Mitigation measures underway for town of many floods: Maryland’s Historical Ellicott City

The bridge in Ellicott City among debris after the flooding in 2016.

The Ellicott City bridge among debris and boarded-up shop doors after the devastating 2016 flood (Photo Courtesy of Preservation Maryland/Creative Commons).

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Climate, Natural Disasters

Growing up in Maryland, walking down historical Ellicott City’s Main Street and window shopping at locally owned businesses with a nice cup of hot chocolate in hand has always been one of my favorite ways to spend a day. However, most of those businesses that I and many other Marylanders have loved visiting in the past are now boarded up with their reopening status in jeopardy.

Flooding causes the most damage in the U.S. as compared to other natural disasters – about $5 billion each year – according to the National Severe Storms Laboratory.

Even during a pandemic, the Ellicott City community is working hard to protect from even more damage than what it has already endured.

Ellicott City has always been prone to major flooding, with the earliest recorded major flood in 1868, according to The Baltimore Sun Archives.

More floods came throughout the years, and just when the city thought it was finally recovering, it faced one of the worst ones yet in 2016.

And another in 2018.

I remember checking my phone and suddenly seeing photographs and videos of the place I visited the week before now completely underwater.

In a matter of seconds, my family and friends were on high alert, calling their loved ones to make sure they weren’t out at the bars that night. I marked myself “Safe from the Ellicott City Floods” on Facebook.

I was shocked, mostly because I had never witnessed a flood this close to home––literally––before. I had also never paid too much attention to Ellicott City’s geographical aspects and why it is so prone to flooding.

The city is located in a valley, and during storms, water is funneled down and drained into streams at the bottom of the slope. The most recent two floods were too much for the city’s old drainage system to handle and differed from past floods because instead of slowly rising up, water rushed downwards, putting Main Street underwater at a faster rate.

I asked myself if the city could ever recover.

Hopefully, with the help of the Ellicott City Watershed Master Plan, this will be possible in the near future.

The plan outlines both structural and nonstructural flood mitigation measures, mostly all large-scale.

These developments include removing/replacing trees to prevent debris buildup and relocating outdoor storage containers to remove potential obstructions, as well as the bigger construction plans of four dry flood mitigation facilities within the stream channel and a tunnel to divert water from parking lots directly to the Patapsco River.

An interactive map of Howard County allows the public to view the details and status of each project in the area.

Screenshot of Howard County flood mitigation map
(Screenshot from Howard County flood mitigation interactive map)
Many flood mitigation projects are underway throughout the county.

Howard County is also creating “high ground access points,” an updated Emergency Public Alert System, and detailed relocation/migration plans to aid the community when another flood strikes, the plan adds.

I didn’t see these floods firsthand, and I can’t imagine what it was like for someone who did.

Human-driven global warming worsens the environmental factors that contribute to flooding, leading to heavier precipitation, more frequent hurricanes, and stronger storms, according to the NRDC.

Knowing that something this devastating could happen as close as it did to my home urges me more than ever to do my part.

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environmental sustainability, Flooding, Maryland

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