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The DC Neighborhoods At Risk of Flooding As Early As Next Year

by Nena Perry-Brown

2010 flood risks along Watts Branch in Northeast DC, courtesy of DC Silver Jackets. Click to enlarge.

This week's release of drafted amendments to the Comprehensive Plan identify several new priorities for DC, including the need to study flood risks in certain swaths of the city. And there is one area that requires immediate attention.

"The area around the Watts Branch, a tributary to the Anacostia River, is currently at risk of flooding, and is projected to be at increased risk as early as 2020," a newly-added section to the Far Northeast/Far Southeast Area Element reads. "The Watts Branch watershed encompasses multiple neighborhoods including Deanwood, Eastland Gardens, Kenilworth, Northeast Boundary, Mayfair, Parkside, and River Terrace. There is also a significant risk to dozens of public and community-serving facilities as well as affordable and public housing units." 

Several of the above neighborhoods are the site of in-progress mixed income redevelopments, and the watershed of the Watts Branch also reaches Joint Base Anacostia Bolling and an electrical substation, as well as the Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant. While DC Water is constructing a seawall to protect Blue Plains beyond 500-year flood standards, it is unclear what is being done to protect endangered residential neighborhoods.

The Watts Branch watershed was identified as a resilience planning priority area in the 2016 Climate Ready DC report. The Environmental Protection Agency and jurisdictions traversed by the Watts Branch have studied flood risks there in recent years, as has the federal-local interagency group DC Silver Jackets; the Comp Plan states that Silver Jackets is currently testing mitigation strategies. 

The Comp Plan seems to identify the sewage overrun mitigation from the ongoing DC Clean Rivers Project and efforts to shore up five Anacostia tributaries, including Watts Branch, as part of the solution to address flood risks. A new Implementation Element section also encourages more "neighborhood-scale and site-specific solutions" within neighborhoods which lie in the watershed.

If neighborhoods along the Watts Branch are indeed at increased risk of flooding within the next few months — potentially before the Comp Plan amendments are voted into law — how will residents there be affected?

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/are-some-east-of-the-river-neighborhoods-at-higher-risk-of-flooding-next-ye/16034

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