A University of Maryland study has found that in a matter of decades, sea level rise caused by climate change will be a major threat to D.C.
University researchers say the issue will impact this generation and will only worsen for the next. Without intervention, experts warn, some of the most treasured areas of our nation’s capital could be under water by the end of the century.
“We can see shorelines moving 200 300 feet in the last 150 years so it's not a trivial issue, and it's not for lack of evidence, we believe in it,” said Michael S. Kearney, a UMD Environmental Science Professor.
A team of UMD researchers studied data from the Intergovernmental panel on climate change and applied the discussed scenarios to D.C. “The bottom line is it’s gonna cost a lot of money to plan for this,” Kearney said.
Homes, businesses, government buildings, museums, military bases, Metro lines and bridges are all vulnerable. If the scenario were to take place, it would devastate the way the city runs.
“Access in and out of the city, unless you had a boat like Venice, would be very difficult,” Kearney said.
Even using the most conservative projections, scientists believe that by 2050, the Tidal Basin will have risen high enough to wipe out the surrounding pathways and D.C.’s beloved cherry trees. By 2080, they believe flood waters will inch closer and closer to the toes of the Jefferson statue. And by 2100, the hill where the Washington monument now sits, could become an island surrounded by a floodplain of muddy swamp land.
“There could be further almost dramatic rises if we have exceptional ice melts like in Antarctica,” Kearney said.
Without a system of levees, researchers say the losses could add up to billions of dollars.
“The worst cost you could pay is the disaster that comes when the flood hits. That's where the big bucks are,” said Christophe Tolou, the Director of the District's Department of the Environment (DDOE)
District leaders say they're already developing a climate action plan - with help from the Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA, and other federal agencies.
“This is one we need to take seriously and start planning for. Sea level rise happens incrementally, so we do have time,” Tolou said.
But researchers warn that given the size of the problem, and the tax dollars needed to address it, time is running out.