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Experts gather for first-time flood summit in high-risk DC

More than 150 experts gathered to discuss flooding in our nation’s capital at Gallaudet University, Sept. 8, 2016, marking the first flood summit of its kind in Washington.

View the 2016 DC Flood Summit Program and Agenda. Scroll to the bottom of the page for links to full presentations from some of the presenters. 

“We live in a flood-prone area, and we better face it,” said Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton during opening remarks. “You wouldn’t know it because there’s been too little discussion.”

Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton speaks at DC Flood Summit, Sept. 8, 2016. (U.S. Army photo by Alfredo Barraza)

The congresswoman set the tone for the summit, impressing upon attendees that the capital should be considered front and center nationally for issues on climate change and flood risk.

According to Jason Elliott, National Weather Service (NWS), Baltimore/Washington, senior service hydrologist and summit panelist, Washington is a three-way street for flooding. Not only is it located next to two major rivers that can flood, the Potomac and Anacostia, it is susceptible to coastal storm surge and interior flooding when storm drains are overwhelmed. 

The summit, which was organized by the DC Silver Jackets, occurred the week of the 20th anniversary of Hurricane Fran that engulfed Washington in 1996. While Washington has experienced several large floods since, the Potomac River is due for a major one, said Elliott.

And since that time, Washington has only grown, putting more people and businesses at risk when the next flood comes.

“We have more people and development to accommodate for in the future when thinking about flood-risk-management measures,” said Tanya Stern, District of Columbia, Office of Planning, Planning, Engagement and Design deputy director. Stern stated that between 2000 and 2015, Washington added 100,000 people.

“Flood protection for D.C. equals protecting our economy, which is one of the strongest in the nation,” said Brian Kenner, District of Columbia, Planning and Economic Development deputy mayor. “We have to guard the economy we’ve worked so hard to generate.”

“We must educate, mitigate and remember the past to prepare for the future,” said Elliott.

DC Flood Summit, Sept. 8, 2016. (U.S. Army photo by Alfredo Barraza)

Panel discussions during the summit included an overview of flood-risk-management programs, policies and initiatives across all levels of governance; resilience and climate-adaptation challenges and opportunities; structural and non-structural solutions agencies are currently taking to manage flood risks; and the path forward.

The summit brought together an array of regional, federal, state, local, and District agencies, and public and private partners. The event was moderated by Jason Samenow, Washington Post weather editor. Bart de Jong, The Royal Netherlands Embassy Infrastructure and Environment counselor, acted as the keynote speaker and discussed how the Dutch are turning flood-risk challenges into opportunities. Teri Janine Quinn, Bloomingdale Civic Association president and an Advisory Neighborhood Commission 5E chair, recounted personal tales of flooding and resiliency, as part of the Flood Stories session.  Participating agencies included Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE), National Park Service (NPS), Government of the District of Columbia, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), University of Maryland (UMD), Federal Emergency Management Agency, National Capital Planning Commission, C40 Cities, New Orleans and New York City representatives, and the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority.

Jason Samenow, Washington Post weather editor, moderates DC Flood Summit, Sept. 8, 2016. (U.S. Army photo by Alfredo Barraza)

“Floods know no jurisdictional boundaries,” said Kenner. “That’s why these partnerships are so important.”

Joe Reed, Corps, Baltimore District, Levee Safety program manager, discussed the ways the Corps is reducing flood risks in Washington, including flood-fighting training for municipalities; updating a flood emergency manual that acts as a guidebook for who’s responsible and for what during a disaster; and the Anacostia and Potomac Park flood-risk-management systems.

“The risks of the Potomac Park Levee System far outweigh all other dam and levee risks in all of the National Parks,” said Mark Baker, NPS, Dam and Levee Safety officer, who manages 400 flood-risk-management systems across NPS.

Major improvements were made by the Corps to the flood-risk-management system in fall 2014, after a sophisticated, removable post and panel closure structure replaced the previous sandbagging procedure to close off 17th Street in case of a flood.

Stacey Underwood, Corps, Baltimore District, Silver Jackets Program coordinator, discussed flood-risk-management studies the Corps and Silver Jackets are conducting, as well as a new online, interactive maps that show storm-based flood potential along the Potomac and Anacostia rivers.

Joe Reed (right), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District, Levee Safety Program manager, and Stacey Underwood (left), USACE, Baltimore District, DC Silver Jackets Program coordinator, discuss high flood risks in our nation's capital and ways the Baltimore District is helping to reduce these risks at the 2016 DC Flood Summit held at Gallaudet University, Washington, Sept. 8, 2016. (U.S. Army photo by David Gray)

“The main priorities for the DC Silver Jackets in the coming years are making more improvements to the Potomac Park Flood Risk Management System, increasing community engagement, expanding international partnerships and addressing interior-flooding issues,” said Phetmano Phannavong, DOEE District of Columbia floodplain manager and DC Silver Jackets co-leader.  

The summit ended with a summary of the key takeaways, as well as a call to action, led by Sandra Knight, UMD, Center of Disaster Resilience coordinator. Knight reiterated the importance of partnerships; balancing structural and nature-based solutions for flood-risk management; incorporating social justice and vulnerable populations when making flood-risk decisions; rethinking basic assumptions when it comes to flooding; and educating the public and sharing in the responsibility of flood risk.

“It’s great seeing District and federal partners working so closely together, especially with the Silver Jackets,” said Judy Feldman, National Mall Coalition chair and president. “The future looks really good for D.C.” 

View 2016 DC Flood Summit pictures

Story by Sarah Gross, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District 

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Presentations:

Opening Remarks and Welcome

Welcome by Host, Overview of DC Silver Jackets: Phetmano Phannavong, DOEE, DC Floodplain Manager and DC Silver Jackets Co-leader

Remembering the Past, Preparing for the Future

DC's Flood of History: Jason Elliott, NWS, Senior Service Hydrologist

Climate Ready DC: Kate Johnson, DOEE, Climate Program Analyst

Flood Stories: Residents, Property Owners and Businesses

Panel Discussion 1: Flood Risk Management Leadership

Keynote Address

Flood Defense in the Netherlands: Bart de Jong, Royal Netherlands Embassy, Counselor for Infrastructure and the Environment

Panel Discussion II: Resilience and Climate Adaptation Challenges and Opportunities

City-To-City Support Networks: Mandy Ikert, C40 Cities, Head of Water and Adaptation Initiative

Living with Water: David Waggonner, President and Principal of Waggonner & Ball, New Orleans

Living with Water Part 2

One NYC, One Resilient City: Rebecca Sternhell, New York City, Assistant Corporation Counsel

Panel Discussion III: Managing Flood Risk in Washington, DC

DC Agencies Taking Action to Reduce their Flood Risk

Flood Hardening at Federal Triangle Metrorail Station: Suzanna Sterling-Dyer, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Project Manager, Civil Engineer

NPS's Regional Flood Fighting in the Potomac Watershed: René Senos, National Park Service, Regional Flood/Dam Safety Coordinator

The Path Forward

Integrating Resilience into the District's Comprehensive Plan: Tanya Stern, DC Office of Planning, Deputy Director for Planning, Engagement and Design

Reducing Flood Risks, the Corps and the Capital: Joe Reed, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Levee Safety Program Manager, and Stacey Underwood, USACE, Silver Jackets Program Coordinator

Feds, Floodplains, and Executive Order 13690: Nick Bonard, National Capital Planning Commission, Urban Planner

Summary and Call to Action