Soldiers help protect Pembroke water supply from Ottawa River ahead of expected rain

PEMBROKE, Ont. — Soldiers from a Canadian base in Petawawa were deployed Saturday to protect infrastructure in the nearby city of Pembroke, Ont. — one of several communities threatened by historically high water levels on the Ottawa River.

Major Adam Graham said one of the first priority assignments for his unit, which numbered about 64, was protecting the water treatment plant near the river’s edge.

“So we’ve dispatched some soldiers down to that location to help conduct flood mitigation measures, such as primarily sandbagging certain elements of that facility to ensure that there’s no issues with the town’s water supply as a result of flooding,” Graham said in a phone interview.

Soldiers were later assigned to assist provincial crews with the construction of a sandbag wall at a partially flooded waterside park, downstream from the water purification plant.

The city declared a state of emergency on Thursday and followed that with requests for assistance from Canada’s military and from the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry.

Heather Salovaara, the community’s emergency information officer, said the ministry sent 21 people in four crews in addition whose work was co-ordinated with the soldiers from Petawawa.

Pembroke itself has a population of 16,200 but an estimated 75,500 people living within a 40 kilometre radius depend on the city as a service centre.

Graham said it will be community officials that decide on what tasks are given to his soldiers as conditions change.

Salovaara said in an email that the community is expecting rain next week and will monitor water level predictions from the Ottawa River Regulating Committee.

“They take into account a number of things, such as open dams, rainfall, snow melt north of us, and more,” Salovaara said in an email.

Other communities in Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada have already been affected by spring flooding during recent weeks due to rain and melting snows.

As it turned out, Pembroke experienced sunny, warm weather on Saturday.

“It’s perfect weather for flood mitigation,” Graham said Saturday afternoon with a laugh.

However, additional rain could raise already high water levels on the Ottawa River, which flows past Pembroke, Ottawa and other communities on its way towards the Island of Montreal, about 350 kilometres southeast of Pembroke.

“We’re going to assess the requirements of the city, in concert with … emergency management officials and we’ll take it day by day,” Graham said.

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