Despite Toronto’s relative safety from rising sea levels, the greatest threat is from above.
In 30-40 years, Toronto will experience double the current amount of rainy days as well as significantly more severe thunderstorms.
Toronto residents are familiar with intense rainfall after a wakeup call on July 8, 2013 when a month’s worth of rainfall fell in a matter of hours. It left the city in a standstill, with subways and major roadways blocked off due to torrential downpours flooding transportation arteries around the city. The Don River which flows to Lake Ontario flooded, leading to the busiest artery heading south to downtown to be shut down for hours.
Neighbourhoods across the city were flooded, including the home of Beverly Silva. On the day of the 2013 storm, she rushed home to find a wet basement under nearly a meter of water. As a result of the historic storm, her insurance company canceled her coverage.
“It wasn’t my fault; it was the city’s fault. The infrastructure was just worn out and wasn’t working,” Silva told CBC Radio. “[Flooding] washes away part of your life.”
Blair Feltmate, an environmental sciences professor at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ont. sees Silva’s case as the new normal if residents are not prepared for the worst.
"As a result of climate change and extreme weather events, in short form, Toronto is going to become hotter, wetter and wilder in terms of weather," Feltmate told CBC. "We have to be proactive and be ahead of the curve. Not acting is simply not an option. Every day we don't adapt is a day we don't have."
What seemed like a freak storm, was a red herring for things to come as 2016 became the hottest year on record, beating out 2015 and 2014, thus creating more concern that humans will suffer the consequences of increased CO2 in the atmosphere.
How Residents Can Prepare for the Next Storm
Older homes are most vulnerable to flooding. This includes heritage homes dating back to the 1840s as well as homes built in the 1960s to ‘70s. Chris Cavan, a waterproofing contractor and owner of Toronto-based City Wide Group, says it’s because building standards for sealing the homes’ foundation were not effective.
“Older homes are prone to flooding for two main reasons. One being they do not have pre-existing weeping tiles, or drainage systems around the exterior of the house. It wasn’t until the 1950’s that the inception of clay weeping tile came about, and evolved into the plastic ABS style in the 1970’s. Secondly, older home did not have any waterproofing applied to the exterior of the foundation walls,” Cavan said.
Eventually, builders would add a layer of cement parging and a layer of tar on the wall, and eventually evolved to a building code to add a plastic drainage ‘mat’ to the foundation wall. Sadly, this minimum requirement typically fails after a few years of installation.
The areas of Toronto most vulnerable are in low-lying neighborhoods, however the 2013 storm has shown that even homes at higher elevation in the borough of North York are also at risk of flooding. For those who cannot afford to waterproof the exterior of their home with a bituthane membrane, can seek help from the City in order to avoid losing their insurance coverage.
“Municipal governments can help by informing homeowners of protective and preventative measures as to what to do for flood prevention. Rebate incentives for back water valves and sump pumps are already in place for several municipalities. It would be even more effective it cities offered rebates or tax break on foundation waterproofing systems,” Cavan said.