Beach strip residents brace for more rain
Downpour expected to drench Hamilton area, Environment Canada says
Darlene Lorentz realized her basement crawl space was doomed when the water started attacking from above and below.
The beach strip newcomer moved into her modern two-storey home a year-and-a-half ago without knowing much about the sandbar community’s soggy history.
She learned the hard way when three pumps couldn’t keep a combination of relentless weekend rain and rising Lake Ontario water out of her home.
“It started coming up through cracks in the (basement) floor,” she said Tuesday, watching as pumps pushed the invading water out of her home via a series of hoses onto her lawn — and eventually into a growing pool at the end of Bayside Avenue.
“Our furnace and our water heater are sitting in three inches of water. The insurance company says it’s groundwater, so it’s not covered … I had no clue it could get so bad.”
Longtime residents say the flooding hasn’t been this bad on the strip in decades. Lake levels at a 20-year high and a relentless month of rain have combined to
leave several dozen beach strip homeowners battling basement water — so far.
Environment Canada is warning areas in southern Ontario, including Hamilton, could see another 50 millimetres or more of rain before the weekend. The lake has also risen almost 40 centimetres since early April and is expected to rise more in May. The city is preparing for a late-week deluge by clearing drains and creek outlets, sandbagging vulnerable areas that flooded during an April 20 storm and sucking up excess water that has pooled on streets in the waterlogged beach strip. The sandbar between the lake and the harbour has a long history of sporadic flooding, with at least a few complaints about burned-out sump pumps or street flooding filed with the ward councillor each spring.
But even longtime residents were caught off-guard by the extent of flooding this year. Margaret Elliott, 80, has lived on the strip for nearly six decades. She figures the water hasn’t poured into her Bayside Avenue basement this fast since the infamous 1970s storm that forced some families to flee flooded homes and spurred a short-lived property-buying spree by the conservation authority.
Farther west on Beach Boulevard, Gillian Booth was dealing with flooding for the first time in her 13 years living on the strip. “It’s
worth it,” said Booth, who spent the weekend wet-vacuuming several inches of water out of her unfinished basement on the lake side of the street. “We knew the history … but we absolutely love it here.”
Scott Howley, a member of the Hamilton Beach Community Council, noted it’s hard to compare historic flooding scenarios to today because the city built a $12million pumping station to give stormwater relief to 14 of the most vulnerable side streets in the neighbourhood several years ago.
But what sticks out for the lifelong resident is the number of makeshift pipes pumping water onto lawns and the street. “Just count them. There are whole streets doing it,” he said.
The city has special zoning rules for the beach strip that forbid new homes from being built with full basements. But Ward 5 Coun. Chad Collins said he has visited distraught newcomers to the beach neighbourhood who moved into older homes and spent thousands finishing — and then trying to protect — basements below the level of the lake. “The only advice you can give is to fill it in,” he said. “You can’t win an argument with Lake Ontario.”
A lot of the water being pumped out of basements is ending up pooling on the street atop overwhelmed sewer grates. That has forced the city to contract vacuum trucks to suck up the water, with some trucks out until midnight Monday and again on Tuesday.
Margaret Elliott stands on bottom step to her basement where water is bubbling up through cracks in the floor.
A sump pump hose runs onto the sidewalk from a home at 5 Woodland Ave. Neighbours say the hose has been running since March.