Dangerous Levees, Right Here in River City
Don't say you weren't warned: The Army Corps of Engineers, now blessed with a nation that finally understands what happens when the levees don't hold, has issued a list of 122 levees that are in danger of failing, including five in the District and Prince George's County.
That means that the maintenance on levees along the Anacostia River is so bad that the towns of Bladensburg and Hyattsville in Maryland, and Potomac Park, Anacostia Park, Bolling Air Force Base, and the U.S. Naval Air Station in the District could be flooded. (How does that bit of news fit in with the dreams of developers and Mayor Adrian Fenty to build a soccer stadium and a new community of residential and retail buildings at Poplar Point?)
The Corps of Engineers didn't exactly volunteer this information. The report came in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the Associated Press and several other news organizations. But the situation along these levees is dire enough that property owners along these shorelines may be required to purchase flood insurance and the folks at FEMA are recommending that people who live near the river put together an evacuation plan, a family emergency plan, and a disaster supply kit, along with buying flood insurance.
How did this happen? The Anacostia Watershed Society, which has been trying to warn us about all this for longer than most of us will want to admit, says that for decades, stormwater has been allowed to flow uncontrolled from new development sites into the Anacostia, carrying untold thousands of tons of sediment and waste into the river, where it has built up. The Watershed Society has dramatic photos of deep erosion gullies that the stormwater from places such as shopping malls in Prince George's County has gouged into the land, depositing all that sediment into the Anacostia. The result has filled the river channel, drastically reducing its ability to carry off rainwater down to the Chesapeake Bay. That water has to go somewhere, and what we're seeing more of every year is the water flooding out of the Anacostia and into its neighboring floodplains--land that is used for parks, housing and other development.
Decades-old levees built to protect that developed land--especially the towns of Bladensburg and Hyattsville and the parkland and military installations along the river in the District--aren't equipped to handle the volume of water that now flows over from the clogged river.
"The Anacostia River has long been bearing the brunt of our failed stormwater management and land policies," says Robert Boone, president of the Anacostia Watershed Society. "We need to ratchet the prevention controls much higher with proven, low-impact infiltration devices. Otherwise, the potential for a Hurricane Katrina-like disaster in the Washington area is frighteningly real."
Don't say you didn't know it could happen here.
By Marc Fisher |
February 6, 2007; 7:31 AM ET
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