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Water levels threatening parts of the region

Shoreline properties along Lake Ontario dealing with flooding and erosion as rainfall pummels Durham and surrounding area

Bowmanville residents fill sandbags in an attempt to protect their homes from flooding along the shoreline as Lake Ontario water levels continue to rise.

By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express

A very wet start to spring has led to higher than normal water levels on Lake Ontario.

According to a news release from the Central Lake Ontario Conservation Authority (CLOCA), the waters of Lake Ontario went up 39 cm in April, leading to problems for those living on the shoreline.

Things can, and have, been made worse by recent storms, which lead to increased flood risks, more waves and erosion.

“We received, coming into (Monday) morning, about 20 millimetres give or take a few based on Sunday evening and Monday morning. And it’s been raining steady since this morning,” says Neil MacFarlane, an environmental engineering analyst with CLOCA.

“We’re up to, now…or about matching our high notice of 25 to 40 (millimetres). I’ve got one site that’s at 47, the others are in the high 30s, and they’re still calling for more rain and potential thunderstorms. The water levels at all of our creeks are continuously rising.”

Those high water levels proved to be a problem for some lakefront residents in Clarington. According to a news release from the town, up to 10 properties experienced some level of flooding on Sunday.

“A combination of high lake levels and strong winds caused a surge to break over the embankment and flood properties. Some homes had minor flooding inside their crawl spaces,” states Gord Weir, Clarington’s fire chief, in that release.

MacFarlane says that while that problem may not be one of concern for Oshawa’s lakefront residents, there is another potential problem – erosion.

“A lot of the Oshawa (waterfront) is bluff, meaning 30 or 40 feet high vertical bluffs. Now the lake level is high, the waves are banging at the toe of that slope, whereas last year and the past few years, there’s been beach down there,” he says.

“So now the wave action is pounding the toe of the slope, so there’s a potential for increased erosion on that slope, so it would start to fail. There’s a recession rate that we normally monitor on sections of the shoreline – now the lake levels are higher, that may pick up again or increase and nobody can predict how much.”

MacFarlane adds that while nobody can predict water levels long-term, forecasts show that a rise is likely.

As for what residents can do, MacFarlane says the best thing is to keep an eye on weather forecasts when bad weather picks up.

“Whether they have an alerting system or they watch Environment Canada forecasting, and they’re watching for high wind warnings or a potential surge, that southeast wind or south wind pushing the waters to this end of the lake,” he says.

“The water levels are already high, so that’ll drive it higher and the waves are just crashing over erosion walls.”