Folly Beach Deals with Flood-Related Beach Erosion
In October of 2015, Hurricane Joaquin tore 18% of the sand from Folly Island. The tide pulled much of it downstream as well as deeper into the ocean, creating sand bars. For several areas along the coast in Charleston, there's now less real estate for families to pitch their umbrella, this coming summer. South Carolina Beach Advocates, a group devoted to the preservation of beaches in the state, has requested beach re-nourishment funds from the federal government two years earlier than it normally would due to erosion. Re-nourishment means bringing in more sand from somewhere else. Nicole Elko, the executive director of South Carolina Beach Advocates, says, "the efforts now lie in defining a sand source, getting the permitting done and getting the funding in place."
Hurricane Joaquin was only one element of the intense erosion that took place in October of last year. Elko explains, "there were elevated wave heights, storm surges, and in addition to that, Joaquin hit during the time of the king high tide... essentially [they're] higher than predicted high tides." Ocean water reached higher and higher until it reached the dunes, pulling much of the sand that was last placed there from a previous re-nourishment project.
"Our first re-nourishment... held for about twelve years before we had to do it again. And then it's gone down, the last time was eight years. This time looks like five," says Tim Goodwin the mayor of Folly Beach and chairman of the South Carolina Beach Advocates. He says this process has become all too common thanks to three-mile long jetties north of Charleston that interrupt the flow of sand down the coast. Instead of it reaching Folly Beach, it ends up on Sullivan's Island which, Elko says, "has more sand than they know what to do with."
Soon after Joaquin hit, South Carolina Beach Advocates sought emergency FEMA funding to pay for sand replacement. The island didn't lose enough sand to qualify, so the group had no choice but to look at the long-term -- push up its beach-nourishment project from 2020 to 2018. Goodwin says, "we started a week ago with the first meetings in Senator Graham's office and Congressman Sanford's office. [That's] the first step of the process of getting money into the federal budget. So in 2017 we'll get the engineering and planning work done and in 2018 we'll be putting the sand back on the beach." Goodwin says Folly Beach will simply have less sand until 2018.
Finding the Right Sand
Many imagine sand replacement as going to a beach, piling sand into a truck and dumping it on another beach. In reality, the majority of sand on Folly Beach comes from dredging, the process of pumping sand out from the ocean itself. Goodwin says the process of finding where to dredge from is difficult because Folly Beach can only accommodate certain kinds of sand, or else, "it's going to erode faster and blow away." It all depends on the types of sand and grain size. They try to find the right sand as close to shore as possible because, he says, dredging becomes expensive very quickly.
In addition to moving up the re-nourishment two years, the South Carolina Beach Advocates have since petitioned FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers for restoration funds. They both came through, though with several caveats. FEMA will reimburse restoration done with local dollars. The Army Corps will pitch in funding stemming from its legal relationship between Folly Beach and the jetties. The jetties are a federal navigation project that impacts Folly Beach, so the Corps is responsible for partially covering the financial impact they have.
Nicole Elko says South Carolina Beach Advocates is hoping to make Folly Beach more resilient in the long term. She hopes the beach won't always rely on re-nourishment to avoid erosion. One strategy towards resilience is to restructure the dune system so it doesn't get pulled into the water whenever a particularly high tide approaches. For now, she says the health of Folly Beach is still reliant on the money received from the state and federal governments, "for every dollar you put into the coast, you get orders of magnitude more back in return from non-resident visitors alone... the idea is that the state should make a long-term commitment to investing in the coast."