A once in a hundred years flood in 2017. And then another in 2019. Ignoring the simplistic view that this seems impossible, and ignoring all discussion of the role of climate change, this has still been a tough time for many people, especially those living or working close to the Ottawa river.
A couple of weeks ago the waters were at near-record highs again. We were heading from Montreal to Ottawa (City). They had just closed the Galipeault Bridge, cutting the Hwy 20 route off the west end of the island. We headed out on Hwy 40 and then had to queue for an hour to get over the Île aux Tourtes Bridge. It was the only road access still open off the west end of Montreal Island and had been cut from 3 lanes to one as road crews shored up the edges where the Lac des Deux-Montagnes had expanded and threatened to close to the road.
For the people whose homes had been flooded this was a hellish, soul-destroying time. Our worries were minor by comparison, but as we queued I started wondering if we could bypass the traffic woes by taking a ferry. But the fact is that even where the ferries exist, floods of this magnitude tend to shut down the ferries before they affect the bridges.
All ferries have ramp structures on the banks. A major rise in water level tends to cover the ramps and leave the ferry moored to posts well out in the river. The news reports this year, as in 2017, have been full of stories of the Ottawa river ferries being closed, and images of the infrastructures being submerged. And even when the facilities remain functional, the currents of the river in flood often become too strong to operate in.
In the two weeks since we got stuck heading to Ottawa the waters along the river crested and started receding. But in the last few days heavy rain and continued melting of the winter’s snow pack have led to levels rising again towards new records. People living in houses prone to flooding will have ever more incentive and pressure applied to move to safer locations. Ferry operations are inextricably tied to the banks of the water they cross. They can’t move, all they can do is invest in more complex infrastructure and equipment.
Update, 2019-05-14. We need to head north at rush hour, and taking the Hudson-Oka ferry is a great alternative for us to queuing on various autoroutes and bridges. But when I checked online all the Ottawa river ferries were closed due to the flooding, with one exception; Quyon was closed but had, reopened yesterday.