Ottawa River management authorities face public - Severe flooding unavoidable say authorities

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Added: Wed, 11/20/2019 - 2:04pm
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Marie Beaumont, Hydro Québec engineer, speaks with residents.

Allyson Beauregard

CAMPBELL’S BAY & ILE-DU-GRAND-CALUMET – The Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board (ORRPB) and Hydro Québec hosted two local open house events – at the Ile-du-Grand-Calumet Community Centre on November 4 and the Campbell’s Bay RA Hall on November 6—to provide an overview of how reservoirs, dams and river flows are managed in the Outaouais. Seven other open houses were held across the Outaouais and Laurentian regions. 
The event featured a variety of kiosques with “experts” from the provincial government, the ORRPB, Hydro Quebec and Ontario Power Generation with
pamphlets, graphs and charts to answer questions. A short video about reservoirs
and water levels played continuously in one corner.
An 18-page handout provided answers and explanations to 19 questions
ranging from the ORRPB’S role and what causes flooding to whether communities are sacrificed to protect the Montréal region and if hydro producers profit from flood conditions.
While flooding is not expected to occur every year based on probability, according to the ORRPB, if similar conditions to those in 2017 or 2019 occur again, nothing
can be done to avoid the same outcome.
Thirteen principal reservoirs are included in the 1983 integrated management agreement, seven of which affect Ottawa River levels between Rolphton and Fort-Coulonge. During the winter, they are emptied to make room for as much northern spring runoff as possible to mitigate flooding. Dams have minimal capacity, so they are unable to hold water back; they generally adjust their gates to allow the same amount of water to pass through as what arrives during floods.
Reservoirs are able to prevent significant downstream flooding in most years, but according to ORRPB, they can only hold back about 40% of average spring runoff and there are many uncontrolled tributaries located downstream from them. 
“Overall, a land area twice the size of New Brunswick drains to the Ottawa River. For example, if 50 mm of rain were received over much of the watershed and half of
this ran into the river, it would represent an additional volume of 3,650 million cubic meters of water into the river; more than what’s needed to fill 1,000,000 Olympic
swimming pools,” said the ORRPB.
When spring flow from snow or rain is significantly larger than the reservoirs’ capacity or there is significant runoff in areas where there are no reservoirs, it’s impossible to prevent flooding, said the ORRPB. They estimated the reservoirs reduced water levels along the Ottawa River’s main stem by about 40 cm in all locations in 2019.   
According to the ORRPB, the water contained in this spring’s snowpack was double the average given that spring was late and snow continued to accumulate. There was no reduction in the snowpack in early spring because of low sunshine
and cooler temperatures. Two major rainfalls occurred on Easter weekend with between 20-50 mm of rain over much of the Ottawa River basin at a time when spring snowmelt runoff was already exceeding major flood levels.
“April was very wet with about twice as much rain as normal with a sequence of heavy rainfalls throughout April and May, which added additional runoff to streams that were already swollen by significant snowmelt volume,” said the ORRPB.
The ORRPB is in the process of creating a summary report of the 2019
spring flood and adapting communication measures to disseminate water management strategies faster and more efficiently.
The entire question and answer document is available at http://ottawariver.ca/
docs/FAQ_2019_ORRPB
(V.Oct24).pdf