By Katharine Wilson
Flooding in the City of College Park has become an increasingly serious issue in recent years, leading to both county- and city-level actions to improve stormwater management. The city has seen extreme flooding in recent years, including a flood in Sept. 2020, which saw as much as six feet of water into some basements. The increase in residential and commercial development throughout the city has reduced permeable surfaces, which are an essential element in flood control.
Last fall, students at the University of Maryland (UMD) rallied against the Western Gateway Project, which would deforest a significant portion of Guilford Woods, a tract that provides acres of essential forest floor and dense tree canopy, both of which are essential to mitigate flooding in adjacent residential neighborhoods. University President Darryll Pines announced a pause on the project on Oct. 28, the same day that Prince George’s County Council proposed the Adelphi Road Sector Plan. This plan would govern development and related activities around the Purple Line station closest to Guilford Woods.
The City of College Park’s Stormwater Assessment Project intends to address the issue of flooding, with a particular focus on the Calvert Hills neighborhood, which has been especially hard hit.
Calvert Hills largely relies on stormwater management systems that are some 80 years old (and older). Development in the neighborhood has introduced more impervious surfaces and led to more water flowing into Calvert Hills. Many residents have also speculated that the Metro station may act as a dam, of sorts, preventing excess water from flowing out of the neighborhood.
“When Calvert road stormwater inlets max out, and the street water level rises only an inch or more, the street water goes down our driveway and into our yard and the neighbor’s yard,” College Park resident Bob Baer said.
The city anticipates conducting a topographical survey to examine water flow in the area as an initial step in formulating a plan to address flooding. At the city council’s virtual worksession on Jan. 18, councilmembers discussed the scope of the survey. City Engineer Steve Halpern stated that the surveyors will most likely create a model of the city to examine and identify water flow in the city’s 12 sub-watersheds. Such a model would aid engineers in determining how to address local flooding.
The estimate for the assessment is approximately $600,000, according to documents from the worksession. Councilmember Stuart Adams (District 3) estimated that the study will take about a year to complete, once an engineering firm is on board. Hiring may take place within a few months.
The Calvert Hills College Park Drainage Improvement Project has been in the design phase for years. This project will add drain systems, underground stormwater storage units and related measures to reduce flooding and manage runoff, according to the project’s factsheet. Construction was slated to begin in spring 2021 but is currently on hold.
“This upcoming study is to go the next step … because we know even after that drainage project is complete, there’s still a lot of houses that could flood from the storms that we’re seeing now. It’s not far-fetched; it’s happening now,” said Councilmember Stuart Adams (District 3).