ELLICOTT CITY FLOOD: Stop calling it a natural disaster!

For more than 200 years, most flooding — and the worst flooding — in Ellicott City came from the rising of the Patapsco River. And the damage was generally limited to lower Main Street.

During major rain storms, runoff was slowed or water was absorbed into the ground in the surrounding woods north and west of town. The usually small Tiber River, which runs east along Fredrick Road, was able to handle the increased flow that ran down through the heart of town.

(click on the image to open a larger version)

(click on the image to open a larger version)

In recent decades, however, developers, the Howard County Zoning Board, and our elected officials have planned and implemented the replacement of much of the forest and other open space with medium and high density housing, and the roads and other impervious surfaces that go with it.

Most of the development within the yellow line in the aerial view (above) was built in the last two decades. When you build and pave over much the natural terrain, and add roads and sewers that lead directly to Main Street (identified with the red lines), you get more water — perhaps a lot more water — draining much quicker and flowing a lot faster, right through town, and causing a lot more damage on the way.


This unprecedented “top down” flooding is not the work of Mother Nature.

This is primarily a man-made disaster, ultimately caused by un-informed or greedy people who make these decisions, but don’t have to live with or pay for the devastation that results.

Was this sort of development around our wonderful city worth the risk of destroying the heart of it? Our county has an land use planning problem. And the Zoning Board need to have a better grasp of the big picture.

My house is on one of the highest hills in Ellicott City. Every year, as more houses are built in my neighborhood, I get more water in my basement. The house was built more than 100 years ago. When I purchased it in 2001, it didn’t even have a sump pump, because it didn’t need one.

In 2011, when we received heavy rainfall from the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee, and right after two new houses were built in my neighbors back yard, I had to cut a emergency hole in the floor with a pick axe through a foot of water to pump it out with a submersible pump. There is a connection!

The Howard County executive may be correct that this was a “once in a thousand year storm.” But anyone who has ever been on Main Street in a rain storm knows that some flooding is a common occurrence. And with the additional development in the upper part of the watershed, it is only getting worse. Now, in perfect irony, dealing with the aftermath of this serious flash flood, and, perhaps, making other efforts to mitigate future flooding, will cost the county and state considerably more than than they receive in tax revenue from new construction.

The flood was a horrible disaster. But it’s a big mistake to think it’s a natural disaster!


A few hundred yards to the west of the map above, on Fredrick Road, Howard county has already approved a new subdivision to be built adjacent to the Tiber river!

One reason used to justify the approval of the waiver to build on the floodplain, according to this letter from Kent Sheubrooks, the chief of the Division of Land Development, “the preliminary stream restoration design will ENHANCE the stream, thus providing a public benefit”!

(click on the site plan to open a larger version)

(click on the site plan to open a larger version)

Donate to Assist Ellicott City Flood Victims on the Ellicott City Partnership’s site.

A quick search will turn up a lot of media coverage of the recent flooding in historic Ellicott City. But here are two…

Ellicott City, Maryland, flooding was the most destructive ever seen in the community
August 6, 2016

VIDEO: Severe flooding leaves wreckage behind in Maryland’s Ellicott City
Washington Post
July 31, 2016