Sea Level Rise Strategy for Charleston, South Carolina

The City of Charleston, South Carolina released a Sea Level Rise Strategy in 2015 with recommendations on actions the city can take to improve its long-term resilience to sea level rise (SLR) and recurrent flooding. The purpose of this document is to inform and provide an overall strategy and guiding framework to protect lives and property, maintain a thriving economy, and improve quality of life by making the City more resilient to sea level rise and recurrent flooding. The strategy includes current and proposed initiatives developed by a sea level rise task force. The initiatives aim to achieve several primary goals: to put in place systems that prevent or reduce the impacts of SLR and significant rainfall, to ensure public safety given potential flooding and to ensure community and economic recovery in the event of a flood. 

Charleston will use a range of 1.5 feet to 2.5 feet above sea level to plan for 50 years from now. A 1.5 foot increase will be used for short-term, less vulnerable investment, such as a parking lot. A 2.5 foot increase will be used for more critical longer term investments, such as emergency routes and public buildings. These assumptions will be reviewed and updated as more expert science based projections become available.

The report is organized around a framework that includes three resilience principles: Reinvest, Respond, and Ready.  

"Reinvest" is about strategic investing in infrastructure and other physical assets that will provide long term improvements to public health, safety, and quality of life. Charleston has already taken important steps to invest in flood control, such as adopting a comprehensive drainage master plan and participating in the National Flood Insurance Program’s Community Rating System. 

"Respond" is about improving the city’s ability to mitigate service disruptions and safety risks following a storm of flood event. The city has already made strides improving its response capabilities by improving real time information sharing between public safety officials. The strategy also outlines other initiatives, including installing flood gauges in repetitive flood areas, acquiring public safety and rescue equipment to manage flooded areas, and developing a parking plan to prevent vehicle damage.

The strategy describes a number of additional initiatives Charleston is pursuing, including asking the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers for a comprehensive flood protection study of the Charleston Harbor, adopting building codes that support more resilient construction, prioritizing capital projects based on flood mitigation goals, and potentially buying-out repetitive loss properties. 

"Ready" is about improving planning, implementation, and monitoring through improved coordination and collaboration. Charleston already created the Charleston Resilience Network, a working group of public and private stakeholders, to improve resilience planning. Preparedness strategies, such as planning to launch a flood awareness campaign to promote the best evacuation routes, encouraging property owners to carry flood insurance, and publicizing other safety measures are in motion. Additionally the city hopes to hire a chief resiliency officer and create a full time position for floodplain management. 

The “Meeting the Challenge” section in this report contains a series of initiatives that are designed to strengthen Charleston’s resilience to sea level rise. These initiatives were developed by a multi-disciplinary task force of staff representing the City’s Public Service, Planning, Preservation and Sustainability, Emergency Management and Geographic Information System (GIS) departments. The SLR strategic actions are categorized under each of the resilience principles (Reinvest, Respond, Ready).  

The sea level in Charleston has risen slightly more than one foot in the last 100 years. Current flooding consists of tidal flooding of some streets during a King Tide or due to storm surge, which is magnified by sea level rise. Tidal flooding in the 1970s averaged 2 times per year, while in the early 2010s it is up to 11 times per year. By 2045, the City is projected to face nearly 180 tidal floods a year. NOAA estimates a sea level rise of 2 to 7 feet in Charleston over the next 100 years.


Publication Date: December 2015

Related Organizations:

  • City of Charleston, South Carolina


Resource Category:

Resource Types:

  • Adaptation plan

States Affected:


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