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The Wharf, DC – Floodplain Study


The Wharf DC, Maine Avenue Southwest, Washington, DC, USA

Page owner: Katherine Callahan

Project Overview
Project Name: The Wharf, DC – Floodplain Study
Date Completed: 2017
Location: Washington, District of Columbia, United States
Project Status: Complete
Official Website: The Wharf Website

Project Tags: Civil Water Flood DC Wharf disaster mitigation

Project Team

Disciplines That Worked on Project

Civil Engineer: Water (Flood study)
People That Made the Project Happen (e.g., engineers, scientists, etc.)
Organizations That Made the Project Happen (e.g., engineering companies, government agencies, etc.)

Project Details
About this project
The Wharf is a new 24-acre development of restaurants, retailers, residences, businesses, and a music hall located along about 1 mile of waterfront in Washington, DC. Because it's located on the water, the floodplain study was an important part of the project.
During the design of the project, a flood study was required. No construction could start until the project owner obtained approval from the City and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The FEMA process is known as a Conditional Letter of Map Revision (CLOMR).
The water resource engineers at AMT Engineering conducted the flood study to make sure that the new development did not encroach into the adjacent river (i.e., Washington Channel) in a way that would block the river’s flow and cause upstream flooding.
The flood study involved first obtaining the existing FEMA hydrologic and hydraulic computer models. These models showed that the Wharf is upstream of the limits of tidal impacts from the Chesapeake Bay. AMT Engineering then modified the computer models to reflect the proposed construction. The computer models showed that the proposed development had no significant impact on upstream flood levels and FEMA approved the CLOMR.
The City also required that the property owner consider how the development would address potential flooding during a hurricane. The owner and engineers developed materials regarding hurricane and flooding resilience.
The FEMA flood study was also used to determine the base flood elevation. The base flood elevation is the flood level that has a one percent chance of happening in any year. The first floor of new buildings and the entrance to the parking garage were designed to be above the base flood elevation plus 1.5 feet of freeboard. Therefore, these new buildings and parking garage will not be flooded during a flood that has a one percent chance of flooding in any year (sometimes called the 100-year storm).
Who benefits from this project, and how?
The people upstream of The Wharf benefited by making sure the new development did not increase their chance of flooding.

The residents and users of The Wharf benefited by making sure the new construction addressed the potential for the site to flood.

In the US, floods have caused more deaths than any other type of natural disaster. In the US the average loss from flooding is $8 billion a year and recently more than 100 people die each year from floods. (source: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/natural-disasters/floods)
Environmental considerations
Anytime a project is built close to a body of water or is in the floodplain, special environmental considerations have to be taken. This flood study showed the project had no impact on upstream communities and was used to reduce the potential impact to The Wharf from future floods.
What's unique about this project?
The proposed development included a large underground (40-60 feet below-ground) parking garage running parallel and very close to the river. The ground water is very high at this location. Since surface water and ground water are connected, there was concern that the proposed underground structure could impact the river elevation. Therefore, FEMA assembled a task force to look into this issue. The task force concluded that the underground parking garage would not significantly affect the river elevation.

The Wharf development is located on the Washington Channel. The Washington Channel was formed when the island called East Potomac Park was created from materials dredged from the Potomac River in the late 1800s. The island now separates the Potomac River and the Washington Channel.

The Wharf project includes 50 acres of water in the Washington Channel. New piers and places to moor boats are part of this project. The Washington Channel was previously owned by the Federal government. Therefore, it took an act of congress to have this area revert back to city ownership. The city then leased the land to The Wharf project owner for 99-years. (source: https://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/19/realestate/commercial/washington-dc-refreshes-a-waterfront.html)

Funding & Costs
Funding source: PrivatePublic
Funding notes: The flood study was done as part of the design of the project. The project is a public-private partnership. (source: https://www.wharfdc.com/building-our-community/spearheading-public-private-partnership)

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