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INNOVATION NATION: Toronto flash floods prove city needs a serious infrastructure upgrade
August 30th, 2018 7:28 am     A+ | a-

Paul De Berardis / RESCON

Everything flows towards Toronto’s lakeshore.

With three primary rivers flowing from north to south (Humber, Don and Rouge), plus four Toronto plants treating waste water, the end point for the city’s storm and sanitary sewer discharge culminates at the shores of Lake Ontario. Add heavy rainfall into the mix and this creates an infrastructure burden for storm, sanitary and combined sewer capacity. Toronto’s topographical and hydrogeological conditions exacerbate the problem.

And then you have days like Tuesday, Aug. 7, when extreme rainfall battered the city. Basements were flooded, especially in homes without backflow preventers, and the resulting photos are what we see here – some unlucky underground parking garages became cesspools, followed by revolting scenes of raw sewage floating in Lake Ontario.

A Toronto streetcar gets stuck in the Aug. 7 floods in the west end of the city.

City Hall talks about allocating $3.1 billion for storm water management and yet there is an elephant in the room – this plan will take a decade or more to fully implement. In the next decade, you can expect more news reports on flooding and images of raw sewage in Lake Ontario.

The city’s acting general manager for Toronto Water, Frank Quarisa, told the Toronto Star that the city is experiencing rainfall levels in core areas that are “far in excess of what any kind of infrastructure that we have in the ground, or even the road infrastructure, can handle.” See the story here.

Upgrading the sewer system – which includes pipes that are more 120 years old – is one of the challenges the city must tackle to deal with extreme weather. However, it is a balancing act between investing in infrastructure and the high dollar value and disruption that comes along with it – many of the pipes are directly beneath busy city streets.

Raw sewage is shown near Toronto's Lake Ontario shore in the aftermath of the Aug. 7 flash floods.

So, how did we get here? Politicians trying to win over voters by promising to keep property taxes low and constantly underspending on badly needed infrastructure have hurt the city’s ability to deal with a fast-growing population’s needs. With development charges expected to double in the next two years and new storm-water charges likely being considered, the city is looking for revenue tools to fix its infrastructure deficit. (A storm-water charge proposal was turned down last year.) This issue directly impacts the viability of current and future proposed residential developments as an estimated 100,000 people move to the GTA every year.

That’s why RESCON is working alongside our industry partner, BILD, to engage the City of Toronto on what has become an urgent systemic infrastructure crisis.

You will read more on this in the months to come in this space. Please email me with any questions or input. We appreciate your feedback.


Paul De Berardis is RESCON’s director of building science and innovation. Email him at

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