Saint-Léonard residents, fed up with flooding, want city to renovate sewer system

Every time Montreal is hit with heavy rain, many Saint-Léonard residents are on edge, anxiously watching their toilets, sinks and bathtubs for signs of backup.

The city's aged sewer system, connected to street and roof drains, is unable to handle the deluge of rain and wastewater that flows in during storms, residents say.

Backwater valves may stop sewer water from creeping up into their homes, but water from their flat roofs and internal plumbing has no place to go.

"When a small amount of rain comes down, we have no problem," said Tony Chiaraluna on CBC Montreal's Daybreak

"When we have a real nice downpour, that's when we have the problem because the drain will not accept all that water."

It's a problem that crops up across the city, but it's been particularly bad for those living in growing neighbourhoods in Saint-Léonard, like those around Ferland and Delorme parks.

Residents in those areas want Montreal to bring the underground infrastructure in certain sectors up to modern standards.

Neighbourhood grows, sewers don't

Chiaraluna is among those who are sick and tired of slogging through more than just ankle-deep water — the insurance hikes and home repairs can cost thousands of dollars annually, he said.

He often resists calling his insurance company for help because he worries he'll lose coverage or, at the very least, see his rates go up yet again.

He has lived on Robert Boulevard for 46 years and, for decades, everything was fine. But the area was just empty fields in those days. 

Now, he is surrounded by dense housing that keeps getting denser. Over the last 10 years, the flooding has been increasingly frequent, he said.

Isaac Olson/CBC

With hundreds of new condos coming to the area, he's worried the problem is only going to get worse. He said the city is failing to make what he and his neighbours say are much-needed renovations to the sewer system.

Residents have attended recent borough council meetings, expressing their frustration and demanding action. About 40 showed up at the meeting this month.

Borough, city search for solutions

Borough spokesperson Anne-Émilie Thibault told CBC officials are listening to residents' concerns and doing what they can to respond, but the city's water department manages the sewer system. 

"The borough is aware of this problem and has been working in collaboration with the City of Montreal's water department for several years to resolve the situation," she said in an emailed statement.

"However, the problem of water accumulation in this sector comes from very complex causes, much more complex than a simple problem of too-small pipes."

Over the years, crews have inspected and cleaned the two water retention ponds in the area. Sewer pipes have also been inspected, cleaned and repaired, sidewalk heights have been verified and city inspectors have visited affected homes, she said.

Now the borough is pushing the water department to come up with a long-term fix. She said some the department's solutions will be presented to citizens during a public information session in the coming weeks.