Ottawa’s Ice Dam Busters – Human Planet, Rivers, Preview – BBC One -uploaded on Feb 24, 2011 When the frozen river starts to melt and large ice blocks start forming a dam, it’s time for extreme measures to avoid flooding in the Canadian capital.
Ice is a dangerous substance. History is filled with examples of the destructive power of ice, from glaciers of pre-history to the modern sinking of an unsinkable ocean liner… Often the destruction from ice can be so severe that action must be taken to prevent damage. The city of Ottawa did just this thing. Worried that the ice might form a dam and back up the spring run-off which would then lead to flooding of low lying areas, the city had a program in the spring of the year to cut up ice on the Ottawa River and blast it in to manageable pieces to prevent a build up of ice in the river; a program that eventually brought the City of Ottawa to Court in 1997.
You’ll realize the danger in ice blasting in the following YouTube video, “Winter Ice Break-up at Rideau Falls, Ottawa, Canada“. Watch at 3:30 into the video to see the blasting take place – unbelievable that they’d blast so close to the bridge where people are standing and a van is damaged by the flying ice!!!
Every spring since 1887 the city has blasted the ice of the Rideau and Ottawa rivers into small chunks so that they could be flushed easily and safely down the Ottawa River before the ice could pile up and act as a dam, above which flooding would inevitably happen. Downstream from Ottawa, Rideau Falls Generating Partnership operated a hydro-electric dam at the base of the Rideau Falls. In 1992, the City of Ottawa conducted their usual ice removal program and, as a result, chuckes of ice floated down the Ottawa river, over the Rideau Falls, landed at the base of the falls and piled up. The ice piles up as high as the drop of the Rideau Falls. In essence an ice dam had been created. The water built up behind this dam and quickly flooded the generating station causing considerable damage to the station and it ceased to generate power for some months. In 1996, the exact same events occurred with more damage to the station. Rideau Falls Generating Station sued the City for damages, and won.
On the face of it, this seems unfair. The City of Ottawa had done this work every spring for many years to prevent people from being flooded from their homes. The city could not control the pile-up of ice at the bottom of the Falls, which the Court even called “unnatural.” But riparian law is very strict: if you tamper with the natural flow of water (and ice for that matter), then you will be responsible tor damages created by your actions… The city also argued that the Ontario Municipal Act allowed a municipality the right to pas a by-law to control flooding. The court held that the by-law passed by the city would not relieve the city from responsibility for its actions. Simply put, the Municipal Act did not confer on the city a right to damage property. This case stands for a number of points of law. It confirms that the owner of riparian land has a right to the natural flow of water. Anyone who tampers with that natural flow needs to take actions to prevent damage, even to the extent of preparing for extraordinary situations. And finally, downstream lands cannot be sacrificed to save upstream lands.
The following shows just how destructive ice flows on the Rideau River can be: YouTube video, ‘Ice Flow Takes Out Dock – Rideau River’ Uploaded on Feb 23, 2009 ~ “An ice flow took out the end of our dock on the Rideau River near Ottawa, Ontario Canada. The dock was 78 feet long; it’s much shorter now! “