FLOODING

 

It’s often said that flooding is natural. Disasters are manmade..

This Memorial Day weekend, for the second time less than a 1,000 days, Ellicott City
experienced a 1,000-year flood event that decimated businesses, homes, and families – resulting
in the loss of innocent lives. And while the record flooding in Ellicott City has rightfully
received most of the media attention, we’ve experienced flood damage in West Baltimore,
Frederick County, Baltimore County, Prince George’s County, Carroll County, and other
communities in just the past few weeks. And in the last five years, we’ve witnessed extreme
flooding from Clear Spring (northwest of Hagerstown) and Bowling Green and Cresaptown
(south of Cumberland) to repeat flooding in Wicomico and Worcester Counties—all of which
are projected to worsen with more frequent extreme weather and sea-level rise, fueled by climate
change.

Media reports often refer to the floodwaters that surge from the nearby waterways as “natural
disasters,”—and yes, our changing climate is producing ever more frequent and intense
precipitation events that cause dangerous floods in low-lying areas. However, one thing remains
clear; many of the repeated floods in Ellicott City and elsewhere across Maryland are
preventable, manmade disasters — caused directly by decisions to destroy natural resources and
pave nearly every available surface surrounding the local watershed and build in natural
floodplains. Policymaking, and a lack of forward thinking to conserve the natural floodplain
functions have turned downstream communities into stormwater drains that harm local residents,
small businesses, and taxpayers:

The Challenge: The incremental destruction of forests, wetlands, and natural vegitation to create
parking lots, roads, and buildings has crippled our natural environment’s ability to mitigate
flooding in communities across Maryland. A single acre of wetland holds between 300,000 and
one million gallons of water. By comparison, an acre of impervious parking lot holds none.
Every zoning decision to approve another development or road, without requiring each project
manage their stormwater on site, exacerbates the likelihood of another devastating flood event
like the past few weekends.

Ellicott City officials recently noted that since the 2016 flood event, “96 percent of the areas businesses were back in operation and more than 20 new businesses had again opened in the
Main Street area.” How many of these locally owned small businesses will re-open a second
time? How will millions of dollars in damage to the area’s public infrastructure stunt the region’s
economic growth strategy? The most conservative, cost-effective approach is to plan now for the
next 1,000 year flood and ensure that every community across Maryland is safer and stronger.

PRIORITIES

1. Accelerate the implementation of local watershed restoration and flood abatement plans,
such as the Tiber-Hudson Watershed Plan, while strengthening such plans by bolstering
recommendations calling for natural solutions to flood prevention.

 

2. Make cost-effective investments in the restoration of our natural defenses—including
wetlands, forests, vegetated stream buffers, living shorelines, and other natural systems—
that reduce the volume and velocity of floodwaters. For example, Howard County’s 2018
capital budget included $1.8 million for flood remediation in Ellicott City and Valley
Mede, but the county needs additional resources to protect and restore natural buffers that
limit the impact of flood events.

 

3. Incentivize municipal governments to invest in projects that reduce flood risks by
providing state matching grants and low-cost financing through programs like the Water
Quality Revolving Fund. Priority should be given to communities willing to dedicate
local resources towards solutions and low-income communities needing additional
assistance.

 

4. Expand the capacity of manmade stormwater infrastructure (grey infrastructure), such as
retention ponds and culverts.

5. Reduce the total amount of impervious surfaces within watersheds, residential zones, and
commercial areas by replacing paved surfaces with pervious green space, pavers, crushed
stone, etc. — and encouraging the adoption of green roofs, rain gardens, and other
technologies that reduce runoff.

 

6. Provide state and local support to the relocation and resettlement of residents or
businesses threatened by extreme flooding or sea-level rise.

 

7. Leverage federal, state, local, and private funding streams to invest in infrastructure and
technology that could reduce flood risks across Maryland through innovative partnerships
that finance new flood prevention efforts.

 

8. Strengthen building and zoning codes to ensure that projects are designed to be climate
resilient and precluding new buildings from being constructed in floodplains. This
includes using storm-resilient building materials, elevating buildings, undergrounding
utility infrastructure, and requiring onsite management of stormwater runoff.

 

9. Require that updated floodplain maps inform all land use decisions.

 

10. Ensure lower-income and minority communities do not face disproportionate impacts
from flooding and extreme weather events. Flood prevention is an issue of social and
environmental justice, since too often low-income communities are hit hardest by the
consequences of reckless development.

 

11. Ensure that state government leads by example by incorporating forward-thinking
stormwater management practices into all state transportation projects, at all State
facilities, and through all state-funded projects. No state funds should be used in ways
that exacerbate the flooding crisis.