Development of wetlands prompts flood warning

Calls for stormwater management plans

Wetlands absorb rainfall protecting neighbouring communities from flooding.

Overdevelopment of mangrove wetlands in South Sound has created an increased flood risk to homes in the area, prompting calls for a new national approach to stormwater management. 

A substantial habitat – known as the South Sound drainage basin for its capacity to absorb run-off from storms – is now almost totally slated for development.

Multiple new condo projects are already under construction in the area, with other developments approved and waiting to break ground.

Long-standing plans for the Enterprise City campus, a supermarket and a new road have also been given the green light in the same area over the past few years.

As far back as 2015, the Department of Environment, National Roads Authority and the Water Authority issued a joint memorandum, asking for consultants to be hired to produce a stormwater management plan.

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The memo highlights “grave concerns” about the impact of seasonal flooding and says a solution is needed urgently.

No action was taken at the time and the problem has resurfaced with a handful of new development applications in the same area.

Those include an application to rezone a chunk of the remaining wetlands for high-density residential development.

The DoE resubmitted the memo to the Central Planning Authority in response to that application.

“Unfortunately, the South Sound drainage basin has become severely fragmented by current and future developments impacting the overall capacity of the remaining wetland area to accommodate drainage for the whole basin,” the department wrote to the CPA in May.

A graphic submitted to the Central Planning Authority in 2015 shows the impact of current and pending development on the South Sound drainage basin.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Planning, Agriculture, Housing and Infrastructure told the Compass that the issue was firmly on the radar of the new administration.

“The Government has made stormwater management across our Islands a priority. This has been noted in the Strategic Policy Statement that has been made public,” she said, adding that the ministry would work jointly with the new Ministry of Sustainability and Climate Resiliency and agencies including the DoE and NRA to formulate a national strategy.

DoE Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie said South Sound is just one area of the Cayman Islands where a new approach is needed to stormwater management.

Rather than asking developers to come up with piecemeal solutions to manage run-off on a case-by-case basis, she said coordinated regional plans were needed.

Such plans should preserve natural systems where possible and create engineered solutions where necessary, she said.

She believes a national strategy that protects mangroves and other wetlands from the worst impacts of ill-planned construction is needed for the sake of developers and home owners as well as environmentalists.

“If we don’t seriously take on board the challenges we have with proper management of stormwater and surface water we are going to end up with flooded roads and flooded communities on a consistent basis. This isn’t good for anybody,” Ebanks-Petrie said.

The DoE has made similar warnings about other upcoming projects – including the planned expansion of the East-West Arterial highway to Bodden Town – arguing that proper hydrological studies that anticipate and mitigate against the impact of storms are needed for major developments on or around wetlands.

Certain communities in Cayman already see significant flooding whenever there is heavy rainfall.  Randyke Gardens in the South Sound area is one development that consistently feels the impact of storms.

More condos and homes are likely to be impacted as development continues to change the natural processes in the area.

The impact of climate change is likely to mean more intense rainfall and stronger storms.

Many communities in Cayman are impacted by flooding.

“This is a problem that is not going to go away. It is something we have to deal with.”

She said development in the South Sound drainage basin was reaching the point where swift action was necessary.

“It is getting to the point where we are going to foreclose reasonable options if we don’t address this issue as a matter of urgency.”

The specific recommendation of the NRA, the Water Authority and the DoE in its 2015 memo was that government issue an RFP to contract consultants to undertake a hydrological assessment of the South Sound drainage basin and devise a regional stormwater management plan.

That would include drainage engineering specifications for the proposed road and future development, and policies and practices to reduce flooding. The estimated cost at the time was $200,000.

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