Toronto under shoreline hazard warning as lake water levels edge closer to 2017 levels

Toronto remains under a shoreline hazard warning as water levels in Lake Ontario edge closer to a historic high reached two years ago.

The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority says Lake Ontario's current average water level is 75.86 metres above sea level, about 7 centimetres below the maximum level reached in 2017, when water levels were record high. 

Rehana Rajabali, senior manager of flood risk management for the conservation authority, reminded residents that the shoreline continues to pose a risk, especially when winds and waves are strong. The warning is still in effect, she added.

"Absolutely, it remains in place," Rajabali said on Sunday. "We're very, very similar to what we saw in 2017."

In the next seven to 10 days, water levels are expected to reach a peak, but she said they will likely continue to remain high for a prolonged period of time.

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"The odds that we catch a wind storm, just like we did on Thursday or on Saturday, continue to be high because these water levels don't go down very quickly," she said.

On Saturday, Toronto received about 28 millimetres of rain, according to Environment Canada.

Rajabali said strong winds that accompany storms, such as the one on Saturday, can lead to flooding. The waves contain a lot of energy and can be powerful, she said.

"When water levels are this high, any wind from any direction can cause waves," she said. "It might be interesting to look at, but look at it from a distance. Don't go right close to the edge."

Toronto Islands are particularly at risk of flooding because they are surrounded by water on all sides, she noted.

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Rajabali urges people to stay "well away" from shoreline areas in the Toronto area, especially on days when waves are strong.

"Keep in mind what's happening with the waves," she said.

She said people, when walking or hiking near the shore, should be aware that erosion may be taking place, and if trails are closed, there is a good reason.

"Obey any trail closure notices because there might be some erosion happening in that area," she said. "Sometimes you don't realize that there may have been erosion underneath where you are stepping on."

Beaches disappearing due to high water

In its warning, the conservation authority said all shorelines, rivers and streams in the Greater Toronto Area should be considered hazardous. 

According to the conservation authority, beaches have been "shortened" and high water levels have led to trail and boardwalk closures, the formation of ponds in places and flooding at several areas in the GTA. 

Areas affected include Budapest Park and Sunnyside Beach, Marilyn Bell Park, HTO Park, Harbour Square Park, Sugar Beach, Toronto Islands, Woodbine Beach, Ashbridge's Bay Park and Kew and Balmy Beaches.

Other areas affected include Bluffer's Park, Scarborough Bluffs, along the Doris McCarthy Trail and Guildwood Park shoreline, Port Union near the mouth of Highland Creek, Rouge Beach Park, shoreline areas at Frenchman's Bay, Rotary Park in Ajax and Paradise Park Beach.

The conservation authority has issued a notice of caution specifically for the Scarborough Bluffs due to the potential for landslides.

Rain is expected in the forecast for the Toronto area from Tuesday to Thursday.