August 26, 2019 (Photo by Allanah Wills)

2019 floods ‘a warning and a wake up call’

The conservation authorities in the Chatham and Windsor areas are asking governments to help them lead a revolution on shoreline management.

The Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authority (LTVCA) and the Essex Region Conservation Authority (ERCA) want Ottawa, Queen’s Park, and municipalities to work with them to develop a strategy to address the impacts of future high water levels, flood and erosion, and climate change on the area.

“Shoreline management needs to evolve from hardening shorelines to natural and nature-based features, and living shorelines, which support coastal risk reduction through a variety of approaches, including non-structural interventions, such as new policies and building codes,” the LTVCA and ERCA said in a joint submission to the province.

They are telling the Provincial Flood Advisor that more needs to be done to restrict development within hazard areas and more provincial funding is required to address flooding and to relocate and rebuild damaged homes. Local conservation officials said the Lake Erie shoreline would be a strong candidate for a pilot project to support and demonstrate alternative approaches to shoreline management.

The LTVCA and ERCA said development has gradually happened over the years on top of old and crumbling infrastructure such as septic systems and dikes that no longer meet current standards.

Officials warn that erosion protection is not stopping erosion of the lake bottom in front of homes, which results in a deeper shore slope and allow waves to impact the shoreline.

“This allows larger waves and waves with greater energy to impact the shoreline,” stated the submission. “In the end, the shoreline protection constructed to reduce the hazard is progressively making it worse. Under our current climate, the flood hazards are getting worse with each passing storm.”

The report added that bluff failures have happened this year with at least one home within five feet of the edge of a cliff and it’s expected that will continue.

A Lake Erie Shoreline Study is underway in Chatham-Kent that should be complete in early 2020. Key findings of that study indicate erosion and flooding is expected to increase due to lake levels rising, waves getting stronger, winters getting milder, and year-round erosion and flooding because of no ice on Lake Erie. LTVCA warns 500 buildings and homes across Chatham-Kent with an estimated value of more than $100 million are at risk. ERCA said 400 homes in Essex are within the hazard flood zone between Point Pelee and Wheatley.

“High water levels and floods of 2019 must be viewed as a warning/wake up call. Change is needed — maintaining the status quo in policy and practice cannot continue, stated the LTVCA and ERCA. “Municipalities cannot afford the infrastructure problems our current development approach creates, let alone future costs associated with climate change.”

Lake levels hit record highs this summer and many roads across Chatham-Kent and Windsor-Essex had to close because of significant flooding.