Flood: Homeowners on high alert

WILLOLA BEACH – When residents hope this year’s flood is no worse than 2017 levels, some of the worst flooding in West Carleton’s history, times are desperate.

Yet that was the conversation residents of Willola Beach, a small community of homes on the Ottawa River devastated by the 2017 flood, were having today (April 21) as they filled sandbags and prepared their homes for the expected 2019 flood.

“In 2017 it was my wife’s (Phaedra) birthday on April 16,” Moorhead Drive resident Dave McKay told West Carleton Online of the last flood as his team placed sandbags around the home. “On April 17 we became alarmed and we started to bag then. I think the water is a little higher now than it was in 2017. They’re not expecting the same elevation, but they are expecting something within 25 to 35 centimetres of that.”

McKay and his wife purchased their place in 2003.

About 25 volunteers and Willola Beach homeowners were spending their Easter Sunday, shoveling sand, filling sandbags and preparing for the worst. Despite that, the mood was light. Neighbours talked about their kids and their dogs, made light conversation and worked hard against an immoveable deadline that hasn’t quite made itself clear yet.

That scene was being played out in several communities in West Carleton situated along the Ottawa River today. Volunteers and homeowners in Constance Bay, West Armitage, MacLaren’s Landing, Buckham’s Bay and others were furiously filling, and laying, sandbags in hopes of protecting their homes and their property from the coming flood.

While 2017 was a disaster, McKay is hopeful this year will be different. If the levels are the same as the historic 2017 flood, many feel, they’ll be okay.

Homeowner Dave McKay, atop his wall of sandbags, hopes this year's levels of the Ottawa River during the spring freshet don't exceed 2017's levels. Photo by Jake Davies
Homeowner Dave McKay, atop his wall of sandbags, hopes this year’s levels of the Ottawa River during the spring freshet don’t exceed 2017’s levels. Photo by Jake Davies

“They just got completely caught,” McKay says of 2017. “I have to say, thank you Eli (Coun. El-Chantiry). He was on top of things. He wasn’t sure if there would be a flood this year or what, but he had the sandbagging station all set up. It’s not just a bunch of sand and bags, but he had a contraption for filling bags using a bunch of cones so it makes it much easier.”

At the sandbagging station just a 100 metres from McKay’s home, sandbags are being filled using the aforementioned contraption – a wood frame propped up on some sawhorses that can hold six or seven traffic cones. The cones are placed upside down in the frame with the bottom cut off, working as a funnel for the sand.

Coun. El-Chantiry, who is one of those 25 volunteers filling sandbags, says they learned about the sand-bagging filling tool from “the Germans.”

“No, seriously,” El-Chantiry said.

There is some good news though, as very little rain actually fell in West Carleton today despite predictions of 20 to 40 millimetres.

“That’s a blessing,” McKay said. “The less rain that you get and the more of the snow that melts due to evaporation and warm weather the better it is. When it melts due to rain and is brought in to the river, look out.”

Despite the lower than expected rainfall today, the Mississippi Valley Conservation Authority (MVCA) is still expecting severe flooding in West Carleton.

“A band of rain hit the western portion of the watershed last night with rainfall amounts in excess of 30 millimetres,” the MVCA released in a statement today. “Water levels in those areas rose dramatically overnight and continue to increase at this time. Severe flood levels are expected be reached at numerous locations.”

The MVCA expects flows to continue to increase in the Mississippi River throughout the rest of the weekend.

“All residents along the river should keep a close watch on levels and take necessary precautions to protect their property,” the MVCA said.

The MVCA says the Carp River has peaked and levels are beginning to drop.

“Flows are expected to be below flood stage by the middle of the week,” the MVCA said. “The flood warning is terminated for these rivers.”

Unfortunately, the MVCA in conjunction with the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority (RVCA) and South Nation Conservation Authority (SNC) “is maintaining our Flood Warning issued on April 19 for the areas under our jurisdiction along the Ottawa River.”

“The latest model run for the Ottawa River indicates some areas of the Ottawa River are expected to peak today while others will be closer to the end of the week,” the MVCA said. “There is additional rain expected over the northern portion of the watershed that could impact levels and flows later in the week. All flood-prone areas along the Ottawa River from Lac Coulonge down to the Montreal Archipelago are at risk.”

While the MVCA doesn’t expect the Ottawa River through Constance Bay to reach 2017 levels, it’s still on the rise.

“Based on the most recent model outputs from the Ottawa River Regulation Committee (ORRC), water levels in the Constance Bay area are projected to rise an additional 0.40 metres above the current elevation over the next seven days,” the MVCA said. “Levels are currently forecast to be about 0.40 m below those experienced at the height of the May 2017 flood. Updates to this projection will be provided as they become available.”

McKay says he and his wife have been preparing for a couple of weeks.

“Certainly, all this weekend and I came up last weekend and did a bit, a few bags up front, but I was able to get a few bags out last weekend,” he said. “The previous flood I got pretty ill and I couldn’t remove the bags myself, and last summer I had a big surgery and was unable to move them again, the short of it is there are 750 bags still out there from the last time. So, it all sort of worked out.”

While the MVCA expects levels to start to recede, many residents along the river aren’t quite sure yet based on their own observations. McKay said he thinks the river has raised a foot since yesterday.

“You can see the sandbags under the water,” McKay said. “They were high and dry yesterday. There’s a boat launch down there. Over there by the log there are some cinder blocks I was going to use to anchor the deck down but the water just came up so fast.”

In 2017, McKay not only needed the sandbags to keep the water out, but to way his deck down so it wouldn’t float away.

Upstream, Willola Beach residents can see the Fitzroy Harbour dam and the large flow of water come through.

 “You can see the torrent across the river,” Mckay said pointing it out. “Everything is just rushing. It sounds like a train coming. It’s quite something. Another year, another spring. In 2017 I was using a boat on my driveway. There’s a long way to go yet. With this cresting next weekend, and the rate at which it is rising, I fully expect it to be up the stairs here. It was just under last time. Water would come spraying up between the deck. We started to put a vapour barrier up and then we just sandbagged everything. The doors, the windows, but it never did breach the floor. It came really close, within an inch or two, of breaching the floor. It was pretty scary.”