By Chad Ingram
Published Dec. 14 2017
Some residents of the Gull River are already growing concerned about what might happen in the spring as levels are running higher than usual for this time of year.
“I would say they’re basically high summer levels” Wally Reed said of what he’s observed from his property during the past several weeks. Reed lives along the river about 1000 metres upstream from the point where it empties into Gull Lake.
Reed told the paper from what he’s seen levels are up as much as 18 inches from where they typically are this time of year after the fall draw-down by Parks Canada.
Reed has owned his property since the 1980s and has lived there year-round since 2003.
“I’m already concerned about what the spring might hold” he said.
Reed isn’t alone.
“As a Gull River resident who has been through two floods in the past four years and observes the river on a daily basis it’s really clear that the river now is much higher than it is typically in December and that’s a concern given recent history” Patrick Walshe who lives along the Gull just outside Minden told the paper. “We’re in a changing environment and yet our behaviours don’t seem to change.”
The Gull River is part of the feeder system for the Trent-Severn Canal and water from more than 20 reservoir and flow-through lakes north of Minden must pass through the river between Horseshoe and Gull lakes. The Township of Minden Hills declared states of emergency during severe flooding in the springs of 2013 and 2017.
Parks Canada which operates the Trent-Severn Waterway is ultimately responsible for water management operations in the reservoir system. The provincial Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry is responsible for flood forecasting and warning. Municipalities are responsible for the local emergency management. There have been repeated calls from the public for the municipality to make physical changes along the Gull River where it passes through Minden to prevent flooding in the community.
“My question is who owns this?” Walshe said. “To whom do you say own this it’s up to you to take the lead on a water management plan that makes sense for 2017 and going forward?”
Walshe says there is a continued lack of leadership on the issue.
“As property owners we have the right to be concerned that there doesn’t seem to be any conspicuous leadership on this” he said.
Walshe’s home is relatively new and during its construction he said the township required that a hydrostatic study be completed “which resulted in a us doubling the strength of the walls” Walshe said giving the township kudos for taking that step.
So on one hand he says the township is being proactive when it comes to the flooding issue.
“On the other hand there’s kind of a conspicuous lack of ownership on the water management side which is a much bigger issue” Walshe said. “How can you go to meetings and watch people talk about their houses having no value? It’s their future. How can you not want to take control of this? . . . ‘Well we’ll make more sandbags.’ That’s not a solution.”
Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin agrees the river is running high.
“Absolutely that’s a fact” said Devolin who also lives along the Gull. “ I look out the front door and see the river every day.”
Devolin noted the high amount of precipitation there has been throughout the year and that water levels have been running high in some areas throughout 2017.
“We had a wet spring summer and fall” he said.
The Times asked Parks Canada to explain why the river is running high.
“The average December flows in the Gull River at Norland are slightly above (plus 1.3 cubic metres per second) the historic average from the Water Survey of Canada records and lower than December average flows during the most recent years (2012-2015) with the exception of the very dry 2016” reads an email from Parks Canada staff. “The Gull River reservoir lakes are also at their average historic water level for this time of year. The precipitation we have received recently has also had the effect of holding the water levels relatively stable across the watershed. Parks Canada’s water management team will continue to closely monitor water levels.”
As for flood mitigation Devolin stressed it was not the responsibility of any one level of government.
“It isn’t unilaterally under the authority of any one body to deal with it” Devolin said adding that flood planning and mitigation involve federal provincial and municipal governments as well as private sector partners. “A couple of those players move pretty slowly. This a long long game.”
Even if he wanted them to be the mayor said water management decisions are not within the scope of the municipal sphere.
Devolin told the paper he believed the introduction of the township’s emergency response plan had improved the effectiveness of the municipal response to flooding and that a spirit of co-operation has been achieved between the levels of government.
Ontario Minister of Municipal Affairs Bill Mauro visited Minden during the spring flood and county politicians met with Mauro Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry Kathryn McGarry and a staff member of federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna during the Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference in August.
With them local politicians took a submission from Haliburton County and the Upper Trent Watershed Management Partnership or UTWMP which made a number of requests of the ministries including funding support.
The Township of Minden Hills has received money from the National Disaster Mitigation Fund for the completion of a drainage study and Haliburton County has applied to the fund for money to perform LIDAR mapping in the area. LIDAR or Light Detection and Ranging uses a laser-based system to produce extremely detailed topographical images.
“So what does that mean?” Walshe said. “What happens after LIDAR? What is the expected outcome? Nobody talks about outcomes.”
“You don’t build a house and put the trusses up first you start with the foundation” Devolin told the paper saying that LIDAR mapping would be used as the blueprint for all flood mitigation planning moving forward including elements such as dam design. More effective movement of water through the system should help mitigate instances of flooding Devolin said and pointed to the reconstruction of the dam at the foot of Gull Lake as an example of this. That dam is being replaced as part of some $59 million the federal government is spending on TSW infrastructure in the county the new dam planned to have increased flow capacity.
A meeting of UTWMP is scheduled for Tuesday Dec. 19. UTWMP includes representatives from Haliburton County as well as the Municipality of Trent Lakes the Township of North Kawartha and the Coalition for Equitable Water Flow. According to the organization “its primary purpose is to be a single voice for the Reservoir and Flow-Through (RaFT) lakes in the Haliburton sector of the Trent watershed on issues of water management. The goal of the partnership is to advance integrated water management across the entire Trent River watershed for the protection of aquatic resources the environment property values and local economies.”