The city is about to do a major $1-million study to try to protect its flood-prone lower city from a potential massive flood.

The stormwater and flooding master plan will focus on the lower city — particularly the east side — which low elevation dictates is one of Hamilton's most vulnerable areas in the event of a major rainstorm.

'We've never had a really bad storm hit us in the most vulnerable spots.' - Dan McKinnon, director of Hamilton Water

The effort is just the latest in a decade of multimillion dollar projects aimed at getting a handle on Hamilton's flooding issues.

In the last five years, the city has spend about $160 million on flood-related capital projects, and will spend another $407 million in the next five years.

Climate change means more floods are certainly on the way, said Dan McKinnon, director of Hamilton Water. And "we've never had a really bad storm hit us in the most vulnerable spots." That includes the lower city, with its aging infrastructure and the city georgraphy that brings water from upper areas of Hamilton.

Nothing ruled out

The wide-scale study could include tools from digital mapping to buying out homeowners, McKinnon said. He's not ruling anything out. "I don't want to dismiss any ideas as being stupid ideas."

The city will hire a consulting engineer for the project, with an RFP going out this fall. The engineer will look at, among other factors, what areas of the city attract water flow.

Since 2009, city crews have inspected 85 per cent of its sanitary and storm sewer mains, or about 450 kilometres worth. There's also a new sewer lateral inspection program that looks at 14,000 private drains.

Other programs include:

  • A sewer lateral cross connection program has identified 136 improper sewer connections, and fixed 125 of them.
  • $5,156,060 in flooding grants to homeowners since 2005.
  • A lower east end drainage study (LEEDS) which addressed frequent basement floods in the east end. The city has spent $16 million on the program since 2007. That includes upgrading and extending storm relief sewers.
  • $8.3 million from 2009 to 2014 for Fessenden neighbourhood upgrades. This includes underground stormwater detention tanks and a new stormwater management facility at the Sir Allan MacNab school property.
  • The Old Dundas Road sewage pumping station flooding study, which looks at basement flooding.
  • The Binbrook flooding study. This happened after a so-called thousand-year storm in July 26, 2012, when about 140 millimetres of rain fell in three hours.
  • A protective plumbing program that has seen nearly 7,000 backwater valves installed since 2009. The city has provided more than $15 million in grants.

More resources needed

A report to public works committee warns that despite the major investments, "there continues to be a lack of resources to manage the stormwater portfolio sustainably."  And it notes that the group tasked with solving it is cutting back its activity levels because of lack of funding.

'What evidence suggests is we've come a long way.' - Ward 4 Coun. Sam Merulla

The threat of flooding remains. In August 2014, hundreds of homes flooded after a massive rainstorm in Burlington. If it had happened two kilometres closer, McKinnon said, Hamilton would have suffered that fate.

Two years ago, the Insurance Bureau of Canada even chose Hamilton as the launch point for a new Municipal Risk Assessment Tool (MRAT), which determines where future flooding will happen and how to prevent it.

But the city is making headway, said Coun. Sam Merulla of Ward 4, whose east-end ward has had a history of flooding. He's also chair of the public works committee.

That doesn't guarantee that flooding won't happen again, he said.

"What evidence suggests is we've come a long way."