This past Saturday’s flash-flooding in Ellicott City is heartbreaking, and our hearts go out to the victims. GreenSpring Legal is proud to be a donor to the Ellicott City Partnership‘s campaign to assist the flood victims. Those of you who wish to assist may donate here.
This flood comes as a tragic reminder of the impacts that development has on a watershed’s capacity to process storm events; particularly high-intensity storm events. Ellicott City has historically suffered a major flood (from either the Patapsco River or Tiber Creek) about once every ten years (more or less), but this was beyond anything in living memory (approximately 6″ of rain in 2 hours translates to a thousand-year storm event for even a 3-hour storm). The City was originally a mill town, and the river running through it has been strictly channelized, leading to faster water flow and nowhere for floodwaters to spread out and dissipate their force.
When faced with a storm event of this caliber, though, even a separate storm sewer system is likely to be inadequate, and the victims have to deal with the environmental health hazards of contaminated water (in addition to the fact that there is quite a lot of rapidly-moving water where it’s not supposed to be). The “Smart Growth” initiative is laudable, but the current approach encourages densities beyond anything our current stormwater infrastructure can handle. Here in the Mid-Atlantic region (as well as the New England region), we are likely to see an increasing frequency of high-intensity storm events due to climate change. It is vital that we adjust our approach to development accordingly, or this tragedy is likely to repeat itself across the Eastern Seaboard in various forms.