Saturday, November 2, 2013

Climate Change In DC

The political climate is changing in DC. Look what the Obama administration is up to now. The Washington Post headline reads, "Obama asks federal agencies to ‘prepare’ for climate change." Imagine that. Dear President's minions apparently forgot to issue a similar directive to HHS Secretary Sebelius to prepare for the roll out of Obamacare. But getting back to climate change, the roll out is happening.
The White House underscored that point on Friday when it issued a new executive order directing federal agencies to help states and communities prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea-level rise, storms, and droughts.
The always helpful Posties supplied a picture editorializing their support of beloved Dear President and his promise to halt the rising seas.

This view is in DC on the Washington Channel side of Hains Point (also referred to as East Potomac Park) on the tidal Potomac. I know the scene well, virtually every inch of it. I drove past on the way to work. Almost every workday for five years, I jogged the 4 mile Hains Point circuit during my lunch break, which means I've observed this location and its interaction with the Potomac River literally thousands of times. 

The Post describes the scene as "A rare 'king tide' in Washington D.C., which the EPA describes as a harbinger of what sea-level rise might look like." The flooded bank and swamped benches do make for good photographs. Here are some of mine.

The sign says please watch your step -- more like your fin.  The caution is necessary because this area on the main channel side of Hains Point, when not flooded, is constantly slippery from the mud and algae residue of changing tides.

This is nearby the Post's photo location at low tide.  It was Cherry Blossom Festival time. Aren't the trees pretty? Notice the debris line across the grass which marks the latest high tide. 

My final shot is a topside (from Case Bridge) picture of the same section of seawall pictured in the Post. It floods not merely during king tides -- flooding is twice daily, during high tide and during high tide, so reliable that I regularly retrieved driftwood deposited on the bank to carry back across the river to cut, split and fuel our fireplace in Virginia. 

The EPA claim is deceptive spin. The Potomac isn't rising. Hains point is sinking.

Hains point is landfill, built out of the Potomac in the late 1800's. It was built by dredging silt out of the main channel between DC and Virginia and piling that muck on top of the tidal mudflats where Hains Point is now situated. Its maximum elevation, in the center of the golf course located therein, is no more than ten feet above the river.
The seawalls built to encircle Hains Point and contain the muck were never more than a few feet above mean high tide to begin with. But as befits is silty origin, Hains Point is going down, most severely at the edges where the seawalls are subject to the incessant erosive effects of seeping water, waves and currents.  In parts, the seawall has obvious to the naked eye fallen 3, 4 or 5 feet below its original elevation. Indeed, the National Park Service says,
As reclaimed land, East Potomac Park is slowly sinking and its seawalls are crumbling. A 1950s hydrology study found that the island had sunk three and a half feet since it was first created. Today, high tides and flooding frequently submerge the seawalls, and approximately 80 percent of the park lies within the 100-year floodplain.
Global warming and rising tides to blame? No way. If nothing is done over the next couple hundred of years the Potomac River will eventually reclaim Hains Point entirely by breaking the sinking sludge heap down. That's nature taking its course to naturally reclaim what was originally hers, not man-made influences run amok

A dry Hains Point in its heyday (1935) before the seawalls had substantially sunk.
Hains Point inundated by a seasonal flood 1936.

Hains Point swamped by a seasonal flood 1985.
Along the main Potomac River channel, Jersey barriers are placed end to end on the landward side of the seawall to combat erosion from waves and the wakes of passing boats. This collapsed seawall section is on the right in the top section of the following photo.
Fracturing and collapsed Hains Point seawall, views courtesy Google Maps.
Hains Point is a fascinating place with an interesting history.  For example, an oral history on segregation and integration recounts,

Hains Point: Saving an Integrated Park
Ruth  How about Hains Point? 
Kingman  Oh, yes. What happened there was one of the most satisfying things that I've ever had anything to do with. Hains Point, in Washington, is the tip of a beautiful little peninsula that reaches out into the water between the Potomac River and the Washington Channel. It is supervised by the District of Columbia Park Department, which is under the Department of the Interior. Its park area is used by thousands of people, particularly by those who come down from Northeast Washington, people who don't have much access to parks. Many Negroes and other nonwhite people mingle with whites. There are swings, slides, picnic tables--all kinds of recreational facilities. There is also fishing--just a marvelous place. Ruth and I used to drive around the Point on weekends in the warmer weather. It was quiet, beautiful, peacefully integrated; a truly happy spot.

Peoples' golf at Hains Point -- my two eldest on the Red Course
― 164 ―
Ruth  Golf, Harry, don't forget golf. 
Kingman  Oh, yeah! There was a very fine golf course, city operated, publicly owned. No, I guess the golf course was leased--that's right. 
Levenson  But inexpensive? 
Ruth Yes, and everybody could play. Blacks played there a lot, lots of black golfers.
The man-made peninsula is named for General George Hains, who engineered the grounds and the neighboring tidal basin, and who is more ignominiously known for having shot the first shot of the First Battle of Manassas, the opening set piece battle of the Civil War. 
In later years,
Hains set about to design a seawall, dredging the channel and removing the swampy dirt across the flats to a railroad spur. This land would ultimately become the park that bears his name, although contemporary usage identifies it as Potomac Park or East Potomac Park.
For the sake of its history and heritage and its recreational usefulness today -- a subject worthy of an extended blog post -- I hope some low-cost means can be found to save Hains Point. But the man made peninsula is threatened not by rising sea levels and worrisome king tides but by the what, the how and the where of it was built in the first place.

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