Flood mitigation process will be slow
By Chad Ingram
Published July 19, 2017
Controlling flooding in the village of Minden will be a long, drawn out process.
While that's not what residents wanted to hear, that was the overarching message during a post-flood public meeting at the Minden Hills Community Centre on the evening of July 18.
More than 100 people attended Tuesday's meeting, where they had the chance to ask officials, including those from the Trent Severn Waterway, the MNRF, the health unit and Minden Hills township, about the flood that left the municipality in a state of emergency from May 6 to 26.
Jewel Cunningham, director of Ontario Waterways for Parks Canada, the agency which oversees the Trent Severn Waterway, traced the impetus of this year's flood to a week of rainfall in late April and early May that saw nearly 129 millimetres of precipitation fall on the area. Average rainfall for the entire month of May is less than 100 millimetres.
At the time, the reservoir lakes north of Minden that are part of the feeder system for the Trent Severn Canal were already at or near capacity, leaving no storage room for the latest downpour.
“What we had to deal with this year, was a significant amount of rainfall,” Cunningham said, showing graphs compiled from data Parks Canada collects from gauges throughout the waterway.
That rainfall followed two earlier precipitation events in April. The data also showed that most months of 2017 have far exceeded averages for precipitation levels and that May witnessed more than twice its average amount of rainfall.
At its peak, this year's flood saw the level of the Gull River through Minden five centimetres lower than the 2013 flood. While the 2013 flood was caused by rainfall coinciding with the spring freshet, this year's flood occurred after the snow had melted.
“Unfortunately, the TSW is really not designed to be an effective flood mitigation system,” Cunningham said, emphasizing that when Mother Nature brings the amount of precipitation she did this spring, there is simply no room left in the system to store water.
The feeder system for the Trent Severn Canal was constructed more than a century ago, before the shores of the lakes and rivers of Haliburton County were dotted with homes.
Cunningham pointed out there was not just flooding throughout the Trent Severn Waterway this spring, but in many parts of Ontario, including Ottawa and on the Great Lakes.
While staff at Parks Canada use precipitation averages and historical data as part of their decision-making process when it comes to water management operations, Cunningham admitted that climate change is altering the relevancy of that data, and that the agency has more to learn when it comes to its implications.
“There's always areas in which we can consider future improvement,” she said. “Certainly, climate change is one of those.”
A number of residents told Cunningham they thought too much water was stored in the reservoir lakes in Haliburton County and that stop logs at the dams throughout the system should be put in later in the year.
Minden resident Patricia Walshe referred to a report from engineering firm AECOM Canada that was commissioned following the 2013 flood.
That report, which cleared Parks Canada staff of any human error that may have led to the flood, included a number of recommendations for future operations.
“Their recommendation to you at that time, was that you have a much more advanced modelling system,” Walshe said. “Have you done anything about the modelling system? Is there a new modelling system being put in?”
Cunningham responded that the TSW has had some work done on a water-flow modelling system.
“We are adding that to our toolbox in order to make better decisions,” she said. “That is something we've commenced.”
Cunningham said the system has not reached the scale of the recommendations in the AECOM report, and that there was some risk in making decisions based solely on digital modelling.
“It's really a difficult system to model, as well,” she said of the TSW.
Minden Hills Reeve and Haliburton County Warden Brent Devolin has said he'd like to see lidar mapping done throughout the area. Lidar mapping uses a laser-based system to produce very detailed topographical images. Any flood mitigation infrastructure projects in Minden – which he's stressed would require the co-operation of, and funding from, the provincial and federal levels of government – would be based on the lidar mapping.
“I definitely need willing partners at the provincial and federal levels,” Devolin told the crowd.
Meetings between cabinet ministers and Devolin, along with Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MP Jamie Schmale and MPP Laurie Scott, are scheduled to take place at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference in Ottawa in August.
Provincial Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Bill Mauro visited Minden during flooding in May and Devolin pointed out that Mauro is from Thunder Bay, a city that has had its own problems with major floods in recent years
“He gets it,” said Devolin, who's made it clear he expects to have some sort of agreement in place between the municipality and the provincial and federal levels of government regarding flood mitigation in the near future. “If we don't, I may be done in this business.”
The municipality was recently approved for funding for a drainage study through the National Disaster Mitigation Program.
Devolin, who himself lives in a flood-affected area, said he had neighbours who, this time around, took preventative measures on their properties. He said that perhaps residents should be looking at making alterations to their properties and that while everyone may not be able to afford that, hinted that perhaps some municipal assistance could be made available for such projects.
He also suggested that floodplain mapping and other such studies may lead to some results that residents may not like. In some flood-affected communities, Devolin used New Orleans as an example, properties deemed no longer suitable for human habitation have been expropriated by local governments.
“We will identify properties that we may have . . . to expropriate,” he said. “That's where this road may lead.”
Some dams in Haliburton County are being replaced through millions of dollars in federal funding. Some $500 million is being spent on the rehabilitation of TSW infrastructure, and some $59 million of that is being spent in the county.
Devolin has credited a new dam at Kennisis Lake for holding back more water than the old dam would have and has indicated that when the dam at the foot of Gull Lake is replaced, it will have more flow capacity than the current dam.
The dam at Horseshoe Lake is currently under reconstruction.
Cunningham said that modern winching systems on the new dams mean log operations can be completed quicker.
In all, water from 28 reservoir lakes makes it way through the singular channel of the Gull River as it passes through the village of Minden. Devolin also said at Tuesday's meeting that he believes at some point, that channel will have to be deepened and/or widened.
There was concern about raw sewage that was put into the Gull River during the flood, as the township's sewage treatment infrastructure was inundated with high levels.
Minden Hills environmental and property operations manager Ivan Ingram confirmed that while sewage had been bypassed into the river, it's a practice that is within the regulations of the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change.
“It's not a practice that we like to do, but it is a practice that is accepted by the MOECC,” Ingram said. “And we have no choice.”
“People need to be notified,” Walshe told him, emphasizing that residents of the river were not aware of the sewage being put into its waters.
Ingram said that when the practice is undertaken, the Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit is notified by the township.
“It is in my opinion, the health unit's job to do that [notify residents],” Ingram said. “We don't know who's downriver.”
There seemed to be consensus among residents that the 2017 flood was better handled by the township than the 2013 flood.
Using an emergency plan that was approved by council in 2016, a municipal control group that included the reeve and deputy-reeve along with the township's senior staff, had daily conference calls with reps from the TSW, MNRF and other agencies.
Information from those meetings was relayed to the public via press releases on the township's website and through press conferences held throughout the time of the flood.
The township will also be making data and information from Tuesday night's meeting publicly available on its website and at the township administration office.
It was clear that action on flood mitigation is not coming quickly enough for many residents.
Barry Cray, who owns Gordon A. Monk Funeral Home with wife Kirsten Monk, told Devolin his business, located along Bobcaygeon Road near its intersection with Deep Bay Road, could not withstand another flood.
“In 2013, it cost me $600,000 to get my place back in order, for a 100-year event,” Cray said. This year, the damage was in the neighbourhood of $250,000, although the business was able to get some help from its insurance company.
Cray said he must now build a berm on the property.
“Nobody here seems to want to be accountable,” he said. “What are we going to do? Do the math. I cannot survive a third flood. I will be leaving town. . . We need some structural change within this town and we need it down now.”
Devolin stressed that finding a solution to flooding in Minden would be a long, complicated process involving three levels of government.
“There is nobody on this earth who can wave a wand and make that happen,” he said.
Resident Patrick Walshe said a common definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over and over again, and expecting different results.
“We're hearing the same thing now we heard four years ago,” Patrick said. “I'm sure everyone's doing their job.”
He said what is required is political action.
“Where does the buck stop?” he said. “We can't keep coming back here and hear MNR say, we're doing our job and we're getting pretty good marks . . . I still to this day, don't know who's going to fix this. I really don't.”
“You're right, it's a political decision,” Devolin said. “It begins with a political dialogue. It's a joint responsibility. Nobody has the unilateral authority to deal with that. It's going to take all three [levels of government] dancing together.”
MP Jamie Schmale was in attendance and also stressed that flood mitigation would require all three levels of government working together, which is time-consuming.
“These things take time . . . things are in process,” Schmale said. “The problem is, government working together, it takes a while.”
The three-hour-long meeting was mediated by former Times owner and publisher Jack Brezina.