Editor's Note: This article has been updated since it was originally published.
When it rains, it pours and that leads to frustration in some Orillia neighbourhoods where roadside ditches become coursing rivers.
Earlier this week when the city was deluged with rain, residents from two pockets of the city say they were left to deal with problems created, at least in part, by the city.
Residents of Homewood Avenue like Nathan Rehm have been experiencing the same challenges as residents on Fittons Road over the past year since city staff implemented a new ditch system last summer.
“The ditches on city property have always been well established with grass and we never had any incident with drainage problems until now,” Rehm said.
“Since the city came and scraped the layer of sod out of the ditches last summer, whenever there is a strong rainfall all the ditches plug up. There is sand that plugs all the ditches and the water runs over the road.”
Rehm says the new ditches leave an eyesore of debris, deposits of sand, and exposed telecommunications cables on the side of the road.
“I’ve contacted the city multiple times and was told someone would come and have a look at them, but they have done nothing,” he said.
“They throw down grass seed, but it simply gets washed away and the ditches get filled up with sand that is washed down from the top of the hill.”
Rehm says city staff can’t turn back time and revert to the old ditch system now that they have dug them deeper, but he would like to see the ditches re-established with grass.
“That’s the only thing they could do, and that would involve removing the sand, digging them out again, and laying down sod,” he explained.
Kyle Mitchell, the city's manager of source protection and operations, said in an emailed statement that Environment and Infrastructure Services Department staff strive to clean ditches that accumulate winter sand and litter routinely.
Mitchell says the ditches on Homewood Avenue were reconfigured as part of the city's road reconstruction program.
"Typically the slope of the ditch determines the type of turf restoration. Gradually sloping ditches typically receive grass seed as they have a better opportunity to grow grass. Steeper ditches typically receive sod as the sod has a better opportunity to root and can be staked," Mitchell explained.
"Unfortunately, there is a considerable difference in cost between the two methods with sod costing roughly five times more than seed. Ultimately, the cost to returf the ditch is integrated into the total approved ditching budget, and therefore if the city were to sod every ditch, less ditch maintenance would occur annually."
Homewood Avenue resident Ray Bowden says last fall there was a flood in his ditch that left it clogged with leaves and other detritus.
“I’ve been trying to move them since, but I’m 77-years-old, they are a lot for me to move,” Bowden said.
“We had rain the other day and it was flooding over my driveway, across the road, and onto my lawn.”
Bowden says he has asked city staff to come and clean the leaves out of his ditch, but has yet to receive any assistance.
Mitchell says city staff do get deployed to clear accumulation during flooding, however, there are limitations on how many staff are available in these events. There are over 2,400 catch basins and 165 kilometres of ditch within the city limits, he said.
"Ultimately the best way to avoid objects from potentially causing flooding is for everyone to participate by properly disposing of objects, and removing yard waste," Mitchell said.
"Should a pinch point start to clog, residents can call to notify the city, but also attempt to open the passage with a shovel or rake until staff can remove the material."
In the 47 years that Bowden has lived on Homewood Avenue, he had never had any problems with the ditches before.
“A lot of people have lost trees and bushes, it’s just craziness,” he said.
When Bowden contacted the city to get an explanation for why the ditch system had been changed, he was given an answer that he found to be insufficient.
“We were told that because somebody at the end of the street was getting flooded, they wanted to dig it deeper. Well, that wasn’t true, the guy on the end wasn’t getting flooded out, it was because his driveway was low and the water travels under his property and across the road,” Bowden explained.
Bowden says he is unsure what the city could do to prevent the ditches from flooding, but he does know that change is needed in the essence of time.
“I pay $4,000 a year on taxes here and I still got these open ditches where I could fall and kill myself. It’s all muddy and slippery, it’s filthy dirty, and it doesn’t do its job,” he said.
Tallwood Drive resident Jamie Lepage experienced similar frustrations this week - and during any downpour - noting the Fittons Road ditch configuration 'doesn’t work at all.'
“It gets clogged up weekly with garbage, and the city never comes by to clean it,” Lepage said.
“On Monday night there was a whole inch of water flowing down Fittons Road and my truck was literally sliding up the road.”
After receiving no help from city staff after multiple neighbours called, Lepage took on the flood by himself.
“I took a shovel and punched a couple of holes in it and scooped some of the garbage out. It took all of 10 minutes, and it wouldn’t be a big problem if they came and cleaned it more," he said.
Mitchell said city staff do clean ditches.
"Winter sand is typically removed in the spring, along with the bulk of the litter," said Mitchell.
"The department also sends staff out if a significant rainfall event is forecasted to ensure catch basins and ditch inlet grates are cleared of debris before the rain event occurs. This helps avoid surcharging and flooding events," he said.
"Full ditch maintenance whereby heavy equipment is brought in does not occur on a set scheduled basis as many of the ditches accumulate at different rates," said Mitchell.
"Areas with high water tables for example tend to have larger accumulation rates due to the vegetation growth and accumulation, whereas ditches that have good slope and are able to be mowed tend to last a lot longer," he added
Mitchell adds that the City of Orillia has been contributing approximately $100,000 annually on ditching.