Preparation and Mitigation for High Lake Levels


Climate change and the resulting extreme weather have greatly impacted the Toronto Islands and our waterfront. We have seen record-breaking flooding over the last three years, and high water levels are anticipated again this year. An annual sandbagging effort cannot be the long-term solution.

This is why we have been working year-round, in partnership with the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA), to ensure that proactive flood mitigation measures are in place, and that significant investments are made to ensure our waterfront and our Toronto Islands are protected. 

The work to protect our waterfront cannot and will not stop due to COVID-19. I am committed, along with the City of Toronto and TRCA, to continuing preparations and mitigation efforts for high lake levels this year as a top priority.

  • The Office of Emergency Management (OEM) has assigned a response team to focus on the 2020 flood season and coordinate the City’s response with our partners. Emergency response plans are being updated to work under current directives to mitigate COVID-19, and to address needs along the city-side waterfront as well as Toronto Islands.
  • All TRCA flood mitigation projects for Toronto's Waterfront and Toronto Islands continue to be categorized as "essential" business under the Province of Ontario's recently updated direction. These works are continuing with appropriate public health-recommended separation protocols for workers.
  • On Toronto Islands, the TRCA has completed installation of new flood mitigation beach curbs east and west of Ward’s dock.
  • Urgent raising of roads to maintain emergency access in two priority locations is underway: a 300m stretch of Lake Shore Boulevard near Gibraltar Point, and a 200m stretch on Cibola Avenue near the Fire Hall. Preparatory work is complete, and asphalting of the new surfaces is about to begin.
  • At Toronto Island Water Treatment Plant, implementation of two berms, a sump pit, and metre bags is underway to protect this vital public infrastructure.
  • Engineering assessment work on the sea wall at Algonquin Island continues, and will determine either a berm or raised wall solution. In the meantime, additional sandbagging will provide protection.
  • Twelve aquadams and more industrial pumps have been ordered for installation before extreme lake levels are reached to mitigate flooding in low-lying areas of Toronto Islands Park.
  • Technical mapping of flood impacts for different lake level elevations for the whole of Toronto’s waterfront has been produced by TRCA to inform Emergency Management planning. This information will be posted on a public portal on TRCA’s website in the coming days.

Recent conditions and the updated outlook by the International Lake Ontario-St Lawrence River Board (ILO-SLRB) suggest that, at this point in the season, there are positive signs of more favourable conditions this spring than during the high water years of 2017 and 2019. The worst-case scenarios, which would have seen more extensive impacts on city-side waterfront areas, as well as the Toronto Islands, are starting to look less likely.

Lake levels still remain high, though, and are rising. Inflows from Lake Erie, precipitation, runoff, and snowpack, along with the snowmelt in the Ottawa River basin this spring, will determine conditions in the coming weeks. We must continue our efforts to be prepared for high lake levels this year.

The proactive mitigation efforts implemented in 2018, including erosion control projects, shoreline infrastructure, trail and pathway work, and asset infrastructure, effectively reduced the impact of the 2019 flooding. The City also used a dozen industrial water pumps, 100-foot aquadams and more than 1,000 metre bags and 45,000 sandbags to prevent further damage. This year’s construction projects will further enhance flooding mitigation.

As I have said many times before, annual sandbagging cannot be the solution. We are committed to doing everything possible to protect our beloved waterfront and Toronto Islands, and will continue to work closely with senior City staff and the TRCA to implement long-term flood mitigation plans.

The City is working closely with TRCA through a dedicated Emergency Management team to monitor the conditions that contribute to high lake water levels as we move through the spring. I will continue to provide updates as they become available.