July 17, 2018
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  • Pasadena resident Judi Long has spent years worrying about the heavy stormwater that collects in her yard as it makes its way from Fort Smallwood Road into Rock Creek.
    Photo Provided
    Pasadena resident Judi Long has spent years worrying about the heavy stormwater that collects in her yard as it makes its way from Fort Smallwood Road into Rock Creek.
  • Pasadena resident Judi Long has spent years worrying about the heavy stormwater that collects in her yard as it makes its way from Fort Smallwood Road into Rock Creek.
    Photo Provided
    Pasadena resident Judi Long has spent years worrying about the heavy stormwater that collects in her yard as it makes its way from Fort Smallwood Road into Rock Creek.

No Need To Panic: Pasadena’s Flood Problems Differ From Ellicott City

Dylan Roche
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June 12, 2018

When Pasadena’s neighbor just up Route 100, Ellicott City, was struck by another devastating flash flood over Memorial Day weekend, it left many people in Maryland and across the country concerned. How could what meteorologists described in 2016 as a once-in-a-thousand-year storm happen twice in less than two years?

“Unlike many of the previous floods, both the 2016 and 2018 floods have descended from the top of Ellicott City and raced downward — not inundating the city from below, but instead cascading down through the city from the top,” the nonprofit organization Preservation Maryland described on its website following the disaster. “The change has resulted in more ferocious, damaging and life-threatening floods. The change has also prompted a serious and ongoing conversation about how best to mitigate the impacts and make Ellicott City more resilient.”

A similar conversation is taking place in Pasadena, surrounded as it is on three sides by the Magothy River, the Patapsco River and the Chesapeake Bay. The problems that Pasadena faces, however, are different from the one Ellicott City faces. As Councilman Derek Fink pointed out, the flooding in Pasadena has more to do with high tides rather than stormwater. “In a low-lying area, it’s a very real and difficult problem,” he said, indicating that some waterfront communities have seen “substantial” flood damage following hurricanes. When many homeowners have rebuilt following the storms, they have put their homes on risers or stilts to avoid hide tides in the future.

This does not mean that alleviating stormwater runoff is not a priority for the county — far from it. The Watershed Protection and Restoration Program, a division of the Department of Public Works, focuses its efforts on controlling stormwater not only to protect the waterways from pollutants but also to prevent damage from heavy runoff. “There are a number of areas throughout the county, on the periphery of some of the rivers, that are low lying and that can be vulnerable to the combination of high tides and significant amounts of stormwater runoff,” said Erik Michelsen, the program’s administrator.

“Many of the older stormwater practices, and the first set of stormwater regulations, were created only to provide flood control, and actually may have done very little for water quality protection,” Michelsen continued. “The county still requires 10-year storm management for development in areas where downstream infrastructure could be threatened by flooding. In addition, whenever we can, we try to design our water-quality projects to provide flood-control benefits as well.”

Still, some citizens have their concerns. Judi Long, who moved to her home in Skip Jack Place near Rock Creek in 2013, has faced problems with flooding all five years she has lived in Pasadena. “Every year, it keeps getting closer and closer to the house,” Long said of the stormwater that comes off the area around Fort Smallwood Road and collects in her yard, often bringing debris and trash with it.

She has alerted the county to the problem, and though the county has installed a stormwater conveyance easement through her backyard, as well as the yards of her neighbors, to drain the water, the problem persists. “I would say in another five years, I will not have a backyard,” Long said. “I’m hoping they fix it before then.”

Other residents have faced home damage. Fink cited a constituent living along Fort Smallwood Road who suffered home damage from stormwater that ran off Tick Neck Park and Northeast High School. Instances such as those are rare, he explained, and not on the same level as a flash flood.

In many cases, a flow of stormwater indicates that the county’s grading and other practices are being used successfully. “When you’re the low man in the community, everyone’s water is running through your community until it gets to a stormwater pond,” Fink said.

With hurricane season approaching, residents should continue to be vigilant about high tides and heavy runoff, but the county does not expect to see a flash flood, such as the one that happened in Ellicott City, happen in Pasadena. “Ellicott City’s problems are much bigger problems,” Fink said.


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