The effort to preserve the historic Hitchcock Woods is an intricate, expensive endeavor, but it's one that many believe is priceless.
Over the years, local government, state agencies and scholars have all combined their resources to help find a way to fight the erosion problems that have been plaguing the Woods for decades.
The most recent attempt to abate erosion in the Woods has been through green infrastructure which has given many hope for a solution. A few others are hesitant of this approach.
What is green infrastructure?
The City of Aiken has continuously addressed the erosion issue for many years, according to Dr. Harry Shealy, chair of the Hitchcock Woods Foundation board. Though much of the Woods, which is privately owned by the Foundation, is in the county, a lot of the stormwater runoff comes from the city limits, Shealy said.
In 2009, the City received an Environmental Protection Agency grant of $3.3 million under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was administered by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.
The City used that grant to install green infrastructure in at least eight of the 167 parkways located in downtown Aiken as a pilot project. This project earned a S.C. Municipal Association achievement award in 2011. The City sought the expertise of the Clemson University Center for Watershed Excellence which has conducted research and gathered data for this project since its inception.
The objective of green infrastructure is to reduce the amount of stormwater that rushes into the Wood causing erosion and introducing pollutants.
Those parkways were retrofitted with rain gardens, vegetative buffers and bioswales to soak up water. Pervious pavement was also installed in a few parking areas in downtown Aiken. The purpose of these installations is to collect runoff which then seeps into the ground rather than streaming into the Woods.
City officials have observed less standing water in the streets where the pervious pavement has been installed and the retrofitted parkways are said to soak up liquid in about 72 hours after rainfall.
Hitchcock Woods Foundation Executive Director Doug Rabold said as Aiken continues to grow, so will the volume and velocity of the stormwater flow into the Woods. He said addressing the issue outside the Woods now will lead to better stormwater management in the future.
“The initial green infrastructure effort was a pilot scale, proof of principle research project,” said Rabold. “The purpose was to evaluate the possible uses of new paving and bioretention technologies in Aiken. We learned that green infrastructure tools can work very effectively in Aiken.”
The next step
The City of Aiken also has a combined $7.5 million of Capital Projects Sales Tax funds to combat the erosion issues in Hitchcock Woods. City records show that of March 31, $1,184,393 of those funds had been spent. City Manager Richard Pearce said that paid for monitoring fees that the EPA grant did not cover, some work on the existing piping in Sand River located in the Woods and the project design which was done by Woolpert.
At the April 8 meeting, City Council approved another $367,437 in Round II Capital Project Sales Tax funds for a hydrological evaluation of Sand River to be conducted by Clemson University with a six to one vote. Councilman Reggie Ebner opposed the motion.
Dr. Gene Eidson, director of the Clemson University Institute of Applied Ecology, said that this two-year study is intended to detail where the stormwater is coming from in the downtown watershed and is focused “simply on exactly where the majority of the flows are coming in.”
In the minutes from that April meeting, Councilwoman Lessie Price said she supported the study but with “extreme reservation,” stating the erosion problem has been an ongoing issue for so many years with study after study but no solutions. She said she hopes to see the problem resolved in the next three to five years and not have the problem dragged out for another decade.
Finding that solution
Dr. Jim Kelley, a resident who spoke in opposition of the approval of that study, finds the concept of green infrastructure interesting but is concerned by how taxpayer dollars are being used. An admirer of the Woods, which he said he uses quite often, Kelley has studied the documents made available on the Clemson website and questions the City's decision of using Capital Project Sales Tax funds to pay for further research.
Kelley added that he's perplexed as to why the City would spend tax money on a project that won't significantly impact the work that will inevitably have to be done to solve the erosion issues. Kelley pointed out a study conducted by Clemson in 2009 which states that if all 105 acres available in the downtown watershed were converted into green infrastructure, it would make a very minimal impact; it would not affect the requirement of additional piping in Sand River. The purpose of that pipe is to decrease the velocity of the stormwater coming into the Woods by storing the water and slowly releasing it.
Eidson said at the April meeting that he no longer stands by that study. Though the pipe work is still being suggested, he believes that green infrastructure will make an “appreciable difference,” he said.
Eidson said that though they didn't find “a statistically-valid reduction” in stormwater at the 10-foot diameter pipe that's already in Sand River, the units of green infrastructure worked better than they first predicted. He reiterated that the current green infrastructure only covered a very small portion of the entire watershed.
Pearce added the City is not ready for a design of the headwaters runoff storage project until they have all the data from the hydrological study “to show sources and forces of stormwater flow runoff.”
Rabold said that study is key to determining the next move.
“The purpose of the hydrological study is the next critical step,” Rabold said. “Good data on stormwater flashing and volume across the watershed will help the community make informed decisions about placement and scaling of future green infrastructure projects. The study is an investment in spending tax dollars wisely.”
For more information on this project and to view the data collected by Clemson University, visit http://goo.gl/zsdAL.