On May 13, the city of Kenora in northern Ontario issued an evacuation order for residents in the Black Sturgeon Lake area due to severe flooding.
Rising water levels are washing out rural roads in the northern city, making it impossible for emergency services to reach residents in the affected areas. “There are a number of roads that are about 26 to 28 inches underwater,” says Kenora Mayor Dan Reynard.
The flooding is occurring in rural sections northeast of the city, above the Highway 17 bypass, affecting approximately 250 properties, Reynard says, many of them cottages. The cause of the flooding is linked to snowmelt, rainfall, and a cool spring.
“We had so much snow over the winter, especially the last two, three months,” Reynard says. “We had a very late spring, so we had all this rapid melt. And then last week, we had two major rain storms within 24 hours. That dropped a significant amount of water not only in Kenora but throughout the entire Lake of the Woods watershed.”
The Winnipeg River system, which Black Sturgeon Lake flows into, is above the 95th percentile, according to the Lake of the Woods Control Board. That means there’s more water in the Winnipeg River now than there has been in 95 per cent of the years the Lake of the Woods Control Board has monitored the system. This has caused a back-flow in Black Sturgeon Lake, resulting in overland flooding.
Three days before the city issued its evacuation order, Kenora declared a local state of emergency under the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, 1990. According to Reynard, declaring a state of emergency helps spread awareness about the flooding while allowing the city’s Municipal Emergency Control Group to tap into provincial funding that can go towards combating the flooding and dealing with any damage.
To help mitigate flooding, the city obtained 100,000 sandbags that residents can pick up for free from the local firehall. For people who aren’t residents of the municipality, such as cottagers, they can pick up free sandbags from the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources, and Forestry office. Contractors have also been brought in to raise roads in affected areas.
For those displaced by the flooding, the city has set up an evacuation shelter at the Kenora Recreation Centre. Although, Reynard says, as of now, no one’s had to use the shelter.
“That tells us a couple things. Number one, a lot of these are recreational properties, so people aren’t here,” he says. “Number two, people can still get to their property if they have a boat. You could be going back and forth as long as you can get to a main landing by boat. And the other factor is that people are staying with families and friends outside the area that’s been designated for evacuation.”
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Road entry points into the evacuation area are being monitored by OPP officers. Once a resident or cottager has evacuated, they will not be allowed back into their property due to the risk that the gravel roads in the area could have been washed away by the water.
Reynard says the city is continuing to provide support for those affected, but predictions indicate that the water levels will continue to rise.
“Based on historical data, it will drop at some point,” he says. “But the Lake of the Woods Control Board is saying that there’s twice as much water coming into Lake of the Woods than they can dump into the Winnipeg river system. The dam is wide open. So, it’s going to take some time for water levels to get back to where they would normally be at this time of the year.”
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