The Year of High Water – Again!
By David Bree, Ontario Parks
In 2017, Lake Ontario’s water level rose to the highest it had ever been in the 100 years of record keeping, topping out at 75.81m above sea level. It was a once in a hundred-year flood. Two years later, Lake Ontario again rose well above normal. In fact, it seems to have topped out at 75.92m, a full 11cm above the old record! There have been some similarities, but also some differences.
By May 1st, 2019, the lake was at 75.41cm (40cm above the long-term average) and the Marsh Boardwalk was closed between the towers. By May 8th the lake was high but not as high as in 2017 and we were hopeful. But the lake started to rise faster, going up 10cms in 3 days. By May 10th at 75.62m, the Calf Pasture parking lot was closed as was the Beach 1 parking lot. The latter was quite flooded but more due to rain than lake levels. By contrast, Beach 2 parking was quite dry, and it was kept open, unlike in 2017 when we had all beach parking lots closed until the end of July. But the beach was shrinking. By May 18th, with the lake at 75.76m, most of the beach was gone. This actually took more water than in 2017, as that high-water event had built up the beach to a higher level, but still the water rose.
On May 22nd the lake broke the 2017 record going over 75.81 metres. Despite the high water, we did not close the park as we did in 2017. This was mostly due to the lower amount of rain. Despite having four times the May rain in 2019 (131mm) that we did in 2018 (31mm), we still had much less than in 2017 (247mm). This allowed some campsite to dry out between rains. Still Zach, our assistant clerk, spent much of late May and June calling people to give them options on their forth-coming reservations because their sites were unusable.
Despite the high-water levels, it was the high winds and waves that caused our greatest concerns. High winds on June 3rd resulted in water going over the Chatterson Point road and it was closed for a day. These waves also flooded the LIC parking lot and eroded the shoreline in Day Use and the Campgrounds. One loop in Elmvale was closed as the road was starting to erode away.
High winds hit again on June 11th and June 14th. The latter was particularly high—the High Bluff causeway was impassible, and part of the High Bluff campground was evacuated. The causeway itself was slightly damaged. In addition, hundreds of pounds of cobbles were thrown up on the day use area and covered the walkway heading to the lighthouse. That Elmvale loop road completely disappeared.
At the time of writing, the park is in pretty good shape… it is just different. The beach is accessible with little exposed sand buts lots of shallow water to splash in. The Marsh Boardwalk between the towers is closed to protect it, but the towers are accessible for a view of the flooded marsh. The high water in the marsh means many birds and mammals have been forced into the open and are easier to see. Some campsites are closed but not too many and those with reservations on them have been accommodated. It’s going to be great summer, just a little different, in this repeat year of high water!