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Maryland’s mandate to address persistent flooding problems begins with this survey

When heavy rainfall brought significant flooding to parts of Baltimore City in August, Taylor Hadley saw first-hand how tidal flooding can bring traffic to a crawl and send residents scurrying for shelter as water flowed down roads and sidewalks in her neighborhood.

On Race and W. West streets in the Sharp-Leadenhall neighborhood, about a half-mile from the Inner Harbor, Hadley captured footage of cars submerged in water as emergency personnel waded through water that had overtaken the roadway.

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“I had friends who used to live on W. West Street towards Race street and they would frantically run to move their cars out of this area if heavy rain was expected,” she said.

Local leaders are in the early stages of addressing persistent flooding issues affecting mostly low-lying jurisdictions near bodies of water, which follows of the wettest August months on record.

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Legislation passed by the General Assembly last session requires all jurisdictions that experience high tide flooding to come up with a Nuisance Flooding Plan by Oct. 1.

The bill was an update to a 2018 measure that originally required at-risk municipalities to come up with a plan by July 2019, pushing back the deadline until this year. Jurisdictions that see regular high tide flooding then must also update their flood plans every five years.

According to the Department of Natural Resources, jurisdictions must make an inventory of known flood hazard areas where tidal nuisance flooding occurs, identify the conditions that lead to floods in those areas and document tidal flooding events and municipal responses from 2020 through 2025.

Maryland’s coastal municipalities have seen a number of significant floods over the past few years, although the legislation targets only flooding caused by tides. Areas like Baltimore and Annapolis — two cities with downtown areas that regularly see tidal flooding during storms — will be a key focus in the study.

Baltimore, which regularly sees the Inner Harbor and Fells Point neighborhood flood during storm events, recently released a survey asking residents for their input on where they’ve experienced nuisance flooding.

City resident Gabe Steuart-Sikowitz, 29, who lives near Fells Point, said he was “shocked at the amount of water” that filled the streets, forcing him to stay home during a particularly strong storm last year.

Minor flooding at Aliceanna and Caroline Streets in Baltimore Tuesday morning due to storm Isaiah.
Minor flooding at Aliceanna and Caroline Streets in Baltimore Tuesday morning due to storm Isaiah. (Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun)
A truck drives through rising water in Baltimore's Fells Point neighborhood as Tropical Storm Isaias continues to pelt the region on Aug. 4.
A truck drives through rising water in Baltimore's Fells Point neighborhood as Tropical Storm Isaias continues to pelt the region on Aug. 4. (Jerry Jackson)

He said the areas around Fleet Street and Eastern Avenue near the water routinely flood due to their low-lying nature and suggested the city explore installing bioswales — which act as stormwater runoff channels — to help mitigate the issue.

The city will be hosting a virtual public information meeting on Sept. 24 at 4 p.m. to present a final draft of their plan, which is currently online.

The bill’s main sponsor, Del. Dana Stein, said the day the original bill was passed in 2018, “downtown Annapolis was underwater,” endemic of one of the many areas subject to such tidal flooding that the plans look to address.

The city has to regularly close off the roads around City Dock, a popular section of the state capital by the water, and some climate change models have predicted that the Naval Academy will have to be relocated by 2100 due to rising sea levels and intense storms.

Stein said the two cities are “probably the largest jurisdictions that are most at risk due to nuisance flooding” but did not want to downplay the effect flooding and climate change can have on smaller jurisdictions.

For example, Smith Island, the only island in Maryland without a bridge to the mainland, has debated how to keep the land mass from gradually disappearing as environmental advocates predict that climate change could bring 3 feet or more of sea-level rise to the town of around 300 people.

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“Part of the problem is sort of getting our hands around the risks of climate change. ... Some impacts are incremental,” Stein said. “It may not be noticed by people who are potentially affected by it.”

This past year, Baltimore saw the fourth-wettest August on record with 11.8 inches of rainfall. A forecaster with the National Weather Service said at the time there was no particular reason why August saw so much rain.

Jenn Aiosa, the executive director of Bluewater Baltimore, said the environmental group is keeping a close eye on the study and hopes the survey gets attention from neighborhoods throughout the city.

She said Baltimore has to address both the circumstances that cause tidal flooding in areas like Fells Point and the Inner Harbor while also implementing better stormwater management practices to allow for better runoff during storm events.

“Baltimore has developed and populated for at least 400 years. Most of our development occurred before we knew a lot about stormwater management,” she said. “Climate change plus poor stormwater management is, together, I think a leading driver of this additional flooding.”

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