Building resiliency the key to surviving extreme weather

The recent prolonged stretch of frigid winter weather left many Toronto residents without water, and had the city scrambling to restore services. Ward 32 was among the hardest hit with hundreds of frozen pipes, broken water mains, and ‘no water’ calls to 311 and to my office. Many of our fellow neighbours are still without running water.

I would first like to commend our residents for being so patient, for offering many helpful tips for Toronto Water, for being willing to highline for other neighbours, and for generously helping each other out. It shows the true benevolent spirit of our community!

I apologize for the communication breakdown at the beginning of this ordeal. It was frustrating for everyone. The city can and should do better at sending out clear and accurate messages on a more regular basis. I will be pushing hard and working with Toronto Water to improve communication!

Unfortunately, ‘extreme’ weather is becoming all too common.

In July 2013, we experienced the most damaging storm since Hurricane Hazel. There was a very intense rainfall within a short timeframe, which resulted in the flooding of rivers and creeks, roads, and many basements in Ward 32. At the peak of the storm, over 300,000 customers were left without power.

The recovery effort cost the city close to $70 million, and damage from the storm resulted in almost 6,000 insurance claims to the City.

In December 2013, freezing rain and ice pellets took down many of our trees and hydro lines. The storm again left around 300,000 Torontonians without power for the holidays.

The recovery costs of the storm were estimated at $106 million to the City and agencies.

There are always financial costs to these weather events, along with significant health and social impacts for our most vulnerable residents. Climate change has shifted our weather patterns, and we must adapt to this reality by making Toronto a more resilient city.

To become resilient, we need to plan and design infrastructure to reduce the impacts from weather events, along with preparing ourselves to bounce back quickly when these events occur.

I recently attended the parks and environment subcommittee on climate change mitigation and adaptation, where we heard from more than 300 passionate residents! I was energized by their ideas, from ‘Meatless Mondays’, to waste diversion strategies, warning labels on gas nozzles, energy efficiency, and urban agriculture.

All would help to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.

We need to plant more trees, protect our tree canopy, and be proactive in pruning our branches to reduce the damage to property and power lines during a weather event. If you would like to request pruning of your city tree, please call 311 to get on the list.

We can reduce flooding by using rain barrels to capture runoff, and we can work to increase permeable surfaces in the urban environment. Investing in our aging infrastructure such as storm water management systems and improving our transit system are necessary to prepare ourselves for the future.

Preparation for extreme weather events and emergencies is a key component of a resilient city. Recently, as part of the public works and infrastructure committee, I was able to visit the Emergency Operations Centre. This is where a team of department representatives works to coordinate the response and recovery during an emergency such as the ice storm.

To further prepare Ward 32, I am working with Greening Ward 32, East Toronto Climate Action Group, and city staff to host an emergency preparedness workshop for late spring.

Stay tuned, and let’s become more resilient together!

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