Study Underway to Address Resort’s Chronic Flooding Problems

OCEAN CITY- Managing Ocean City’s frequent flooding problem has been an ongoing challenge, but the town is working with a University of Maryland research group on a study of short- and long-term solutions to the resort’s stormwater management plan, and perhaps more importantly, how to finance it in the future.

During a stormwater management meeting in Ocean City on Wednesday, resort officials and a team of researchers from the University of Maryland Finance Center presented preliminary plans to develop a stormwater management strategy that will help determine how to better plan and fund stormwater maintenance and upgrades in the community.

The study will focus on identifying the current budget, or lack thereof, going toward stormwater projects, assessing capacity and infrastructure needs, identifying funding gaps, and giving viable options and recommendations to the town. The project began earlier this month and will continue on for a year.

Joanne Throwe and Megan Hughes, of the University of Maryland Environmental Finance Center, along with Carrie Decker, of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, have joined Terry McGean, Ocean City Town Engineer, and Gail Blazer, Ocean City Environmental Engineer, in this year-long study of Ocean City’s stormwater management.

It is no secret that the stormwater run-off needs some management. Several times a year, many of Ocean City’s residential streets, especially Coastal Highway, become inundated with rising flood waters, including, ironically, this week when much of the downtown area was under water during high tide.

According to the preliminary findings, Ocean City is 79 percent impervious, which means much of the land is covered by streets, buildings, and other hard surfaces that do not allow water to soak into the ground.

In addition, along the northbound lanes of Coastal Highway, stormwater drains from approximately three acres of impervious surface that cross at each intersection. Coastal Highway does not have catch basin inlets on the east side of the highway, and drainage has to come across to get into the catch basin inlets on the west side.

In Ocean City, 2,660 parcels were developed that have no stormwater management controls and could benefit from upgrades. The city also has 82,974 linear feet of corrugated metal pipe underground to help drain the city that was installed between the 1960s and 1980s. The pipes have deteriorated in saltwater environment and are overdue for replacement. According to McGean, three or four pipes have collapsed in just the past few months. The cost to replace this system is approximately $6.14 million.

Besides the construction issues with the town’s stormwater run-offs, the lack of management is having a severe impact on the environment, especially the bay. Stormwater in Ocean City flows untreated directly into the coastal bays, meaning, it takes everything it picks up on the way including gasoline, oil, trash, sediment, pesticides, fertilizers, and pet waste.

“Don’t put anything into the storm drain, if you don’t want to swim in it,” said Blazer.

This happens because Ocean City has two-infrastructure systems underground, the sanitary sewer pipe and the stormwater system. The sanitary stormwater pipe flows into the city’s wastewater treatment plant, while the stormwater pipes flow directly into the bay, untreated.

“As the town develops, the more and more impervious surfaces develop, and then the more an more pollution is introduced,” said Blazer.

Although the flooding continues, there is action being made to prevent it, one step at a time. An average rainfall event deposits about one inch of stormwater in the system about 90 percent of the time. The design of simple stormwater systems, such as rain gardens, catches one inch of rainfall before it rains into a storm sewer.

Other programs discussed include pervious pavers on public projects, dune and wetland restoration and patrol, street and beach cleaning, hazardous waste cleanup day, bayscape gardens, rain barrel programs, catch basin inserts, nutrient separating baffle box and outfall retrofits.  

Blazer explained the functions of some equipment that has been installed and need to continue. There are 1,800 inlets, or storm drains, in Ocean City, of which just 35 are catch basin inserts. Catch basin inserts catch debris and trash, and won’t clog because they are designed to the bypass area of the grate. The only catch is maintenance is required on them at least twice a year.

Despite, the dire circumstances, there are success stories in the resort. For example, Tunnel Avenue has had an outfall baffle box installed. It cost $50,000, but it treats 90 acres of urban drainage, so it has been well worth the money. It drains out all debris and trash. The Gateway Grand in Ocean City was constructed with a pervious parking lot.

“No water comes off of that thing,” said Blazer. “It is amazing to watch.”