'Five feet of sewage': Toronto homeowner inundated by floods begs city to step in

Ricardo Mota gets a knot in the pit of his stomach any time he sees dark clouds roll over the city. 

Several homes on Cordella Avenue have been damaged after two floods in less than a year

Ricardo Mota shows where rain water flows into his garage, where it eventually seeps down into his basement. (Greg Ross/CBC)

Ricardo Mota gets a knot in the pit of his stomach any time he sees dark clouds roll over the city. 

"I definitely get nervous," he says.

Ever since last summer, whenever rain is in the forecast, Mota prepares for the worst. He lives on Cordella Avenue, near Weston Road and Humber Boulevard in York. When there is significant rainfall, his street can look more like a river. 

"Everyone on the street is pretty much ready to go, and start attacking the catch basins," Mota says. "Just to make sure that they don't get stuffed or clogged."

Mota says his frequent struggles to prevent rain from flooding his family's home illustrates a failure by the city to keep outdated stormwater infrastructure in working condition and plan for increasingly intense rainfall. 

His neighborhood has been on high alert since Aug. 7, 2018 — the day Toronto was hit by a summer storm that dumped close to 100 millimetres of rain in a single night.

Not only was Mota's street completely submerged, it was contaminated with raw sewage, he says. To make matters worse, his was one of several houses in the area inundated with water. 

"It got to five feet of sewage," Mota says. "In my basement."

The flood forced him, his wife and their newborn baby from their home for two months while crews worked to clean it. He says he spent the next eight months going back and forth with his insurance company, and slowly going through the process of repairing his basement.

A major storm in August, 2018, inundated Ricardo Mota's basement with sewage water. (Submitted by Ricardo Mota)

Last week, contractors were in his basement putting the finishing touches on new drywall when Toronto was hit by another storm that dumped about 62 mm of rain. 

"It started to flood on them and they had to leave," Mota says. 

It wasn't as bad as last August, Mota says. Still, some 30 centimetres of water pooled in his garage. It then seeped into his basement, damaging the newly installed drywall.

Contractors were still working to repair Ricardo Mota's basement when a storm last week flooded his home again. (Submitted by Ricardo Mota)

'Water doesn't flow as fast as it should'

Mota says he and his neighbours have had enough. It's time for the city to step in and do something about the frequent floods plaguing their homes. 

"I don't blame the residents for being angry, I'm angry as well," said Coun. Frances Nunziata, who represents the area at city hall. 

She says the problem first came to her attention after a major flood in the summer of 2013, two years before Mota purchased his home.

After that flood, the city asked Toronto and Region Conservation Authority to do an environmental assessment, Nunziata says. The process revealed problems with stormwater infrastructure around the nearby Humber River.

The infrastructure needs to be upgraded to adequately handle overflow from the river's tributaries during heavy rainfall events, she says. 

"The water doesn't flow as fast as it should be and it comes up and it overflows and that's why we have the flooding," Nunziata says. 

The Ward 5 councillor believes climate change is also a contributing factor. 

"Who would have ever imagined in the past few years how much rain we've had."

Ricardo Mota's street became a river during last August's major storm event in Toronto. (Submitted by Ricardo Mota)

CBC Toronto reached out to TRCA for comment on its assessment, completed in 2014, but did not receive a response before the time of publication. 

After the deluge last August, Mota says he submitted a claim to the city asking them to cover the costs of damage to his house. He argues that the catch basins and sewers in his neighborhood — maintained by the city — failed at their intended purpose.

'We have to fight this'

After reviewing his claim, the city's insurance adjuster, ClaimsPro, sent a letter to Mota.

"Although the City's sewers were designed and installed in accordance with the engineering standards prevailing at the time they were installed, and have been properly maintained, municipal infrastructure alone cannot protect properties from any and all rain storm events," the letter said.

"The city's investigation has found that there was no negligence on the part of the city. The cause of your loss in this case was the extreme rainfall for which the city is not responsible."

Mota says he was forced to go through his own insurance company to fix his basement.

But Mota and his neighbours are not giving up on their drive to have the city address the problems. 

"We understand as a neighborhood that we have to fight this."


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