Post-Storm: Local conditions are less dramatic than in the GTA, but question the safety of waterways

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Lake Huron 30 centimetres above normal. Will erosion be the bigger threat to environmental integrity? Photo courtesy: Les Anderson

GREY AND BRUCE COUNTIES – The weather system of which brought 90 plus millimeters of rain, horrendous lake levels, and waves to the famous Toronto waterfront could have hit the Grey Bruce region harder and had an even greater, profound impact— if it were not for the scarcity of urban development and infrastructure in rural towns.

On Thursday, May 4th, 2017, a rainfall warning was issued by Environment Canada warning locals of the potential for localized flooding in some low-lying areas in the region. However, local cases of flooding, “with erosion or high flows interfering with urban infrastructure,” were not a major issue according to Grey Sauble Conservation Water Resources Coordinator John Bittorf.

“Our river systems and urban centres are much smaller than other areas in southern Ontario and generally don’t have issues,” said Bittorf during an email interview, Sunday, May 7.

Making reference to an on-line data base, Bittorf confirms Lake Hruron’s water levels are 30 centimetres above average.

“During heavy rainfall events, it’s usually the urban storm water systems that cause street flooding. Our main issues for flooding are usually the result of ice jams.”

Bittorf points out the rather unique threats to water infrastructure and flow in rural Ontario, again, accentuating the fact that small town Ontario does not have to worry about mass flooding—as seen in Toronto. “Clarksburg, on the Beaver River, occasionally has issues with frazzle ice jams as does the Inner Meaford Harbour.  Meaford has not experienced this in recent years.”

“Systems like the Sydenham, Sauble and Rankin (rivers) respond much slower (to rainfall events) and can peak 2 days after a rain event.  We have flow gauges in these systems to help us monitor the flows.  Generally, it’s the timing, intensity and duration of the rain events that trigger potential flooding situation” he said.

As far as long-range spring weather goes, Bittorf says he does not think current weather phenomena should paint a picture for the rest of the season—nor will it have any indication on 2017’s summer weather. “I have no idea if this will be the ‘norm’ for this summer.  Last year, we issued flood watches in late March and drought notifications in August.”

“Coastal flooding is different from riverine flooding.  We are not experiencing either of them at this time.  Present planning practices keep development away from erosion hazards.  Permits are required from Conservation Authorities for undertaking any works in or near the water.” Bittorf said.

Although community water infrastructure remains unperturbed, local waterways including creeks and rivers are experiencing a spike in water flow. Bittorf stresses the fact that most fast-moving river or water banks are unsafe and unstable to hike on at this time. “Nature seekers need to be aware of their surroundings.  The water is usually cold and fast flowing.  People and pets don’t stand much of a chance if they fall in.  Every hiker should stay on established paths to avoid natural hazards such as tree fall, crevices and waterways. This also helps to protect more sensitive areas as well,” he says.

The forecast is showing a slow climb in temperatures (lower teens) and overall improvement in weather activity beginning Monday.

Joseph Gentile – Editor and freelancer,