03/13/2014 07:45 EDT | Updated 05/13/2014 05:59 EDT

Lethbridge Water Shortage Prompts Hospital To Cancel Surgeries

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LETHBRIDGE, Alta. - A state of emergency due to a lack of potable water in a southern Alberta city is affecting surgeries.

Staff at Chinook Regional Hospital in Lethbridge have had to find ways to work around a boil water order that's in effect in the city.

A total of 23 elective surgeries and 33 procedures were cancelled Thursday.

South Zone Medical Director Dr. Vanessa MacLean says medical equipment at the hospital can't be properly sterilized without potable water.

A fast snow melt made the community's river murky.

Lethbridge declared a state of emergency Wednesday as levels in its reservoir dipped critically low and Alberta Health Services put a boil water order in place saying water out of the tap is no longer safe to drink without bringing it to a rolling boil for at least one minute.

People have been asked to shorten showers, avoid using dishwashers and refrain from doing laundry. Flushing toilets was still OK.

Pools and arenas were closed and car washes were asked to stop operating. A ban was placed on open fires to avoid a potentially dangerous blaze that would be difficult to fight without enough water.

Officials said the quick snow melt due to suddenly rising temperatures was causing high turbidity in the Oldman River from which the city pulls its supply.

"The sun came out, the chinooks came, that created this rapid snowmelt and runoff," said Doug Hawkins,director of Infrastructure Services for the city.

"We had a bit of rain on Monday in the foothills that exacerbated the problem, everybody decides to wash their cars, consumption went up at the same time we're experiencing these nasty conditions in the river."

That murkiness was making the water extremely difficult to treat. Production at the water treatment plant was shut down, so the city was unable to restore storage levels.

Hawkins said it could be early next week before the boil water order and water restrictions are lifted in the city and Lethbridge County.

Deputy Mayor Ryan Parker says most residents and businesses have been complying with the water restrictions.

"This is an unprecedented situation in our city. We've never seen such raw water conditions this bad in the Oldman river."


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