With a vote at their Feb. 2 meeting, Minto council members set in motion a plan that could literally re-shape a community.
Council approved the Harriston Flood Mitigation Study and directed staff to work on designs and a financial plan to implement the study’s recommendations, including diversion of the Maitland River around the town.
It’s an ambitious response to long-standing flood concerns in a community that hit a modern tipping point with a 2017 flood that led to an emergency declaration and caused massive property damage in many sections of Harriston.
Local residents made it clear at a public meeting following the disaster that they wanted solutions to seriously mitigate the perennial threat of flooding and council and its consultants have proposed one that should virtually eliminate it.
While moving the Maitland, at an estimated $38 million, might seem an expensive solution, the problem here is pretty unique.
While many communities have rivers running through them, Harriston’s situation was recently described by Triton engineering senior planner and former Minto CAO Bill White as like “Being at the bottom of the bathtub.”
Within the 20km stretch known as the Harriston sub-watershed, the river drops in elevation from 85 feet near Mount Forest, to 15 feet passing through Harriston.
During increasingly common major rainfall events, water simply can’t get though town fast enough and it backs up.
While council has not yet committed to the full river diversion – that can’t happen without massive funding injections from upper levels of government – they made clear it’s the preferred long-term objective.
Councillor Ron Elliott asked the question on many people’s minds when he asked what will happen to the existing river channel if full river diversion is achieved.
“Will there still be water going through Harriston?” Elliott wondered.
No doubt those who have enjoyed many a walk along the river’s winding path through town, or waded in its normally shallow flows (it’s occasionally navigable by canoe, but you can’t bank on it), will be pleased with the response of Minto’s road and drainage manager Mike McIssac.
He told council some “control flows” would be needed to manage the town’s lagoon system and the current channel would continue to act as a storm sewer outlet.
“So there would be continuous flows throughout,” he explained.
While there will probably be some disruptions along the way, that sounds like a solution that could lead to the best of both worlds if everything falls into place.