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Potomac River could rise by two feet on Alexandria waterfront by 2050

Heidi DeuPree and Keith Harmon canoeing down Union Street in Old Town, Friday, October 29, 2021. (staff photo by James Cullum)

If you think it floods a lot in Old Town now, just wait until 2050.

During a City Council meeting earlier this week, Matthew Landes, division chief for project implementation, said current projections estimate a two-foot increase in sea elevation, meaning the city will need to install some type of flood mitigation if it wants to keep Old Town from being consistently underwater.

Landes presented the City Council with flood mitigation plans complete with a bulkhead along the river and pumping stations.

The plan is somewhat scaled down from earlier plans$100 million doesn’t go quite as far as it used to.

“The budget allocated, $100 million, was determined not to be enough to develop all of the goals of the original plan,” Landes said.

Without any changes, however, Landes said flooding in Old Town will get more frequent.

“Impacts will become more severe with increasing frequency and intensity,” Landes said. “By 2050 we anticipate, at a moderate climate change projection, about a two-foot rise in sea level elevation so our lowest-lying areas will be more frequently affected.”

Terry Suehr, director of the Department of Project Implementation, said the “bathtub” shape of the waterfront necessitates the inclusion of pumping stations.

“I know a lot of people, including myself, wish we didn’t have to use pumps,” Suehr said. “Unfortunately, more and more communities are realizing that for stormwater management we are going to have to use pumps. We have a very low-lying area. The waterfront area is all fill, it’s lower than the natural surrounding area, so it creates a bit of a bathtub there. The only way we we can get it out of the bathtub is to pump.”

Waterfront flood mitigation cost-based option 1 (photo via City of Alexandria)

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