By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
It has been nearly a year since historic rains breached dozens of dams in the state of South Carolina, causing extensive downstream flooding.
The state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) inspected privately owned dams at affected lake communities, most of them managed by homeowners’ associations (HOAs). Several lakes had drained completely, while DHEC ordered that lake levels be lowered where dams had sustained extensive damage.
The floods also destroyed several roads that provide access to lake residents, because those roads had been constructed on top of the aging dams. Although the state Department of Transporation (DOT) is responsible for reconstructing these roads, the HOAs were informed that DOT cannot move forward with rebuilding washed out roads until the dams are restored.
However, the cost to repair a dam is steep – up to a million dollars (or more) for the Lake Elizabeth homeowners. The HOA has determined it cannot afford to rebuild the dam, so it will restore the wetland instead, at a much lower cost. Then the HOA will have to once again contact DOT to see about getting the road rebuilt.
Lake Elizabeth no longer exists.
Decision to not restore lake not sitting well with residents
Billie Jean Shaw 09/06/2016 6:51 AM
BLYTHEWOOD, SC (WIS) – Nearly 15 years ago, Harriet Moyd would wake up every morning to a nice view of Lake Elizabeth, but now she wakes up to overgrown weeds and puddles.
“Basically, it’s just a mosquito breeding ground,” said Moyd.
After thinking it over for about a year, the homeowners association sent a letter to the Department of Health and Environmental Control saying “HOA has decided not to restore our lake and instead return it to natural wetlands.” The decision comes after the lake’s dam broke during October’s flood causing the water to damage a portion of Wilson Boulevard.
Homeowners are understandably disappointed, and they believe it is unfair to expect a small group of homeowners to spend millions to rebuild the dam for their private lake. They now own former lakefront homes, with significantly reduced property values.
But that’s the risk homeowners take when buying into an HOA. If you reap the benefit of private access amenities (in this case, a lake), then you also buy into the long term expense to maintain it, and any related financial liabilities.
On the other hand, from the very beginning, it was a poor plan for the state of South Carolina to allow for piecemeal maintenance of storm water drainage in the watershed region. Even worse, state and local governments dumped the responsibility of flood prevention and environmental management on a group of homeowner volunteers without any specialized knowledge of civil engineering, hydrology, or environmental science.
While DHEC was supposed to at least inspect lakes and dams on a regular basis, to monitor the need for maintenance and repairs, that rarely happened. So homeowners remained blissfully unaware of the potential for disaster, until it was too late.
And unfortunately, plenty of downstream property owners who did not live in lakefront HOAs, also sustained damage to their homes and vehicles. Sadly, people were injured and lives were lost. City, county, and state owned property were also damaged by rushing flood waters.
And what happened in South Carolina could very well happen in other states across the U.S., where thousands of privately owned dams and storm water management components are managed by HOA boards that don’t know what they don’t know. In other words, over several decades, our local storm water control systems have become increasingly privatized, with almost no government oversight to ensure public health and safey, and ulitmately costing taxpayers far more money in the long run.
According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) 90% of all disasters in this country involve flooding. And while there’s a great focus on climate change, rising sea levels, and coastal flooding, perhaps we are overlooking another common cause of flooding: ineffective and poor management of our storm water infrastructure.