Toronto Island residents, conservation authority keeping 'very close eye' on rising lake levels

While Bracebridge, Ont., is under a state of emergency due to flooding and people in upstate New York are sandbagging their shores, residents on Toronto Island are nervously watching the waterline.

With flood warnings all around, Toronto Island residents are hoping they don't see a repeat of 2017

The spring of 2017 saw water breach the shores of Toronto Island, forcing it to close to the public and costing the city millions of dollars. (CBC)

While a town in cottage country is under a state of emergency due to flooding and many people in upstate New York are sandbagging their shores, residents of Toronto Island are nervously watching the waterline.

"It was around this time two years ago when it got bad," said Andres Ramirez Ochoa, who operates a water taxi.

"We thought we were going to have a great season but as soon as the Easter weekend went by, the water level just kept going up and up and up," he told CBC Toronto.

His water taxi company, like the majority of island businesses, ended up being severely affected by the 2017 flood. 

Water taxi driver Andres Ramirez Ochoa remembers it was around this time two years ago that the water started rising. (Paul Borkwood/CBC News)

Lake Ontario was brimming that year thanks to a dramatic snow melt and heavy rains.

Conservation authority keeping a 'close eye' on lake levels

While rising lake levels are typical in the spring, there are regions that have been bailing themselves out over the last several days, including western Quebec where a woman died after being swept away in her car. 

Floodwaters also breached a dam in the cottage country town of Bracebridge, Ont., — 197 kilometres northwest of Toronto — where roads were washed out, causing a state of emergency. 

Authorities in upstate New York have measured a lake level increase of about 13 cm in 10 days.

Thousands of sandbags did little to keep the rising lake from washing out entire streets and damaging many homes on Toronto Island.

Ramirez Ochoa noticed the water level going up several centimetres over the last two weeks in Toronto Harbour, where he works.

"Let's just hope it does not rain anymore," he laughed nervously. 

The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) has not issued any flood warnings at this time. 

"While we are not yet into the warning zone for our region, we have already been in touch with our municipal partners, and we are jointly keeping a very close eye on what is happening over the next couple of weeks," said Rehana Rajabali, senior manager of the TRCA.

Lake levels have risen but Toronto Harbour is safe for now 

The city says we're still 30 cm away from the level where damage can be done. 

"When we were at our peak [in 2017] we were 50 cm higher than this," said James Dann, Toronto's waterfront parks manager.

He says the flood protections put in place since then will protect the island even if mother nature tests us again. 
The city installed nine 'sump pump pits' to drain pooling water. They're placed in low-lying areas close to the shore so in the event of a flood, the pumps can easily push water back into the lake. (Paul Borkwood/CBC News)

"There's a whole waterfront plan that was approved by council for roughly 27-28 million dollars worth of shoreline rehabilitation," he explained. 

Improvements have been made to the drainage on the islands with the construction of several sump-pump pits in low- lying areas. 

"It pulls all the water in from the surrounding areas and that water pulls into a pit and then it's able to be pumped back into the lake," said Dann. 

Nine of them have been dug throughout the island so that in the event of a flood city crews can "attack those low-lying areas so that we can work quicker if the water rises up to those 2017 levels," explained Dann.

Island residents are optimistic

Tanya Golden, who has lived on Ward's Island for 20 years, was out putting sandbags around her property for the first time in two years because she started to notice the water level rising again. (Paul Borkwood/CBC News)

"The whole street was submerged," said Tanya Golden, reminiscing outside her home on Ward's Island. 

Golden was out on Wednesday morning putting out sandbags to bolster the berm around her home for the first time in two years. 

"We don't want to jump the gun and take them away too soon," she said.

They're the same ones left over from the spring of 2017. 

Her property faces the water's edge, which had been breached by punishing waves. 

"It's high, but I'm hopeful it'll balance out if we can get some dry weather in May." 


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