Lethbridge has issued a boil water order that will remain in effect until the city's water reserves stabilize.
Officials were forced to declare a local state of emergency Wednesday morning after turbidity in the Oldman River stirred up by fast-melting snow overwhelmed the southern Alberta city’s water treatment plant.
Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman says he has never experienced anything like this in his 30-plus years living in the community.
The city said its reserves are low and there is a risk of not having enough water for fire suppression. A fire ban is also in effect for the city.
"Given the size of the city and its water distribution system — it could take days, perhaps even weeks, before we can lift that boil water order," said city spokesman Doug Hawkins.
The province is in close contact with the city and is prepared to provide support, said Municipal Affairs Minister Ken Hughes.
"Through the Alberta Emergency Management Agency, we are assisting Lethbridge with some logistics co-ordination and securing technical advice regarding the water treatment plant. An AEMA field officer is also fully engaged with local authorities," said Hughes in a written statement released Wednesday night.
“I would urge Albertans in the area to listen closely to local authorities for instructions on water use and monitor the Alberta Emergency Alert system for any updates.”
Picture Butte, Coaldale and Coalhurst residents are also being asked to limit water use to drinking and cooking along with Lethbridge residents.
Locals are being asked to postpone all outdoor water use. Commercial car washes in the area will be asked to shut down temporarily and large industrial users of water will be requested to greatly reduce usage.
City pools and arenas were closed at noon Wednesday.
The boil water order also impacts the Chinook Regional Hospital, as elective surgeries and other procedures will be rescheduled Thursday and possibly on Friday.
“With the current level of turbidity in the water, our equipment can’t be properly and safely cleaned and sterilized,” said Alberta Health Services medical director Dr. Vanessa Maclean in a release.
The city had already asked people to conserve water earlier this week as the heavy water run-off began to strain the limits of the water treatment system.