Flooding from recent heavy rains has brought new attention to an old problem in the city of Beaufort.
We applaud the city's response, and urge an organized, long-term approach to a problem that requires a lot of cooperation and millions of dollars.
Drainage is an issue that never goes away in the Lowcountry. But it can be too easily forgotten on our many sunny days.
And drainage improvements are not sexy projects with gala ribbon cuttings. When the job is done right, nobody even notices.
But people notice when water rises to places it has never been seen before. Then it is noticed that new development changes drainage patterns and flow. Then it is noticed that there has been too little ongoing maintenance of vast underground piping systems. Then it is noticed that street drains are clogged with debris.
The sense of emergency by the city staff and residents in Beaufort is encouraging. Positive steps are being made, but it must be seen as only the beginning of a long and expensive slog.
The city has responded by spending at least $30,000 for a private contractor to clean storm drains and blocked sewer lines in about 20 highly problematic areas. It is money that had to be sucked from a public works operating budget that is already tight. City Council must take a harder look at long-term allocations for this ongoing service. After all, that is what the city government is there to do: "mundane" things like fixing potholes and maintaining drainage systems.
The city public works staff also is tackling the problems of tree roots breaking through pipes, and clearing built-up sand and soil, yard waste, construction materials and other foreign objects obstructing Beaufort's underground systems.
Citizens must do more than harp about the problem at City Council meetings. They should monitor drains and dispose of debris properly. Isiah Smalls, the city public works director, applauded the public, saying, "It's a lot easier for 12,500 people to chip in than for six guys to do it all."
Citizen involvement includes spreading the word among neighborhood associations and reporting violations of city ordinances that protect the drainage system. Yard waste must be bagged properly. Blowing debris into roads can result in a $1,087 fine.
Now plans must be laid to bring together the city, the S.C. Department of Transportation and any other entity responsible for drainage systems to lay out the harsh reality of what it will take to clean the drains and keep them that way over the long haul.
The Town of Hilton Head Island has coordinated tens of millions of dollars worth of drainage improvements over the past 20 years. It's not easy. It's an issue that requires coordination, engineering, planning, cost-sharing, public-private agreements and constant vigilance.
It's an old problem that needs new energy.