Floating garbage on the rise as flood waters recede

Flooded communities in eastern Ontario are now dealing with debris that's been showing up as Ottawa River water levels slowly recede, but the group that protects and promotes the health of the river says it is too soon to begin a shoreline cleanup.

"Water levels are still very high, so I think the picture will become much much clearer in a few weeks," Ottawa Riverkeeper's executive director, Patrick Nadeau, told CBC Radio's All In A Day on Tuesday.

Rusty barrels, plastic bottles, and mountains of sandbags are evident in many areas. Among some of the debris Nadeau said the Ottawa Riverkeeper has seen include patio furniture, docks, water slides, and even signs from restaurants.

"You name it, all sorts of debris," he said. "I was able to see for myself sandals, paint cans, a barbecue cover, all these objects that probably came from several kilometres upstream … so that kind of debris really adds up."

Christian Milette/Radio-Canada

Concerns over contamination, but holding off clean up

Nadeau raised concerns that some items, debris and contamination deposited into the water would flow downstream and pop up on the shoreline several kilometres away.

He said hundreds of garages were either wiped out entirely or flooded — thereby contaminating the water with everything from gasoline from cars and paint cleaning products.

"Their contents are just gone with the flow," he said.

Despite concerns over contamination, Nadeau said people should hold off on cleaning the shoreline.

"We have not started encouraging our members to go out and do shoreline cleanups," he said. "It's much too early still."

Christian Milette/Radio-Canada

If people want to begin helping with clean up, he said they should focus their energy on "retrievable debris," which includes things like styrofoam and plastics that could easily be blown back into the water.

"If it's sitting on the shoreline right now or in a few weeks now's the time to grab it before it goes back in there."

"What's on the shoreline ... adds up to hundreds if not thousands of kilograms of trash that can be recovered," he said. "It's not insignificant by any means and every piece of plastic that we recover is potentially a piece of plastic that would have otherwise wound up inside an aquatic organism or broken down into micro plastics."

Nadeau said there are still property owners in crisis mode, and that come mid-June the Riverkeeper will "be in a better position to ascertain the situation and to start some some cleanups."

Clarence-Rockland mayor looking for help

Pierre Milette/Radio-Canada

Some of the areas where debris is being noticed is in Clarence-Rockland, Ont.

Clarence-Rockland Mayor Guy Desjardins said a council meeting will be held Wednesday to approve slashing fees for people helping with cleanup.

"People can bring the garbage to the dump and there will be no fees for whatever garbage they bring after the flood," Desjardins said.

A zero demolition fee would also apply to homeowners.

"I'm asking for no fees for permits for demolition if somebody wants to demolish their place if it's too badly damaged."

As far as sandbags go, Desjardins says there will be a meeting this Friday about how much the provincial government can do to help with the cleanup costs.

"Last time it was a cost of $350,000 for 125,000 bags, but right now we have 275,000 bags," he said. "So when we can't afford to in our budget to take let's say the $700,000 cost to pick up all these bags, were hoping to get some help from the province."