Fort Frances declares state of emergency as extreme weather causes flooding in northwestern Ontario

Severe weather conditions spread across Northwestern Ontario this weekend, causing flooding, road washouts and infrastructure outages in the region.

Fort Frances Ont., about 200 kilometers from Kenora, declared a state of emergency Saturday after a “critical infrastructure failure” in its sewage treatment system.

Flooding has also been reported in residential areas around the community, according to the municipality’s emergency management specialist.

“So we’re just monitoring things right now…we’re doing what we can to ease the pressure on the systems to keep things running,” said Patrick Brière, who is also public information officer.

The Fort Frances area received about 71 millimeters of rain Friday and Saturday, according to Environment Canada. The large amount of precipitation was due to another Colorado low system moving through northwestern Ontario and southeastern Manitoba.

This comes after a particularly harsh winter in northwestern Ontario, which caused numerous weather-related issues across the region.

As some community members deal with flooded basements, the Fort Frances Municipality Control Group met on Sunday after crews worked Friday and Saturday at one of six sewage treatment plants from the community.

Travis Rob, the municipality’s operations manager, said the White Pine lift station began flooding on Friday, causing problems in the community’s sewer system.

“Friday evening all night when we had the majority of our rain our White Pine lift station failed, the dry well flooded flooding our pumps and all the control equipment to run this lift station,” Rob said.

The cause of the failure in the sanitation system remains undetermined

Rob said manual pumping has started at the lift station, which is a pumping station designed to move sewage using a collection system, and other areas around the station.

On Sunday, a large pump was installed on the site.

“It basically consists of playing the role of the lift station and bypassing the flooded pumps. As of this morning, the dry well is still completely submerged. We will be working all week to drain it, to understand why it flooded,” said he declared.

Rob said everything at the station seemed to be operating as usual when the flooding happened, which made it difficult for operators to know how it happened in the first place.

The municipality has a rain emergency plan to follow for situations like this, according to Rob, which was last used in 2014.

In 2014, the Fort Frances area experienced significant flooding. Pictured here is the Point Park flood nearly a decade ago. Now in 2022 the township has had a nearby park due to flooding again. (City of Fort Frances/Twitter)

In 2014, Fort Frances, Couchiching First Nation, Rainy River and Emo all struggled with flooding caused by rising waters in the Rainy Lake and Lake of the Woods watershed.

“The difference between 2014 and now is that we lost a lift station, which put a tremendous amount of additional stress on our system as a whole. So that’s really the difference,” Rob said.

For now, the municipality is asking residents to watch their water usage, limiting things like long showers and extra laundry loads to help reduce pressure on the sewage system.

Some areas of the city are also closed due to flooding, including the Point Park area.

“Just remind the public to stay out of the area where the crews are working. We still have crews working in a few areas and just giving them some space so they can do their job,” said Briere.

Water roars through the Boulevard Lake Dam on the Current River in Thunder Bay, Ontario. 12 April 2021. A flood watch has been issued as 50 millimeters of rain was recorded in parts of the city this weekend. (photo: Gord Ellis/CBC)

Road washouts were also reported by the Ministry of transportation throughout the weekend due to the amount of rain, the last being on Highway 611 in Fort Frances near Rose Road.

The weather is causing problems throughout the northwest

Meanwhile, a flood watch remains in place in the Thunder Bay District area according to the Lakehead Region Conservation Authority (LRCA).

The flood watch was issued Saturday, indicating the potential for flooding in specific waterways and municipalities in the district.

According to the conservation authority, some gauges recorded more than 50 millimeters of mixed rainfall over the weekend.

“The above average snowpack will absorb some of the precipitation; however, due to frozen ground conditions, runoff and pooling in low lying areas are expected to increase,” reads the LRCA flood watch. .

Thunder and a thunderstorm that rolled through the area Friday night also sparked at least one fire in the Thunder Bay area, according to the city’s fire department.

Crews responded to reports of a fire around 1am on Saturday in the Community Hall Road area.

Thunder Bay Fire Rescue reported a lightning strike near a home in the area, charring parts of the home’s basement.

No one was injured, firefighters said.