Water Levels (Highs & Lows)

The waterfront property community has always been self-reliant and resilient in the face of adversity. FOCA advocates personal responsibility for every waterfront property owner, as part of good risk management.

Whether flood, drought, or other severe weather events, it falls to each of us to be reasonably prepared for emergencies that can arrive with force and little warning.

Is there an emergency in your area?

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  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)

Jump to FOCA’s High Water/Flooding information

Jump to FOCA’s Low Water/Drought information

Jump to FOCA’s Water Management Planning webpage

Learn about personal Emergency Preparedness in remote areas. Take steps to prepare your property for weather and water extremes. Review your insurance coverage and understand what is covered, and what is not.

July 2023 – If you live along the shores of the Great Lakes or the St. Lawrence River and were impacted by high or low water levels in 2022 and/or 2023, the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Adaptive Management (GLAM) Committee wants to hear from you. A questionnaire to report water level impacts you experienced in 2022 and 2023 is available at the following links:

> Report your 2022 Water Level Impacts: www.surveymonkey.com/r/GLAM2022

> Report your 2023 Water Level Impacts: www.surveymonkey.com/r/GLAM2023

June 2023 – Have you ever wondered about high & low water levels throughout the Trent River Watershed – where the water comes from, where it goes to, and who manages the levels throughout the seasons? The Coalition for Equitable Water Flow (CEWF) has created some great and informative videos on the subject, and how to protect your property from fluctuating water levels:

April 2023 – An early melt plus recent wet conditions mean water levels have been high across many parts of Ontario, and several regions are under Flood Watches or Warnings. Check out the Ontario Flood map for current conditions near you.

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 2022 – NW Ontario flooding recap: high flow conditions existed across the Winnipeg River drainage basin including evacuations north of Kenora in the Black Sturgeon Lake area. Read a summary (PDF, 1 page) of recent news coverage, and links to related resources from the Lake of the Woods Control Board

March 29, 2022 – Cottage on a flood plain? Expect flooding, 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 (Catfish Creek Conservation Authority).

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)

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)

High Water / Flooding information:

Links to water level resources & flood tips:
For more information regarding watershed status, please visit the website of your local Conservation AuthorityKawartha ConservationOtonabee Region Conservation AuthorityGanaraska Conservation AuthorityLower Trent Conservation AuthorityLake Simcoe Region Conservation AuthorityCataraqui Region Conservation Authority. In all other areas of the Trent, Severn and Rideau Watersheds, see the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry for notices.

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.

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)

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.

About the risk of flood and the role of planning:

FOCA is in the P4A (Partners For Action) Stakeholder Group, as part of our ongoing interest in making our communities stronger in the face of climate change. In July 2016, P4A released a new report: At the Front Lines of Flood: How Prepared are Ontario Communities? Some highlights:

  • Flooding is a major source of socio-economic vulnerability in small and medium-sized Ontario communities, placing unnecessary strain on municipal resources
  • Communities are acting to manage vulnerability to flood, but these efforts are fragmented, creating uncertainty about their effectiveness. Communities also lack institutional and financial capacity to enforce, update and further invest in these actions to improve resiliency
  • Federal and provincial policy and funding to reduce vulnerability and improve capacity of our communities to prepare and recover from flood are underutilized and underdeveloped
  • There is a strong divide in capacity to understand and address flood risk between urban and rural communities
  • Municipalities need funding, capacity, technical and scientific support, regulation, and community and political buy-in to address the present and future risk of flood
  • Provincial and federal governments should address the current leadership gap and prioritize community resiliency to flood by supporting communities in understanding and communicating risk and opportunities to reduce this risk.

Low Water / Drought Information:

While we have recently experienced more high water and heavy rain events, rather than droughts, a decade ago all the news centred around low water levels in the Great Lakes, particularly in Georgian Bay.

Here is some recent drought news, important links, and historic references:

For more about drought, consult the province’s webpage: https://www.ontario.ca/page/drought

For FOCA members with properties in regions covered by a Conservation Authority (CA)consult your local CA that issues high and low water alerts on an ongoing basis. Most CAs include “red-orange-yellow-green” warnings on their website landing pages, and may also have an e-list you can subscribe to, for regular updates.

August 2022 – currently, water levels in all of the Great Lakes except Lake Superior are down compared to this time last year. Consult: Environment Canada Great Lakes Water Levels for recent and historical water levels.

August 18, 2022 – Toronto facing ‘abnormally dry’ drought conditions (Toronto Star)

2014 Low Water News: 

May 26, 2015 – Water levels low in Lake Ont., dry spell continues  (Niagara Falls Review)

June 2014: the Mowat Centre and Council for the Great Lakes Region report: water levels in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence basin “fell dramatically” in 1997-98 and haven’t recovered. The report puts a hefty price tag on the cost of low water to the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River region: more than $19.3 billion by 2050. The full report is available for download, here: Low Water Blues An Economic Impact Assessment of Future Low Water Levels in the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River (PDF, 120 pages)

  • Read a related June 2014 article on the subject, including the role of climate change in the mix, by clicking here… (CBC)

Citizens concerned about low water levels in Georgian Bay can connect with the group, “Stop the Drop” on Twitter.

Feb 2013: Great Lakes hit record-low water levels (Toronto Star)

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