Ottawa River water levels to stay high, but second round of floods not expected

Ottawa River - Late April 2019
(Photo by Peter Kovessy)

Water levels are expected to peak by week's end in flood zones around the nation's capital, federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said Thursday as he toured neighbourhoods in east Ottawa, warning that patience will be needed once the new record-high markers are reached.

Goodale also told residents he doesn't expect a second wave of flooding like the one the area experienced in 2017. That is, of course, as long as the weather predictions hold.

"We should see the crest on one side of Ottawa and then the other side of Ottawa within the next day or two," Goodale told reporters as he stood in front of the swollen Ottawa River.

"It should not get any worse beyond that."

Environment Canada was calling for up to 15 mm of rain Friday but little precipitation beyond that until the middle of next week.

Unlike in New Brunswick, where floodwaters have begun to recede, Ottawa residents can expect to see the water remain at or near record levels for at least a week as snowmelt continues to pour in from the north, Goodale said.

Ottawa is among areas in Ontario, New Brunswick and Quebec that have seen record flooding this spring, but in 2017 it had two rounds of floods weeks apart. And it was in the second round that much of the flooding damage occurred.

As of late Thursday, the city said 155 households had "self-evacuated" their dwellings.

In Quebec, the official numbers provided by public security officials remained largely the same as Wednesday, with 7,229 homes reported flooded, 4,063 properties isolated, and some 10,895 people forced out due to flooding across the province.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault toured Sainte-Marthe-sur-le-Lac on Thursday, one of the harder-hit areas in the province.

After surveying flooded streets and the magnitude of the damage in the community just northwest of Montreal, he reiterated the government's support for the flood-hit municipality.

Legault said he wanted to meet the immediate needs of those hit by flooding in the community, adding many of those forced out last Saturday when a dike gave way would be able to return home in the next week.

In New Brunswick, Goodale said, the flooding situation is "under control and getting better."

"The water crest is moving toward Saint John but the situation is steadily improving, it's stable," he said.

Goodale commended volunteers and the military, who have protected many homes in flood zones with walls of sandbags, as well as the many Canadians far from the affected areas who have offered financial and other support.

"There's been a tremendous outpouring of very determined effort by Canadians to say they care and they want to be involved in the solutions."

At one point as he toured Ottawa's flooded eastern region, Goodale got aboard a boat to view an area, especially hard hit by this year's flooding, that is currently unreachable by land vehicles.

While he could not provide an accurate estimate, the minister said he did not expect the overall cost of the flooding in Eastern Canada to reach the record levels seen by Albertans in 2013 as a result of the High River flooding. That disaster is estimated to have caused $5 billion in property damages – the City of Calgary calculated the water did $409 million in damage to its municipal infrastructure alone.

But Goodale said much of the damage from this year's flooding in Eastern Canada can't be quantified in dollars. There will be much emotional damage, he said, particularly among those who lived through similar flooding in 2017 only to experience it at even higher levels this spring.

"Getting better will take a significant length of time," he said. "People are going to need the patience to get through that and the support systems to get through that."

Many of the homeowners affected by rising waters two years ago had just completed renovations and moved back in, only to see their homes damaged again.

Looking ahead, Goodale said the federal government will meet with provinces, municipalities, the Red Cross, private insurance companies and others to find better ways to prevent future flood damage.