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The multi-billion dollar problem that keeps Toronto flooding time and time again

Flooding was cleared quickly following Tuesday's rainfall, but that's not always the case

In July 2013, a record-breaking 126-millimetre rainfall left the city flooded for hours and brought public transit to halt. It’s one of the more memorable instances of flooding in the city.

Torstar News Service file

In July 2013, a record-breaking 126-millimetre rainfall left the city flooded for hours and brought public transit to halt. It’s one of the more memorable instances of flooding in the city.

By 9 a.m. Tuesday, John Stamatakos had already fielded more than half a dozen calls from people reporting flooding, both on public and private property.

It’s a scenario the owner of flood restoration company Floodmasters has grown accustomed to: Every time it rains in Toronto there’s standing water somewhere in the city.

“It tells you one clear thing,” Stamatakos said. “The underground infrastructure is not that great to hold water. There are main breaks all over the place. Just can’t handle it.”

Tuesday brought 20 to 40 millimetres of rain and at least 24 cases of flooding reported to the Toronto water division, staff said. Water took over parts of the Don Valley Parkway, snarling the morning commute.

More significant rainfalls, one as recently as last month, commonly turn downtown underpasses and other low-lying areas into ponds.

Remember that Ferrari stuck in a flooded Lower Simcoe Street udnerpass in the 2013 flood?

Twitter/Hira Ahmed

Remember that Ferrari stuck in a flooded Lower Simcoe Street udnerpass in the 2013 flood?

The problem boils down to one thing: The city’s sewer and drainage systems are old and operating over capacity.

“These systems were built in the 40s and 50s and have been experiencing a lot of pressure from more intense storms over a short period of time,” said Hector Moreno, the city’s manager of road operations.

Fixing that will cost a lot of money — and take a lot of time.

The city has earmarked $1.15 billion over 10 years for updates that could help ease the problem. Work includes replacing older pipes with newer ones that are larger, installing underground holding tanks for water and building retention ponds, according to an email from the city’s water management department.

Nearly $65 million of that budget is being used this year alone to battle the impact of runoff from rain and melting snow.

Meanwhile, the city’s population growth is complicating matters.

The existing infrastructure was designed to serve one or two million people or for more than 100 years, but Toronto’s population continues to increase faster than upgrades can be made.

“The best solution would be to completely rehabilitate all the main sewer trunks and adjust it to the capacity of the city’s growth,” Moreno said. “But that’s simply not going to happen.”

Toronto's chronic flash flooding has produced some downright apocalyptic scenes in the past:

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Torstar News Service

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Torstar News Service

Torstar News Service

Torstar News Service

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