One year ago Tuesday, a deluge brought on by the remnants of Hurricane Joaquin caused billions of dollars of damage to South Carolina’s agricultural, suburban and urban infrastructures. Those floods came just one month after severe drought caused the U.S. Department of Agriculture to declare 35 S.C. counties primary natural disaster areas.
This abrupt turnabout and the hardships suffered on both ends of this volatile weather spotlight the need for a reliable, data-driven process for understanding our water resources and for assessing the capacity of rivers and the impacts of current and proposed water uses. This science-based research and real-time information are crucial components in developing a comprehensive, statewide water-use plan that protects our economic prosperity.
Our state’s response to the drought and floods of 2015 was heroic. First responders saved lives and properties. South Carolinians crossed racial and socioeconomic boundaries to help each other. Governments worked nights and weekends to reopen our communities. State and federal officials provided resources to get us back on our feet.
We need to thank our citizens and state agencies for what they did during the drought and flood of 2015, and we need to help prepare them for the next catastrophe.
On Oct. 12-13, the 2016 S.C. Water Resources Conference will bring together hundreds of scientists, engineers and public- and private-sector professionals to discuss ways to provide water resources to sustain and grow our economy while preserving our natural resources. Conferences held in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014 each drew more than 300 participants from colleges and universities, municipal water authorities, environmental engineering, consulting and law firms, state and federal agencies, nonprofit organization, economic development associations, utility companies and land trusts.
This year’s conference will take place in Columbia, ground zero for urban destruction caused by the flood, and is coordinated by Clemson University’s S.C. Water Resources Center in conjunction with a statewide planning committee.
Participants will share lessons learned from last year’s drought and flood. One such lesson is that South Carolina needs data-driven water-use planning that is informed by the latest technology.
As the state’s primary land-grant university, Clemson already has faculty and staff working across multiple programs and technological platforms to provide expertise in crop irrigation, forested watersheds, water-quality assessment, water treatment and data analysis and modeling. This collaborative effort allows us to identify issues, develop solutions and disseminate unbiased, research-based information to citizens and policymakers.
We must not stop there.
Significant weather events continue to threaten South Carolina’s capacity to provide water for homes, municipalities, power plants, agriculture, industry and recreation. Historic rainfalls have demonstrated the vulnerability of our water bodies, dams and flood-control plans. Meantime, regional interstate water disputes are occurring more frequently, as state governments become increasingly concerned about sustainable population and economic growth. This is why we need to help prepare for the next major weather-related water event.
Clemson is working to build a program to continuously assess South Carolina’s capacity to provide water for sustainable agricultural, recreational, industrial, municipal and residential use. The program will support assessment procedures and management guidelines outlined in the S.C. Water Plan and will provide an objective source of data for projecting needs, capacity and impacts. This science-based water research and information center would be crucial to developing sustainable strategies for protecting and providing water resources for our state’s growing economy and population.
We want to thank everyone participating in next week’s conference and working with us to protect our water resources.
We believe the research, collaboration and knowledge-sharing taking place at the conference is essential to understanding South Carolina’s water-related challenges and formulating solutions to preserve our state’s economic prosperity.
Dr. Allen is director of Clemson’s S.C. Water Resources Center; contact him at JSALLEN@clemson.edu.