The sound of rain terrifies Laurie Bourgeois and Michel Thibault.
“(When) we get a thunderstorm in the summertime, you can sit on your balcony or deck and watch it come down. We’re looking for a flood,” said Thibault.
The couple lives on 1st Street East near J.S. Wood Library. They are among dozens of Saskatoon residents who fear flooding due to heavy rainfall overwhelming the city’s aging infrastructure.
Water from local and surrounding areas comes in too quickly for the old infrastructure to handle, causing it to pool on the street, bubble up from the sewer and work its way into homes through basement windows.
“Manhole covers popping off four feet and water gushing out and flowing down the street,” said Thibault.
The homeowners said within minutes of the first rain drops, water is lapping at their drive way and has twice flooded their basement over the past decade.
“The solutions aren’t simple and they aren’t cheap. There’s a lot of money to be spent to help these residents.” – Galen Heinrichs, Saskatoon Water engineering manager
Relief might take years, but a new report suggests change is on the way.
The Standing Policy Committee on Environment, Utilities and Corporate Service approved a report Monday recommending the city develop a storm water plan that includes long-term funding for new infrastructure.
While the report doesn’t recommend specific solutions, administration estimates it will cost at least $17.3 million to repair and protect 130 homes in three of the most at-risk neighbourhoods from a one in 10 year flood.
There are also $38-million and $52-million options to protect against larger floods to as many as 286 homes on these blocks.
If the city chose to protect all at-risk homes, it would cost $174 million over 10 years.
“The solutions aren’t simple and they aren’t cheap. There’s a lot of money to be spent to help these residents,” said Galen Heinrichs, Saskatoon Water engineering manager.
The three most at-risk neighbourhoods included in the $17.3-million plan are Ruth-Cairns, 1st Street-Dufferin and Cascade-Dufferin.
Funding will likely come from increasing storm water utility taxes, but might also flow by charging prioritized neighbourhoods, continuing the Flood Protection Program levy and redirecting money from the riverbank stabilization.
Coun. Pat Lorje noted as the city works on infill projects, flooding will become a larger issue.
While Laurie Bourgeois applauds the move, she wants more done in the interim.
“Give us a commitment that if there’s not a fix in place and we flood this summer, they’ll come in and do the work. We’re not going to spend a whole summer redoing our basement,” she said.
Unless it is caused by negligence, the city is not liable for flooding caused by surface runoff.
Residents might still be able to apply for the Saskatchewan Provincial Disaster Assistance Program, depending on the circumstances.
Heinrichs said the committee’s approval gives his department a direction on how to handle the flooding. The next step is to speak to residents about potential solutions and provide council with the best understanding of the problem along with potential solutions, costs and time frames.
In the meantime, homeowners like Thibault and Bourgeois are hoping for a dry summer.
“The chances of it flooding are certainly a high risk,” Bourgeois said. “I just don’t want to spend another summer ripping out drywall.”