John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.
The lingering inadequacy of the city's sewer system became painfully apparent during an intense rain storm last week.
Last Tuesday, a hellacious system whipped over Canada to deliver an upside-down volcano of rain. Nearly three inches slammed into the city, causing streets to develop Class IV rapids and spreading dismay among thousands of office drones, who had to stay late because outside had all of a sudden become SeaWorld. The Montreal metro's Orange Line ground to a halt. Rain began seeping into the basement of the Museum of Contemporary Art, where workers would later find hundreds of rare paintings soaked.
One of the most immediate effects of this terrific deluge was felt by Montreal's troubled sewer system. Ever since Mayor Gérald Tremblay took office 10 years ago, the city has poured more than $1 billion into bringing its pipes and drains up to snuff. But maybe $2 billion was needed. The lingering inadequacy of the sewer system became painfully apparent on Tuesday when the storm crippled and overloaded it "within minutes."
The result was as if God had wrapped his lips around the city's drainage pipe and blown, hard. Manhole covers, some of them welded into place perhaps because of previous wet explosions, popped up like skull-denting champagne corks. Stunned pedestrians rushing for shelter found their ways blocked by a few nasty geysers splooshing up from open manholes.
One such gusher erupted from the street in the Plateau-Mont-Royal borough on the east side of the island. This might be it when it was a baby, as CBC News reports the Plateau rain-fountain reached two-stories high:
This geyser also appears to be from the same storm. The video was uploaded on May 29, although the user writes "March 29." If anyone has more information on where it was, please add it in the comments section (WARNING: profanities ahoy!):
And boy did this person ever pick a lousy place to park. The green car received a monumental, unasked-for powerwashing of its underbelly for several minutes on Wolfe Street (another view here):
Why are Montreal's sewers such punks to heavy rain? One might point the finger at corruption in the industry, but it's no doubt more complicated than that. Under Montreal has a good rundown of all the problems that have plagued the system in the last century. For now, the city government has extended an olive branch to anyone affected by the colossal drenching: Citizens can put "things that have suffered water damage in their garage or basement" out on the sidewalk for garbage pickup until June 9, and not receive a ticket for littering.