Potential for flooding in Ottawa region as spring melt approaches

As warmer weather starts this weekend, conservation groups in the Ottawa area are reminding people to prepare for potential flooding.

Be prepared to get sump pumps, generators, or sandbags, says conservation authority

Diane Downey, with the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority, says it's important to warn people about the potential for flooding so they can prepare. (Submitted by Diane Downey)

As warmer weather sets in this week, conservation groups in the Ottawa area are reminding people to prepare for potential flooding. 

People in historically flood-prone or low-lying areas should take precautions, says the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority. There's also concern over flooding along roadways, due to current snow and ice buildup on roadside ditches and some roads, the group added. 

With lots of snow this past winter and no significant thaw event, the conservation authority said the snow pack in the Ottawa region is well above average. 

Current conditions at several RVCA snow course sites are indicating near-record water content amounts in the snow for this time of year, which generally haven't been seen since the late 1970s.

Amount of snow and water content 'a red flag'

"When we look at the snow pack, like just the amount of snow that's on the ground, and then the water content of that snow, it kind of puts up a little bit of a red flag, from the conservation authority's perspective, in terms of letting people be aware of potential flooding," said Diane Downey, director of communications and outreach for the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority, which monitors eastern Ontario.  

"[The snow]'s also like a sponge and holding a lot of moisture — when that starts to melt, it's going to have a good, significant runoff to our rivers and lakes," Downey said. 

People, especially new homeowners or people new to a community, should talk to neighbours or the conservation authority to get the lay of the land for their properties, Downey added. While homes may be set back, docks or lawn furniture could get swept away with rising waters. 

She said people need to plan how they'll protect themselves, whether that be with sandbags, generators to pump water, or sump pumps. The conservation authority recommends ensuring downspouts are clear and at least three metres away from a home, and also recommends removing valuable items from basements. 

The Ottawa-Gatineau region suffered record-breaking flooding in 2017. 

'Ice is thick this year'

The RCVA said precipitation and temperatures are other key factors that will influence flood conditions over the next couple of months. RVCA staff will be monitoring conditions. 

"It's really dependent now on what mother nature is going to throw at us and how quickly that snow pack disappears. How warm it gets, how much rain it gets … how quickly the spring comes on — that's going to impact the runoff," said Downey. 

The City of Ottawa has also started its annual ice removal program to help prevent jamming and flooding. 

"The ice is thick this year as well," Downey said. 

The RVCA said water levels on lakes and flows in the streams are presently at, or slightly below, normal for this time of year. Parks Canada staff who manage the water levels for the Rideau Canal have indicated the levels will be maintained or lowered in the coming weeks to allow for water storage in the upper watershed lakes.

South Nation Conservation (SNC) flood duty officers are also monitoring conditions and warns river flows may rapidly increase, and banks might be unstable and slippery, as warm weather sets in.


Krystalle Ramlakhan is a multi-platform journalist with CBC Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I., Winnipeg and Iqaluit.


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