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Land Use Decisions and Flooding

by Christine Whitehead

Many citizens know that the weather is getting worse all over the globe. When we see increasing numbers of disasters on television, we have a sense that more people and moreproperty is involved than ever before. This month we experienced some of the consequences in New Castle County, and our vulnerability is now clear. Our streams and drainage systems cannot handle the increased rains. We have done little to stop global warming and the severe weather it causes will be a huge factor in our future--individually and collectively.

We have begun to get small warnings. Must we wait until we suffer like Florida before we make better decisions? For decades we have freely built more roads, more houses, more office parks, more industrial parks, more schools and more shopping centers. We have moved tons of earth, blocked natural pathways for water, trapped water where it should not go, uprooted thousands of acres of trees, paved over hundreds of acres with parking lots, and increased the speed of water flow everywhere with concrete and pavement.

County employees are responsible for the streams, and they have sent up warning flags when they saw increased flows causing problems. Ed O'Donnell worked for decades to get the Unified Development Code passed to stop the building on steep slopes and the stripping of stream banks that had been going on. It is now unlawful to build in floodplains, but our floodplain maps were allowed to become outdated by federal inaction. The UDC attempts to save forests as much as possible and it requires replanting of trees -- especially those needed to create vegetation on stream banks. Drainage regulations for developments were rewritten in 2003. But all that the experienced planners did in the past was parcel oriented. And then there is DelDOT.

DelDOT never saw a stream it would go around or a mile of mounded up dirt it imagined was in the way of Mother Nature. We are paying a price for shortsighted thinking in road building. We will pay greater and greater ones soon if we allow land use and road building decisions to be made with no consideration for the impact on drainage in a much wider area. We need ordinances that require better controls that look at regional drainage, and we need better enforcement of earth moving regulations. We cannot wait for new federal maps to define floodplains we now know exist.

The current County administration cut down 38 acres of trees to make a parking lot on the bank of the Shellpot Creek. Some homes nearby now experience 100-year floods often. Developers have been allowed to violate building lines and erode critical natural areas they were to protect, and building has taken place on steep slopes in spite of the law. Upstream from Glenville, a forest was taken out to make way for a golf course. The same is true of Elsmere. Yesterday I noticed acres of land further up the hill from the DE Park golf course have been completely stripped of vegetation and the green plastic fences were not in place.

Knowledgable, committed leadership is everything in protecting the environment. Without persons in charge of the County, State, and federal governments who understand the connection between land use decisions and floods, we will have increased difficulty with the weather. There will be huge economic prices to pay for ignorance, as we have to rebuild and rescue more communities. With no recognition of what global warming will bring us and how soon we must slow it down, uninformed leaders will doom our children to an unmanageable planet. Find the candidates who understand this and vote for them! Please.

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Posted: FLR -