The Etobicoke Creek through Downtown Brampton reflects 1950s stormwater management: concrete, artificial, and ugly. But by 2025, the river could be completely transformed into a magnificent, yet functional, urban park: the Brampton Riverwalk.

Downtown Brampton used to flood regularly before the storm channel was built. // Courtesy of Brampton
Downtown Brampton used to flood regularly before the storm channel was built. // Courtesy of Brampton

The current course of the Etobicoke Creek isn’t the natural one. In 1952, due to frequent flooding, city council approved a project to divert the flow of the creek around downtown (instead of through it) using a giant concrete channel. This would prove prudent, as downtown avoided the major flooding seen in Mississauga and Toronto during Hurricane Hazel in 1954.

However, the flood mitigation efforts in the concrete channel aren’t enough. As a result, most of downtown Brampton lies in a flood plain, or a Special Policy Area (SPA). It doesn’t prevent new development, but because of potential flood risks, it forces building design to accommodate any flood spillover that could occur with things like storm pumps in parking garage basements, etc, which are expensive.

In a major storm where the channel could fail, it is estimated that most of the SPA would be submerged in 1-2 metres of water. The current channel is only able to handle floods seen in a once-in-a-100-years rains, but with the increasing effects of climate change, it’s possible that these storms could come more often, and bigger rainfalls could overwhelm the current system.

Riverwalk Master Plan // Courtesy of Brampton
Riverwalk Master Plan // Courtesy of Brampton

The city and the Toronto Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) have been studying the issue and how to properly handle it since 2011, especially once the provincial Places to Grow Act indicated a greater need for intensification of city centres. They have come up with a project called the Riverwalk, which would completely overhaul the channel.

Riverwalk Cross-Section // Courtesy of Brampton
Riverwalk Cross-Section // Courtesy of Brampton

There are several options available to solve the issue, though it seems as if widening, deepening, and naturalizing the channel, rebuilding bridges at Church Street and Clarence Street, and building a flood protection landform (FPL) would be enough to solve flooding risks completely. There’s also an option to build a berm elsewhere.

Naturalization of storm water systems is considered the norm in stormwater management and engineering, and the city embarked on a journey to naturalize most of the valleylands in the 90s. A similar FPL project can be seen with the Corktown Commons project in the West Don Lands in Toronto; that berm is capable of protecting downtown Toronto from floods in the Don Valley.

View along Etobicoke Creek at John Street looking north towards Queen. // Courtesy of Brampton
View along Etobicoke Creek at John Street looking north towards Queen. // Courtesy of Brampton

The total cost of the project was estimated to be at least $100 million in 2014, though this may go up. The federal government has already contributed money toward the studies, and may contribute more through the $2 billion Clean Water and Wastewater Fund.

Aerial view of reconfigured Rosalea Park, looking southwest. // Courtesy of Brampton
Aerial view of reconfigured Rosalea Park, looking southwest. // Courtesy of Brampton

That would also allow for new parcels of land to open up, the city to extend Ken Whillans Drive from Church Street to Union Street, and allow for the space beside the river to open up for new recreational and urban plaza uses, including the missing link of the Etobicoke Creek Recreational Trail through downtown.

The final environmental assessment for the Riverwalk project is expected to start this year, with detailed technical designs starting in 2019. If all goes well, shovels could be in the ground in 2021 with a project completion year of 2025.

 

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