Dock Area residents have been warned to expect higher water levels than they experienced in 2017, and the Town is making plans to prepare for the impact.
Ron Simkus, a River Beach Drive resident and retired engineer, has been keeping his neighbours, Town staff and council abreast on water conditions throughout the spring.
He sent an email message to about 100 people Friday warning the water level, now about where it was at its highest point in 2017, is expected to rise another 16 inches by the end of June.
That gives waterfront residents and Town staff time to prepare, he said, but they need to start on an action plan now.
At a council meeting held Saturday morning, Brett Ruck, Niagara-on-the-Lake’s environmental supervisor, delivered pretty much the same message to council Saturday morning, based on data from Environment Canada. He said he has been told to expect a 10-inch water level rise. He didn’t expect to see 2017 water levels again, but has come to realize, with climate change, this might become a recurring issue, and NOTL has to find a permanent solution. “This could be the new norm for us to deal with,” he said.
Ruck mapped out a plan for council to prepare for the rising lake level, making it clear to councillors there are two separate Dock Area issues — flood management, which is immediate, and shoreline erosion prevention, which has been ongoing and will continue over a number of years.
Yet high lake levels make the shoreline protection even more important, he indicated. He spoke of the large white metre bags, which hold a tonne of rocks, and are being used to plug holes and stop soil erosion as part of the shoreline protection program. In 2017, the waves came crashing over the rocks, he said. Shoreline protection breaks the wave action, and although he’d like to get the project finished, “it’s about the funding, and any grant opportunities we can find.”
There are smaller sand bags available for use by residents for flood protection, and the Town has more efficient pumps to combat water rising through storm drains, he said. There are also plans to look at other options for the future, he went on to say.
“And you’ll be ready?” asked Lord Mayor Betty Disero, concerned about whether everything necessary to combat rising water levels would be in place in time. Ruck assured her it would be.
Councillors were also informed about an issue which surfaced last week, when some of the waterfront residents became irate about what seemed like unexpected path-widening involving heavy equipment. They were later assured by the Town it was necessary, but temporary. The work was part of the shoreline protection project started last year, and is expected to be phased in over a period of years.
In a public notice issued after residents called and emailed their concerns, operations manager Sheldon Randall explained the Town was moving large rocks to the shoreline using the path in Ball’s Beach Park, which is the safest access point. “The path became unstable and equipment began to sink. Excavation is taking place to create a stable base for the path. The path will be restored to its original width, with top soil and grass, when the land dries out and weather permits. An update on restoration efforts will be provided to council at the end of June.”
That and flood management have become a priority since the flooding of 2017, said Randall, but completion of the shoreline erosion project will require about $165,000, money that is not in this year’s budget because the work is expected to be done in stages. Any change to that plan, financing it through debentures or grants, would have to be a decision of council, he explained.
Until further notice, the park remains closed for the safety of pedestrians, Randall said.
Simkus says the work of placing rocks along the waterfront should be completed as soon as possible in preparation for the rising water level. Although flooding is a separate concern from shoreline protection, he explained, “the two issues abut each other.”
Indirectly, the rocks used to prevent soil erosion are also helpful in flood protection — by breaking up the waves, they lessen to some extent how much water washes up on land.
“The lake is heading for record levels,” said Simkus. “Everyone expected a repeat of what happened two years ago. No one expected it to be significantly worse.”
In 2017 the water reached its highest point on May 24, but this year is expected to continue to rise until mid-June, and potentially to July 1, with high levels remaining until November.
“We’re kind of going into unknown territory here. But at least this gives us time to think about it and plan for it,” said Simkus.
He referred to a mapping program the Town is using that can predict what various water levels will look like on the NOTL waterfront, and help to determine the impact on the shoreline and the neighbouring community. With an additional lake rise of 16 inches, he said, there could be flooding all the way up to Navy Hall.
Although once he learned the reason for the temporary road-widening witnessed by residents last week, and agreed it was necessary, he felt the Town could have warned residents ahead of time to avoid “some of the “kerfuffel” that resulted from a lack of communication. The notice came after residents had seen the heavy equipment and reacted, reaching out to the Town out of concern the path was being permanently widened without them receiving any advance warning. They have made it clear during several Dock Area studies they want the path left as is.
Randall explained to councillors Saturday his first priority was to get the work done, and there was no time to deal with communications beforehand.
But several councillors made the point that communications could be improved.
Coun. Gary Burroughs compared the situation to the recent revelation that E. coli has been getting into the water at the bottom of King Street in recent years due to aging infrastructure. The message of the “great work” by staff and ongoing remediation of the sewer system was lost to the public, he said, because of the lack of communication.