Photo credit: Jamie Reaume
by SUSAN MANN
For Bradford Marsh onion and carrot grower John Marques the growing season ended before it really got off the ground this month.
That’s because for the second time in about three weeks, his fields were flooded after a dyke gave way. Marques says he had just finished replanting on Saturday after the first breach in the dyke, which occurred May 25, washed out his crops.
“I lost everything again,” he says, and now it’s too late in the season to replant again.
He is among three farmers who are affected by the breaks and it’s not yet clear whether their losses will be covered by production insurance.
Marques estimates damages to his crop to be about $1 million. He doubts crop insurance will cover the loss because it only covers natural perils and the flooding was caused by mechanical failures – breaches in the dyke.
Agricorp spokesperson Stephanie Charest says generally farmers can get production insurance to cover yield reductions caused by an insured natural peril, such as flooding, if they selected the multi-peril coverage. “We don’t know in this case why the dyke broke,” she says. “We’re still looking into that and we’re still waiting to hear what happens there.”
Frank Jonkman, drainage superintendent with the Holland Marsh Drainage System Joint Municipal Services Board, says the first breach was located in the southeast corner of Bradford, just north of the Holland Marsh opposite Bridge Street. High water levels in Lake Simcoe coupled with north winds and spring rains punched a 12 to 15 metre wide opening in the dyke that is made of clay and topped by black muck from the marsh. The second breach hit about 25 metres east of the initial break at 11 a.m. Sunday. It too is 12 to 15 metres wide.
Jonkman says the first breach is patched but the fields are still under water after the second break. On average the fields were under 1.35 metres of water in both breaches.
There was no impact to town roads or residential areas.
Jonkman says they haven’t yet repaired the second break because “I’m strongly concerned about other failures.” In a staff report released at the Bradford West Gwillimbury council meeting June 10, he says they outlined concerns about the integrity of the dykes.
Marques says it took him seven days with three pumps running 24 hours a day to get the water out of his fields after the May 25 breach. It cost $40,000. He faces similar costs again.
Marques says his crops were on 72 per cent of the 130 acres of land that was flooded. His five buildings are also at risk because the water is just two to three inches away from the foundations. Water will likely get higher than it is now, he predicts.
Lake Simcoe water levels are currently 20 centimetres higher than normal.
But high water levels might not be the only factor at play. Jamie Reaume, executive director of the Holland Marsh Growers’ Association, says other concerns are the age of the dykes (60 years), growing urbanization that is increasing water volumes in the canal system leading to the Holland River, and rodents burrowing in the bottom of the dykes.
He says the damage will be in the millions once all costs are included.
Jonkman says there has been flooding in the area before but not as catastrophic as the two recent events.
“We did everything we could” to try to get farmers into their fields, he says. “But now because of the second breach the season in this area is done.”
Marques says the dykes should be fixed properly. “I need the proper government officials to take some responsibility for the maintenance of this.”
The Town of Bradford West Gwillimbury owns the dykes. But Jonkman says landowners have maintained the dykes since they were built in the 1950s, and it wasn’t apparent until after the first break that the town owns the dykes through land purchases it made in the 1980s.
Bradford West Gwillimbury Mayor Doug White says his council has requested help from the Ontario Municipal Affairs and Housing Ministry under the Ontario Disaster Relief Assistance program. They passed a resolution for that request June 10. Council has already declared it a disaster area.
White says they didn’t ask for a specific amount of funding under the provincial program but any money they get, if they’re approved, will be used to “fix up what was lost.”
White contacted Premier and Agriculture Minister Kathleen Wynne by phone on Monday and was assured by an official “she’s aware of the situation, she’s aware of the applications that we’ve made and I’ve been assured the province will respond quickly to our request.”
But the downside is “the season has been lost for these folks,” he notes. “What we want to do is we want approvals to proceed as quickly as possible so they don’t lose a second season.”
For its part, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food staff is reviewing the town’s request to declare the breach of the dyke that protects the area, which is also known as Horlings Marsh, as an emergency under the Drainage Act, ministry spokesperson Tanya Marissen says by email.
Jonkman says they’ve asked the ministry for emergency authorization to reconstruct the dykes through the authority of the Drainage Act, conditional on obtaining approval from all the landowners. The costs would be assessed to the benefiting landowners but the municipality is looking for ways to mitigate the costs.
He says they don’t know yet how much it will cost to fix the dyke.
The ministry administers the Drainage Act, which enables landowners to petition their local municipal council for drainage improvements, such as to dyke systems. Marques says without the emergency declaration it’s a two- to three-year process to get the proper permits and approvals from various agencies to fix or maintain the dykes.
Charest notes there are other programs farmers, if they applied for them, can use to cover farm losses, such as self-directed risk management, AgriStability or AgriInvest. BF