Plant giveaway kicks off campaign to reduce erosion in Ellicott City

Howard County Times

On a cloudy Saturday afternoon in Ellicott City, mother and daughter Betty and Elizabeth Larney joined others to learn how to help reduce erosion and ease future flooding in the historic town.

"Learning what plants can help slow down the water on the slopes and stop some of the erosion going downtown is beneficial," said Elizabeth Larney, a lifelong resident of Ellicott City.

The Laneys were among scores of others who came to a kickoff event called "Ellicott City-Soak It Up," held in the parking lot of St. Paul Episcopal Church.

Lori Lilly, the campaign's organizer and director of Howard EcoWorks, said the idea originated after the 2011 and 2016 floods that ravaged downtown Ellicott City.

"This is a way to engage property owners and start a community dialogue," said Lilly.

On the night of July 30, two small streams, the Tiber and Hudson tributaries that feed into the Patapsco River, overflowed and caused massive flooding along Main Street.

According to the National Weather Service, the Patapsco River rose more than 12 feet and more than six inches of rain fell within two hours. The NWS states an event like this is expected only once every 1,000 years.

Main Street became a rushing river, damaging buildings and killing two people, Jessica Watsula, 35, of Lebanon, Pa., and Joseph Anthony Blevins, 38, of Windsor Mill, who were in cars that were swept away.

Beth Woodruff, a volunteer for "Ellicott City - Soak It Up," said she wasn't home the night of the flood, but her home suffered about $20,000 in damage.

"I was new to the community and became involved after I was affected," said Woodruff, who also sits on the Historic Ellicott City Recovery Community Advisory Group.

Hazel and Chandler Archuleta, who live along Klen Avenue, said it's hard to get the images of what happened that night out of their minds.

"It was shocking. I couldn't believe what was happening. We see flood waters all the time but nothing like the 2011 or 2016 flood," said Chandler Archuleta.

On Saturday, the Archuletas picked up ornamental hydrangeas to plant in their yard; small steps, they said, that they hope will make a big impact.

"It's a good idea to put roots in the ground when the grass doesn't hold it up. It's the little things that count," said Chandler Archuleta.

His wife, Hazel, said she found out about the event through Facebook.

"If we could use plants to help prevent flooding from happening, then I think that's great," said Hazel Archuleta.

According to Howard EcoWorks, more than 20 percent of the Ellicott City watershed has about 700 acres of turf grass. That turf grass has an increased runoff compared to other vegetation types. The goal is to convert turf grass to native vegetation, using native trees and shrubs or native perennials, to help increase the rate of how soil and rocks can absorb rainfall.

About a dozen volunteers displayed a variety of erosion control plants and shrubs that neighbors, like the Laneys, came to pick up and plant on their properties. Lilly said volunteers gave away about 500 plants to about 80 people and also gave away compost and made 27 home deliveries.

"This is a great effort because you're trying to get the root system in to help stop erosion," said Betty Larney.

The Larneys picked up redbuds, dogwoods and black willow plants.

Lilly said some of the plants and shrubs came from a plant nursery at the Howard County Department of Corrections, where inmates helped put together plant orders.

She said the campaign is the beginning of more to come.

"My goal is to keep building this year after year," said Lilly.

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