As a teenager I visited the nation’s capital and was amazed at the expanse of greenways — from the Monument grounds and National Mall, to areas around the Tidal Basin and Hains Point. In fact, as a burgeoning scientist, I understood the importance of ecologically-sound natural spaces in the middle of sidewalks, subways, and urban living. The District of Columbia got it right. Unfortunately, with the unnatural rise in water levels and not-so-timely preservation efforts, areas of that great scenery are taking a beating.
In recent years, East Potomac Park and Hains Point have seen many of its walkways, and benches, its golf course, and bicycle trails, covered with water and debris from the Potomac and erosion plaguing what was once a fisherman’s paradise and a Lover’s Lane for D.C. couples. According to the National Park Service, areas around the Jefferson Memorial and Tidal Basin, also face rapid erosion of the seawall surrounding the area.
“When they constructed this seawall, the construction methods that they did back then are probably not the same as what we would do today,” said Sean Kennealy, of the National Park Service.
Built in the 1800s, the seawall that surrounds the Tidal Basin has had steady foot traffic — 1.5 million visitors alone for the cherry blossom festivities each year — and areas of construction, including the memorial for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The groundswell and uneven pavement, vanishing ground, and submerged areas, have many visitors walking uneasy amid the sightseeing.
“You will actually see the roots are not only compromised but actually exposed,” said Jason Clement, marketing director for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “This is not just D.C.’s calling card to the nation; it’s America’s calling card to the world. It is sinking, and it is flooding, and there is over $500 million in deferred maintenance that needs to be invested in this park so that it can be saved for future generations.”
The United States Army Corps of Engineers projects, in the next 50 years, locations like Roosevelt Island, Hains Point and Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling could be inundated by water brought on by tidal flooding.
“There is significant uncertainty as to possible futures, however a community can assess its overall risk with respect to climate change and plan for and later take actions to prepare for the possibilities,” reads a 2015 report on climate change by the D.C. Department of Energy and Environment.
The Park Service and the National Trust for Historic Preservation are turning to the public for help — announcing a $750,000 ideas lab, for the Tidal Basin.