Storm Drain

Drains like this one at the intersection of N. Division Street and St. Louis Avenue often fill with sand and debris, limiting the capacity of the drains and causing the streets to flood during heavy rains or abnormally high tides.

(Feb. 26, 2021) Flooding in Ocean City is nothing new, although as the beaches continue their attempt to retreat and water struggles to flow into the bay, the issue is intensifying, becoming a growing nuisance to those who live and work on the barrier island.

The topography of the island lends itself to a sandbox full of issues, all preventing an effective gravity-fed system to expel water in the drains out into the bays.

Ocean City officials released and approved a Nuisance Flood Plan in September, and the document uses historical data and future monitoring to put programs in place to improve flood damage of properties, and lower insurance rates for those who live in areas prone to rising waters.

Now, as City Council members begin to weigh in on capital improvement projects across Ocean City, two proposals totaling $1.5 million would address flooding in areas like those between the inlet and 15th street on the bay side of the island, that suffer from flooding either from abnormally high tidal cycles, heavy rain or both.

The first of the two projects, which council members deemed as critical, will cost $500,000 and involves cleaning out the municipal storm drain system.

Bill Neville, the city’s director of planning and community development, said on Monday that the storm drains oftentimes fill with sand and debris, limiting the capacity that each drain can hold.

Each year, the drains are cleaned of the debris, which are the result of shallow pipe slopes that prevent the pipes from cleaning themselves. As a result, the water has no place to go, and the streets begin to flood.

Council members are also considering the replacement of failing stormwater outfall systems in places like Fifth street, Worcester Street, and Our Place at the Beach.

Over the years, the city has made efforts to ensure that properties are developed so the first floor of the house is raised three feet above the flood level, a requirement from FEMA.

“That’s the main mission we have as a town, is working together with FEMA to make sure that our buildings and the people in them are safe and protected from flooding conditions,” Neville said. “It’s pretty clear from an aerial view that people’s homes and yards have been elevated and that the main plan of action is for the storm and flood waters to go into the street to eliminate damage to properties.”

Neville is part of the coastal resources committee for Ocean City, and it is collecting data pertaining to nuisance flooding. Each instance that occurs, photos and measurements are collected, and when frequencies increase  –  which is expected to more than double over the next 10-15 years due to global warming –  the city will be prepared.

But options are limited because of the island’s topography.

On the Ocean City website, City Engineer Terry McGean addressed drainage issues and flooding. In his statement, he said one of the main challenges when it comes to drainage is that the pipes rely on gravity flow to discharge water into the bay.

“Most property in Ocean City is only a few feet above sea level,” he said.

Typical street elevations are five feet above the mean low tide, and the top of the pipe must be buried at least a foot below the pavement level to prevent trucks from crushing it. The pipe also needs to be 15 inches in diameter so debris does not clog it, so the pipe must not exceed 2.75 feet above the average low tide.

The city tries to keep the bottom of the pipe at the outfall no less than the elevation of the normal low tide to allow drainage at high tide, which means the slope of the drainpipes is less than 1 percent, McGean said.

The city requires that all new construction drains to the street and not onto an adjacent property.

So, while some may resolve to raising the height of the street, that would defeat the purpose of having water drain away from homes to prevent damage, Neville said.

The flood nuisance plan is intended to help the city track all instances of flooding and use the data to help come up with solutions to prevent it.

The city also plans to work with various municipalities like Annapolis, Norfolk, and Toms River, New Jersey to find out what solutions work.

The coastal resources commission plans to review the data quarterly.

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