– The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and National Park Service are hosting a public meeting Oct. 30 at 6:30 p.m. at the Westminster Presbyterian Church (400 I Street SW) to share information on flood risks, preparedness measures and evacuation procedures to people who live, work or spend any time behind the levee system near the National Mall.
The District of Columbia Levee System, also referred to as the Potomac Park Levee System, was constructed by the Corps in the 1930s to reduce flooding to parts of downtown from the Potomac River and storm surge; it is operated and maintained by NPS.
Since Hurricane Katrina, the Corps has taken a better look at all federally constructed levees across the nation to individually assess their safety risks.
“In analyzing these risks, the Corps not only looks at the condition of the levee system, but also considers how often the area may flood and the population and development at risk behind the levee system,” said Jehu Johnson, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District, Levee Safety Program manager.
The District of Columbia is located at the confluence of the Potomac and Anacostia rivers, making it susceptible to river flooding from heavy rainfall and high tide. The last major riverine flood occurred in 1996, and the last major tidal flood occurred during Hurricane Isabel in 2003.
“The levee system reduces risk up to an estimated 1,000-year flood and is well maintained and in good condition,” said Mark Baker, NPS dam and levee safety officer. “However, though the likelihood is low, a strong storm could cause water to come over the levee system or break the levee, and the consequences could be catastrophic. We also have to consider the areas that need to be closed off by posts and panels or sandbags prior to a flood and the volume of tourists in the area and the complexities associated with evacuation planning. We have to be prepared for the worst because there is a lot at stake.”
The area behind the levee contains more than 40,000 people and $14 billion in property, including assets and infrastructure of national importance, such as congressional offices, national monuments, the Smithsonian, the National Gallery of Art and the Metro subway system.
“The purpose of this meeting is to improve the public’s understanding of flood risk in the area as well as to educate residents and businesses on steps they can take to prepare for and reduce damages from flooding,” said Johnson. “Managing flood risk is a shared responsibility – from the federal level to the public, and we hope residents, agency representatives and employees take advantage of this opportunity to meet with and learn from agency experts.”
Though the levee system reduces risk from Potomac River and tidal flooding, there still remains the threat of interior flooding, which is caused by heavy localized rainfall in a short period of time that overwhelms stormwater systems like was experienced in 2006. Information will also be provided at the meeting on how residents and businesses can better prepare for this type of flooding.
Formal presentations commence at 6:30 p.m. and will be followed by a short question and answer session. Immediately following the questions, an open house will run from approximately 7:50 – 8:30 p.m. in which attendees can visit stations and speak to agency representatives, including FEMA and DC Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency. Registration for the meeting opens at 6 p.m.