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Aftermath of the 100-Year Flood: Beeton farm’s survival in question

July 12, 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Cheryl Wilson

 

Nearly two warm, sunny weeks have passed since the 100-year flood on June 23 that surprised New Tecumseth and surrounding areas. Here and there, patches of standing water in the fields remain as a telltale reminder of the deluge that inundated local rivers and creeks, spilling across roads and farmland.
In this agricultural community, farm businesses took the brunt of the losses. Most crops – especially potatoes – cannot survive under water. Once the floods receded, farmers face a season’s worth of lost revenue, in the form of dead plants, now sitting under a thick layer of mud.
Farmers deal with weather challenges all the time. Heat waves, droughts, damaging winds, heavy rain are business as usual for growers. But the recent weather event was extreme, and at least one New Tecumseth farm lost so much revenue, it may drive the family out of business.
W.H. Dorsey Potatoes Ltd. farms about 1,200 acres of potatoes, onions and carrots on land along the 10th Sideroad and the 10th Line, near Bailey Creek. Normally, flooding does not pose a problem in that area. Farmer Barry Dorsey said that the nearby watershed is more often low than high.
That’s why, on June 23 at about 3 p.m., he and his family were shocked to see water pouring into the fields adjacent to their offices. It was hard to tell where the flow was coming from, but it was dramatic.
Barry’s sister, Bonnie, said she could see the water rising fast across the road, where her husband and their grandkids were playing outside.
“I called his cell phone and told him to get out of there right away,” she said. “I hate to think of what might have happened if he hadn’t been close by, watching the kids.”
Within half an hour, over 500 acres stood completely submerged under two to three feet of water. Pumps were in place, but there was no place to dump the excess water. The entire field turned into a lake, complete with fish carried on the flow from nearby Bailey Creek. The Dorseys estimate crop losses in excess of $2 million. Business has ground to a halt.
“In 60 years of farming, it’s unbelievable that a 4-inch shot of rain could be putting us out of business,” said Barry Dorsey. “In all our years of farming, we have never seen anything like this.”
Dorsey suggested that the speed at which the water flowed into the fields seemed consistent with a dam release. Pointing to video and drone footage of rushing water recorded by his crew during the event, Dorsey wondered whether rain could have been the sole cause of the extreme flooding they witnessed.
According to Glenn Switzer, acting director, Engineering & Technical Services with the Nottawasaga Valley Conservation Authority (NVCA), nothing in the weather forecast indicated the storm’s intensity. The storm took everyone by surprise. A storm’s intensity has to do with the length of the storm, and historical amounts of rainfall per hour. By this determination, the storm on June 23 exceeded the 100-year return for a 7-hour storm.
Switzer explained the NVCA’s role in extreme weather events: “NVCA deals with the counties and municipalities on disaster preparedness so that all can take the appropriate steps to adapt,” he said. “Our primary role is to provide flood warnings and forecasting. We work very closely with municipal staff to implement a program to react to the event. Police and public safety staff were mobilized, and warning residents up and down the Nottawasaga River.”
The NVCA stated in a synopsis distributed June 23, that high water breached Tottenham Dam, cascading over the emergency spillway, and staff opened a low-flow valve mid-day on June 23, however, the action of fully opening the valve did not contribute to increased flow downstream in Bailey Creek, according to the statement.
Switzer recently met with Barry Dorsey to survey the damage, and determine what may have caused such unusually heavy flooding.
“Dorsey’s farm is located in the watershed of Bailey Creek, which is not a large watershed,” said Switzer. “But since the storm was centered on the upper Nottawasaga watershed, with Bailey creek nearby, the water, as it spread out, may have switched watershed boundaries and started flowing down Bailey Creek. It’s just hard to say.”
Dorsey expects a visit from the Minister of Agriculture. Meanwhile, he continues to gather information and locate resources for aid, to try and save the business. At this point, it is unclear whether the data will support disaster relief funding from the provincial or federal government.

         


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