Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Grand River in Flood

Our region has experienced some severe localized flooding this week as we had above freezing temperatures, melting snow and rain. The entire year has been exceptionally wet and the ground is saturated with moisture.

A number of dams have been built to control water flows on the Grand River but water had to be released from them this weekend as the reservoirs approached full capacity. The Nith River flows into the Grand at Paris, Ontario, but there are no dams upstream for flood control and some communities along its banks have seen the worst flooding since 1975.

Grand River nears the top of the flood wall
Picture on the left taken one week earlier

Yesterday the Grand River flood crest occurred at noon a few kilometres from our home in Galt, Ontario. I wrote about a severe flood which happened here in May 1974. Since then, flood walls have been built along the river within the city core. The river flows below the hospital where I work and the flood plain is wide and uninhabited. The river is much wider than usual here and the current is fast, but not ferocious. None of the trails I walk in this area are accessible at this time.

Speed River at Riverside Park

Downstream from the hospital, the Speed River joins the Grand River at Preston. Further along, the river is channelled over a low head dam between the flood walls in Galt. I have watched the river here in the spring but have never seen it rush like it did yesterday.

Parkhill Dam December 2008

This low head dam used to be a popular perch for summer swimmers to dive from when flows were much lower. Ten years ago in August 1998, a ten year old boy drowned at this spot as did the police officer from the diving team who tried to retrieve the body. People have become more respectful of the power of the river, even when it is not in flood. I took the picture on the left of kayakers in the same spot beneath the dam during the spring thaw in March 2007. The arches at the bottom of the old mill building are submerged now and the big rock is completely covered with water.

Main Street Bridge, Galt Ontario, December 29, 2008

This is the next bridge where Main Street crosses the river. I took a number of pictures here one week earlier and have placed one on the left for comparison. I don't think a canoe would even fit under this bridge. Further downstream a man did try to canoe in this current. He struck a tree and had to be rescued by the emergency response team. In my opinion, people like this should have to pay for their own rescue. The flood walls are higher than the roadway and are seen well in the smaller picture.

Below is a 30 second video clip of the moving water. If you want to watch three and a half minutes of rushing water, I posted a longer video here on YouTube. A number of people were watching the river and I was talking to an enthusiastic flood watcher. He was an aspiring hydrologist and was contemplating a post graduate degree in this field. He threw numbers and statistics at me as he analyzed the river. These numbers give some idea of the river's average and flood flows. At this spot:

Average flow- 15-30 cubic metres/second
Dec 29/08 peak flow- 603 cubic metres/second
Major flood May 1974- 1000+ cubic metres/second

Many areas of North America have experienced similar weather conditions and are flooded at this time. Flood control measures have been effective in this city this time but we can never underestimate the power of nature's forces.


  1. Wow... that's a lot of water! Be safe! And dry...

  2. The awesome power of water!It seems unusual to have flood waters in winter.Stay safe.

  3. Anonymous9:56 pm GMT-5

    Yes, stay safe Ruth. That waterflow looks very powerful.

  4. Some ducks hunters were out this weekend in high winds and had to be rescued from Lake Erie...stupid people. We are very lucky at so many people here are flooded...

  5. Ruth,

    My computer wouldn't allow me to view the video this time, but I can see the power of the water.

    Be careful. I enjoyed the history and sorry to hear a live was lost...


  6. I well remember the May 1974 flood and the tremendous damage we saw. Floods in our part of the country are rare but on the east coast the floods, high winds and torrential rains have covered large parts of several states continually even since the end of the official hurricane season. Some hundreds of families are still waiting after 5 months to return to their homes or what may be left of them. We are so blessed!

  7. The photos are gorgeous and a bit scary. I don't know what makes people think they can go out on such waters with a canoe.

  8. Hi Ruth......watching the video made me slightly tingly....such a powerful force.....I have such respect for mother nature, she always has the last say......

    I do hope the water subsides soon. We had much flooding here in the UK last year.....it is heartbreaking for those that lose their homes and contents......fortunately there were no fatalities........

    Stay safe Ruth and enjoy your New Year......

  9. Fantastic photos of the flooding. I hope it ends soon for you.

  10. A flood, here! Where have I been yesterday!

  11. Seems so early to hear of flood waters! A LOT of water.

    Wishing you a great New Year with a good knee, many happy adventures, lots of love and many great pictures.

  12. Can you imagine all that water and it's still only December (no for long). Wait till spring. That much water is really a scary thing, so I want you to be careful while visiting those sites Ruth. I remember when that young lad and police officer died. It was really sad. The funeral and the walk to the cemetry via horse drawn carriage was just a few yards from my house(at the time). I think about it often and is probably why I have a fear of rushing water.

    HAPPY NEW YEAR RUTH and all her visitors. Looking forward to spending time with all of you in 2009.

  13. Amazing photographs of the raging river. Hope the worst is over.

  14. Wow Ruth... that's surely a testament to the power of the water and how it does have to be respected.

  15. Thank you for your comments and New Year wishes. I can never understand why people build homes in flood prone areas. Cheryl D ...I am very careful and this was really the safest place to watch the river. The water made me feel dizzy but the rail was secure. This water was only 0.5C and falling in would be deadly very quickly. I am staying away from muddy river banks.

  16. Ruth,

    Your photos show the force of the mighty Grand. She is usually a lackadaisical river, but not at the present time. All of the roads along the river here in town have been closed since Sunday. On Friday Brandon and I noticed that you couldn't even get to the dog park because the road was closed to to flooding.

    I remember the flood of '74 well. Many people here that lived along the river lost everything. Now we have dikes, which prevent a lot of damage.

    Take care, my friend and be careful around the water.



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