Creep­ing flood­wa­ters threaten Wash­ing­ton’s cherry blos­soms

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - NATION & WORLD - By Ashraf Khalil

WASH­ING­TON — Wash­ing­ton’s cherry blos­som sea­son has gone well this year, thanks to warm weather that has co­in­cided with the an­nual bloom­ing that draws hun­dreds of thou­sands of vis­i­tors each spring.

But of­fi­cials are claim­ing that Wash­ing­ton’s iconic trees are un­der a loom­ing threat that re­quires emer­gency ac­tion.

Decades of wear and tear from foot traf­fic, com­bined with ris­ing sea lev­els and a de­te­ri­o­rat­ing sea wall, have cre­ated a chronic flood­ing prob­lem in the Ti­dal Basin. The 107-acre man-made reser­voir bor­ders the Jef­fer­son Me­mo­rial and is home to the high­est con­cen­tra­tion of cherry blos­som trees.

“The Ti­dal Basin is at a piv­otal mo­ment,” said Jeff Rein­bold, acting su­per­in­ten­dent for the Na­tional Mall and Me­mo­rial Parks di­vi­sion of the Na­tional Park Ser­vice. “The area was never de­signed for the kind of use it sees to­day.”

The Na­tional Park Ser­vice, along with the Trust for the Na­tional Mall and the Na­tional Trust for His­toric Preser­va­tion, is un­der­tak­ing a cam­paign to save the Ti­dal Basin. In ad­di­tion to re­build­ing the bat­tered sea wall and ad­dress­ing the flood­ing prob­lem, the groups want to im­prove walk­ways and up­date se­cu­rity sys­tems.

Twice a day at high tide, a large stretch of side­walk next to the Jef­fer­son Me­mo­rial is sub­merged by the ris­ing wa­ters. Dur­ing the heavy rains that rou­tinely oc­cur in Wash­ing­ton, the flood­wa­ters over­flow the sea wall in mul­ti­ple lo­ca­tions and soak the tree roots.

It’s more than just an in­con­ve­nience.

Teresa Durkin, se­nior project direc­tor of the Trust for the Na­tional Mall, said the higher silt con­cen­tra­tion of the flood­wa­ters is short­en­ing the life span of the hun­dreds of cherry blos­som trees that ring the basin.

“The in­fra­struc­ture is break­ing down be­cause of the daily flood­ing. The trees are be­ing in­un­dated with brack­ish water,” she said. “Peo­ple do love th­ese trees and we keep hav­ing to re­place them.”

Early es­ti­mates are that the re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion project would re­quire as much as $500 mil­lion, with or­ga­niz­ers seek­ing a com­bi­na­tion of gov­ern­ment money and pri­vate do­na­tions.

The or­ga­ni­za­tions are part­ner­ing with Amer­i­can Ex­press, which is fund­ing the cre­ation of the Ti­dal Basin Ideas Lab and invit­ing ar­chi­tec­tural and land­scape de­sign firms to sub­mit pro­pos­als for re­plac­ing the sea wall and re­fur­bish­ing and mod­ern­iz­ing the en­tire area.

Sean Ken­nealy, the chief of pro­fes­sional ser­vices for the Na­tional Mall and Me­mo­rial Parks di­vi­sion, said the orig­i­nal 1880s de­sign of the Ti­dal Basin sim­ply wasn’t equipped to han­dle the kinds of crowds and traf­fic the area now re­ceives. That traf­fic has only in­creased as more mon­u­ments have been added to the Ti­dal Basin area over the years.

Even with­out the wors­en­ing flood­ing prob­lem, Ken­neally said the net­work of side­walks and path­ways needs to be ex­panded to ac­com­mo­date the mod­ern vis­i­tor num­bers.

“Peo­ple have started mak­ing their own paths through the grass be­cause the walk­ways are ei­ther not wide enough or un­der­wa­ter,” Ken­nealy said. “The trees just aren’t be­ing pro­tected the way they should be.”


Decades of wear and tear from foot traf­fic, ris­ing sea lev­els and a de­te­ri­o­rat­ing sea wall have cre­ated flood­ing woes in the Ti­dal Basin, which is home to cherry blos­som trees.

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