I WRITE THIS the same day a violent and robust morning thunderstorm left many local streets flooded and impassable.
In other words, it’s summer in Savannah.
Here, such storms are common, as is the attendant flooding. Two other things are also common:
1) People frantically alerting each other on Facebook that it’s raining outside. (Do people in other towns do this?!)
2) People immediately complaining that the City doesn’t do enough to “fix” the flooding issues here.
I can’t help with the first problem. The funny thing about the second problem is we’ve already “fixed” the flooding about as much as is humanly possible. Literally.
Many people seem to be drawn to live in this area for its natural qualities, but still have problems acknowledging the full reality of those same natural qualities.
So let’s break this down:
Every road and driveway, every house and hotel, every blade of grass in Chatham County sits atop an enormous, primordial sandbar.
The entire coastal plain of Georgia, all the way to Macon, has been underwater several times throughout prehistory. One day, it will all be underwater again.
Of all Georgia’s 159 counties, Chatham County has the lowest average elevation.
The highest natural point in Chatham County is less than 50 feet above sea level; on the islands the average elevation is 10 feet or below.
As recently as 120,000 years ago, when sea levels were about 20 feet higher, most all of this area was submerged.
Savannah is also in a tropical climate region, i.e. we have extremely intense summer rainstorms on the regular.
These storms drop more water in a short amount of time than is realistically possible for humans to alleviate, almost regardless of how much money we spend.
The one-two punch of very low elevation plus very heavy rain remains undefeated.
“While we will continue to work on this problem, we will never ‘solve’ street flooding in Savannah. We can only lessen the impact,” says Assistant City Manager Bret Bell.
Because of our low-lying, mostly tidal waterways, Bell says, “There is very little gravity to work with — water tends to want to stay in place. We are also semi-tropical — when it rains here, it rains really hard. Enough rain in a short enough period of time will tax any drainage system, but especially ours.”
This is not for lack of trying on our behalf. I’m usually pretty hard on this City government, but this is one of those occasions when I am more than happy to go to bat for them.
Taxpayers have funded about $260 million toward drainage mitigation since 1994, Bell says, mostly with SPLOST funds.
This includes pump stations along canals, to enable drainage at high tide. Without pump stations, at very high tides drainage can literally come back up through storm drains the wrong way.
“We will continue to work on improvements, however all of the low-hanging fruit has been picked,” says Bell. “This means drainage projects will be more extensive, expensive, and disruptive, with less of an impact, than projects completed to date.”
Bell says that when the City last year bid out a drainage project for an area of Habersham Village, the cost came back at around $75 million. For about three City blocks.
The newest phase of the Casey Canal stormwater drainage improvements, again impacting a relatively small area, is part of a total improvement expected to cost about $30 million.
Nature doesn’t care about a few flooded intersections. Nature will put all these intersections underwater soon enough.
Until then, enjoy what you have while you can, and please drive extra carefully when it rains. And stay off Facebook while you do so!