February 14, 2020
2020 Resiliency Efforts and Research Projects
New Tidal Station
At the 2020 February Town Council meeting, Council approved the purchase of a tidal station that will be installed on the outside of the pedestrian bridge on the Parkway. Currently, tidal data predictions for the Kiawah River Bridge are extrapolated from nearby stations in the Charleston area. This new tidal station will provide a mechanism to begin collecting water level data specific to Kiawah and allow for monitoring the long-term effects of sea-level rise. It will also provide real-time data for storm-related water movement that can help with emergency management decision making. Ultimately, this data will allow for accurate tidal predictions for storm-related water movement and trends over time.
New Research Projects
In 2020, the Town is excited to support two significant Kiawah Conservancy projects that were recommended by the Environmental Committee. The two projects detailed below will be an essential contribution to the community’s joint effort to address the issue of flooding and sea-level rise.
Groundwater Table Research ($50,000)
The ecological health of a barrier island is directly tied to the availability of freshwater in the soil. This groundwater takes the form of a freshwater lens that “floats” on deeper saltwater. Saltwater inundation during storms, king-tide events, and eventually, sea-level rise can threaten the quality of the groundwater by increasing the salinity. This can lead to a die-off of trees and other plants, negatively impacting the entire island ecosystem. This project will be the first phase of a multi-phase project to monitor groundwater across Kiawah Island, with a focus on salinity level and water table height. This phase will provide baseline information about groundwater on Kiawah and assist in developing a long-term monitoring program for the island’s freshwater lens. Funds will be used to install and monitor 30-40 wells across the island and to support a graduate student researcher to gather and analyze data. Dr. Tim Callahan, Chair of the Geology Department at the College of Charleston will serve as the faculty advisor for the project.
Marsh Vulnerability Study ($19,000)
Salt marshes are one of the most productive ecosystems in the world. They provide essential food, refuge, and nursery habitats for more than 75% of fisheries species. They also provide important protection for shorelines from erosion by buffering wave action and trapping sediments.
Salt marshes reduce flooding by slowing and absorbing rainwater and protect water quality by filtering runoff and metabolizing excess nutrients. Sea-level rise and stormwater discharge have the potential to significantly impact the health of our salt marsh and produce negative impacts on the community. This project will be conducted by a graduate student under the supervision of Dr. Norm Levine at the College of Charleston. The study will use GIS software, LiDAR elevation data, and aerial photography to map the current extent of our salt marsh, document changes over the last several decades, identify human influences on the marsh (drainage outfalls, bulkheads, docks, bridges, and homes), and help model future marsh impacts from flooding and sea-level rise. The project will also identify vulnerable areas of the marsh, prioritize restoration projects, and assist.