A sudden rush of warm water caused massive amounts of spring runoff to enter the Oldman River last week, dragging with it organic material off the fields and overwhelming the City of Lethbridge’s water treatment plant.
The high turbidity (cloudiness from suspended particles), made it impossible for the plant to process raw water for a time, which caused the city’s water reservoirs to be depleted to the point they feared they could not adequately provide fire suppression if the need arose.
Consequently, a boil water order and state of local emergency was issued, and residents of Lethbridge, Lethbridge County, Coalhurst, and Coaldale were asked to restrict their water use and to boil any water before using it.
Derrick Krizsan, chief administrative officer for the Municipal District of Taber, said the M.D. was on standby last week in case help was needed.
“The County of Lethbridge contacted us with regards to our bulk water stations in the M.D.,” he said. “We indicated we were prepared to assist their residents in rapid access to our bulk water stations.”
He said all of the stations in the M.D. are currently on keypad account access, with bills to follow. He said the intent was to set up rural residents and others with accounts so they could have ready access to potable water as needed. He noted the hamlet of Enchant specifically was where they expected that water to be accessed the most.
“We’re prepared and have contingencies in place,” he said.
In the meantime, local stores felt the pressure to keep their shelves stocked with bottled water, but were quickly overwhelmed by Lethbridge area residents in town to get their hands on as much clean water as they could carry.
“I have no water in my store right now,” said Sean Evans, an assistant manager at Safeway, following the rush. He said he was unaware of the situation until he had a discussion with one of his drink suppliers, who told him there had been a large increase in water orders.
“Then we stepped into my water aisle, and it was just full of people,” he said.
Evans estimated they had sold 300 flats of water in the course of several hours Thursday night.
“The one skid I had left was sold in six minutes,” he said. “It didn’t even make it to the floor.”
He said he spoke to several shoppers who said they lived in Lethbridge, but came straight to Taber for water before turning around and heading straight back.
“It’s weird on how something can affect a town so much like this, and we’re all sitting here washing our cars and stuff,” he added.
The local IGA store felt a similar rush of people hunting for clean water.
“I was emptied out last night,” said Daniel Tams, IGA store manager. “All our bottled water sold out in about three hours.”
Tams estimated there were four pallets of water in the store when the rush began Wednesday night, and if he had more in the store it probably would have sold as well. He added from what they could tell, almost everyone buying the water was from out of town.
“They were almost all from the city (Lethbridge),” he said.
Walmart was another place Lethbridge area residents came hunting for water. Anna Manalastas, a Walmart assistant manager, said the store experienced a similar rush Wednesday evening to other stores in town.
“We (were) completely out of water,” said she said.
She added between three and five pallets of water flew off the shelves in the hours following the announcement, including pallets of water the store usually stocks at the front of the store. The last six bottles were sold Thursday morning to the first customer of the day.
The water emergency was ended at noon last Friday. The city of Lethbridge announced due in large part to the efforts of local residents and businesses to find alternate sources of clean water during the emergency, that the plant had resumed normal operations. A larger-than-normal amount of chlorine is being used to clean the water, and as the river water improves, so will the drinking water.
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