Muskoka Mayors talk Freshet 2020 & flood plain maps as Spring approaches; Are you in a flood zone?

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Agatha Farmer

The freshet is almost upon us, so yes warmer weather but also wet weather and given last year's historic flooding Muskoka is a little hesitant about welcoming Spring 2020.

In an attempt to prepare the public for the event the district of Muskoka with the Muskoka Emergency Response Committee released a statement advising and reminding residents that conditions will be changing and will be accompanied by the possibility of heavy rain, severe weather and rapid snow melt that can increase the risk of flooding in flood-prone areas.

This spring thaw, commonly known as the freshet, is a result of snow and ice moving and melting into lake and river systems, which can last for weeks as the snowpack melts.

The MERC encourages residents to be prepared during the freshet for rapid changes that could cause potential flooding in flood-prone areas. The Muskoka Emergency Response Committee is comprised of the area’s six municipalities and the District of Muskoka. MERC collaborates with the local area municipalities to protect the health and safety of residents and visitors to Muskoka in times of emergency.

Bracebridge Mayor Gryadon Smith said the town is "hoping for a long slow melt which will mean a more typical spring. It really is not possible to predict flooding in advance as it is a combination of snowpack, warm weather and rain that triggers events such as last year."

"As we have in years prior we will be staying in close contact with MNRF to understand steps they are taking and concerns they may have with regards to any specific weather conditions that may trigger flooding ... After last year's events we have also updated our emergency planning and preparedness to make sure that any lessons learned from 2019 are applicable in the future," said Smith

Smith adds that sandbags will be available to the public should residents wish to pick them up in preparation.

Muskoka Lakes Mayor Phil Harding said the freshet remains a concern as the "Township is not in control of water levels." Harding was critical of the November provincial flood report and indicated that it offered no solutions or mitigation for spring 2020.

"There have been many conversations with the province and in particular the MNRF to request greater information about snow pack and water levels across the system.  Currently there is significantly less snow on the ground than last year, in addition, the water content of the snow is less than half that of 2019.  Both of these factors should provide general comfort to property owners that based on all elements that impact flooding – the spring 2020 freshet should come and go without cause for alarm," he said.

Harding is optimistic about the district's new flood plain mapping and said it's "extensive and will be utilized for future development guidelines."

On Feb. 12 the district acquired flood plain mapping for the Muskoka River Watershed and has made the mapping available to the public via its website. Residents can view or download the mapping at the following link: District officials encourage both year round and seasonal residents with properties of interest to review the flood plain mapping posted on the district website. If your property has flooded in the past or if it is located in an area where flooding is possible, officials advise that those residents should take any necessary precautions in preparation for the 2020 Spring Freshet.

Huntsville Mayor Karin Terziano said the town has been preparing for the 2020 Freshet and has a public meeting scheduled for March. 18.

"We have lined up multiple agencies to be available to answer questions and provide information. This includes the MNR," she said.

Terziano added that the municipality will have sandbags available to the public plus locations to fill them.

The Spring Freshet Information Session in Huntsville is on March 18 at the Active Living Centre from 6 p.m. - 8 p.m. and will also provide an overview of the flood plain maps.

The District website has been updated to include resources and information such as preventative measures identified by the MERC that property owners can take to be prepared for rapid changes that could cause potential flooding in flood-prone areas. As the freshet approaches, residents are also encouraged to tune into local radio and television stations in addition to monitoring social media outlets for emergency information. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF), Towns, Townships or the District of Muskoka may issue high water safety bulletins, flood advisories, flood warnings and emergency statements.

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