis and Curlew Court.
The Lakes team is part of the Land and Lakes Management Department, but their focus is on managing and maintaining the health and quality of the island’s pond system, consisting of 122 ponds and more than 360 surface acres of water. This team of four staff members are biologists or have degrees in a subdiscipline of biology.
The Lakes team installs fishing rod holders at Canvasback Pond.
The Lakes team takes on a number of responsibilities essential for maintaining Kiawah’s aquatic environments. This includes monitoring water quality, fish populations, pond edge maintenance, mosquito abatement and monitoring wildlife in partnership with the town. As the Lakes department built their management strategy, one factor was a primary consideration: Kiawah’s ponds were constructed to serve as stormwater retention ponds, designed to hold and filter stormwater runoff through KICA’s drainage system and off the island efficiently. That means the ponds are intended to receive roadway and golf course runoff in addition to rainwater and tidal flow.
Every pond in KICA’s drainage system is also an ecosystem in itself. By regularly monitoring water quality, Lakes staff safeguard the organisms that depend on the ecosystem, as well as property owners’ investments. The team uses chemical (herbicides), mechanical (manual plant removal) and biological (fish, including tilapia and grass carp, feed on algae and other vegetation) controls to keep the ponds healthy and balanced.
The pond pruning project, which began in 2019, was planned to limit potential debris which can clog drainage, and open ponds up to sunlight and wind, both of which can positively impact oxygen distribution in the water and help to prevent several undesirable outcomes: algal growth, insect infestation, and fish kills, among others. The newly-pruned pond edges not only allow members to enjoy the sight, but it also invites back wading birds, like egrets and herons. Increasing the wildlife benefit is a cascade effect, where more activity equals increasingly healthier ponds. Less than halfway through this 10-year project, 57 of KICA’s 122 ponds have been pruned.
Anyone who has experienced warmer months in the Lowcountry knows that mosquito abatement is incredibly important to maintaining quality of life. While the team occasionally requests aerial service from Charleston County, the onsite team is better able to manage counts, determine needs and act on them quickly. Team members conduct weekly mosquito counts across the island by zone starting in April until the cooler months when mosquitos become less active. When numbers meet or exceed the threshold, zones are treated. KICA’s three state-licensed public health applicators use limited chemicals, and are conscious of effects to vital pollinators. Get a complete look at KICA’s mosquito abatement program here.
It’s hurricane season, and KICA’s drainage infrastructure always needs to be prepared for increased inflow and outflow during the season. The Lakes team, in conjunction with KICA’s Major Repairs and Replacements staff, proactively checks the function of each drainage outfall throughout the year. Prior to hurricane season, they make any needed repairs to ensure efficiency. These teams are also working together on the island’s second electronic outfall gate, which is expected to be online later this summer.
A Common Vision for Members
The member experience of Kiawah’s outdoor spaces is foundational to KICA’s work on the island. The association’s mission statement takes on the role of stewardship over the unique look and feel, and emphasizes a beautiful and well-maintained community. Doug and his team are proud of the work they are doing, leading that charge each day. Doug says, “The Land and Lakes team share a common vision and goal of providing a memorable and safe outdoor experience for all of KICA’s members and guests. They are hardworking, collaborative, innovative and excel in the face of challenges. Kiawah is truly lucky to have such a great group helping the island shine every day.”
Providing Services for Member Convenience
Because preserving and enhancing quality of life for property owners is so important, the Land and Lakes Management Department provides additional services to members. These services are easy to access through the Request Services tab of your member account.
- Backflow Inspections – Certified staff members perform these inspections, required every two years by SC Department of Health and Environmental Control, for all KICA property owners at a cost of $60. Fees are conveniently billed directly to the member’s account. Members are notified by the Kiawah Island Utility Company when their inspections are due.
- Pine Straw Sales – Available through KICA at $4 a bale. Bulk discounts are passed on to members. Large quantities can be delivered for a $50 fee. Application is not done by staff.