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How Toronto is trying to prevent future floods

City looks at break walls, berms and industrial pumps

Toronto Island near the peak of its flooding.

Nathan Denette / The Canadian Press

Toronto Island near the peak of its flooding.

While Toronto Island enthusiasts clamoured to check out the reopened park on Monday, the City of Toronto was already preparing for the next flood.

City staff are examining different responses to prevent and mitigate the kind of flooding that effectively closed the Island to the public for three months.

The city was already planning to build a break wall at Gibraltar Point, where the Island's utilities are stationed. Construction will begin in the fall and take five years. But spokesperson Wynna Brown said the city is reconsidering the extent of the upgrades given this year's devastating flood.

"Looking ahead, we will be implementing natural berms in many areas where sand bags were deployed. In addition, plans are underway to permanently install pumping systems in some areas."

Berms act as raised dikes and are a common flood-protection tool.

Brown explained that these options would "help mitigate the types of extreme conditions that occurred this year."

The city used 45,000 sand bags and 27 industrial pumps to limit the damage brought on by record-high water in Lake Ontario.

Toronto isn't the first city to grapple with increasingly extreme weather. The Calgary Zoo installed a $25-million berm following the 2013 Alberta floods that killed five people and caused $5 billion in property damage.

According to a 2017 paper at the University of Toronto's Institute for Municipal Finance and Governance, flooding now exceeds fire and theft as the greatest source of property insurance claims.

But York University associate professor Nirupama Agrawal, who teaches a course in disaster and emergency management, said berms alone aren't sufficient. She explained that they require a lot of maintenance and have their limits, depending on their height and the materials used.

She called the proposed berm system on Toronto Island "feasible" but cautioned that the infrastructure shouldn't replace long-term disaster management.

"It might create a false sense of security," she said.

Once the water fully recedes, city staff will prepare a "comprehensive analysis and plan for repair and prevention," said Brown.

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