The ongoing water emergency in Lethbridge has forced the cancellation of some medical procedures in the southern Alberta city, health officials say.

Alberta Health Services (AHS) is contacting patients scheduled for elective surgeries and some diagnostic tests to reschedule appointments that were set for Thursday.

“With the current level of turbidity in the water, our equipment can’t be properly and safely cleaned and sterilized,” said Dr. Vanessa Maclean, AHS medical director for the south zone.

“We apologize to patients affected by this decision, I want to assure everyone the decision was not made lightly and has been made to ensure the safety of our patients.”

Only patients whose procedures are being rescheduled will be contacted directly by Chinook Regional Hospital.

There might be further postponements on Friday, officials said in written release.

Lethbridge issued a boil water order on Wednesday after turbidity in the Oldman River stirred up by fast-melting snow overwhelmed the city’s water treatment plant.

"This is an unprecedented situation for our city," said the city in a release.

Locals are being asked to conserve water and postpone all outdoor uses. Commercial car washes were asked to shut down temporarily and large industrial users of water are being requested to greatly reduce usage.

City pools and arenas are also closed.

Situation improving

Officials said Thursday conditions are improving but the problem likely won’t be fully resolved until next week.

"The unprecedented quick snow melt caused water to run directly over ice and frozen ground to river and streams," said the city in a release. 

"As there was no place for dirt, silt and organic matter to seep into the ground, much more of it managed to make its way to the river then in previous spring thaws." 

The city should have 90 million litres of water stored for domestic and firefighting use.

It currently only has 30 million, said Doug Hawkins, the city’s director of infrastructure services.

“And our number one priority is to be able to fight a fire should there be a fire in the community and that's why we're insisting the community respect our call for conservation,” he said.

Hawkins said several factors combined to create the emergency. 

“I called this a perfect storm, even though it wasn't a storm. In fact, the sun came out, the chinooks came and that created all this rapid snow melt and runoff. We had a bit of rain Monday as well in the Foothills, that exacerbated the problem as well."