5/31/18 UPDATE: I’m sad to report that Sgt. Eddison Hermond did not survive the flooding. He was swept downstream trying to save an Ellicott City shop-owner who was stuck in her shop. Please keep his family and friends in your prayers.
This is not the article I was going to write this week. On Sunday, Ellicott City received 8 inches of rain in the span of about 3 hours. I was JUST there on Friday! Our historic main street, which had finally recovered after a similar flood not even two years ago, was under water. In fact, the Patapsco River, located at the bottom of Main Street, rose 17.8 feet in just a few short hours. Looking at the videos and images, entire first stories were under water. Cars, refrigerators, and trash bins were all swept downstream like they were nothing. The type of flooding Main Street experienced has been called a once-in-a-thousand-year-flood. And we’ve had two in two years.
Why Does this Keep Happening?
The main culprit for the continual flooding of my hometown is its location. The historic main street is essentially a giant funnel located just above the Patapsco River. All of the impervious surfaces in the area cause the water to accumulate quickly rather than filtering through natural systems. To put it bluntly, the people who established Ellicott City put our town in a bad location. As the area has gotten more and more developed, we have added more impervious or watertight surfaces into the bargain, adding to the funnel effect. On top of that, we are dealing with a climate that is warming every year. This warming causes extreme weather events, like this flash flooding, to occur more frequently and is leading to larger atmospheric rivers.
Plans for the Watershed
After the 2016 flooding, officials finally recognized that something major needed to be done to manage the Ellicott City watershed. In 2017, Howard County launched a master plan with the vision of creating a stronger and more resilient Ellicott City. At the last meeting I attended discussing the plan, it seemed that a popular idea was to “daylight” the Tiber-Hudson stream that runs through town while also redirecting the path of the stream. Unfortunately, the county also seemed highly motivated by improving tourism, rather than focusing the effort on protecting existing tourism. There was also no mention of how the county would reduce the impact of continued development upstream of Main Street. New housing developments seem to go in all the time with little thought to their impact downstream. As these new houses go in, stormwater is essentially given no choice but to come rushing through downtown. After the events of this weekend, one can only hope that our local government will step up their efforts.
Howard County Should Focus on Bioretention
Bioretention was one of the topics brought up at the last meeting about the watershed management plan. Bioretention refers to a depression that retains and filters water using a biological structure instead of a traditional stormwater retention bond. A common example of bioretention is a rain garden, which not only captures water, but also filters out contaminants and provides wildlife habitat. Bioswales and permeable surfaces could also serve as a more natural solution to the flood problem. All of these systems work to reduce the amount of stormwater runoff naturally.
However, at the watershed planning meeting, it seemed like Howard County was only pursuing bioretention options with half-hearted interest. While I agree that the degree of flooding in Old Ellicott City may require more drastic measures, reducing the amount of impermeable surface and increasing methods of bioretention ACROSS THE COUNTY could potentially prevent a significant amount of flood damage. In fact, studies show that over time, the implementation of green stormwater infrastructure could prevent hundreds of millions of dollars in flood loss. To me, this seems like a more permanent solution for a problem that is only going to continue. Bioretention needs to be considered EVERY TIME a new development goes in. Or you know…stop developing directly upstream in the first place. And the county needs to look at the larger picture when it comes to saving Main Street.
Why Sunday’s Flooding is Relevant to This Blog
Sunday’s flooding affected MY hometown. My family personally experienced very little damage, but people I know were downtown when the flooding was happening. This hits home, literally. Local businesses I visit regularly have been destroyed. Others who live in the area have been evacuated from their homes. This is affecting people’s lives. This is a REAL threat. This flooding is the result of both poorly planned development and an increase in extreme weather patterns caused by climate change. Events like these are a symptom of much larger issues that has the capacity to affect humans and wildlife alike. So we HAVE to stop denying that we have a problem. We need to invest in green infrastructure and sustainable technology. We need demand that our governments stop twiddling their thumbs and take action. It may seem like a difficult fight, but it is absolutely necessary. And this fight is definitely an environmental one.
How You Can Help Ellicott City
First of all, do NOT go downtown! There is a reason I do not have pictures in this post. The residents and store owners down there have just had an extremely traumatic experience (again), and the last thing they need is people coming down to gawk at the damage. If you are local, you can help out by donating water, cleaning supplies, flashlights, or money and advertising jobs on your Facebook wall. You can also make a donation to Ellicott City’s GoFundMe page to help out displaced workers. You can make a monetary donation to recovery efforts here.
There is still a man missing after these events. Sgt. Eddison Hermond is still missing after the flood. If you have any information, PLEASE go to the police and PLEASE keep Sgt. Hermond in your thoughts and prayers.
Libby Solomon, a reporter for the Baltimore Sun has been doing a great job keeping tabs on the events on her twitter feed.
Thank you all for reading. This post is full of opinions, but I tried to include the facts as well and I hope you’ll forgive any rushed typing. My thoughts, prayers, and actions are with the people of Ellicott City. STAY EC STRONG!