Flooding: The Unintended Consequence of Development

In a capitalist society, growth is not just a good thing, it is deemed an essential thing. That is the nature of the capitalist way. But uncontrolled growth is something else, entirely. In Horry County we have had 3 major flooding events in the past 4 years, with Hurricane Florence being the most recent, and the most devastating. Hurricane Matthew was no slouch, either. Why is that? Has the worsening climate crisis been the cause? Partially. But what other factors have been at play?

We have witnessed a construction boom over the past 10 years, as our population has exploded, like few other places in the country. What are the consequences of this housing explosion? Take a look around and you will see the result of developers trying to maximize their profits. That is the capitalist way. So they submit plans to put more and more housing units in less and less space. As I drive through House District 56, I see huge tracts of land being clear-cut. So what happens to the excess water when it arrives? The land is paved over with housing, parking lots, roads, and driveways – so the water has no place to go, and the vegetation that might help to absorb it, is gone. Not only are we over-building, but we are building in some of the wrong places. We cannot afford to build in swampland, flood plains, or tidal marshes. These places are an integral part of nature’s balancing mechanism.

Our planning commissions, and city and county councils cannot continue to approve development plans that will only make the flooding worse. We citizens have an important role to play. Some people want to live close to rivers lakes and ponds, and after a devastating flood, they want to rebuild their property just as it was before. Maybe we need to rethink that plan, and elevate the structures to avoid destruction in the next flood – which is inevitable. We need realistic storm water management, that confronts the real probability of more frequent and more devastating floods in the future.

I have heard a number of proposals to channel flood waters away from developed areas. I would like to point out that the Army Corp of Engineers spent decades and tons of money trying to keep the Mississippi River within its banks to avoid the annual floods. How did that work out? They built levees to hold back the water, giving the people a false sense of security. So towns were built on the “protected land”, and fields were tilled. Still, the ever increasing flood waters over-topped, or otherwise breached the levees, causing greater damage than if the flooding had just occurred naturally. A prime example of the unintended consequence of levee building was the devastation of New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina when Lake Pontchartrain overflowed its banks and ultimately undercut the levees in New Orleans.

Rather than trying to figure out how to cope with the floods and their aftermath (all well-intentioned) I propose that we try to figure out how to prevent or minimize flooding in the first place. Not to say that any flooding is entirely preventable, but let’s start with being reasonable about where we allow building, and how much building we allow. We need to stop – or seriously restrict – the number of trees being cut down in the rush to squeeze in more housing units. We have to address the question of just how much of our land we want to pave over. Finally, storm water plans need to be improved taking into account the current science which predicts more frequent and more severe storms. We have to get ahead, and stay ahead of the curve. I don’t think we want to be the cause of our own demise.