West Mon­trose res­i­dents un­happy with re­sponse to flood­ing that hit vil­lage last week

The Woolwich Observer - - FRONT PAGE - STEVE KANNON

TEM­PERS WERE RIS­ING AS fast as the Grand River, as West Mon­trose res­i­dents sought an­swers in the wake of last week’s flood­ing.

The vil­lage was the hard­est hit area in Wool­wich, where ris­ing rivers and creeks flooded parts of Elmira, St. Ja­cobs, Bres­lau, Con­estogo and Flo­radale. Sev­eral homes along the river suf­fered sig­nif­i­cant flood­ing. The camp­ground, not un­fa­mil­iar with the river spilling over its banks, saw wa­ter on a much larger scale than usual.

Res­i­dents had plenty of ques­tions for town­ship of­fi­cials and rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Grand River Con­ser­va­tion Author­ity on hand in Wool­wich coun­cil cham­bers Tues­day night.

The GRCA’s Dwight Boyd said the agency was caught off guard by the amount of rain that fell on the north­ern part of the wa­ter­shed early on the morn­ing of June 23. The fore­cast had called for five to 10 mil­lime­tres of rain. In­stead, more

than 100mm – in ex­cess of 130 in some spots – fell in the span of a few hours.

With its reser­voirs al­ready near­ing ca­pac­ity and no time to re­act, the GRCA found its hands were tied.

“This re­ally came out of the blue,” said Boyd. “This dis­charge was so large, we just didn’t have the ca­pac­ity to man­age it.

“It hap­pened so quickly. We just sim­ply didn’t have the lux­ury of time.”

With wa­ter pour­ing in from the north­ern part of the sys­tem, the GRCA had no op­tion but to re­lease wa­ter from the full reser­voirs at Bel­wood (Shand Dam) and Con­estogo lakes.

Chal­leng­ing the ra­tio­nale for leav­ing lit­tle ca­pac­ity be­hind the dams dur­ing an ex­ces­sively wet spring, West Mon­trose res­i­dent Tony Dowl­ing was es­pe­cially crit­i­cal of the lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion to res­i­dents, who re­ceived flood warn­ings too late to re­act by emp­ty­ing their base­ments or putting out sand­bags.

The GRCA is usu­ally ac­cu­rate with its flood fore­cast­ing, he said, “ex­cept this time. You got caught with your pants down.”

He ques­tioned the de­lay in let­ting res­i­dents know of the risks, even when of­fi­cials knew wa­ter flows in the sys­tem would lead to more than the mi­nor flood­ing in the orig­i­nal fore­cast.

“Was there neg­li­gence on the part of some party? Who’s re­spon­si­ble, and who’s go­ing to com­pen­sate me and other res­i­dents?” he asked in light of the flood dam­age.

Boyd said it wasn’t un­til early in the af­ter­noon that the agency be­came aware the prob­lem was grow­ing much larger than ex­pected. Rain gauge mea­sure­ments trig­gered the ini­tial warn­ings about 3:30 a.m., mus­ter­ing GRCA staff. But it was 1 p.m. be­fore ear­lier, more op­ti­mistic flood fore­casts be­gan to change.

Still, it was an­other cou­ple of hours be­fore res­i­dents were warned, by which time it was re­ally too late, said Dowl­ing, call­ing for bet­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tion pro­ce­dures.

“We have to find a bet­ter way to get fore­cast in­for­ma­tion out more quickly,” Boyd ac­knowl­edged.

West Mon­trose res­i­dent Hans Pot­tkam­per called for changes to the GRCA’s prac­tices, in­clud­ing much ear­lier warn­ings to res­i­dents. Other sug­ges­tions in­cluded hav­ing sand­bags and other mit­i­ga­tion sup­plies on hand, do­ing a bet­ter job of road clo­sures – there were more than a few spec­ta­tors on hand – and help­ing res­i­dents with com­pen­sa­tion for dam­age.

“Some of that dam­age was very avoid­able,” he said of the need for early warn­ing of flood risks.

On the com­pen­sa­tion front, town­ship chief ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fi­cer David Bren­ne­man said Wool­wich will be look­ing at op­tions for pro­vin­cial dis­as­ter re­lief funds both for its own costs re­lated to flood­ing and for res­i­dents who may not have been in­sured.

Shar­ing res­i­dents’ con­cerns, coun­cil­lors pushed for an ex­pla­na­tion for the events of last Fri­day.

“Was this just a one-shot deal where some­thing went wrong? Was it mis­man­age­ment?” asked Coun. Mur­ray Martin of the lack of stor­age ca­pac­ity in the reser­voirs.

Coun. Mark Bau­man noted the GRCA’s dams are de­signed to buy time for res­i­dents to pre­pare for flood­ing, ask­ing how it was the reser­voirs were left to get so full, es­pe­cially with the ground very sat­u­rated with wa­ter – there was no ca­pac­ity to ab­sorb more wa­ter.

“Sat­u­rated ground is like con­crete – it has nowhere to go but down­hill,” he said of the flood­ing that en­sued.

Re­spond­ing to a ques­tion from Coun. Pa­trick Mer­li­han, Boyd noted there has been no pro­vin­cial money for new flood-con­trol mea­sures since the mid-1990s. As well, new dams are un­likely to be pass a cost­ben­e­fit anal­y­sis, while fac­ing a slew of en­vi­ron­men­tal hur­dles.

By meet­ing’s end, res­i­dents ap­peared largely un­mol­li­fied by the ex­pla­na­tions, with of­fi­cials look­ing ahead to mea­sures to avoid a re­peat of last week’s chain of events. The town­ship is meet­ing with the GRCA and Water­loo Re­gional Po­lice to­day (Thurs­day) to dis­cuss what hap­pened and the next steps in deal­ing with the fall­out.

“It’s un­for­tu­nate the way ev­ery­thing came down. All we can do now is look at how we do bet­ter next time,” said Mayor Sandy Shantz.

Wool­wich has yet to tally the cost of deal­ing with the emer­gency sit­u­a­tion on June 23 or the re­sul­tant cleanup and re­pair is­sues.

[PERRY WE­BER]

An aerial view of the area around the West Mon­trose cov­ered bridge, where homes along the river ex­pe­ri­enced sig­nif­i­cant flood­ing on June 23. Res­i­dents want to know why it took so long to be warned of in­creased risks from ris­ing wa­ters.

More pho­tos/video:

ob­serverx­tra.com

[ALI WIL­SON / THE OB­SERVER]

Warned early on June 23 that they might have to move a cou­ple of trail­ers, the West Mon­trose Fam­ily Camp­ground saw much more flood­ing than the Grand River Con­ser­va­tion Author­ity had pre­dicted.

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