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Toronto floods give rise to calls for better infrastructure

Extreme weather events like the Island flood will happen more frequently, say experts.

A flooded Toronto Island on May 15.

Eduardo Lima / Metro Order this photo

A flooded Toronto Island on May 15.

The flooded island is a sign of the new normal in this age of global warming, and Toronto must do more to respond.

“The climate has changed. We need to figure out a way for our infrastructure to handle it,” said downtown councillor Joe Cressy.

The city has restricted Toronto Island access to residents and necessary personnel until at least June 30. Record-high water levels are expected to rise through June, and the city has worked with the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority to protect homes and infrastructure that could be at risk if another storm hits.

“Rain events are going to become more extreme,” said Liat Margolis, an associate professor of landscape architecture at the University of Toronto. “Our infrastructure does not have the capacity to hold onto the rain.”

It’s an assessment that Joseph Desloges, a professor in the department of geography at U of T, agrees with. He said extreme weather events are becoming more common, and flooding is one of the most important symptoms of global warming.

“What is most difficult is not the temperature; it’s the flooding,” he told Metro.

Toronto has sometimes struggled to respond to flooding. In July 2013, a sudden downpour became Ontario’s costliest natural disaster ever. Around 300,000 residents were left without power, and numerous basements were soaked.

Cressy believes the city must act with more urgency. “We need to do all we can to limit the amount of storm water the city deals with.”

However, he added, “I’m not sure we’re investing the money we need to in order to accomplish that.” The city’s investment in a program to mitigate basement flooding is not enough, he said.

The city’s storm water charge, implemented in hundreds of North American cities, was held up at Tuesday’s executive-committee meeting. Cressy argued council must also fully fund TransformTO, the city’s extensive and ambitious plan to meet climate-change targets by 2050.

But he worried that despite the need, it’s difficult to fund necessary initiatives in the current political climate. “In the time of a budget freeze,” he said, “there’s no room.”

Stepping up preparation:

Some ways Toronto can better prepare for its next flood, according to U of T’s Liat Margolis:

- Green parking lots, turning hard surfaces into ones that can absorb water

- Retrofit older buildings with green roofs

- Integrate storm-water management into the parks system, like in Corktown Common and Sherbourne Common

- Build rain gardens, where downspout extensions direct water to permeable soil

- Plant more trees

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