While district municipalities got a brief respite from the rain these past couple of days, they remain on “high alert” as they await the full effect of the weekend’s rainfall to be felt.
And brace for more rain starting tomorrow.
“I would say we’re in a holding pattern right now,” Fort Frances Mayor Roy Avis said yesterday.
“There is expectations that the lake is going to rise substantially in the next few days and stay that way for possibly a week,” he warned.
“We want to make sure we don’t end our [state of] emergency too soon,” Mayor Avis added, noting the town also is wary of what damage will be done once the high water recedes.
Mayor Avis made no bones that, going forward, “there is a level of concern.”
“I would not say that anybody has to be really worried about a total flood,” he remarked. “But there is concerns in certain areas of the community, be it on Idylwild [Drive] or be it in the sewer system throughout the town.”
The mayor commended the actions taken by the local Emergency Management Group, which includes representatives from the town, Couchiching FN, and various local agencies.
“They’ve done a tremendous job,” he lauded, noting Fort Frances CAO Mark McCaig and Fire Chief Frank Sheppard have given the high water situation their “utmost attention.”
Mayor Avis also credited Operations and Facilities manager Doug Brown for so efficiently managing the town’s sewer system.
“He’s spent a lot of time, knowing our system and the amount of money that we’ve spent, trying to model our system over the last few years and it’s really paid off,” he said.
“He’s done a tremendous job in making sure that we knew exactly what to do when we got water flows like this,” added Mayor Avis.
“He’s saved many, many basements in this community.”
Mayor Avis also thanked residents of Fort Frances and Couchiching for making sure their sump pumps for their weeping tile systems were disconnected from the sanitary sewer system, and also that they have managed their water consumption.
He said this has “relieved a lot of pressure” on the sewer system.
“I know we ran [two] bypasses at the [sewage treatment] plant because it was beyond capacity,” Mayor Avis said.
“But with the help of everything that’s gone into place, it’s really, really saved a lot of the infrastructure—people’s homes and the overall infrastructure of the community,” he stressed.
Because of the extreme rainfall events, and the fact the ground is so saturated, the town’s sewage treatment plant has had to go into bypass mode twice last week—meaning it’s had to discharge chlorinated waste water into the Rainy River to relieve stress on the system.
The first time was last Thursday through Friday while the second was late Saturday night (which remained in effect as of yesterday afternoon).
Brown said most residents have been abiding by the town’s request that they disconnect their sump pumps from the sanitary sewer system, and the town is going after those who don’t.
He also noted that while he’s getting a lot of complaints about groundwater leaking into basements, he is not getting many reports of backed up sewers—and that’s a very good thing.
In response to questions from the public, Brown clarified the town’s water treatment plant has not been adversely affected by the flooding.
“Nothing has influenced the water system,” he stressed. “Our intake for our water treatment plant is in the upper river.
“It’s probably rose three feet over the last week so there’s just more water.
“Our intake is 26 feet below the surface at normal water elevation, so we’re further down,” Brown added.
“We’ve got a conventional plant that treats high loading,” he explained. “In the summertime, when you get lots of microorganisms in the water, we still are able to treat all of that.
“Nothing’s impacted the drinking water,” he reiterated.
Meanwhile, “nervousness” is the word Couchiching Coun. Christine Jourdain used to describe the feeling in here community right now as the level of Rainy Lake continues to rise—covering half of the Five-Mile Dock in water as of yesterday.
“We’ve never seen it this high before. Even in 2002 it wasn’t this high,” said Coun. Jourdain, who also is deputy chief of the Couchiching Fire Department and emergency resources co-ordinator for the community.
“I’ve never seen it go up and over the Five-Mile Dock,” she added. “I’ve seen where it was level with it, but this is first time I think I’ve seen it be over the Five-Mile Dock itself.”
With the lake level rising continuously, Couchiching also remains in a state of emergency and is closely monitoring the body of water—knowing it possibly could go up another 10 inches.
“So we are concerned with regards to that, and possibly some of the roads, the main one being Gabe’s Road that has flooded a couple of times and we’ve been continuously pumping,” said Coun. Jourdain, clarifying the flooding of that road hasn’t come directly from the recent rainfall but from the ever-rising lake level.
As such, keeping Gabe’s Road clear may be “fighting a losing battle,” she conceded.
There also is concern water will reach as far as Highway 11.
Coun. Jourdain said there are a couple spots where the water is close to the highway.
They’re holding steady for now, “but we are continuously watching the highway to ensure there’s no flooding of the highway where our residents might be cut off from the main community,” she remarked.
Coun. Jourdain noted three homes close to the lake have been sandbagged, as well as two more residences at the Five-Mile Dock Road that were “sort of flooded out.”
“We do have a lot of crawl spaces that are flooded due to the water level on the lake, so there’s no point in pumping out their crawl spaces because the water’s just going to come back in,” she reasoned, adding at least 15-20 crawl spaces are affected in this way.
Coun. Jourdain said the emergency resources team is going door-to-door to check crawl spaces for flooding, adding they also are concerned about the potential for mould once the lake levels subside.
It will check back in a few months’ time where crawl spaces were filled with water.
Coun. Jourdain said Couchiching’s emergency resources group has been meeting every day since Thursday, and also has been meeting with Fort Frances’ Emergency Management Group to exchange information.
She noted that not only has Couchiching been working proactively with the Town of Fort Frances, but community members have been getting help sandbagging from the Ministry of Natural Resources and a Christian group from Stratton.
Coun. Jourdain also said Couchiching’s Operations and Maintenance staff has been working 24 hours a day to maintain the lift stations and making sure they’re not flooding, as well as taking photos of flooding to send to the federal government to see if it can provide emergency funding.
Looking ahead, Coun. Jourdain said she has concerns that such high lake levels might become more frequent in the future—coming along every 10 years as opposed to every 50 years.
“Let’s just hope in another 10-12 years we don’t have another issue like this,” she remarked.
In the west end of the district, meanwhile, the Town of Rainy River has been a beehive of activity, including plenty of sandbagging.
“Since Friday, when we declared a state of emergency, it has been very busy and stressful for a lot of people,” said Rainy River Mayor Deb Ewald.
“We are just praying that we don’t get anymore rain.”
Mayor Ewald said local residences and the water treatment plant situated across from the river are among the town’s top priorities.
“There are several homes in the community that have had to be sandbagged and those sandbags have had to be raised because the water levels have risen,” she noted.
“Right now we are finishing up the berm along River Avenue to protect our water treatment plant, which is an area of real concern.
“We have our fire department and our town crews keeping the pumps going around the clock to keep the water away if it does get across the road from where the river is,” Mayor Ewald said.
Although she admits certain parts of town have been “devastated” by flooding, Mayor Ewald feels encouraged by all of the community members banding together to help.
“It’s only things and so far nobody has been hurt or anything, so we’ve been very fortunate,” she reasoned.
“There has been a lot of people and a lot of support from around the area,” added Mayor Ewald.
“I am really proud and pleased with the way things are going.”