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Ellicott City Soak It Up - Part 2 - By, Lori Lilly

posted May 30, 2019, 1:07 PM by Howard Ecoworks   [ updated May 30, 2019, 1:25 PM ]

Did you miss Part 1?  Find it HERE.

Last we left off at the 5/18/19 Soak It Up Community Gathering, the watershed tours were getting ready to start!  Below we will review some educational goals, background and details associated with the two of the three tours.  Tour #3 will be covered in blog #3 with biochar!

Tour 1 – Recent Floods and Mitigation Options

This group was led by community members: 1) Angie Tersiguel who owns Tersiguel’s Restaurant in Ellicott City - Angie and I met through our service on the Community Advisory Group (CAG) after the 2016 flood, we have since worked together in many capacities on behalf of Ellicott City and she has notably been on and helped me lead many watershed tours for local leaders since then; 2) Beth Woodruff – local resident community leader who I also met through the CAG.  I will never forget her honorable son Eli shoveling mulch and compost for community members at our 2016 native plant giveaway; 3) Dave Myers – who I met through our service on the Flood Workgroup – we sat in monthly meetings from 2015 through 2018 that were interspersed with becoming friends and developing a mutual admiration for one another; and 4) Ed Lilley – we have no relation that we know of but I like to pretend that he is my grandfather for kicks 😊 The guards at the George Howard Building never cease to comment on my relationship with “Mayor Ed,” indeed, Ed has more affiliations with Ellicott City groups than anyone I know and his knowledge and history of the town are not surpassed by very many.  We serve together primarily on the Ellicott City Partnership’s Clean, Green and Safe Committee.

Angie Tersiguel and Beth Woodruff - watershed tour leaders
Dave Myers and Ed Lilley - watershed tour leaders

This tour group left St Peter’s church and went north a short bit on Rogers Ave to Stop 1 – Quaker Mill pond (near the intersection of Rogers and Ellicott Mills), which is a pond retrofit project that will add 10 acre feet of water storage to the Rogers Ave subdrainage.  Although 10 acre feet is only 1.25% of the total 800 acre feet of storage being sought, the contribution to localized flood reduction at the Rogers / Frederick intersection cannot be under-estimated.  This is scheduled to be one of the earlier projects completed for flood mitigation.  The group headed back south towards Frederick for Stop #2 at the Historic Ellicott City Colored School, pointing out flood heights and extents to the group along the way.  There are many talking points from the Colored School from 1) concrete channels that are an “old-school” method of stream restoration (designed by the Army Corps of Engineers of course) not used any longer to 2) the flood warning system, Department of Homeland Security monitoring station and USGS flood gauge all located at this location to 3) opening remarks about the challenges associated with constrictions like culverts and bridges and issues of sedimentation from sources such as streambank erosion and hillslope failures to 4) the importance of debris management in the stream system – debris being one of the primary contributing factors to flooding and noting the importance of regular maintenance as part of a comprehensive watershed management approach. 

From here the group walked east into the West End neighborhood.  Unlike the downtown business district, the West End neighborhood had significant flooding in 2011 and neighbors have been rallying for resources and flood remediation for longer than most.  The group visited the famous “84/108 pipe” aka “8600 pipe.”  This is a culvert pipe that crosses under Frederick and West End Services for approximately 1500’ before outletting just east of West End Services.  The pipe originally installed at this location was 108” in diameter but during a repair was re-lined such that the diameter was reduced to 84”.  This is a significant constriction in the system, to be addressed with a series (5, last I heard) of overflow pipes that will be installed in the next several years. 

At this location (and actually in the last as well), another colleague from the Flood Workgroup, Ron Peters, installed several live web-based cameras that can be accessed by neighbors and County staff through an app on our phones so that we can see the conditions of the stream channels at any time.  Ron generously installed these cameras right before the 2018 flood, primarily using his own money and including a small grant that EcoWorks obtained and some fundraising led by Ed.  The data that Ron collected during the 2018 flood has been instrumental in calibrating and verifying the hydrologic and hydraulic models used in developing solutions.  The videos are also extremely educational for the public to see what happened on that fateful evening in 2018.  Illana Bittner has all 12 cameras displayed simultaneously on this video, which we showed throughout our 5/18 Soak It Up event.  Ron has marked the heights on the 84/108 pipe so that we can see from his camera how full the pipe is from our phones and the adjacent neighbor has the pipe marked with a line at “50% full – Get Out” – this is a very humbling reminder of what the locals deal with every time it rains. 

The tour group walked into West End a little further making one more stop alongside the stream to further show the impacts of our repetitive themes of erosion, sedimentation, threat to infrastructure, failing infrastructure, impacts to community members and areas where projects are proposed.  It is a lot to discuss and a lot to see.  Ron and I did a video tour that is available on youtube if you would like to check it out:  Further information about the proposed projects and plans are available in full on the County’s Safe and Sound web-site.

Tour 2 Balancing Historic Preservation and Flood Mitigation

This tour was led by Shawn Gladden, Director of the Howard County Historical Society, and Kip Mumaw, a water resources engineer and owner of the engineering company Ecosystem Services LLC.  The group left St Peters, went south to Frederick Rd and hung a right to visit a proposed stream restoration site that I have been working on for the past 3 years.  The “reach,” which is a fancy name for stream length, is between the bridge at 8777 Frederick and downstream almost to the Colored School.  Originally the reach started at Papillon Dr and included the wooded area between Papillon and the culvert by 8777 – but that was before the 2016 flood.  It really is amazing how quickly things change and how adaptable we need to be to the changing situation.  I feel like this project is emblematic of just that. 

Shawn Gladden and Kip Mumaw - watershed tour leaders

Some background on this project…I had completed the Tiber Hudson Subwatershed Action Plan in 2012 when I worked with the Center for Watershed Protection.  The plan that we developed was specific to “the uplands,” that means “the watershed,” basically everything outside of the stream corridor (the stream corridor meaning both the stream itself and the floodplain).  We left out the stream because a stream corridor assessment had already been completed at that time so presumably the County knew where the problem outfalls, erosion sites and other areas of concern were.  At the time of the completion of that study, we also were not, knowingly, using the correct watershed boundary – we used what the County was using that excluded the New Cut Branch subwatershed because it was beyond the scope of our study and work to delineate the complete watershed boundary and have it adopted by the County.  (Later after the 2016 flood, Ron and I did in fact drive around and delineate the complete watershed boundary, our results were pretty close to that produced by McCormick Taylor for the modeling.)

I began implementing the watershed plan when I was still working at the Center for Watershed Protection in part because there was no group existing that would take the lead on doing such, in fact, the first recommendation of the watershed plan was to form a watershed-based group to implement the plan (if you look at places like Montgomery County, they have tons of watershed and “Friends of <insert waterbody>” groups).  At CWP, I included multiple projects from the plan in a grant to the MD Department of Natural Resources with support from the County.  Although I left CWP in 2014, a few of those projects were still ultimately implemented: two bioretention facilities at the Bethyl Korean church and two pond retrofit projects, one at Rusty Rim and Rogers Ave and another at Seventh Day Adventist. 

Post the 2011 and 2016 floods, Stream Corridor Assessments were again completed, this time by S&S Planning and Design.  Those assessment documented the importance of debris management, prioritized erosion areas, outfalls of concern, constriction points and identified a series of projects.  One of those projects was within the reach of concern and contained “the sand bag wall” – one landowner’s approach to streambank stabilization.  This reach also notably contains the historic St. Paul cemetery maintained by Liz Larney and her lovely mother – maintained that is until the 2018 flood when the reach became so over-widened that the steel walkway that they kept tethered to a tree could no longer could reach the other side of the stream where the cemetery is.

"Sand bag wall"
Location of historic St Paul cemetery 

I received a grant just prior to the 2016 flood from the MD Heritage Area Authority to begin Phase I designs of a stream restoration project in this area.  As stated above, originally, the proposed reach went from Papillon Dr to the Colored School, which was a mixture of public property and private property.  I chose this section of stream because 1) it had been identified in a plan and funders always want to see that; 2) the sand bag wall seemed entirely inadequate and I know we can do better; 3) being upstream of the West End neighbors that I had been working with, I thought it would help them out being downstream; 4) the County has trouble making improvements on private lands so it would be a good way to complement their efforts; and 5) if a project with the private landowners didn’t work out, a project on the public land should have no concerns.  The County supported the grant application that went in under the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay who I was working for at the time.  The application also required support from then Senator Gail Bates and Delegate Bob Flanagan, who both provided letters of support.  No sooner was the grant award made when the 2016 flood occured.  What happened with the project was that we had to drop the public part of the reach from the proposal because the County had identified that same area as a proposed flood retention location.  So I moved forward with the private landowners and 750lf of stream for the remainder of the project.  All of the landowners remained largely on-board though some were more on-board than others.  That grant got us to 60% design plans with our contractor Ecosystem Services for the stream restoration with goals of stabilizing the streambanks, reducing erosion, creating some storage and directing the flow so that there was less impact to the streambanks.
Location of proposed stream restoration

To complete the design plans, I applied to the Chesapeake Bay Trust.  They awarded the grant and, again, no sooner had the grant been awarded when the 208 flood happened :/  That flood threw this project up in the air because the County was re-assessing priorities and projects and I did not want our project to get in the way of larger efforts.  The landowners were also getting impatient with progress and a bit harder to work with.  The historic home located at 8777 also came more into question as the foundation of the home also serves as the streambank (the entire parcel is within the 100 year floodplain), and we learned that the culvert at that location was under-sized for even a 10 year storm and was to be widened at some point. We also learned that an undergound detention “pipe farm” was proposed within the project reach across from the cemetery.  It turned out that our engineer could account for all of the factors with the design plans and we were able to move ahead.  We made the assumption that the historic home would be moved due to the culvert widening proposal as that would also be much better for the proposed stream restoration.

Other developments that have occurred since include purchase of 8777 by the County and transfer of ownership of 8787 to a new owner.  The culvert widening project seems to have gotten moved up in the timeline, which begs the question of what will happen with the structure and if the stream restoration project can be implemented simultaneously, which would be ideal.  Permits for the project have been submitted and are in review but the permit reviewers also want to know what will happen with the house.  While I am still looking for funding to construct the project, my hope is that the County will take the lead from here.  This is not a project that the sources of funds that I am used to going to will want to fund because it is not cost effective enough for “pounds of nutrient and sediment reduced,” the primary metric considered.  It could potentially be cost effective for supplemental funding from a grantor if the County kicked in funds. 

Stream restoration is a best management practice (BMP) used heavily by the County for meeting their Municipal Separate Storm Sewer (MS4) permit obligations.  Funds already exist in the capital budget for projects such as this, it is just a matter of re-directing them from other areas.  I’m not aware of any stream restoration projects to date in the Tiber Hudson watershed most likely because it is more cost effective to implement these projects in less urban areas.  But the need exists and while many people complain about the sedimentation and wonder why the stream hasn’t been dredged, it’s important to understand that most of the sediment is coming from the streambanks themselves so until the sources of sediment are addressed, there is not much point in dredging the channel.

That was a lot of background on the project and the points that I want to make and some of which were made on the tour are:

·        Preserving historic structures and mitigating flooding are sometimes at odds with one another but can be complementary.  This could be exemplified in this project if the historic home could be moved and elevated allowing the culvert widening and stream restoration to occur.  The historic cemetery that is being undermined by erosion would also be preserved.  Add a new breakaway bridge for Liz and her mom to access the cemetery for maintenance and we have a super cool project.  Consider making the historic newly elevated home a tribute to African American heritage and we’re talking a gold mine of demonstration and opportunity to showcase.

·        Stream restoration should be in our toolbox.  Yes we need retention and overflows and bypasses and bigger crossings, but we also need to stabilize these eroding banks and address the sedimentation into the streams.  Funds for stream restoration already exist but they have yet to be applied in the Tiber Hudson watershed (to my knowledge).  Capacity is already limited in undersized culverts and when they fill with sediment, they are that much more ineffective at conveying the flow.

·        The mitigation plans need to be adaptable.  Things change with each flood – with the infrastructure, with politics, with people’s tolerance and acceptance of timelines, with the hydrology and hydraulics, with the cost it will take to remediate. An adaptive framework will require a constant assessment - not that big changes will necessarily need to be made all the time, but they may be.  We need to be prepared to change our approach as the climate changes, as new technology becomes available, and as our priorities change.


Stay tuned for Part 3 – Soak It Up – DIY and BIOCHAR! and Part 4 - Resiliency