The Maryland Sierra Club, in the wake of the fatal flooding in Ellicott City Memorial Day weekend, are calling for an end to development in the Tiber-Hudson watershed.
In a statement released Friday evening, the conservation group blames development upstream of the historic town for removing natural flood barriers, which contributes to the flood.
“Howard County has already developed most of the watershed upstream of downtown Ellicott City, removing the natural landscape that absorbed and slowed runoff downstream. Now we must stop further development, which will only worsen future floods,” according to the statement from Sierra Club Maryland’s Director Josh Tulkin.
Some residents and activists have blamed heavy development in the area for two fatal floods in old Ellicott City in less than two years. They argue the amount of impervious surface added to the area is exacerbating issues with flooding in an town already in the flood plain.
Engineers hired by the county, and watershed activists, agree development played a role in the flooding. But they’ve argued factors such as topography, the unique intensity of the storms’ rainfall, and the fact the Main Street area is located in a in flood plain combined to create the disasters.
The Sierra Club’s statement does not explain whether the halt in development it’s seeking includes rebuilding downtown after the flood. Earlier this week the executive director of the Center for Watershed Protection argued Howard County should rethink how, and if, it should rebuild the area.
The Sierra Club called on Howard County to prioritize the use of green infrastructure and techniques, such as planting trees to protect areas upstream and on hillsides that are prone to erosion. The environmental group also urged the county to adopt 100 percent clean and renewable energy sources.
Last Sunday, roughly 8 inches of rain fell in the area in a matter of hours. The resulting flood damaged businesses, swept away cars and killed one man.
Nearly two years ago another storm, which dropped about 6 inches of rain in a few hours, killed two people and did $22.4 million of damage.
Old Ellicott City, which dates back to the 1770s, has become a thriving retail area with some residential uses. The area is built in a flood plain along the Patapsco River that has a history of being flood-prone. Construction in the area would not be allowed under modern building restrictions.