The small historic town of Ellicott City just can't catch a break. Wednesday, May 17's water main break is a frightening reminder of the aging infrastructure that lays beneath its streets.

At approximately 3:21 a.m. police were called to the 8600 block of Main Street for a reported water main break. The break opened up a large sinkhole beneath an unoccupied vehicle. No one was injured and residents in nearby homes were asked to move their vehicles. There is damage to the road way, so this portion of Main street will be closed indefinitely. A water main break may seem like a common occurrence in populated towns. But, to residents of Ellicott City it's a reminder of a painful and recent history, and of a lingering problem that the county has yet to address. [embed][/embed] [embed][/embed]

A frightening sight to those who live in the West-end of Ellicott City

It has not even been a year since Ellicott City's last water-related disaster. On July 30, 2016 a massive rainstorm dropped over six inches of rain in a two-hour time span on the historic district. For readers who have never visited, the small district, known as Main street, is nestled on a massive hill that slopes down to meet the Patapsco river. The town has seen massive floods before, but nothing as devastating or fatal as the July 2016 flood. Two individuals died in the flood and over 120 water rescues were made. [embed][/embed] The site of the water main break is at the top of the hill that is Main street, where the road begins to level out; yet, the residents in the West-end have been victims of flooding and water damage on numerous occasions because the Tiber River runs either behind their homes or beneath them. On Wednesday morning when residents awoke to find water lapping at their front doors, perhaps they felt afraid that they would suffer another disaster. But, this water, unlike the water in the devastating flood last year, can simply be shut off by the city. While there is some meteorological prediction that could help prevent casualties in future floods, the re-occurring flooding in Ellicott City is not as natural of a disaster as some may think.

Aging Infrastructure and Man's Role in the Flooding

With the town's close proximity to the Patapsco river, it has seen many floods in its nearly 250-year history. Most floods, like the historic 1972 flood, the rising river caused flooding on the East-end of town. However, the 2016 flood, was different. Footage from a 2011 flood hints at the cause of the problem. [embed][/embed] The above footage was taken under similar circumstances in 2011; a large storm dumped approximately five inches of rain on the town during a short interval. Ironically, this footage from 2011 shows the portion of the street where the water main broke early Wednesday morning. The video reveals that the usually tame Tiber river swelled beyond its concrete embankments, submerging the road way as it rushed eastwards and down the slick asphalt hill to the Patapsco. The town has always experienced flooding since it has always been on a hillside. But, thousands of square feet of impermeable surfaces has not always surrounded the town. After the floods of 2011 and 2016, locals have rallied to demand better infrastructure to control run off. [caption id="attachment_1552" align="aligncenter" width="367"]water main The area in green is the entire Tiber-Hudson watershed; the areas in grey mark "impervious surfaces." These constitute over 20 percent of the area. That number will grow as the area is developed further.[/caption] After the 2016 flood, one disgruntled resident created the following image to show how run-off contributed to the fatal flood: [caption id="attachment_1553" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]water main Brian Kelm illustrated this map of the historic district to show that the disaster was not as "natural" as everyone says.[/caption]

Looking Forward

Howard County has worked incredibly hard to help the historic district bounce back. Yet, residents and business owners know that the rains will come again; along with the rains will come the rising water, unless the infrastructure is improved. What do you think of the flood? And please remember to watch out for each other, stay safe out there!

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