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An update on spring flooding in Ontario cottage country

Traditionally, April showers bring May flowers, but they can also bring flooding. A spattering of rain combined with accelerated snowmelt caused by the recent spike in temperatures forced some Ontario conservation authorities to declare flood warnings in the first half of April. While most watersheds have returned to average levels, there are a few cottage communities still combatting swelling lakes and rivers.

Here’s a breakdown of what flood levels are looking like across Ontario’s cottage country.

Georgian Bay

After receiving 50 millimetres of rain, Grey Sauble Conservation Authority, which covers a large chunk of southwest Georgian Bay, declared a flood watch on April 5, meaning flooding was possible in specific waterways. The rain fell on frozen ground, causing it to pool in fields and low-lying areas. According to John Bittorf, Grey Sauble’s water resources coordinator, this kind of event can cause urban flooding, making water run into yards and basements. As a result, the conservation authority warned municipalities and landowners in the region to be prepared.

Grey Sauble’s western watersheds ended up peaking below normal spring runoff levels, while the eastern watersheds exceeded normal runoff levels, peaking at the 75th percentile. This means annual peak flows are below this level 75 per cent of the time and exceed this level 25 per cent of the time.

Grey Sauble has since called off the flood watch.

“Typically, all of our watersheds peak within two days of the events,” said Bittorf, in an email. “All systems are now normal for this time of year. Last week’s weather helped to dry out our watersheds.”

The conservation authority’s current concern is ice jams, specifically at Allenford on the Sauble River, Clarksburg on the Beaver River, and Meaford Inner Harbour on the Bighead River. As ice melts and splits, it can pile up in rivers causing jams that block water flow. The public can monitor the state of watersheds on this map.

The Kawarthas

On April 4, the Kawartha Conservation Authority, which includes municipalities such as Lindsay and Fenelon Falls, declared a flood watch in response to a forecasted storm that was expected to bring 30 millimetres of rain and warmer temperatures to the region. The conservation authority warned that low-lying areas, structures next to streams and rivers, and road ditches could experience flooding.

However, the flood watch has since been called off. “We did not receive the rainfall that was forecasted, and the snowmelt was spread out enough that local watersheds were able to receive the runoff without any flooding,” said Rob Stavinga, Kawartha Conservation’s watershed resources technician, in an email.

He added, “The area’s watersheds are in good shape. The water levels have receded to well below bank-full with the sunny, dry weather that we had last week. There is no remaining snow and the ground is no longer saturated with water.”

Despite the return to average levels, the conservation authority still advises residents to be careful around waterways, such as rivers, which can be swollen and fast-moving at this time of year. This includes being cautious around water structures, such as bridges, culverts, and dams.

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Hastings County

Rain and snowmelt caused the Quinte Conservation Authority, which includes Belleville and Prince Edward County, to declare a flood warning on April 8. This meant flooding was imminent or already occurring in certain waterways and landowners needed to take action to deal with flood conditions.

The upper Moira, Black, Skootamatta, Salmon, and Napanee Rivers all peaked at bank levels between April 6 and April 11. Stoco Lake came close to one in 10-year flood levels, while the Moira River in Tweed reached one in 10-year flood levels.

Since April 11, water levels in the region have been steadily declining. “There are no longer any flooding concerns,” said Christine Phillibert, Quinte Conservation’s water resources manager, in an email. “The Moira and Napanee watersheds are slightly higher than average for this time of year. Prince Edward County watersheds are significantly lower than average for this time of year due to an earlier snowmelt and limited rainfall.”

The conservation authority has downgraded its flood warning to a water safety statement, meaning high flows, unsafe banks, melting ice, and other factors could cause waterways to remain dangerous.

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The Ottawa Valley

Based on forecasted higher temperatures and anticipated snowmelt, the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority, which encompasses Ottawa and the Rideau Lakes, issued a flood outlook on April 6, giving residents early notice of potential flooding. That status was upgraded to a flood warning for both the Ottawa and Rideau Rivers after 40 to 70 millimetres of rain fell across the region in early April.

The flood warning remains in effect for both areas. “Water levels are expected to continue rising within the Ottawa River basin due to increased snowmelt associated with above normal snowpack and high temperatures over the weekend,” the conservation authority wrote in a statement.

Flood levels are expected to stay below historic highs, but could still impact streets, lawns, and houses in low-lying areas. Chats Lake, the Constance Bay area, Britannia/Lac Deschênes, Cumberland, the City of Clarence-Rockland, and the Township of Alfred Plantagenet are all vulnerable along the Ottawa River. While properties on Bob’s Lake, Christie Lake, and Big Rideau Lake are still at risk of flooding along the Rideau River system, said Brian Stratton, Rideau Valley’s Manager of engineering services, in an email.

For residents at risk of flooding, the conservation authority recommends making sure their sump pump is clear and working, they have access to a backup generator, items that might float away are secured, valuables are removed from basements, and emergency phone numbers are readily accessible.

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Bracebridge flood update

On April 14, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) declared a flood warning and flood outlook for the municipalities of Bracebridge, Minden, and Parry Sound. The warning and outlook are in effect until April 21 as the river flows rise to dangerous levels and runoff to lakes and rivers increases significantly.

The flood warning encompasses the north branch of the Muskoka River between Huntsville and Bracebridge as well as the south branch of the Muskoka River between Baysville and Bracebridge. The flood outlook indicates an increase in flood potential along the Black River in Vankoughnet, just east of Bracebridge.

With further melting snow and ice, the potential to reach flood thresholds is high in these regions, with some areas of Bracebridge already experiencing localized flooding. Residents are advised to prepare for flooding by securing vehicles and outdoor belongings and ensuring sump pumps and drains are functioning properly. Road closures and delays are possible.

The town of Bracebridge has made sand and sandbags available for free at the municipal offices located at 1000 Taylor Court. For more information and updates, you can visit the Ontario flood map.

With files from Leyland Rochester. 

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