Staff with the City of Ottawa have spent the last several weeks planning for post-flooding recovery work in several communities bordering the Ottawa River, but they say the water levels still haven’t receded enough for the city to launch that effort.
The city’s state of emergency — declared on April 25 — remains in effect, as does an evacuation zone in Constance Bay, one of the three communities hardest hit by the record-breaking floods this spring, senior city staff said on Wednesday.
“A lot of the homes are still in a position where we tell people: ‘Don’t remove any of your sandbags, don’t stop pumping, it’s not time,'” Anthony Di Monte, general manager of emergency and protective services, told reporters at city hall. “We’ll see sometime next week where we’re at and then we’ll have a better idea.”
For when that time comes, the city has convened four different task forces to manage volunteers, debris, infrastructure and human needs, Di Monte told city council during a presentation on the municipality’s flood response.
Top of mind for the city moving forward is getting a large number of volunteers back to the affected communities to help remove sandbags and flood-related debris. According to the municipality, nearly 15,000 residents helped with flood relief efforts across the city between mid-April and early May.
“The volunteer requirements during the recovery phase will need to be just as robust,” Di Monte told councillors.
“More than ever, if you’re a qualified volunteer, your help is needed.”
The debris management task force, meanwhile, will handle the “most immediate concerns in flood-affected areas,” including what to do with damaged materials and household items, according to Di Monte. He said the city has prepared a “detailed” debris management plan.
The infrastructure management task force will take care of assessing and inspecting roads, facilities, storm and sewer pipes, parks, pathways, bridges and trees in the flood zones.
Finally, the human needs task force will be a point of contact for residents who require assistance with basic needs — like accommodation — and need information on how to restore their utilities, meet with a building inspector, book an appointment for a property assessment, access insurance and apply for support through the province’s disaster recovery program.
Members of that task force will also continue to conduct wellness checks on affected residents in Constance Bay, Britannia and Cumberland, Di Monte said.
The senior manager said many affected residences remain without electricity and the 155 households that self-evacuated as water levels reached dangerously high levels earlier this month still haven’t returned home. Those residents will be notified when it’s safe to do so, Di Monte said.
“For many, the hardest part is yet to come,” he told councillors. “I want residents to know that as we move into recovery, we are dedicating all the necessary resources and our efforts to ensure you are supported in the many tasks that lay ahead.”
On Wednesday, council also carried a motion moved by West Carleton-March Coun. Eli El-Chantiry directing Mayor Jim Watson to request a formal investigation or inquiry by the provincial and federal governments into the cause of the 2017 and 2019 floods that affected communities along the Ottawa River.
In past weeks, a number of residents have been questioning whether extreme weather or dam mismanagement is to blame, pointing to what appeared to be low water levels in areas further upstream recently when communities downstream were surrounded by water.
A Facebook group with more than 6,200 members is suggesting “possible mismanagement of the hydroelectric dams that control the water levels along the Ottawa River” and is calling for an “independent public inquiry” into the cause of this year’s flooding.
A task force on improving the province’s resilience to flooding recently created by the Ontario government is expected to meet in Ottawa this Friday. Watson said he was invited to the meeting late last week. The province on Wednesday accepted a request from Watson that El-Chantiry attend as well, the mayor told council.
Watson told reporters the task force hasn’t provided him with an agenda for Friday’s meeting.
The latest Ottawa River forecasts indicate water levels around the national capital will remain high and drop “slowly” over the coming days and weeks.
“All flood-prone areas along the Ottawa River from Lac Coulonge down to the Montreal archipelago are at risk as spring runoff continues along the upper Ottawa River,” according to Wednesday’s flood update from the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority. “Risk is highly dependent on the amount of precipitation that is received. Residents are strongly urged to keep sandbags in place for now.”
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