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Toronto Lake Ontario’s rising water levels cause flooding, erosion in Toronto

Heavy machinery was used to help bring back parts of Woodbine Beach that were covered when Lake Ontario water levels rose and flooded much of the popular beach in Toronto.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Lake Ontario's rising water levels are threatening to plunge some areas of Toronto into soggy disarray as they approach a decades-old record.

The lake's levels are at the highest they've been at the start of May since 1993, according to Jacob Bruxer, a senior water resources engineer at Environment Canada.

Mr. Bruxer says Lake Ontario's level rose 44 centimetres in April, the third-largest jump recorded in April since 1918. By the start of May, that level was at 75.52 metres, which is 55 centimetres above average for this time of year.

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As for why the water levels are so high, Mr. Bruxer says a main cause is the amount of precipitation.

"Starting at the beginning of April, we've had an exceptionally wet month across much of the province," Mr. Bruxer explains.

Toronto alone saw 106.7 millimetres of precipitation during the month of April, according to Environment Canada.

The high water levels caused flooding on Lakeshore Avenue in Toronto Island Park, which forced the Toronto Island Park Ferry Service to stop making trips to the dock at Hanlan's Point from Sunday afternoon until Tuesday.

"The roads between the Hanlan Islands dock and the rest of the island were significantly flooded and impassable, so we weren't able to deliver people to Hanlan's dock because from there they wouldn't be able to get further," says Matthew Cutler, a spokesperson for the city's parks department.

"I rode down there on my bike and right in front of the Hanlan's dock the water was about six inches high across the road," says Barry Lipton, a resident of the Toronto Islands.

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Nancy Gaffney, head of Watershed Programs at the Toronto and Region Conservation (TRCA), says erosion of the Toronto Islands isn't new, however, the high water levels have been making the issue worse. She says high levels lift powerful waves above the concrete seawalls meant to prevent erosion.

"The waves at this water level are just flying right over those walls," she says. "We're getting a lot of calls by island residents concerned about their property."

Ms. Gaffney says the extra water has also affected numerous beaches around the city. There is a lot of concern for Woodbine Beach, where the big waves have created massive puddles trapped on the sand.

"We've been working on remediation across the waterfront at each of our beaches. Our priority up until now had been at Woodbine Beach, and the protection of the lifeguard station and the boardwalk there," Mr. Cutler says, adding that the lifeguard station is a heritage property.

Ms. Gaffney says the Scarborough Bluffs is a particularly dangerous area for people to be around as wave action has caused landslides.

Ms. Gaffney says remedies for flooding includes pumping the water out as well as sandbagging, but the TRCA will be looking into long-term solutions as well as she's unsure how long the water level will be this high.

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She also warns people to stay away from the edge of the water as the shoreline can give way.

"It's not just an inch or two that will fall, its several cubic meters that will fall all at once," she adds.

The high levels aren't just affecting Toronto. Across Lake Ontario in Youngstown, N.Y., Bob Emerson, executive director of Old Fort Niagara, said the rising water level is threatening to swamp a seawall that protects a historic structure known as the French Castle.

While the flooding has caused Toronto Island residents like himself some woes, it's not a panic yet, said Mr. Lipton. However, he adds he's dealt with the high waters before in 1993, when the community had to create a sandbag dike to prevent the flooding. He says the Toronto Islands Community Association may do this again, however he isn't hopeful of the prevention methods.

"There isn't much we can do. The island is a sandbar," Mr. Lipton says.

With rain in the forecast, he says residents of the island will have to adapt.

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"We just have to pull on our rubber boots and carry on," Mr. Lipton says.

With files from the Associated Press

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