Hardest hit by last month’s flooding in Woolwich Township, West Montrose residents will get some answers – and a chance to pose more questions – about what happened June 23 at a public meeting Monday night in the village.
Several homes near the covered bridge suffered significant flooding, and the West Montrose Family Camp was swamped well beyond typical levels when the Grand River swelled due to a massive downpour in the northern part of the watershed.
Hosted by the Grand River Conservation Authority and the Township of Woolwich, the meeting will provide the results of information gathered over the past few weeks.
“Following a debrief with township officials and emergency services, we felt it was important to meet with residents to provide an overview of the unprecedented rainfall event,” said GRCA spokesman Cameron Linwood. “GRCA staffs have had a chance to review data collected from the event last month. This data will help provide a better understanding of what caused the flooding locally, and provides an opportunity to look at improvements to flood communication and flooding awareness moving forward.”
The meeting will begin with a presentation by GRCA director of engineering Dwight Boyd. During the presentation staff will be providing a summary overview of the rainfall event on June 23 as well as its effect on the Grand River watershed. They will also review the actions taken in response to the rainfall and will provide West Montrose residents with insight into the next steps they will be taking to develop additional flood-awareness initiatives.
The forum at the West Montrose United Church comes in response to the frustration voiced by residents about the late warning they received about the scale of the flooding. Water flows in parts of the system reached levels unseen since 1974, when massive flooding occurred.
Tony Dowling, a West Montrose resident who lives across from the bridge, had flood waters rise across the street into his garage, causing substantial damage.
“Certainly the issues are ‘how do we prevent the water from doing this?’ and, if it should it happen, ‘how do we notify people much earlier so that they can react and get stuff out of their basements, garages, onto higher ground?’” he said. “We had an hour, maybe. I think that we could have had maybe eight hours.”
He pointed out that residents were told at a subsequent Woolwich council meeting that the GRCA was notified at 4 a.m. that an hour earlier the rainfall monitors were popping off the charts, yet residents weren’t warned until after 2 p.m. that water levels could come across road.
Dowling said he hopes the meeting sheds light on why the events of June 23 occurred, and how officials plan to prepare better for a similar event in the future.
“I think it’s looking back and then looking forward. Obviously we can’t change what happened,” he said.“It can’t be guys sitting at a table with calculators – I am exaggerating, but there has to be some sophisticated computer monitoring system to predict all of this. Why isn’t that in place?”
He questions the preparedness of the conservation authority, especially given how little storage capacity was available in the reservoirs behind the GRCA’s dams.
“Why were the reservoirs so full going into June 23? I know there is a balance between flood control and flow augmentation for later in the summer, but it seems like the balance once you get into June is very much into flow augmentation, no protection for floods. I think that has to be looked at,” he said. “The GRCA is saying they were totally caught off guard, that the forecast didn’t allow for this much rainfall upstream, but, again, why is there no preparation for unexpected events like this? They were caught off guard and seemed totally unprepared for this once it happened.”
Questions such as those should be answered at the meeting, he suggested.
Meanwhile, leading into the meeting, the GRCA has its own goals.
“We’d like to ensure residents fully understand the severity of the event that caused flooding within the community,” said Linwood. “We would also like to actively involve West Montrose residents in the development of the flooding awareness initiatives that will be presented at the meeting.”
The meeting will be held Monday, July 24, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the West Montrose United Church, 42 Covered Bridge Dr. Woolwich Mayor Sandy Shantz will chair the meeting with conservation authority and municipal staff present to speak to residents and answer any questions they might have.