DURHAM — Lakefront neighbourhoods that are prone to spring flooding are struggling to prepare in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that keeps them physically distant from their neighbours.
“It has been impossible to get people out filling sandbags. They are terrified,” Sarah Delicate, of the United Shorelines Ontario, said via email.
Waterfront areas in Durham have experienced Lake Ontario’s high-water levels, significant flooding and erosion in 2017 and 2019. Clarington’s Port Darlington neighbourhood and Ajax’s Paradise Park were especially hard-hit.
This January, the water level of Lake Ontario was 40 centimetres above average, Perry Sisson, Central Lake Ontario Conservation Authority director of engineering and field operations told Durham council. The risk of lakefront flooding this spring will depend on how much rain falls on the region. At press time, the Lake Ontario Shoreline Flood Status was normal.
“Usually flooding begins late in April, but spring is earlier this year,” said Clarington fire Chief Gord Weir.
After Clarington’s lakefront neighbourhoods were hit hard with flooding in 2017, the municipality established a full-flood response plan added to the municipal emergency plan. The plan relies heavily on residents, firefighters and operations staff meeting to prepare and build sandbags before the waterfront turns wavy.
“There is some concerns about if we should be bringing people together to deal with that,” said Weir. “We might have to change how we do things. Maybe having people build sandbags alone.”
Delicate said she is worried about the number of her Port Darlington neighbours who are seniors and others who may have pre-existing illness. There have been no door-to-door assessments, no landscape plan for mitigation in 2020, she added.
Ajax operations staff continually monitor water levels at areas known for flooding and the engineering staff review lake levels and provide water level projections to assist.
If the spring flooding does come, the Town of Ajax has prepared with a large industrial pump, signs and safety barriers for road closures, sand bags and a stockpile of sand.
Emergency and Fire Services staff in Clarington are monitoring the lake levels and planning a course of action, explained Chief Weir. The Clarington Fire Department has messaged lakefront residents asking them to prepare for flooding early and sent bags and sand to help them begin.
“Try to arrange things now. Don’t wait for the storm. Get ahead of it,” said Weir. “We might be faced with more than one emergency, not just the pandemic but flooding.”
HERE’S A CHECKLIST TO HELP RESIDENTS IN FLOOD-PRONE AREAS PREPARE EARLY:
• Inspect the property around your home to make sure water flows away from the foundation. Build up low lying areas where water might get inside. Keep culverts and catch basins clear.
• Have a septic pump and ensure it’s working.
• Check portable pumps and generators making sure they are working.
• Prepare for 72 hours sheltering in place — food, water and medicine.
• Move furniture, clothing and valuables to highest place possible.
• Keep your vehicles with a full tank of fuel.
• Get sand and sandbags in advance of the flood.
“If houses do get flooded and we need to evacuate, do you know what things you need to take? Do you know where you’d go? You should be considering that now, so you don’t have to decide in the moment,” said Chief Weir.