By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
Lake Ontario has officially reached unchartered territory.
Following a severe rainstorm earlier this month, creeks and rivers were bloating their banks, causing flooding in areas of Durham Region. Along Lake Ontario, Oshawa was spared the worst of Mother Nature’s wrath as high water levels only forced the closure of the end of Simcoe Street South into Lakeview Park as the beach threatened to be overtaken. Meanwhile in Bowmanville, people were being evacuated as their basements filled with water.
According to the Central Lake Ontario Conservation Authority (CLOCA), the levels in Lake Ontario are the highest in recorded history, and they’re still rising.
“Those levels are still climbing,” says Perry Sisson, the director of engineering and field operations for CLOCA. “Every day we get a little update on the lake level, it’s still rising, but I think we’re nearing the crest.”
Heavy rains across the province have pushed the level to 75 cm above normal, and the issue is exacerbated by the fact that high levels in the Ottawa River and St. Lawrence River have prevented any release from Lake Ontario. However, Sisson says that’s slowly starting to change as conditions have improved further east and systems are opening up to allow excess water to flow from the lake.
“That’s slowing down the rate at which the lake is increasing,” he says. “So we’re optimistic that we may be getting near the high end.”
Since the regulation of Lake Ontario water levels began in the late 1950s, the lake has never been at this height.
Property damage, like that seen east in Bowmanville, is only one negative impact of the high water. The natural environment itself is also not spared as the high water packs a stronger punch, further eating away at Lake Ontario’s shoreline.
“You’ll also see, as time goes on this year, every time we have an event where the waves are pounding up there’s going to be pressure on the bluffs and the shorelines, so we’re going to see a lot more erosion on the Lake Ontario shoreline this year,” Sisson says.
“The lake is always eroding on the edges and it’s slowly marching its way landward, but it’s likely to move a lot faster this year.”
Some of the damage may not even be seen until the levels begin to return to normal, Sisson adds. As people return to the beaches, they may notice that a large chunk of the bluff has disappeared.
As for the watershed itself, Sisson says levels have mostly returned to normal within the region’s creeks and the flooding threat has passed for those areas. That has allowed the city to reopen trails, but the pier at Lakeview Park remains closed due to safety reasons.
According to Ron Diskey, the city’s commissioner of community services, city staff are currently working on accumulating a list of costs from work and damage as a result of the flooding.