Disgusting flooding inundates S Carolina’s coastal gem again

July 20, 2018 GMT

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Like it does nearly every week now, flood water likely tainted with fecal matter rushed over the streets Friday in South Carolina’s largest city.

It was among the worst flooding Charleston has seen in recent years, prompting police to tell morning commuters to avoid coming downtown. It closed more than a dozen streets, including the main east-west route across the nearly 350-year-old city which sits on a spongey peninsula at the confluence of three rivers.


The National Weather Service said as much as 6 inches (15 centimeters) of rain fell early Friday. It subsided by late morning and the water began slowly receding, but forecasters said more heavy, potentially flooding downpours were possible the rest of the day.

Charleston’s geography, right around sea-level and built in places on filled-in swamps, has long made it susceptible to coastal floods, but rising sea levels are making them much more common — the city now sees flooding around 50 times a year.

During the highest tides of the year, Charleston suffers minor flooding now even on sunny days. The drainage system -- which still includes some 1800s infrastructure -- hasn’t kept up with rapid growth in an area whose population has grown by 15 percent just in this decade.

Had Friday’s rains not happened during low tide, the flooding could have been even worse.

Governments are currently spending more than $200 million on drainage projects in Charleston, but critics say that as rising global temperatures provoke higher seas and more frequent heavy rains, the money will hardly begin to solve the problem.

Meanwhile, tourists and locals alike are forced to navigate through dirty water.

The Post and Courier of Charleston reported private tests on flood waters it sampled last month found fecal levels dozens of times above safe limits.

During not-uncommon downpours of nearly 3 inches (8 centimeters), reporters and a photographer sampled the water swamping eight busy streets near schools, stores and hospitals. Tests by Trident Labs in Ladson found them all above the limit of 400 fecal bacteria colonies for sewer discharge. Five samples had more than 10,000 fecal bacteria colonies. The dirtiest, taken from water outside an elementary school, had 160,000 fecal bacteria colonies.


Scientists said this contamination flows from everything from pet waste to faulty septic systems and even the dirty diapers one reporter saw floating in the mess.

The newspaper’s findings mirror research at the College of Charleston, geology professor Vijay Vulava said.

“All it takes is one bacteria cell to make you sick,” he said. “People who wade through these bacteria-fouled water can track bacteria into their homes and beds.”