Water levels are at record highs all through Eastern Ontario, which has so far been dealing with the aftermath of a very wet spring following a very snowy winter. This is adding up to a lot of water with few places to go.
Neil Mantifel, long-time Round Lake resident, described this as a record breaking event, having never seen the waters up this high before. He said every year is unique, but this one was hard to predict and caught everyone off guard.
“This year it didn't appear that extreme,” he said. There was a lot of snow on the ground when the thaw started, but there wasn't a lot of melting going on at first. Then, a combination of warm temperatures and heavy rains triggered the deluge.
The waters rose and the Bonnechere burst its banks, he explained, noting Round Lake is the headwaters of the river.
At his property on the west side of the lake, the water has reached 4.5 metres (15 feet) in front of his house and 18 metres (60 feet) past the high water mark. He said there are 15 centimetres of water inside his boathouse.
Other properties in the area are dealing with flooding of some sort, with some totally surrounded by water, others relying on sand bags to keep the water at bay.
Spring has always been a tense time for Round Lake, which forms a catch basin in the local watershed.
“We have four rivers coming in and only one going out,” Mantifel said, a situation made more complicated by the presence of the Round Lake Dam.
The dam, operated by Renfrew Hydro, has been a bone of contention for residents for years. Built in 1911, it is used to control water levels on Round Lake, which in turn controls the amount of water heading into Golden Lake.
“The only reason we have floods is that dam,” Mantifel said. Without it, the river could run its course naturally, with the floodplain downstream absorbing the excess water.
But it isn't that simple. The dam both ensures there is sufficient water for Renfrew Hydro to run its power station and prevents flooding along Golden Lake, where the residents are vulnerable.
Mantifel said he believes a little more foresight on the dam's operators could have prevented much of this, if it had been used to lower water levels to make way for the spring freshet, but that didn't happen.
Round Lake residents had launched a class action lawsuit about the situation, which had been making its way through the courts for the past decade. Recently, the property owners learned a judge had declassified the lawsuit, essentially dismissing it.
Mantifel said all anyone can do now is wait for the water levels to subside, and hope there isn't a large amount of rain or a rapid melt of all the snow that is left within the watershed to dump more water into the saturated system.
On Friday, the Pembroke District Office of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry advised residents a flood warning is still in effect for Renfrew County. Residents should be aware that water levels are still high and are contributing to flooding around the county. The MNRF advised for safety, all residents should keep a close watch on conditions, regularly check for updated messages and exercise caution near fast-moving rivers and streams.
“At this time, water levels have peaked in some watersheds and are starting to decline while in others water levels continue to rise,” the MNRF stated in a press release.
“Some large lakes around the county are still partially covered with ice and snow still remains in some forested areas. Melting snow and ice will continue to contribute to rising water levels in these areas.”
The provincial government agency also advised people take extreme caution when using forest access roads for outdoor activities as many are seasonally inundated with water, prone to washouts and may be impassible due to current water levels.
The MNRF also stated any residents with flooding concerns should take appropriate action to protect their property. Anyone requiring sandbags or assistance should contact their local municipality.