High Water – Flood events in cottage country

Is there an emergency in your area?

image: asterix button

  1. check for Current Flood Messages from MNRF & local Conservation Authorities
  2. get updates from Emergency Management Ontario
  3. visit Environment Canada’s website for weather information and notices

NOTE: All flood advisories are not the same. Flood message definitions (watch, warning, etc.) can be found here (near the bottom of that page)

Current News:

November 8, 2022 – The Timmins Flood Advisory Committee issued a Watershed Conditions Statement with regard to current watershed conditions since water levels in most streams, watercourses and lakes remain high from recent rains. Residents can visit the Mattagami Region Conservation Authority website for the latest information on watershed conditions and public advisories, or to sign up for flood notifications via email.

August 2022 – a report by Canada’s Task Force on Flood Insurance and Relocation states that the total residential flood risk in Canada is now estimated at $2.9 billion per year. The majority of risk (89%) is concentrated in a small number of the highest risk homes (10%). Additionally, the report notes that 9 in 10 Canadians living in high-risk areas remain unaware of their flood risk. Access the digital report on this webpage.

May 24, 2022 – Border restrictions keep flooded cabin and resort owners away from their properties – Sand Point Lake, Minnesota/Ontario border flooding (MPR News)

May 24, 2022 – Manitoba premier tours flooded cottage country as waters continue to rise – Whiteshell Lakes (National Post)

May 20, 2022 – Tensions rising along with water levels on many northern Ontario lakes: Ministry of Natural Resources says it only monitors levels on lakes with a hydro or control dam (CBC News)

May 17, 2022 – High flow conditions have been noted across the Winnipeg River drainage basin into North Western Ontario, including evacuations north of Kenora in the Black Sturgeon Lake area. See a May 11th presentation from the Lake of the Woods Control Board (LWCB) on the subject of the high water, here and link to updates from LWCB here: http://lwcb.ca/noticeboard/

May 17, 2022 – Possibility of water levels dropping soon ‘unlikely’, says Control Board (Kenora Online)

May 17 – The Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry – Red Lake District is advising area residents that a Flood Warning is in effect in the district until Monday May 23, 2022. These water levels could lead to road and shoreline property damage. Residents are advised to secure shoreline structures such as boats and docks, among other items/structures.

May 16, 2022 – Cottages affected as high water levels force evacuations in Kenora (Winnipeg Sun)

May 2022 – Tensions rising along with water levels on many northern Ontario lakes (CBC News)

April 4, 2022 – the Ausable Bayfield and Maitland Valley conservation authorities reporte that saturated conditions are making some bluff areas along Lake Huron prone to collapse. Residents are being discouraged from walking shoreline areas below bluffs, and are encouraged to check shoreline property when possible and safe, to look for signs of erosion and to alert the local conservation authority of bent or leaning trees, or significant cracks running parallel to the shoreline.

March 29, 2022 – Cottage on a flood plain? Expect flooding, says CCCA – Port Bruce, Lake Erie (Toronto Star) – Cottage residents might think they owned a piece of the creek, but “It’s actually the river that owns that,” said Port Bruce Water Management Tech.

Links to other water level resources & flood tips:

For more information regarding watershed status, please visit the website of your local Conservation Authority: Kawartha Conservation, Otonabee Region Conservation Authority, Ganaraska Conservation Authority, Lower Trent Conservation Authority, Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority, Cataraqui Region Conservation Authority.

In all other areas of the Trent, Severn and Rideau Watersheds, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

Earlier News:

January 31, 2022 – Is it time for a ‘planned retreat’ from building near flood plains? (Corporate Knights)

December 2, 2021 – How to prepare homes for extreme flooding events. Cities need more discussion with communities about what flood resilient housing can look like (CBC News)

Are you Prepared for Flooding?

Ontario cottage-country communities should be vigilant especially in the spring, as this is the time of year when we can experience lots of melting snow and ice, heavy rainfalls, and high water flows on lakes and rivers. Conditions can change quickly, so being prepared in advance is the best possible approach.

The “freshet” is the Spring thaw of snow and ice in our watersheds. Quick melts and heavy rain can result in flooding, as ground that is still frozen cannot absorb the moisture.

image: flooding 2015FOCA and our local associations remind all homeowners to take measures to protect themselves and their belongings. Cottage country buildings, docks, and boathouses located in or near the floodplain are at particular risk. Preventative action can minimize loss, but overland flooding is a real risk for those located in a flood plain or close to rivers or lakes.

Flooding and Insurance Coverage

Flood damage caused by overland flooding is not generally covered by home insurance policies in Canada (though a few companies may now have it available), so it is important to protect yourself from the potential damage of floods. Flooding from sewer or septic system backup may be covered, but in any case it is important to understand your home insurance policy to see if these types of coverages are included.

FOCA reminds members:

  • ImportantOntario homes are limited in insurance coverage for damage due to overland water
  • seasonal properties are NOT covered by the Ontario Disaster Relief Assistance Program, a provincial financial assistance emergency tool.*

* About ODRAP: The Ontario Disaster Relief Assistance Program (ODRAP) is a provincial financial assistance program intended to alleviate the hardship suffered by private homeowners, farmers, and small businesses whose property has been damaged in a natural disaster declared by the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing. ODRAP is not an alternative or a substitute for private insurance coverage and risk management. Damage claims should be directed first to insurance companies to determine coverage of individual policies. 

Have you been flooded?

Be aware that many home systems may be affected; learn more about managing impacts to structural, electrical and other home systems from the Government of Canada Get Prepared webpages.

For information about how to manage their septic systems during high water, and after the water recedes, see this guidance:

Also read this 2019 post to Water Canada’s website, “Bad Weather can lead to Bad Water,” about drinking water quality concerns after high water events.

Earlier News

November 25, 2020 – New National Standards and Guidelines Developed for Increasing Flood Resilience. New report “Under One Umbrella” is a “one-stop-shop” for practical and cost-effective ways to reduce the risk of future floods in our homes, businesses and communities.  (Water Canada)

October 19, 2020 – Come Hell or High Water: Flooding, Climate Change and Municipal Responses  (AMO)  This discussion paper is to explore how the global issue of climate change and changing weather patterns impact municipal policies and strategies as it relates to flooding, high water, and erosion. It also includes an appendix which provides additional resources from other informed sources on best management practices and studies of interest on the topic of municipal flooding and climate change adaptation strategies.

October 2, 2020 – Partners for Action, Flood Smart News – P4A 2020 Newsletter

September 21, 2020 –People don’t understand their flood risk.  So why would you do anything about it? P4A (Partners for Action) Releases Canadian Voices on Flood Risk 2020 This latest report outlines Canadians’ perceptions and attitudes on flood risk awareness and management.  Support for property buyouts in high flood potential areas is mixed;  Canadians remain dangerously unaware of their own flood risk.

May 2020 – watch the video about fluctuating high and low water in “Water Levels: What’s Going on?” from Georgian Bay Forever’s David Sweetnam (YouTube, 1 hr)

April 29, 2020 – Lake Ontario shoreline flooding: Water level stable, threat diminished say regulators (Democrat and Chronicle)

April 28, 2020 – Current conditions are stabilizing and expected to improve across Lake Ontario – St. Lawrence system (IJC)

April 3, 2020 – Update on Lake Ontario / Great Lakes water levels – IJC
An online presentation and question and answer session was held on behalf of the International Joint Commission (IJC) Commissioners and staff. You can access a recording of the webinar here. The IJC intends to host an additional webinar on water levels in early May 2020.
The International Lake Ontario-St. Lawrence River Board (ILOSLRB) makes information available on its website, including interactive graphs of water levels, inflows, outflows, as well as a forecast, question and answer documents and animated learning modules.
For more information:

Please send any questions, comments and feedback to: commission@ottawa.ijc.org.

March 9, 2020 – In response to Ontario’s Special Advisor on Flooding report released last November, and the call from the communities around the province to address the issue of flooding, the Province has released Protecting People and Property: Ontario’s Flooding Strategy.   Related:

February 17, 2020 – Great Lakes: lack of ice, water levels will have spring consequences (The Weather Network)

February 13, 2020 – (Thousand Islands) Residents ask for Ford’s high-water help (Post Media)

February 5, 2020 – a University of Saskatchewan Professor is working on better predicting ice formation in rivers, and potential ice jamming, to reduce the risk of flooding. (Water Canada) Read the article online.

February 03, 2020 – Quinte West Council approves flood management plan   (Quinte News)

January 21, 2020 – Environment Canada Great Lakes Water level update + 2020 outlook (from the Recreational Boating Advisory Council)

November 28, 2019 – Report prepared by Ontario’s Special Advisor on Flooding (pdf, 157 pages) and Executive Summary (pdf, 3 pages)

November 26, 2019 – Chatham-Kent residents frustrated after shoreline study meeting (CBC)

November 10, 2019 – Resilient communities have 1 special trait in common, research shows (CBC News)
Social cohesion is the “special sauce” that helps strong communities not just survive an emergency, but also rebound stronger than before.  Better emergency planning for severe weather events is another important way to develop resilient communities.

November 5, 2019 – for our members in northwestern Ontario: the Lake of the Woods Control Board (LWCB) has made a special update to their otherwise-weekly notice, stating: “Flows out of Lac Seul and Lake of the Woods and along the Winnipeg and English Rivers are exceptionally high and will remain so until freeze-up.” Read the most recent LWCB notice here and find more tips, below.

In related news, a new forecast from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office suggests that all the Great Lakes levels are likely to remain unusually high and may set additional records. Read the CTV News item or jump directly to the lake level graphs.

November 1, 2019 – The Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry has announced that the final report from their Special Advisor on Flooding was complete. The release from MNRF did not specify when the report would be publicly released.

image source: @theAgenda Twitter feed

September 16, 2019 -FOCA’s Executive Director Terry Rees (at left in the image) participated in a panel discussion that aired on TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin  on September 16th . Terry, Nicola Crawhall, Gail Krantzberg, and Gord Miller discussed tough issues facing the Great Lakes watershed, the cause and impact of high water levels, and what needs to happen next. Watch the episode here: http://www.tvo.org/video/great-lakes-great-problems

August 7, 2019 – the Ontario government has appointed a Muskoka Watershed Advisory Group of nine business and community leaders to provide advice to the Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks, “to help protect and conserve the Muskoka Watershed and support the economic growth of the region.” Read the press release and information about the Advisory Group members.

July 18, 2019 – The Ontario government has announced that Doug McNeil has been named Ontario’s Special Advisor on flooding. Mr. McNeil will advise the province on ways to reduce the impacts of flooding and ensure communities can recover quickly. For more details, see the press release.

May 13, 2019 – The Premier of Ontario is creating a task force to better plan for and reduce the impacts of flooding in the Province.  FOCA has indicated to the Premier, and the Ministers of Natural Resources and Forestry, and Municipal Affairs, that we would happily participate in this important discussion on behalf of Ontario’s 250,000 waterfront property owners.

May 8, 2019 – FOCA is encouraged by the recent commitment of the Premier of Ontario to undertake a review of Muskoka’s water management (“Improving Muskoka water management“, www.muskokaregion.com).  As FOCA has asserted since 2013, the regulations already exist for reviewing and revising the Province’s Water Management Plans, but despite repeated calls on the Province from FOCA to exercise these provisions, the plans put in pace in 2006 or earlier (using climatic data from perhaps ten years or more before that) remain in place.

FOCA looks forward to reviewing the terms of reference for any proposed “Water Management Task Force” and importantly, seeing recommendations and revisions implemented to ensure that updated plans meet the evolving needs of communities to be properly safeguarded and served by water flows on these systems, through an adaptive and up-to-date approach to water management.

May 2019: high water and flooding has occurred this Spring across several parts of Ontario. FOCA reminds everyone to be cautious, and avoid travelling into affected areas. Note (at May 1) that boating is currently prohibited on Lake Muskoka, the North and South Branches of the Muskoka River and the Moon River and several areas along the Ottawa River. See more info. (MuskokaRegion.com)

May 13, 2019: Canadian Underwriter article – The challenges of assessing seasonal home damage.

May 4, 2019: First your home is flooded — then you lose your mortgage? (Global News)


Critical risk factors for waterfront homes:

  • IMG_0248If you have buildings, docks, boathouses, decks, equipment, boats, stored or located in the floodplain, or near the high water level of your nearby lake or river – you may be at risk.
  • If your lot is not graded so that water flows away from your house, overland flows may impact your foundation or basement
  • Poorly drained lots (frozen or shallow soils, rock, or clay) can cause poor surface drainage. Runoff from heavy rain or melting snow can result in standing water, flooding, foundation settlement or damage, or basement dampness. A well-planned drainage system will help keep your lot, and your neighbour’s, free of standing water.

What you can do:

  • Clear eavestroughs and downspouts – if safe to do so – to direct water away from your home.
  • Ask someone to check your property if you are away for extended periods.
  • Review your insurance policies – call your insurance professional if you have questions about your coverage, particularly related to overland water.
  • Move valuable items from the basement to upper floors.
  • Steps to take after a flood (Government of Canada)
  • Dry any flooded areas quickly, to prevent mold growth. Industrial-sized air dryers are often used in these instances and are typically available for purchase or rent at one of the major hardware stores. If the water is from a freshwater source, quickly retrieve from the flooded area any valuables. If the flood source originates from the septic system, avoid contact with the water and do not cross-contaminate unaffected areas by walking in and out of the contaminated areas.

P4A_floodmatters_excerpt_FOCAReview tips and get more information about how to protect yourself in the “Flood Matters” infographic, from FOCA and our partners at the University of Waterloo, and Partners for Action.

(Click the image to download the full 1-page PDF)

Ontario Emergency preparedness & response

  • Under the Emergency Management & Civil Protection Act (EMCPA), every municipality must have a designated Community Emergency Management Coordinator (CEMC). CEMC contact information can be gained by contacting your municipal office.
  • Read this blog from Conservation Ontario, about flood risks and preparedness: “Flooding Happens, it’s only a matter of time” (Aug.2013)


April 26, 2019: This CTV News story includes Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith asking cottage owners NOT to come to their properties to check for damage this weekend, because there are a lot of roads closed. He is worried people will put themselves in harm’s way trying to get to properties. “Don’t try and be a hero,” he said.

April 26, 2019: FOCA’s Terry Rees posted a Twitter videoblog from Huntsville this morning, where high water levels are concerning, among other regions of central Ontario and beyond. Click the image at the side, to visit the Twitter posting.

April 22, 2019 – Poor flood-risk maps, or none at all, are keeping Canadian communities in areas prone to flooding  (Globe and Mail)

September 24, 2018 – Adoption of Green Stormwater Infrastructure Rises After Floods (University of Vermont)

July 6, 2018 – Homeowners need to beef up flood insurance amid climate change, diminishing green space (Globe and Mail)

May 30, 2018  – Is the home you’re buying at risk of flooding? It can be hard to find out (Global News)

May 28, 2018 – How bad is Ontario’s flood problem? Depends where you live
Climate change will put the province in the path of more weather-related disasters, but not all municipalities are ready to manage the threat   (TVO)
At the provincial level, there is no real structure in place to assist communities which suffer extreme events like the Clarington flooding, and … the onus to respond is put on the municipalities, which with a few larger exceptions probably don’t have the resources or skills to deal with it.” “… climate change has already arrived: the effective cross-jurisdictional management of emergencies on the ground right now also has to be a priority.”

May 17, 2018 – Will ‘special one-time’ financial assistance for flooded cottage owners become permanent?  New Brunswick government may be setting precedent, offering $6,100 to help with cleanup of recreational properties  (CBC)

What cottage owners need to know about flood recovery assistance

May 9, 2018 – Governments must be held to account for poor flood planning It’s time we started asking our governments to take responsibility for managing flood risk. (Globe and Mail)

May 8, 2018 – “Family devastated as ‘heirloom’ cottages smashed to bits.” CBC News coverage of flooding in New Brunswick.

April 4, 2018 – Today, Parks Canada launched the Ontario Waterways Water Management InfoNet for the Trent Severn Waterway, and for the Rideau Canal. The InfoNet contains background information on water management practices, water management updates, frequently asked questions about water management, various reports on water management, and the most recent water levels of lakes along both the Rideau Canal and the Trent-Severn Waterway.

Of specific note is the new water levels tool within the InfoNet which provides lake levels data from the last 30 days and graphic representation of levels for the current year. The information comes from hydrometric gauges located at key points along both waterways and is vetted by trained and experienced Parks Canada water management staff.

Parks Canada notes that stakeholders should continue to refer to their respective Conservation Authority or the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry as the primary source for relevant flood forecasting information specific to their area.

March 29, 2018 – we note the great tips provided by the Township of Selwyn in their e-news this month – well worth sharing with all waterfront property owners!:

Residents who live in flood susceptible areas are asked to take precautions to protect life and property and to stay away from fast moving water. Residents are reminded to:
• secure or remove docks/structures close to the waterfront
• store items that may be swept away in flood water to a higher location, e.g. lawn furniture, landscaping features, etc.
• move articles in a basement to higher levels to prevent water damage
• disconnect hydro, if required 
• shut off natural gas supply, if required 
• treat wells according to directions from the Health Unit

Mar 22, 2018 – Assessing Ontario’s Flood Risk –  What are industry and government doing to address the issue of extreme weather? (TVO)

April 3, 2018 –Wicked weather on the way  (Environment Canada)

March 12, 2018 – Let flood victims dip into RRSPs without penalty, petition says (CBC)

February 20, 2018 – There will be floods — and Ontario’s not ready for them
How can we prepare for worst-case-scenario storms when climate change means we can’t accurately predict what the worst-case scenario is? (TVO)

January 16, 2018 – How we can better mitigate flood risk in Canada (Globe and Mail)

Canada’s system for managing flood risk is a patchwork.  There is a vital need to raise the “flood-risk IQ” of Canadians through education and regular communication on flood risk.
Measures that could be designed and implemented in advance include:

  • Comprehensive mapping and information-sharing;
  • Improved land-use planning and building codes;
  • Investment in flood-prevention infrastructure;
  • Mitigation by communities and property owners.

It should be emphasized that risk-reduction measures are a necessary, but not sufficient, precondition for improved flood management. Even if all the elements of risk reduction identified here are acted upon, some existing properties in flood zones will remain at risk.

September 12, 2017 – Don’t expect more flood help from province — minister
(Windsor Star)

June 1, 2017 – FOCA asks the Premier of Ontario: What about financial consideration for SEASONAL property owners?

No help coming for seasonal property owners – Bill Mauro responds to FOCA

20 best practices for flood-resilient residential communities in Canada (Intact Centre)

3 ways to be flood ready (Government of Canada)

Residents located on or near the Trent-Severn Waterway or Rideau Canal should read this Spring Water Flows Update from Parks Canada.

June 1, 2017 – As weather extremes become the norm, taxpayers must foot the bill for climate chaos (CBC News)

May 31, 2017 – ‘The new normal’: Brace yourself, Toronto, more heavy rain — and flooding — is expected
(National Post)

May 29, 2017 – Disclosing flood risk at time of sale  (insblogs.com)

May 14, 2017 – Should some homes or cottages be removed from flood plain? (CBC)

May 10, 2017 – Flooded cottage owners ineligible for disaster relief  (Insurance Business )

  • Sudden and accidental bursting of plumbing pipes and appliances is usually covered by home insurance policies. Water damage in a basement due to a sewer backup is only covered if specific sewer backup coverage has been purchased.
  • In certain circumstances, homeowners who are unable to return home due to insurable damage are entitled to additional living expenses.
  • Damage to vehicles from water is usually covered if comprehensive or all perils coverage auto insurance has been purchased. This coverage isn’t mandatory, so check your policy.
  • Overland flooding resulting in water overflowing onto dry land and causing damage is not covered in home insurance policies in Canada.

For those Ontarians looking for answers, or if they need help with their insurance questions, please call the IBC Consumer Information Centre at 1-800-387-2880. CottageFirst customers should contact Cade Insurance brokers at 1-844-CADE-1ST (223-3178).

May 2, 2017 – Partners For Action is working on a national communications strategy on flood risk, to talk with one voice and one message: governments, insurance, academia, non-governmental organizations, to get the message across. Read more.
FOCA is a member of the stakeholder advisory group for the Partners for Action.

According to an RBC Canadian Water Attitudes survey (released March 25, 2015), 55% of surveyed Canadians felt they were not very, or not at all, prepared to deal with the uninsured losses resulting from a flood. From the same survey, people that have experienced flooding are 1.5 times more likely to take steps to flood-proof their homes! 

Flooding in Cottage Country in 2013 – FOCA’s Terry Rees was on the road between Muskoka and the Kawarthas  during the flooding of the Black and Muskoka rivers in April, 2013. Our Executive Director posted web updates and short video blogs from the field as the water rose. Our online posting that month brought the news to hundreds of affected property owners. Many members reported flood damage.

In the aftermath, FOCA was in contact with MNR’s Surface Water Monitoring Centre, the Trent Severn Waterway (TSW), Emergency Management Ontario (EMO), and county and municipal partners, in an attempt to arrive at more robust and well-understood emergency response communications in rural Ontario. FOCA continues to review water management communications protocols with all these partners.

Third-party reviews of Parks Canada’s actions before, during and after the spring 2013 flooding of the Gull River sub-watershed reported that, “other alternative management decisions would not have led to reduced overall flooding.”

Previously, FOCA had expressed concern about budget cuts and administrative restructuring of the Rideau Canal and TSW. “Of particular concern,” FOCA wrote at the time, “is the capacity of the TSW and the Rideau organizations to deliver watershed-wide water management with reduced resources, the lack of capital funding for maintenance, repair and replacement of structures, as well as the operations of the dams, locks and canals.”

A Recap of FOCA’s posting during 2013 about flooding in cottage country:

Image: courtesy the Ministry of Natural Resources, 2014

  • Nov 2013 – Gull River Flooding Review Reveals No Blame to Parks Canada (summary from Water Canada). The review found that staff “performed their jobs to the best of their abilities and their actions helped to avoid further flooding in downstream communities,” and that “other alternative water management decisions would not have led to reduced overall flooding.”
  • MP Barry Devolin Press Release re: AECOM report on flooding in 2013 (pdf; 1 page)
  • Visit the Parks Canada website to access the full reports: 2011 Water Management Study, and the 2013 Gull River Flood Review.
  • The Muskoka Lakes Association also commissioned a third-party report related to the April 2013 flooding in and around the Muskoka Lakes. The key findings are here.
  • May 22, 2013 – County of Haliburton sending letters to provincial and federal politicians about recent flooding. FOCA has been in touch with the warden on the issue.
  • May 8, 2013 – Lake of Bays mayor estimates damage for residents around $10-million; seeking flood funding.
  • A link is now available to the online edition of the May 2nd Haliburton Highlander, including page 4 editorial titled, “Did the Kennisis Dam Damn Minden?” Click here to read…
  • May 1st, 2013 – important update for cottage properties in the Minden Hills area: both permanent AND seasonal residents are now being encouraged by the Township to complete a Property Assessment Form if you have flood damage.
  • April 2013 notice from FOCA: “Be aware of high water and possible flooding due to spring runoff! FOCA advises everyone to exercise extreme caution near spring waterways, which have reached flood levels in several Ontario regions. FOCA originally posted this news item on April 22nd, Earth Day, which had the theme for 2013 of “The Face of Climate Change.” Ontario saw the effects first-hand, with flooding reported in many regions. A state of emergency was issued for the Burnt River, Black River and Gull River watersheds, with flood warnings in several other regions.”

For 2013, the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) announced that severe weather caused a record amount of damage in Canada, and Aviva Canada identified water damage as the primary culprit.

Michelle LewinHigh Water – Flood events in cottage country