Advisor: No human error in spring flood

WEST CARLETON – Provincial special advisor on flooding, Doug McNeil, says there was no human error involved in last spring’s extreme flooding in his report published by the Ontario government today (Nov. 28).

McNeil said the record-smashing flood experience in West Carleton was due to “heavy rains paired with melting snow and a sudden temperature increase (leading) to devastating flooding across many areas throughout northern and southern Ontario.”

Provincial special advisor on spring flooding Doug McNeil. File photo
Provincial special advisor on spring flooding Doug McNeil. File photo

McNeil was hired by the Ontario government to take a deep dive in to last spring’s extreme flooding. McNeil has 36 years’ experience in public service and water resource planning. He played key roles in the 1997 “Flood of the Century” on the Red River in Manitoba and led the Floodway Expansion project which included a provincial review of floodway operating rules and flood protection studies of mitigation measures for Winnipeg.

“As Special Advisor on Flooding, I was appointed by the government to provide expert advice to Minister (John Yakabuski), and to make recommendations to the government on opportunities to improve the existing flood policy framework,” McNeil wrote in his executive summary.

Part of McNeil’s work involved a nine-day community tour over two weeks in early September.

Tour stops included a mix of provincial department meetings; agency meetings; municipal and conservation authority roundtables; and guided tours of locally impacted areas. The first set of community tours took place in the Ottawa, Pembroke and North Bay areas. The second week of my community tours included Toronto, Muskoka, Cambridge and London.

“Based on an analysis of the information available for all of the systems that experienced flooding in 2019, nothing points to human error or the negligent operation of water control structures as the cause of the flooding,” McNeil said. “The sheer amount of water, snow and rainfall, on the landscape directly contributed to the flooding. Measures taken by water managers everywhere were effective in reducing the magnitude of flooding and associated damages throughout the drainage basins.”

“No negligence was the cause of the flooding,” said Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry John Yakabuski. “In fact, there were steps taken that mitigated the effect of the flooding. It would have been worse, otherwise.”

Yakabuski added, the province must do what it can to prevent flooding because it can’t be stopped, it can only be managed. However, he won’t commit to more funding right now.

McNeil published 66 recommendations to improve the province’s resiliency to floods, but the government isn’t saying if it will commit more funding to implement them.

His recommendations to mitigate damage include changes to floodplain mapping and helping municipalities to ensure the conservation and restoration of natural green infrastructure such as wetlands.

Yakabuski said he believes the province will be asking the federal government to contribute financially.

Kanata-Carleton MPP Dr. Merrilee Fullerton says in the coming weeks she will review the report with constituents and government officials from all levels.

“I will discuss the critical issues and assess how we can reduce and mitigate the flood risks in our community,” she said.

Earlier this year, the Progressive Conservative government cut conservation authorities’ funding for flood management in half.

Coun. Eli El-Chantiry finds it ironic the provincial government feels climate change is the cause of spring flooding in this report while at the same time is taking the federal government to court over the Liberals’ climate change plan. He was disappointed the provincial government did not give the City of Ottawa advance notice the report was coming or personally send a copy calling the move disrespectful.

To see the entire report, click here.