From infill to overflow: Homeowner frustrated with backyard flooding

Jim Lightbody says city hall should be considering the impact of infill homes on drainage, before neighbours end up with unplanned ponds in their yards.

'As you can see, my back gate is frozen shut'

Jim Lightbody has been pumping out runoff water from his backyard for two days. He says the water the infill property next door was built too high. 1:48

For months, Jim Lightbody put up with the noise and inconvenience of living beside an infill construction site. 

Then the spring melt arrived.

Now Lightbody is wondering if an infill home's impact on drainage should be dealt with by city hall at the permit stage — and before neighbours end up with an unplanned pond in their backyard and garage.

​For the last two days, Lightbody has spent countless hours at his home near 109th Street and 80th Avenue, pumping out water that has collected around his backyard garage. The floor of his garage is covered in two to three inches of ice.

"When I noticed the water wash halfway up to the picnic table I figured, 'My goodness, something here is wrong,'" said Lightbody, who was out on Wednesday morning with rubber boots making sure the three pumps in his backyard were working properly.  

"As you can see my back gate is frozen shut, and that has never happened since I've lived here." 

'Neighbour-to-neighbour issue' 

Lightbody believes the water is coming from the infill house next door which was completed in December. The grading is noticeably higher than his property. 
Jim Lightbody says the new infill home built next to his house over the winter is at a higher grade and is causing the flooding. (CBC)

"If you look over there, you can see that the sidewalk of this infill house ... is eight inches higher than my lot, maybe 10, it's hard to tell," added Lightbody. 

The home two doors east also has water accumulated in its backyard.

In between, the new infill home has a backyard with snow but there is no visible water pooling.

Lightbody is frustrated with the city which he feels doesn't have clear cut rules in place for infill construction. He had emailed Coun. Ben Henderson about his concern.

"My question to him was 'Why would you approve massive infills for Edmonton without some kind of preventative policy, some kind of inspection and some kind of punishment,' " said Lightbody.

He believes that existing penalties aren't enforced against builders.

Henderson told CBC News that that he plans to look into Lightbody's claims, but admits he doesn't have an answer for this specific problem. 

"Essentially these are neighbour-to-neighbour issues which are considered under provincial law as a civil matter and can only be dealt with by the courts," Henderson said.

"I find it really frustrating. I wish we had a mechanism in place where we could step in and help people more. I think we need to explore to see if there's a way we can do that but we don't have those tools right now." 

'We are going to do the grading' 

The builder of the infill, Ren Tan of Bowen Homes, has been out to Lightbody's property armed with a pump and an explanation that he followed the rules when it came to building the home.

Tan said he is waiting for the weather to co-operate to make some changes that should improve matters for the neighbouring properties.  

"We are going to do the grading once the weather permits because we did this house in the winter time and we can't do grading at that time," said Tan. 
Similar pooling is happening at the home two doors down from Lightbody, on the other side of the infill home. (CBC)

Tan added that his company will also install two retaining walls along the fenceline to make sure the water drains out to the back alley. 

But Tan says the problem isn't entirely because of his infill construction, noting that Lightbody's yard is sitting lower than the paved alley.

"The water from his yard is impossible to drain out  into the street." 

Lightbody plans to keep the pumps running until the snow and puddling water is all gone.