Special adviser blames flooding on weather

This cottage at the west end of Hastings Drive in Long Point took a pounding this year during a number of high-wind events. A Nov. 28 report says chronic flooding in Ontario this year is related to weather factors, beginning with last year's prolonged winter and continuing with this year's wet spring. Monte Sonnenberg/Delhi News Record jpg, DN

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An adviser to the provincial government has concluded that weather conditions over the past 12 months are responsible for this year’s chronic flooding issues across Ontario.

In a news release on Nov. 28, the province says Doug McNeil “found that nothing pointed to human error or the negligent operation of water-control structures as the cause of the flooding, and that the government and its partners were effective at reducing and mitigating flood risks.”

Factors producing record-high water levels in the Great Lakes and chronic, “record-setting” flooding in low-lying areas include a “colder-than-average winter and spring, higher-than-average snowpack, lack of significant winter thaw, rapid snow melt, and significant rain events in the spring.”

Not mentioned were high-wind events that have – on several occasions since the spring – tilted Lake Erie northward and inland. This has produced chronic flooding in Long Point, Turkey Point, downtown Port Dover and elsewhere in Norfolk.

“This has been a difficult time for many of our communities, and we know that – for many Ontarians impacted by the floodwaters – life still hasn’t returned to normal,” local MPP Toby Barrett said Thursday in a statement.

“We understand the devastating impact flooding has on our communities and that’s why we are taking action to improve the province’s resiliency.”

McNeil is an engineer by training. He gained experience in the fields of stormwater management and water-control structures while serving as Manitoba’s deputy minister of infrastructure and transportation.

“McNeil looked carefully at the core components of the province’s approach to emergency management relative to last spring’s flood season and found that steps taken by individuals, municipalities, dam owners and other agencies were effective in reducing further potential damage to communities,” said John Yakabuski, Ontario’s Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry.

“We are pleased by this conclusion, and we appreciate Mr. McNeil’s practical advice for the province and other parties to help us to become more flood resilient.”

Recommendations in McNeil’s report that the province has acted on include:

  • Revising regulations to encourage Ontario’s 36 conservation authorities to focus on their core mandate, which is protecting people and property from flooding.
  • A $4.7-million investment in Ontario’s stream gauge network. Improved data collection will increase the capacity of monitoring agencies to alert the public to high-water events.

In the same release, the provincial government says it has “made it faster for property owners to get the approvals they need to repair flood-related damage to shorelines.”

Norfolk took advantage of this earlier this year after council approved $10,000 in repairs to breakwaters on Hastings Drive in Long Point. The work was performed at the water line of 48 vacant lots belonging to the municipality.

Norfolk acted after private-property owners on Hastings complained the road allowance in this area was eroding due to county neglect.

The contractor hired to reset the breakwaters was ready to go when MNR staff told Norfolk it needed to file additional environmental reports before the work could proceed. Mayor Kristal Chopp responded by calling a ministry policy adviser.

“I said, ‘Does this not fly in the face of everything your government is supposed to represent right now?’” Chopp said at the Nov. 12 meeting of council, referring to the provincial government’s pledge to reduce red tape.

“’You’re asking for more studies on a $10,000 job?’ He took care of it immediately and the work continued, so a big thanks to their office for that.”