City of Charleston, the Historic Charleston Foundation. Co-funding from America Flood Coalition, The Nature Conservancy, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston Water System.

Dutch Dialogues® Charleston

8 months
The Water Institute, with our partners at Waggonner and Ball Architects, led an innovative resilience planning effort for the City of Charleston, which included the implementation of a Dutch Dialogues process. Key partners included The Royal Netherlands Embassy, University of Notre Dame, Moffatt & Nichol, Arcadis, Deltares, Clemson Resilient Urban Design program, College of Charleston, and Charleston-based designers, engineers, and citizens.

The Challenge

Situated on a peninsula between two rivers and exposed on a third side to the Atlantic Ocean, Charleston, South Carolina, is increasingly exposed to nuisance flooding and storms.

Charleston’s future depends upon how well the city and surrounding counties invest to adapt and preserve physical assets, underlying economies of medicine, education, tourism and trade, and enhance residents’ quality of life.

The Approach

The Water Institute and partners conducted extensive desk research, site visits, field work, intense stakeholder and community engagement, a two-day colloquium, a five-day design workshop, and structured interaction with Charleston’s political, regulatory, business, and community leaders.

The Dutch DialoguesTM Charleston final report, issued in 2019, sets out a list of Living with Water principles and design approaches for Charleston. These approaches include enhanced drainage system capacity, perimeter protection, flood plain, coastal marsh and creek restoration and protection, place-specific bios-swales, complete streets, stormwater infiltration and detention in public spaces. Better coordinated drainage, discharge, detention, infiltration, marsh protection and enhancement and improving natural system functions will prevent further landscape degradation and yield substantial flood risk mitigation, adaptation, ecosystem, aesthetic and resilience benefits. The recommendations are grounded in science, respectful of natural systems and processes, inspired by community, based in design, and informed by humility about things not yet known or fully understood.

The Charleston City Council unanimously adopted the recommendations to guide future water and land-use actions. In 2020, Dutch Dialogues leaders were contracted to assist the City Planning, Preservation and Sustainability Department with the land and water analysis to underpin its Comprehensive Plan update. In addition, Dutch Dialogues Charleston inspired two successful National Fish and Wildlife Foundation-funded projects on two of the study areas: Johns Island and in Church Creek.