Officials are working hard to make sure the Toronto Islands remain a top destination this summer but rough weather and high tides have already taken a toll.
On Thursday, high winds caused large waves to crash over the sand bags put along the coast, causing significant flooding in several parts of the islands.
Video shot from the CityNews helicopter shows several homes becoming inundated with water as waves crash over man-made barriers.
“Last night and in recent days we’ve had, due to some large winds and large waves, some significant breaches of some of the mitigation measures that have been put in place around the islands,” Spadina-Fort York councillor Joe Cressy explained.
“I can tell you that for people who live on the islands, for the local businesses, this has been a stressful time.”
James Dann, manager of Waterfront Parks, said they are working hard to keep Wards Island open.
“Right now there are 24 industrial pumps pumping full time, 24 hours a day, to keep water levels low,” he explained.
“We are keeping the water out of the island itself and the island remains open, the main road is open.”
With more weather in the forecast for this weekend, Dann said there is the potential risk of more ponding but staff will be working through the day, night and overnight and the pumps will continue to run to try to keep the island dry.
Mayor John Tory commended city staff for their work in keeping most the Islands open. He said they will be assessing the Islands on a day-to-day basis, but as of now, they anticipate the island will remain safe even with the current weather forecasts.
But it’s not good news for all of the islands.
Dann said Olympic Island is completely closed and will probable remain that way for the rest of the season due to flooding.
“It’s under 30 centimetres of water right now so it will not be open. Events that were taking place on Olympic will not be taking place.”
Water levels in Lake Ontario are currently as high as they were in 2017 when huge sections of the island were heavily damaged by flooding.
Tory add, while he is concerned this may be the new normal, Toronto alone can’t fight climate change and the rising water levels.
“I think in the meantime what we have to do is take the steps we have taken over the last two years to protect the islands and protect the residents and businesses. And then look at, long term, what is practical and feasible for us to do to provide further protection against, what I’m afraid will be, very regular incidents of this kind,” said Tory. “When you see it happen twice in three years, when it hadn’t previously happened for 40 years, then that’s enough to tell you something is changing and not for the better.”
“We are going to have to sit down with the residents and businesses over here and discuss the long-term plan and discuss everyone’s responsibility to take steps in light of what climate change is bringing about with respect to water levels,” Tory added.
Cressy said that since 2017 city officials have been working to make sure the Toronto Islands and its residents don’t have to go through what they went through that year.
“The fact is that when we have a significant storm and water levels as they are now, the island, while it remains open, there is risk and so we’re working tirelessly at the city with our staff and with the TRCA (Toronto Regional Conservation Association) to ensure that the island stays open and that the island is safe,” Cressy said.
Cressy said going forward, with weather patterns continuing the way they are, annual sand bagging efforts cannot be the solution and that in June recommendations will be coming forward that looks at long-term adaptation and mitigation measures.
“We will not allow the islands long term to simply be consumed by water.”
Shoreline hazard warnings have been in effect for nearly a month as Lake Ontario water levels continue to rise to dangerous levels.