Article Type

Full Research Article – Regular Issue






The traditional goal of stormwater management is to reduce the threat of flooding to life and property, and so most landscapes are engineered to maximize the speed at which the unwanted water leaves the watershed. This has been effective in landscapes with some topographic gradient. This often involves the installation of drainage ditches that disperse runoff from urban areas to receiving water bodies; in coastal areas this means a tidal creek, estuary, bay, sounds, or the coastal ocean. This practice reduces flood hazards in some cases but results in unintended effects on the natural hydrology in the watershed and downstream tidal dynamics. For low-gradient watersheds in humid climates, ditch systems also lower the water table of an area, increasing infiltration to recharge and groundwater discharge to streams (baseflow), and larger volume of freshwater delivered downstream yearround. Ditches also create unintentional avenues for the incoming tide from a tidal creek or tidally-influenced waterway to reach further inland, thus reducing the hydraulic gradient between the inland areas and the receiving water body. The combination of these effects can exacerbate compound flooding events, increasing the flood probability if high tide and storm events coincide. Additionally, coastal communities face the challenge of mitigating more complicated flood hazards while land development increases to meet the needs of a growing population.

This study analyzed the tidal influence within an inland drainage ditch in the central coast of South Carolina USA that is representative of thousands of artificially-drained coastal watersheds. The ditch-creek system investigated here is 12 km long in a 753-hectare (1860-acre) watershed of Church Flats Creek, a first-order tidal system. We monitored for 13 months a 0.75-km reach of the lower ditch portion of the system, just above the relatively undisturbed tidal creek and marsh. Prior to ditching in the 1960s this system had a wetland-rich floodplain but is now partially tidal. Field data collected were stream stage (depth), discharge, tidal range, tidal volume, incoming (flood) and outgoing (ebb) tidal durations, and water table hydrograph at a location about 50 m of mid-reach of the ditch. Multiple linear regressions were performed to best predict the flood and ebb tidal durations of the system based on tidal characteristics within the ditch. The mean values were 229 ± 2.5 and 182 ± 2.1 minutes for flood and ebb tide durations, respectively and the models explained 84% (residual standard error (RSE) of 25 minutes) and 80% (RSE of 23 minutes) for the flood and ebb conditions, respectively. The models were simulated for sea levels in 1993 and 2050, and results indicate that the flood tide within the drainage ditch is predicted to increase an average of 66 minutes and the total tidal duration (flood and ebb) an average of 139 minutes by 2050. These results suggest a loss in drainage functionality as sea level rises. Increases in the duration of tidal influence will induce a lower capacity for stormwater volume than the drainage infrastructure was constructed to manage, therefore resulting in an increased frequency of compound flooding events because of the lower storage volume and decreased hydraulic gradient in the system. This study fills a knowledge gap of tidal dynamics within coastal ditch-creek systems and we urge stormwater managers to consider the unintended consequences of using traditional stormwater methods in a region that does not benefit from gravity drainage practices like in other regions.





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