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Walkerton, Ont. water tragedy remembered amid Lethbridge, Alta. state of emergency

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Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Friday, March 14, 2014, 7:05 PM -

A local state of emergency was declared in Lethbridge, Alberta on Wednesday as water levels in  the city's reservoir dipped critically low.

Problems started earlier this week, following an order from health officials to restrict water use as rising temperatures and a rapid snow melt made the community's Oldman River murky.


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That murkiness was making the water extremely difficult to treat. 

"Cause of this unprecedented water situation is extremely poor quality of raw water in river due to rapid spring snow melt & runoff," the city tweeted Thursday morning.

Residents were stocking up on bottled water and preparing for the long haul -- but on Friday, the state of emergency and boil water order was lifted.

At present, no illnesses have been reported in relation to the incident.

The Lethbridge state of emergency was lifted quickly thanks, in part, to swift action from authorities and cooperation from the public who by and large limited their water use.

Still, the recent scare drew to mind the Walkerton, Ont. crisis that occurred 14 years ago this coming May.


The Walkerton tragedy was the result of farm runoff entering the small community's water supply in May, 2000, causing 2,300 of the community's approximately 5,000 people to fall ill. Seven people would later die.

A routine water sample taken on May 15, 2000 showed signs of trouble, with the first symptoms of illness being reported two days later.

By May 20, forty people had been admitted to the hospital. That number continued to climb through to the end of the month until nearly half the town had become infected.

Part of the tragedy can be blamed on a slow response from officials.

Days after evidence of contamination showed up in water lab results, authorities were assuring the public that the water was safe to drink.

To this day, the Walkerton water tragedy is remembered as the worst E-coli outbreak in Canadian history.

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