Flooding in northwestern Ontario likely to get worse before it gets better, officials say
April showers brings May floods to northwestern Ontario, breaking records in some areas
The flooding situation in northwestern Ontario is likely only going to get worse before it gets better, after weeks of record rainfall in the region and more rain in the forecast this weekend.
The Lake of the Woods control board is warning of hazardous flows throughout the entire Winnipeg River drainage basin, which includes areas of Ontario, Manitoba and Minnesota.
This comes after seven weeks of record rainfall for some areas, on top of a thick snowpack in the region leftover from the winter months. Communities across Canada have reported significant flooding this spring, including in the Northwest Territories, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and northern Ontario.
"People need to be aware that this is an unprecedented amount of precipitation that we've received over the last seven weeks," said Michael O'Flaherty, the chair of the Lake of the Woods control board. "We need dry weather as a quick solution to this situation. And historically, we don't get dry weather in this period of time."
More rain is expected for the region in the next seven days, and O'Flaherty said that means the situation in northwestern Ontario is likely to get worse before it gets better.
Water flowing into Lake of the Woods is nearly double the maximum outflow that is being released through the fully opened dams in Kenora.
Upstream, the dams at Namakan Lake and Rainy Lake continue to be fully opened, with gradually rising outflow.
The level at Namakan Lake is higher than the 2014 peak, and according to the control board, may exceed all-time records depending on precipitation this month.
"We're concerned about the entire watershed," said O'Flaherty.
"So all of that water needs to come downstream through the Lake of the Woods, discharge eventually into Lake Winnipeg. The area that's being most inundated currently is Lake Namakan in the White Shell. That area is seeing increased flows from a combination of the Winnipeg River and the English River system, which also has near record high flows," he explained.
O'Flaherty noted areas will continue to see exceptionally high flows for the next seven days, while a return to normal flows is unlikely in the coming weeks.
He says the recommendation at this point is for people in the area to protect their properties as best they can.
Communities ramp up flood protection
The Municipality of Sioux Lookout is kicking its flood response into overdrive, as high waters continue to rise in the area.
Community officials say they are prepared to deal with increasing water levels, and have a large number of sandbags on hand to respond to changing conditions.
A number of roads, and one pedestrian bridge is closed in the community due to washouts, while sandbagging efforts have also started in some parts of the town.
"We are working directly with residents impacted by flooding in low lying areas and are providing targeted support," said Mat Lelonde, Public Works Operations Manager.
Officials said the municipality, which is about 270 kilometres from Thunder Bay, Ont., is also seeking extra support from government agencies, and are seeking information from the public to support the call for help.
"The Municipality is working with the province to have [Sioux Lookout] designated a flood area. If the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing declares Sioux Lookout a flood area, individuals may be eligible for the province's disaster mitigation relief funding," reads a statement.
In the meantime, officials in Sioux Lookout are looking for details about how many property owners have suffered damage to their homes or businesses, and are asking residents to contact the municipal office during business hours.
As of Thursday officials say there are no indications that highway access to the community will be cut off, as we have seen in other parts of northwestern Ontario this season.
Since April, states of emergencies have also been declared in Fort Frances, Red Lake, Kenora and Marten Falls First Nation due to flooding.
Multiple flood warnings have also been issued across the northwest, including the Thunder Bay and Lakehead region.
Fort William Historical Park rocked by another flood
Earlier this week a popular tourist attraction in Thunder Bay was flooded as levels rose to record levels on the Kaministiquia River.
Park officials confirmed a video posted to YouTube early this week showed the aftermath at the site, but levels have significantly receded since then.
Employees are on site cleaning up and farm animals have been relocated to higher ground.
"We have assessed the entire site and the impacts were less than anticipated with limited damage,
given the water levels," reads a statement from a park spokesperson.
"In our communications with the Lakehead Region Conservation Authority and Ontario Power Generation, they had indicated that recent flows were some of the highest on record."