Letters to the Editor

McKenzie: Bury utility lines, plant shade trees to fight future flooding

Trees line the streets of Shandon.
Trees line the streets of Shandon. tdominick@thestate.com

The Oct. 10 article about lessons our state could learn from Nashville’s flood recovery included the suggestion that utility lines not be buried, because buried lines are more susceptible to flooding. While I question whether that’s good advice outside of coastal areas, there’s an even larger problem, and trap, in that suggestion: Our goal should not be to prepare for the next flood, but to prevent it.

Placing utilities underground allows us to line our streets with shade trees, rather than small trees or no trees. The U.S. Forest Service found that New York’s street trees reduce stormwater runoff by 890.6 million gallons annually, producing a $35.6 million reduction in stormwater management costs. The National Tree Benefit Calculator says one mature oak will intercept more than 5,000 gallons of stormwater a year; an understory tree such as a crepe myrtle intercepts far less.

The telephone poles that line the streets of Richland County intercept nothing. Rainwater hits the ground and runs to a stormwater drain, where it is carried to the nearest creek. This is part of the problem.

What Columbia can learn from Nashville’s 2010 flood

The transportation penny is generating millions of dollars for our roads. Those roads being widened — which requires resetting the poles and restringing lines — would be better lined with trees than utility poles. As the city and county repair and grow, we must make it a priority, part of our culture, to bury lines and plant shade trees.

This will help reduce the likelihood of flooding. It will clean the air, reduce water pollution, provide shade, increase economic development and enhance our quality of life by beautifying the Midlands.

Many people have sacrificed a great deal over the past few weeks in acts of pure unselfishness to help their neighbors. This sense of community should be carried on as we look to improve the Midlands to the benefit of our children and the children of our friends and neighbors. Investing in our infrastructure, especially infrastructure that improves our quality of life, should be part of this sacrifice.

Jack McKenzie

Columbia Tree and Appearance Commission