The city says staff are working around the clock in a $100,000-a-week effort to ensure the Toronto Islands can stay open as the lake continues to rise near record levels set two years ago.
“It’s our commitment to ensure the Island is open and safe,” Councillor Joe Cressy said at a news conference on Ward’s Island Wednesday afternoon. “We’re not going to let the Island residents, businesses and the city down.”
Lake Ontario is still expected to rise in the coming days, with the risk of flooding expected to increase with stormy or windy weather — as happened when high winds toppled sandbag walls on Ward’s Island last week, causing severe flooding. To cope with the water, 30 industrial pumps and 15,000 sandbags have been deployed so far with around 9,000 more to come, Cressy said.
So far, the city has spent around $100,000 per week on the flood-prevention efforts, waterfront district manager James Dann said.
City parks staff have also been working 24/7 to help mitigate flooding, he said, adding that even more staff will be working Thursday evening to prepare for windy weather on the Island, he said.
In the meantime, low-lying roads on the Islands are vulnerable as the shorelines degrade under the rising water, Dann said.
Cressy said the city needs to come up with a long-term plan for flooding and increasing water levels caused by climate change. A comprehensive report on this is expected by June 21 he said.
Through the spring, city staff and Islands residents have been filling sandbags in an effort to hold off the rising water.
A storm last Thursday caused sloshing water in the harbour to break a hole in a sandbag wall on the north shore of Ward’s Island, letting the lake pour in and flooding several homes.
Many on the Islands are concerned that this summer could see a repeat of 2017, when water levels on Lake Ontario reached record highs leaving vast sections of the Islands submerged for most of the summer.
“Two years ago we kinda thought well this will be a once every 20-year thing,” Genia Vanderkruk, the commodore of the Queen City Yacht Club on Algonquin Island, said over the weekend. “This year we have come to realize we don’t actually have a lot of time.”
“We used to have flooding every 25 years now it’s happening every two years,” longtime Island resident Peter Chisholm said after last week’s flood.
“It’s scary, to be honest. Look how vulnerable we are with all this water just in front of us,” he said.
Since 2017, the city has implemented a number of measures to mitigate flood damage on the Islands, including new drainage systems and about 20 industrial water pumps.
With files from Emily Mathieu and Gilbert Ngabo.
Emma Sandri is a breaking news reporter, working out of the Star’s radio room in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @emmarosesandri