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The Open Space Institute, Winyah Rivers Association and the City of Conway Protect 152 Acres of Waccamaw River Floodplain for Climate Resilience and Recreation

Photo Credit: Mac Stone

CONWAY, SC – A visionary partnership between the Open Space Institute (OSI), the Winyah Rivers Alliance (WRA), Westmoreland landowners, and the City of Conway has conserved a key property in a longstanding effort to safeguard this historic city from recurring catastrophic flooding. Acquisition of the land will also help Conway further a transformative recreation vision.

The 152-acre “Westmoreland Preserve” property is a forested parcel adjacent to the Waccamaw River. Its acquisition is key to furthering the Conway Conservation Corridor, a network of conserved lands that is intended to mitigate flooding while providing a pedestrian connection between downtown Conway and Coastal Carolina University.

“The protection of the Westmoreland Preserve property represents a groundbreaking victory in the larger strategy to protect coastal communities from the realities of climate change,” said Kim Elliman, OSI president and CEO. “We congratulate the Winyah Rivers Alliance and the City of Conway on their tireless efforts to protect the lands that will provide a cost-effective and natural safeguard against extreme floods.”

This September, historic flooding in Conway — caused by Hurricane Florence — garnered national attention, after the Waccamaw River crested at more than 20 feet. The disaster followed earlier flooding in 2015 and 2016; cumulatively these disasters have resulted in more than $4 million in damage to city property alone.

Extreme flooding from recurrent hurricanes has resulted in billions of dollars of damages for low-lying Conway, SC.
Extreme flooding from recurrent hurricanes has resulted in billions of dollars of damages for low-lying Conway, SC.
Photo Credit: Mac Stone

To contend with this new reality, more than 1,400 acres of conservation lands in the floodplain corridor have been secured over the past decade. These lands provide a buffer against catastrophic flooding — holding millions of gallons of water that could otherwise inundate local homes and streets; and braking fast-moving floodwaters while reducing erosion. The Upper Waccamaw Task Force, a collaboration of conservation organizations and local governments looking for a natural solution to the flooding problem, has led the conservation effort.

As the OSI representative on the Task Force, Dr. Maria Whitehead, OSI’s Southeast Senior Project Manager, identified the Westmoreland Preserve tract as critical to providing flood relief to Conway.

“Land is an extremely important, but often underappreciated, tool in the effort to the deal with extreme flooding,” Whitehead said. “OSI will continue to further the long-term strategy of using land protection to safeguard our communities and infrastructure for future generations.”

“From working on the designation of the Waccamaw as a national water trail to coordinating volunteer programs involved with the monitoring and restoration of the river Winyah Rivers Alliance has joined partners for over a decade to protect and to elevate the recreational value of this incredible black-water river,” said Emma Boyer, of Winyah Rivers Alliance. “This is WRA’s second acquisition project along the water trail. It fits squarely into WRA’s mission to preserve the water quality and scenic values of the river through land protection while at the same time increasing the resilience of this community.”

“Experiencing three catastrophic floods in four years has taught us that we need to focus on efforts to remove development from harm’s way and prevent future development where we know flooding will occur,” said Adam Emrick, Conway City Administrator. “The more natural land that is conserved in the floodplain, the more storage capacity there is to hold the flood waters. This tract marks Conway’s commitment to taking those steps that are available to address flooding issues.”

“My sister and I are thrilled that the property that our dad acquired is going to go into conservation,” said Paige French, one of the two landowners who donated a portion of the value of the tract. “We appreciate the efforts of the conservation partners to protect the tract so that we can all enjoy this beautiful land. We are outdoor enthusiasts but more than that value good stewardship.”

Funders for the project include North American Wetlands Conservation Act Program and Duke Energy’s Water Resources Fund.

“Now, future generations can enjoy the abundant natural resources along this area of the Waccamaw River while the property also mitigates flooding impacts,” said Steve Jester, Duke Energy’s vice president of water strategy, hydro licensing and lake services. “This extraordinary outcome is a great example of what can be accomplished when the community comes together with a shared vision.”

Across South Carolina, OSI has directly protected almost 12,000 acres in the state, while giving grants and loans that have resulted in the protection of an additional 12,800 acres.

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