Wicomico will address storm flooding problems

An exhibit in a county briefing book shows recent flooding on Pratt Road west of Salisbury.

County officials will use “The Three E” approach to work on solving flooding problems in the county: education, engineering and enforcement.

The public will be educated regarding proper swale maintenance, inlet maintenance, homeowners’ association responsibilities, lot selection and how to spot a clogged pipe.

Engineering solutions will involve public swales, area-wide drainage projects, Urban Service Districts for drainage and easements with room for equipment.

Enforcement will mean fines and liens for unmaintained swales that flood county roads.

The approach was explained in a detailed letter written by Weston Young, assistant administrator for Wicomico County, and sent to the Wicomico County Council and state representatives after heavy rains on Aug. 12 caused flooding.

Young said citizens will be educated by being given a full explanation of “exactly what happened and what, if anything, can be done about the flooding they experienced.”

“Especially when property is damaged and tensions are high, we will continue to strive to explain what caused the flooding and what can be done … When we respond to a flooding complaint, as with any complaint, we try to respectfully explain the situation,” he said.

Engineering will involve looking at every area that flooded to determine if structural improvements can be made.

An internal Stormwater Study Group has met to begin identifying what Young called “flooding hotspots.”

“In many cases on the Lower Eastern Shore, high groundwater will limit capacity of ditches and pipes. In other situations, right-of-way and the elevation of the nearby property and roadway can limit the size of a ditch or pipe. Still, there exist situations where we can make modifications that allow a greater amount of rainwater to move through,” he wrote.

Young said it’s important to remember that when ditches are cleaned or regraded, or pipes replaced, it can cause flooding downstream.

“Stormwater conveyance infrastructure is sized to the 10-year storm frequency. For Wicomico County, that’s described as a 5.6-inch rain over a 24-hour period. Most private developments within Wicomico County were required to size their on-site stormwater ponds, and other private structures, to capture a two-year storm event, or 3.5 inches in 24 hours and discharge from the pond outflow structure a flow rate equivalent to the pre-development discharge which has been the state standard for the last 30 years,” Young wrote to officials.

On private property, a ditch that hasn’t been maintained or sprayed with weed killer, or one used to dump leaves and debris, can contribute to flooding, so the authority to have them maintained will be “examined and potentially pursued, in a manner similar to how our code enforcement system works,”  he said.

County Councilman Marc Kilmer this week said he has received complaints from constituents including those on Pratt Road between Rockawalkin and Upper Ferry who have had flooding.

“The way the drainage is and the way the county designed ditches is a worst-case scenario right there. There are people who are unhappy with what the county is doing there,” he said.

“As far as I’m concerned it is quite possible we are in a time when storms are stronger than they used to be,” Kilmer told the Salisbury Independent this week.

“Our stormwater systems are designed for storms that occur once a decade or once every 100 years. John Glover, who lives on Pratt Road, at the meeting last week, said he’s been flooded out three times in one year,” he said.

Young said flooding in August began after a storm dropped several inches of rain on Aug. 7. There was also a tornado. Rain saturated the ground “in such a manner that the capacity for further infiltration was limited for the Saturday, Aug. 12, rain event which included 6 to 8 inches of rainfall,” Young wrote.

“With limited ability for the ground to absorb this rain, our network of ditches of pipes, public and private, were not able to handle the intensity of the rainfall,” he wrote.

“It is the intensity of rain that plays a major role in flooding events. For example, a ditch may be able to handle 6 inches of rain over a 24-hour period. However, if that 6 inches of rain were to fall over a four-hour period, the ditch could be overwhelmed and begin to backup and overtop,” he wrote.

Like Kilmer, Young said there’s a trend toward more intense storms, evident from the June 2016 storm that washed out Nanticoke Road, the July 2016 event that took out Barren Creek Road and dam and the September 2016 rain that took out Snow Hill Road.

At the Sept. 19 work session, Glover told the County Council he has had as much as 17 inches of water on his property.

“We can’t keep living like that. We can’t leave the house. We’ve got seven or eight homes down there,” he said, citing neighbors who have had substantial flood damage.

“That’s a lot of water just coming across the street to me. It’s like a tidal wave when it comes to my house anymore. It’s affected seven to nine houses down there.

“I think you can open it up to more ditches,  kind of flow the water out in different directions …  there’s got to be an answer some place. Otherwise, our houses are just going to go to waste … OK, it’s a 100-year storm. That’s one thing, but two times in 2016?”

County Council President John Cannon said department heads were called away for an emergency that morning but that the matter will be on the agenda the first meeting in October.

“Something has to be done down that way. My wife and I wanted to sell our house. We wanted to do it last year. I guess it’s a good thing we didn’t sell it or the buyer would be suing me right now,” Glover said.

“I think it could be fixed if they just look at the drainage. Fix the pond, maybe open up the ditches,” he said.

He suggested charging a ditch tax or maintenance fee.

Cannon promised the council will address stormwater management and called it “the highest priority for the Council.”

“We’re looking forward to seeing what Public Works has to say about that,” he said, adding there might be meetings in each quadrant of the city to hear residents’ concerns.

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