A flood that ravished Ellicott City in July 2016 was called a “once-in-a-thousand-year” disaster.
Then it happened again 22 months later, the result of a storm that swept through the area on Memorial Day weekend, destroying homes and businesses and leaving one person dead.
On Monday, Maryland senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen hosted a “field hearing” to discuss the flood and potential methods to prevent future devastation.
Residents and local business owners say they want to know if they should return to the historic neighborhood. But officials estimate the area needs 18 structural and non-structural projects that would total $80 million to mitigate future flooding.
The Howard County Department of Public Works has started on four of the initiatives — building two “dry ponds” to hold water during major storms and installing bigger underground pipes to carry rainwater.
The county has budgeted $18.5 million for the projects.
U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, who attended the Monday hearing, said the region needs to secure even more funding at the state and federal levels.
“Ellicott City frequently, urgently needs what our nation needs — a coordinated, deliberate, thoughtful flood control effort that is informed by the best available science and that has adequate funding to build the infrastructure needed to protect communities from the risks they face,” he said.
The lawmakers called on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency to continue to research solutions. In February, the Army Corps published a flood-proofing study of Ellicott City that included non-structural recommendations such as waterproofing buildings with sealant and improving emergency notification systems.
Still, “ non-structural measures would not have prevented all damages in either flood,” said Col. John T. Litz, commander of the Army Corps.
Cecil Rodrigues, an EPA official, said sewer systems and watersheds need to be improved in Ellicott City and in other flood-susceptible cities nationwide.
Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman and County Councilman Jon Weinstein also attended Monday’s meeting.
Weinstein, whose district includes Ellicott City, noted that Howard is one of the country’s richest counties, but it can’t front the $80 million bill alone.
Officials noted that Ellicott City’s geography — steep terrain and a confluence of waterways — contributes to flooding.
“$80 million could fall out of the sky and we would still have a problem with flooding,” said Mark DeLuca, deputy director of the Howard County Department of Public Works.
Long-term, structural solutions that have been proposed include widening the Patapsco River and Hudson/Tiber Watershed tributaries to hold more water during heavy rainstorms.
Cardin said several initiatives are in the works, including securing grants from the EPA, strengthening the historic tax credit program and several flood-proofing measures to make homes less susceptible to damage.
Grace Kubofcik, president of the Patapsco Heritage Greenway, and Dr. Matthew Fleming, of the Ellicott City Partnership, focused on preserving the historic neighborhood and investing in mechanisms to divert massive amounts of rainwater away from Main Street, instead of through it.
Van Hollen said he believes climate change is partially to blame for heavy flooding. Cummings added that, “Ellicott City is an example of why climate change is important to deal with.”
Business owners are worried they won’t see any big changes before what many believe is the inevitable: another devastating flood.
“A lot of things came up that needed to be discussed,” said Nancy Gibson, who has operated The Forget-Me-Not Factory for more than 35 years with her husband, Barry. She said she is flood-proofing her business — which doubles as her home — with provisions such as steel doors.
“We’ll be back,” she said.