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Chesapeake Bay News: Restoration

Nov
22
2016

In wake of flooding, Ellicott City works to recover and adapt

Angie and Michel Tersiguel pose for a portrait in the space of the basement that used to be the wine cellar. Their restaurant on Main St. was forced to close for repairs after the devastating July 30, 2016, flood that hit Ellicott City.

The sound of a phone echoes through three empty floors of a restaurant under construction. Michel Tersiguel’s steps crinkle plastic sheeting on the ground as he walks past stacked tables and empty shelves to the phone hanging on the wall of the entry hallway. His face lights up, “Our phones are working! That’s the first time I’ve heard it ring.” For the first time since floods on July 30, 2016, pummeled historic Ellicott City, Maryland and forced his business, Tersiguel’s French Country Restaurant, to close for repairs nearly two months ago, he picks up the phone to say, “Bonjour, Tersiguel’s, may I help you?”

Ed Lilley looks down the under-construction Main Street in his hometown of historic Ellicott City. His family has roots to this community dating back to 1878 and almost all of his professional life has centered around Main St. "I didn't lose possessions or a business but you still feel a loss when you've been here that long," he said.

The Flood

At 7:18 p.m. on Saturday, July 30, the National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning as a thunderstorm lumbered east across Maryland. Runoff coursed through the many tributary streams of the Patapsco River that carve down steep slopes around historic downtown Ellicott City.

Walls of water swept down driveways, streets and parking lots in downtown Ellicott City; it filled basements and first stories of buildings and launched cars into shop windows. At some point the bank of a retention pond at the Burgess Mill Station residential development breached, sending the water it was containing careening downhill towards Main Street. Just over six inches of rain fell in only two hours and by 9:00 p.m. the Patapsco rose 13 feet, turning a normally serene river into a tree uprooting, bank-eroding, debris-carrying monster for miles.

Part of a stormwater retention pond was fenced off at the Burgess Mill Station development on September 11, 2016. The bank collapsed during the July 30 floods.

Heroic citizens rescued a woman from her car on Main Street as the water surged around them, but tragedy visited the historic downtown area as well. Jessica Watsula, mother to a 10 year-old, left Portalli’s Italian restaurant after a night out when she was caught in the wall of water that had taken over Main Street. She was swept away and killed by the surge. Joseph Blevins and his girlfriend, Heather Owens, were in her car when the water overwhelmed them. She managed to escape but he did not; his body was found about 8:30 a.m. the next morning on the banks of the Patapsco River.

The large-scale damage on Main Street that the flood left in its wake was immediately apparent: cars belonging to patrons of restaurants like Tersiguel’s piled in the Patapsco River, debris lines that reached past the first story of some buildings and large chunks of sidewalk and building foundations eroded away.

The bridge over the Patapsco River in Ellicott City, Maryland, remained closed September 9, 2016, after stormwater runoff and heavy rainfall made the river rise 13 feet in 100 minutes during the July 30 flood.

Unique Problems

Steep slopes surrounding the historic downtown area that saw the most severe damage, adding a unique and recognizable landscape but also creating challenges during big storms.

Ed Lilley grew up in Ellicott City and has worked on Main Street most of his career. He is a longtime community organizer, sits on the board for the Ellicott City Partnership’s Clean Green and Safe Committee, works at the B&O Museum and was out on Main Street at 6 a.m. the morning after the flood signing up volunteers and taking donations.

“The unfortunate thing for Ellicott City is we are the bottom of the bowl,” he said.

The historic nature of a city founded in 1772 means that some of the development—and therefore impervious surface like roads, sidewalks and buildings—was built before managing stormwater runoff was considered a necessity. Impervious surfaces mean less water can be absorbed into the ground, and as water collects and moves more rapidly runoff becomes more hazardous.

The Tiber-Hudson watershed, which includes Ellicott City, is about 21 percent covered by impervious surfaces. According to Cecilia Lane, stormwater coordinator for the Chesapeake Stormwater Network, “Any more than 10 percent impervious cover in the watershed and you will begin to see impacts.” 

About one-quarter of the Tiber-Hudson watershed is covered by impervious surfaces. (Map courtesy Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning)

“We know that the storm and rainfall was exceptional, and that perhaps the best of systems could not have contained all of the runoff,” said Mary Catherine Cochran, executive director of the Patapsco Heritage Greenway. “But we don’t have the best of systems in place.”

Older developments and private property often have no way to manage stormwater runoff, Cochran explained. And although new developments have some stormwater mitigation in place, it may not be enough. “Even the newest developments have systems in place to handle 100-year floods, but not 1,000-year floods,” said Cochran.

The probability for a storm to bring such a large amount of rain in any given year was 1 in 1000 making it what experts call a 1,000-year storm. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean an event like July 30 will only happen every thousand years—in fact growing evidence shows that potentially flood producing downpours are happening more often.

Downstream

Downstream from Ellicott City, staff at the Patapsco Valley State Park are focused on flood recovery.

Maintenance coordinator Dennis Cutcher has seen the river go through many changes since he first began playing and fishing in it as a child in the 1960s and 1970s. He’s noticed more frequent flooding as more people have moved in and built homes around the river and its tributaries.

Aerial photos show the increases in development in and around the Tiber Hudson Watershed since 1943. (Images courtesy Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning)

“I would say I’m close to it because of the simple fact that I grew up in that river,” Cutcher said. “I played in there since I was a little kid. It’s sort of a part of me if you want to look at it that way.”

          

Dennis Cutcher, maintenance coordinator and park ranger at Patapsco Valley State Park, looks out over the Patapsco River at Bloede Dam September 21, 2016. He grew up playing in the river and has seen it change dramatically as more people move to the area around the Patapsco and its tributaries.

Evidence of the July 30 flood remains apparent.

More than a month after the storm, evidence of a flood still lingered: stray recycling bins, car tires embedded in newly-formed sediment islands, log jams piled high with uprooted trees that once stood 30 to 40 feet tall. Their intricate root systems seemed to grasp wildly in the wrong direction.

A large uprooted tree lays on the banks of the Patapsco about 40 yards from the water on September 21, 2016. It serves as an indicator for how strong and high the July 30 floodwaters got along this stretch downstream from Ellicott City.

“When we get those heavy rains like we had, the river changes from one side to another,” Cutcher said. Sediment gets moved around shifting the flow of the river, vegetation gets washed away thereby destabilizing the banks and new beaches and islands form, which disrupts fish and other wildlife.

A great blue heron walks past a car tire embedded in sediment washed down by the July 30 flood in Patapsco Valley State Park along the Patapsco River on September 21, 2016.

With the slightly above average rainfall that occurred in September, some of the logjams along the Patapsco have broken up, and the debris, including plastics and other trash, is headed downstream towards the Chesapeake Bay.

“As far as how debris affects the Bay, we know that the most persistent debris that will linger is plastic, since it doesn't fully break up,” said Julie Lawson, founder and director of Trash Free Maryland. “It may cause visual blight, but it also can absorb chemicals from the water and be ingested by aquatic life, both obviously negative environmental effects.”

Less visible but still concerning: a sewage overflow released more than 17 million gallons of untreated wastewater over about three days at Sucker Branch, a tributary to the Patapsco.

The July 30 flood swept the clock in downtown Ellicott City into the Patapsco River and it was thought lost until Bobby Barker, a kayaker, found it. It has proven to be a symbol of hope and recovery for the community.

Adaptation is Key

With Ellicott City’s placement directly over a stream and very near a river, floods have been occurring for a long time. The scientific consensus is that they will continue—and, as climate change continues its trajectory, occur with greater frequency.

Future climate projections look at two scenarios: one in which emissions like carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere are significantly lowered, and one that assumes a continued increase in emissions. In the scenario where emissions are reduced, extreme daily precipitation events would occur twice as often from 2081 to 2100 as compared to 1981 to 2000. But if emissions continue to increase, those events would occur up to five times as often.

Local groups and government organizations have been and are working to mitigate the impact of severe flooding. Tom Schueler, founder of the Chesapeake Stormwater Network based in Ellicott City, says adaptation to more frequent flood producing storms and a careful examination of the science behind the flood should be the focus moving forward. Also the county has put in place Clean Water Howard that incentivizes commercial and private property owners to treat or remove impervious surfaces on their land by providing reimbursements for stormwater projects and a reduction in their watershed protection fee.

Without preemptive efforts by Restoring the Environment and Developing Youth or READY, the flood may have been even worse. They employ young people throughout Howard County who work in Ellicott City to maintain stream channels from Route 29 down to the Patapsco River.

The sense of community responsibility and the instinct to rebuild no matter what is apparent in Ellicott City. As of October 20, 2016, forty-four businesses have reopened, including Tersiguel’s French Country Restaurant, and another twenty-three have preliminary time frames for when they plan to reopen according to Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman’s Facebook page.

“No one fights as hard as these business people, and no one enjoys the town as much as those that live here. We have come back from floods, from fire and more floods,” Angie Tersiguel said as she and her husband Michel get their restaurant back up and running again. “We are still here. Striving and working to be the best we can be.” 

Photos and text by Leslie Boorhem-Stephenson



Nov
21
2016

Festival del Rio Anacostia

Guate Marimba plays during a traditional dance by Despertar Maya Ma’am during the Festival del Rio Anacostia.

On October 15th, alongside a mud-banked river usually empty of life, little children skip among brightly tented booths, carrying fishing lines and nature-inspired passport books. Community members watch water run clear through a root-planting demonstration or try to spot American eels in a cloudy-water tank teeming with fish. In the air, marimba music and the tantalizing smells of Latin fare mingle with the musical murmur of combined Spanish and English conversations. A few feet away, a paper mural of insects is constantly expanded as everyone tries their hand at drawing local bugs. This is the Festival del Rio Anacostia, and it’s impossible to decide whether you are at an environmental event or a cultural celebration. 

Community members use plastic utensils to search for living creatures in river samples and discuss what the presence of each species means for river health.

That perfect fusion is certainly true for Ricardo, an English-speaking local resident who heard about the event through a Spanish-scripted Facebook post.  Recognizing the word “festival,” he thought it’d be a nice way to spend an afternoon and enjoy some good food. Not until arriving did he realize the festival was heavy with nature awareness. “That’s good!” he exclaims. “We have to live in it. Anything we can do to make it better for me, for you, for the younger generation coming up, you know… be a participant. You learn and take it back to your own neighborhood.” He planned to take pictures and share them with people in his neighborhood that couldn’t make it that day—allowing them to witness the good food, dancing and environmental lessons alike.  

Citizens cross culture and language to come together through art at Bladensburg Park in Md.

Coming together and collaboration were evident in the creation of the festival as much as the event itself. It began as an idea of the Latino Outreach Subcommittee of the Anacostia Watershed Citizens Advisory Committee. Before long, a diverse array of government bodies, citizen committees and environmental organizations offered their capacities and expertise. The space at Bladensburg Park was donated, along with the tents and chairs. Music was provided by Guate Marimba and entertainment by Despertar Maya Ma’am in conjunction with Asociacion de Guatemaltecos Sin Fronteras. Parks and Recreation Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, Anacostia Watershed Society, Chispa, Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin, Friends of Sligo Creek, Chesapeake Bay Trust and Anacostia Riverkeepers were all heavily involved in making the festival a reality.
 

Young festival-goers “fish” for critter facts at the Friends of Sligo Creek display.

Being aware of your environment and learning to care for it go hand in hand, and organizers do their best to highlight that intersection. Most booths have both English- and Spanish-speaking personnel; at others, roving translators are available and happy to help. For those without readily available transportation, buses run throughout the day to pick up attendees for the festival and later take them back home. “In many cases due to language and economic barriers, Latinos do not have an opportunity to recreate in the Anacostia River,” wrote Chispa Maryland Program Director Ramon Palencia-Calvo. “[This festival] open[s] the river to this environmentally underserved community.”

Indeed it does, and plans are already underway for a Festival del Rio Anacostia 2017. For more information or to get involved with next year’s festival, contact rpcalvo@mdlcv.org.

Caitlyn Johnstone's avatar
About Caitlyn Johnstone - Caitlyn is the Outreach Coordinator at the Chesapeake Bay Program. She earned her Bachelor's in English and Behavioral Psychology at WVU Eberly Honors College, where she fed her interest in the relationship between human behavior and the natural world. Caitlyn continues that passion on her native Eastern Shore by seeking comprehensive strategies to human and environmental wellbeing.



Nov
18
2016

Fostering Chesapeake Bay stewardship among regional businesses

A woman smiles while holding a “Chem Free” lawn marker. MOM’s Organic Market, a Businesses for the Bay member, holds an event and educational campaign called “Save the Dandelions” where they educate customers on the effects of synthetic lawn chemicals. (Image credit: MOM’s Organic Market)

As a partnership, we understand that restoration of the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed cannot be achieved by one group alone. Tackling the challenges facing the Bay region requires engaging groups from government agencies and non-profits to private landowners and schools. Businesses can also play a significant role in the Bay restoration effort, and a program launched this year aims to encourage and amplify their actions.

In February, the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay launched Businesses for the Bay, a membership association for businesses across the Chesapeake Bay watershed. It is the only business association that focuses on the Chesapeake region, and it serves as a forum for business of all sizes to connect, have their voices heard, share best practices and be recognized for their commitment to Bay restoration.

Members pledge to take at least one action annually to help protect and restore the Bay watershed. These are meaningful, measurable contributions that are directly tied to the themes of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, and are therefore part of a much larger, regional effort. In less than a year, Businesses for the Bay’s members are already working on 172 actions. For example, Fareva Richmond, Inc. monitors and maintains songbird next boxes, plants sunflower gardens and reduces stormwater runoff.

Created “by businesses, for businesses,” the program is designed to complement corporate sustainability goals. The program is guided by a steering committee of business members from around the region. Government agencies and non-profit organizations are also welcome to join the association as partners to encourage networking and conservation.

Those who would like to learn more about Businesses for the Bay and get a taste of what it has to offer can attend the December 7th Chesapeake Business Forum in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Open to members and nonmembers alike, the forum is an opportunity to connect and learn from local business leaders about their work, their environmental and social responsibility plans, how businesses and non-profits can work together and much more.

Learn more about Businesses for the Bay, apply to be a member or sign up for the Chesapeake Business Forum.



Nov
17
2016

Photo of the Week: Hands-on lessons about the natural world

Jennifer Carr of the South River Federation identifies leaves with her daughter at the 2016 Chesapeake Watershed Forum, held at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, on September 30, 2016.

A critical piece of Chesapeake Bay restoration is teaching individuals—young and old—about the Bay, its rivers and streams and the lands that surround them. Educational opportunities provide people of all ages with rich natural, cultural, historical and recreational experiences and can inspire lifelong stewardship of the environment. For some students, that includes climbing aboard the steel deck of the Elizabeth River Project’s Learning Barge to learn about blue crabs and marsh periwinkles. For others, it means measuring local water quality in the river than runs mere yards from their school campus in Lititz, Pennsylvania, or using microscopes to identify plankton collected in Baltimore’s Patapsco River.

With close to 18 million people living in the Chesapeake Bay region—a number that continues to grow—education and stewardship is vital to restoring and maintaining the Bay’s health. In the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, Chesapeake Bay Program partners committed to providing each student in the watershed with at least one “meaningful watershed educational experience” in elementary, middle and high school, giving students the knowledge and skills to protect and restore their local waterways.

Learn more about the Bay Program’s efforts to promote environmental literacy.

 

Image by Will Parson

Stephanie Smith's avatar
About Stephanie Smith - Stephanie is the Web Content Manager at the Chesapeake Bay Program. A native of the Midwest, she received her Bachelor’s in Professional Writing from Purdue University and Master of Science degree from the University of Michigan. Stephanie’s lifelong love of nature motivates her to explore solutions to environmental problems and teach others what they can do to help.



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