Why it Matters
Infrastructure is critical to community functionality. Critical infrastructure includes roadways, wastewater facilities, stormwater systems, drinking water, and the other systems that support daily life and Tybee Island’s economy. Past generations of Tybee Island residents spent years building infrastructure that today is essentially seamless, but older infrastructure cannot be expected to perform without maintenance and investment to keep it working for a growing population who rely on these systems.
Tybee Island’s popularity as a beach resort, attracting people from across the country, puts a strain on the Island’s critical infrastructure. Tybee Island’s infrastructure cannot just be ignored—it needs to be maintained and upgraded so it will work tomorrow and in the future. The more resilient Tybee Island's infrastructure is to flooding and sea level rise, the faster the city can rebound and recover after a storm or flood event.
Tybee Island is a low-lying barrier island, which makes much of the city’s infrastructure vulnerable to flooding. Sea level rise increases the risk of flooding which poses risks to drinking water distribution, stormwater and wastewater management, and roadways. U.S. Highway 80 (US 80), the only road on and off Tybee Island, floods several times a year. As sea levels rise, the frequency of closures is expected to significantly increase.
Flooding on Tybee Island has already impacted access to the island but in the future, it could affect residents' access to clean drinking water. Well houses are the main source of public water supply for Tybee Island, and if the well houses are disabled by a flood, drinking water could be limited for several days or even weeks. Tybee Island gets its drinking water from the Floridan Aquifer, an underground rock layer that contains freshwater. When sea levels rise this aquifer can be breached by saltwater and make this water undrinkable.
Along with a higher water table, sea level rise causes higher tides. During high tides, seawater pushes into swales, ditches, and underground pipe conveyances. This leads to stormwater system backup, causing flooding within the community. Similarly, if the stations that pump wastewater to the island's treatment facility are flooded, sewage can overspill into roads and waterways. Wastewater can contain disease-causing organisms or heavy metals that can impact the health and welfare of the community.
What Tybee Island is Doing
Tybee Island has been proactive in building infrastructure resilience. Tybee Island has begun elevating well houses and US 80 as well as updating stormwater and wastewater systems to protect this critical infrastructure from sea level rise. Additionally, Tybee Island has begun to utilize green infrastructure to help manage flooding and reduce its erosive effects. Green infrastructure employs plants, soil systems, permeable surfaces, and landscaping to slow down and capture water. It can be more aesthetically pleasing and sustainable than traditional stormwater management techniques while also preventing damage to Tybee Island’s infrastructure.
From its 2016 Sea Level Rise Adaptation Plan to the ongoing Stormwater Master Plan, the City is assessing its risks and investing in strategies to strengthen the operation of critical services. In 2020, Tybee Island received a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) Coastal Resilience grant and as part of this project, the City is conducting a survey to gauge community perception and support of coastal resiliency plans to ensure that Tybee Island residents can play an active role in protecting the Island and its infrastructure.