Howard County lawmaker pulls bill intended to bring new flood standards to Ellicott City

Delegate-elect Courtney Watson, a Democrat representing District 9B.
Delegate-elect Courtney Watson, a Democrat representing District 9B. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

A proposal meant to impose higher flood standards in Ellicott City has been pulled by a state lawmaker based on comments from the Maryland Department of the Environment.

The bill proposed by Del. Courtney Watson, a Democrat who represents District 9B, would have mandated that Howard County require new buildings constructed in historic Ellicott City to be built under standards based on the “flood-of-record.”


The flood of record would likely be the May 2018 flood that pushed 7.52 inches of rain onto Main Street in six hours — 0.92 inches more than the previous 2016 flood did in a four-hour span.

The language in the bill was problematic for MDE, according to a letter sent by Watson to the county. The department said a “500-year flood” requirement is a higher standard and is used by neighboring Baltimore County, according to Watson's letter. Howard County regulations are now based on a "100-year" standard, according to Jim Irvin, director of the county’s Department of Public Works.

MDE noted that if it wants to, Howard County can adopt the higher standard without Watson's bill.

The 500-year floodplain benchmark means an area has a 1-in-500 probability of flooding in any given year.

A bill expected to be considered by the state legislature next year would add regulations for new structures in historic Ellicott City.

The county currently requires new structures to be built to withstand 8.1 inches of rainwater in 24 hours, according to Irvin. He said the county is reviewing this standard; the review will likely be complete by spring.

He said updating the standards happens approximately once every five years. The bill to update the manual rarely sees opposition from the county executive or council, Irvin said.

Watson in her letter encouraged the county to consider adopting the higher standard.

The bill that had been presented in Annapolis was originally proposed by Del. Robert Flanagan, whose 20-year tenure representing Ellicott City and western portions of Howard County in the legislature ended after his loss in the November election to Watson.