MAY STARTS WITH A SPLASH
Heavy downpours creating trouble for residents along Hamilton Beach Strip
Heavy rains left several basements flooded, and partly submerged the Waterfront Trail
Rising lake levels and strong winds are making a soupy, dangerous mess of Hamilton’s waterfront — and a growing number of flooded basements on the Beach Strip.
The Hamilton Conservation Authority issued a safety reminder about flooding Monday and the city closed large swaths of a flooded Waterfront Trail — although that didn’t stop residents from snapping photos of drowned benches, light standards and accumulated debris. The surging lake also poses a threat to the low-lying Beach Strip, where about a dozen homeowners have reported flooding to Ward 5 Coun. Chad Collins.
“The last time it was this bad for us was in the ’70s. We’ve been pumping water out and out non-stop for a week,” said Margaret Elliott, 80, who has lived in her Bayside Avenue home on the strip since 1966.
Elliott said her basement flooded after her sump pump burned out. Her son came over in time with a replacement to save the furnace, but not the hot water heater. “It’s quite a mess. Half the street is underwater … hoses running every which way with people trying to get rid of the water.”
Water levels in Lake Ontario have risen by about 40 centimetres since the beginning of April and are among the highest recorded at this time since the early 1990s, according to the International Joint Commission.
Compounding matters were strong winds that pushed wave “surges” onto the shoreline, contributing to erosion and depositing “extraordinary” amounts of debris that city workers were still cleaning up Monday, said public works head Dan McKinnon.
That includes another flood of flushed health products — including used tampons and even some needles — that tend to build up in the harbour as a result of sewage plant and storm sewer overflows.
For example, the maxed out plant was forced to allow untreated or partially treated sewage flow into Red Hill Creek — and ultimately the harbour — for several hours April 19 when parts of the city were hit with the equivalent of a month of rain. (The city has labelled that storm a “disaster” to allow residents to apply for compassionate grants.)
The city is cleaning up, but stormsurge erosion could delay reopening of parts of the Waterfront Trail even after the mess is gone. City staff has also been responding to flooding complaints along the beach strip — but there’s not much they can offer, other than “education” about the strip’s history of flooding, said Collins.
“People who have lived their lives here know what can happen but if you just moved in, it’s probably a bit of a shock,” said Collins, noting historical flooding in the 1970s spurred infrastructure and regulatory changes along the Beach Boulevard community. Although the city has installed new pumping stations and changed building rules to ban full basements in new beach strip housing, Collins said even in a “normal” year he still receives regular calls about spring flooding.
“It (the flooding) is not unexpected, but this year is unusual because of the high levels. The numbers could get worse if the water levels keep rising,” he said.
Under a new water management plan, the binational board of control that oversees the Great Lakes recently cut flows out of Lake Ontario to prevent potentially “extensive” flood damage downstream in the St. Lawrence.
But a post on the International Joint Commission website says the high water levels in the lakes are a “direct result” of high rain amounts in April in the Great Lakes basin, not the new plan. It says even under the old management plan, lake levels would have been similarly high this spring.
A woman shielded by an umbrella makes her way through the rain and fog along the Mountain brow behind Juravinski Hospital on Monday, as our soggy April continues into May.
Above: Trash along the Waterfront Trail, photographed Sunday night. Right: A pickup truck splashes its way through a large puddle in the southbound lanes of Eastport Drive on Monday.