CG/LA Infrastructure's InfraBlog
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford says infrastructure has been “neglected,” a day after unprecedented floods strand commuters and leave thousands without power.
By: Laura Kane
Published on Tue Jul 09 2013
Toronto’s wettest day in recorded history, which stranded commuters on flood-drenched roads and cut power to hundreds of thousands of homes, has raised alarm bells about the city’s readiness for intense storms that are expected to become more frequent.
As of Tuesday night, about 70,000 homes still lacked power and subway service remained suspended between Jane and Kipling stations. GO Train lines were washed out in several areas, as crews scrambled to repair tracks damaged by flooding.
But even as city staff were praised for working overnight to limit the damage, several at city hall — including Mayor Rob Ford — said the storm highlighted aging infrastructure in desperate need of overhaul.
“If one big storm can shut down our transit system, create a power outage to over 300,000 customers and make the city virtually immovable, are we ready for when the outcome of climate change becomes even more a reality?” asked Councillor Josh Matlow.
“Rather than address this question after the fact, or in reaction, we need to be proactive and budget accordingly,” he said.
Monday’s storm dumped 126 millimetres of rain on the city, edging out Hurricane Hazel in 1954 for Toronto’s wettest day ever. Environmentalists say it is consistent with a city-commissioned report that predicts a sharp increase in extreme storms over the next 40 years.
But the city’s transportation services manager, Stephen Buckley, said that while Toronto must prepare for climate change, it does not need to design its infrastructure for storms of that magnitude.
“On a probability curve, this event was way off the charts,” Buckley said. “We don’t design systems to handle something of this size and magnitude . . . This is sort of an anomaly.”
Many of Tuesday’s ongoing problems were caused by a flooded Hydro One transmission station in South Etobicoke, one of two in the city that were flooded Monday, causing 500,000 power outages at the storm’s peak.
On Tuesday morning, more than 300,000 gallons of water — equivalent to 15 swimming pools — were removed from the station, which distributes energy to Toronto Hydro and Mississauga’s hydro company Enersource.
As crews worked around-the-clock to restore power to the station, Toronto Hydro was asked to “shed load” of about 200 megawatts and began implementing rotating power outages in four areas in the city’s west end.
About 45,000 homes were without power due to the initial outage and another 25,000 were affected by rotating outages as of Tuesday night. Residents were also being asked to conserve energy.
At a Tuesday morning press conference, Ford said the city’s infrastructure has been “neglected for years.”
“There’s no doubt about it. We do need infrastructure. We just have to fund for it,” he said.
The mayor also called for a review of the city’s emergency response procedures. He said the response was “satisfactory,” but that communications could be improved in the event of a blackout.
“People that had basement flooding, people were panicking last night. Their hydro wasn’t coming on,” Ford said. “They needed answers.”
City manager Joe Pennachetti confirmed he will conduct a detailed review of Monday’s response, but added the city has made progress since the devastating August 2005 storm that washed out part of Finch Ave. W.
“It’s a testimony to what occurred in the last 12 hours. The city is up and running this morning,” Pennachetti said. “I think we have made major strides relative to all areas, including transportation, water and sewer, parks and recreation.”
The damage from Monday’s storm could rival that caused in 2005, when severe wind and rain led to nearly $650 million in insurance payouts, said Peter Karageorgos of the Insurance Bureau of Canada.
Karageorgos said insurance claims for flooded basements and cars have already begun to pour in. As of Tuesday afternoon, the city had received 1,748 basement flooding complaints.
Toronto Water — which has the largest infrastructure renewal backlog of urban centres in Canada at $1.6 billion — has launched a study of 34 peak basement flooding areas and already installed new storm drainage in some.
Michael D’Andrea, director of water infrastructure management, said it was not known how much sewage spilled into the lake. However, he said a $1.4 billion project to curb sewage discharges to the inner harbour and Lower Don River was already underway.
The city has budgeted $75 million to deal with urban flooding in 2013, and $950 million over the next 10 years.
As for TTC and GO Transit, both agencies said it was too early to say how much damage the storm had caused their infrastructure. A TTC spokesperson said its ongoing signal upgrades will help in future extreme weather events.
Councillor Gord Perks, a member of the parks and environment committee, said it was Ford’s administration that has neglected storm infrastructure.
In 2008, city staff began to implement a report called “Ahead of the Storm: Preparing Toronto for Climate Change,” which recommended building new water infrastructure, permeable roads and green roofs. That report has since been shelved, Perks said.
“It’s clear we’re going to continue to get these storms more frequently due to climate change,” Perks said. “I think we’ve been knocked off plan, because the current administration viewed those as unnecessary expenses.”