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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

A tale of two rivers and some thoughts on rebuilding

   Howard County has been defined by two rivers--the Patapsco and the Patuxent.  While the Patapsco saw the development of business along its course in Ellicott City and Elkridge the shores of the Patuxent has remained undeveloped and provides for a wide flood zone.  That flood zone is missing from the area around Main Street in Ellicott City.   While both rivers crested many feet above flood level the destruction and loss of life in Ellicott City will run into many millions of dollars and many months to recover.
     Just compare the difference in how building in a flood zone looks.  Here is what the Patapsco River did to  Ellicott City on Saturday night and Sunday morning.

     Here is the result from the Patuxent River overflow on Sunday morning


                       Below you can see the water was 3 feet over this bridge.

     The clean up of the Patuxent River will be taken care of mostly from nature with a little help from humans in removing a few trees.  I don't know the cost but it will be minuscule compared to the Ellicott City cleanup.  A natural flood plane like what we have with the Patuxent River repairing itself is the reason why building in a flood plane doesn't make much sense.
     Ellicott City was built along the Patapsco River to transport goods to and from Ellicott City.  When it was built the river was an asset to the community.   As we have built up the city along the river and its tributaries it has become a destructive force for the city.  With the frequency of destructive storms that we have been having I sometimes question a rebuilding effort that will only get us to the next storm.  If we would have had some of the buildings collapse on the Tiber side of Main Street the loss of life would have been much greater.  Rebuilding along the Tiber Tributary, without significant changes, should not be an automatic response.  What made sense two centuries ago may no longer make sense today.

      Just to remember what happened only 5 years ago.

P.S. 1

      In touring Ellicott City I have always been amazed at how some of one side of Main Street is built over this river tributary.  This is one of the tributaries that caused the flooding of Main Street in this weekend's storm.  Not my idea of logical town planning.  Maybe time to reevaluate some of the structures along Main Street.

P.S. 2
     For a historical perspective on there is one more challenge for our historic town.



Anonymous said...

Thank you. This needed saying

edblisa said...

I've been saying the same thing. It is a nice town and a great slice of history. The problem is not so much with the existing town and structures, but of all the development over the past 40-50 years creating runoff. The politicians have known of this for years, but have allowed more and more development "upstream" that has eventually changed the topography of the land. They have allowed this tragedy to occur....every single time. This will continue to happen and millions will be spent each time, yet the development will continue and the residents and merchants in Old Ellicott City will be thrown a bone so that they shut up and reopen their stores so that HoCo can boast of it's heritage and quaint atmoshpere. I know they say this was a 1,000 year type of event, but every few years there seems to be another event? Don't blame Mother Nature for what she does....blame the people that allow the land to be pillaged in the name of tax dollars.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your comments about building over the Tiber Branch. Each place where the Tiber emerges from below ground or each building over it posses a potential choke point for debris to cause the flooding to be pushed onto Main Street. However, for these reasons it was the Hudson Tiber tributaries that caused the flooding and not the rise of the Patapsco River.

Carl D Jones said...

Thanks for this. We saw very little coverage out here in the Northwest.

Carl D Jones said...

Thanks for this. We saw very little coverage out here in the Northwest.

Brent The Brewer said...

Nice piece Duane. I couldn't agree more. Having a job in meteorology/hydrology, I see this happen time and time again around the country. I remember going on a service assessment in Georgia where the same town was hit twice in a 3 or 4 year span by a 500 year rain event. So many people let their guard down, rebuilt in the same areas, and lost everything a second time because they said "That was a 500 year event, so I won't see something like that happen again in my lifetime." Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way.

It will be interesting to see what the politicians do this time with old EC. It will be a very delicate issue. They got a glimpse first hand how bad it can be this time. It could have been a lot worse. Who knows, the worst might be yet to come in a future storm now that the foundations of all those structures have been compromised. However, if those politicians were wise, while demolishing the buildings that are no longer structurally sound on the Tiber side of Main, it would probably be wise to find a better use for that land. Maybe a creek side park? I know something like a park costs money and doesn't bring in money, but in the long run, it may very well save money and lives.

With all that said, I feel really bad for those whose loved ones lost their lives or were injured in this event, as well as those whose livelihoods are impacted. It's very sad that old EC will probably never be the same again.