Tap water advisory lifted

HOLLIDAYSBURG – Authorities lifted a tap-water advisory affecting thousands of Blair County customers Sunday evening, ending an expensive but unfounded two-day threat.

The Friday advisory – which urged customers in Hollidaysburg and Freedom and Blair townships not to use tap water for two days – originated with a “vague threat” first sent in an email to the Altoona Mirror. The threat proved baseless, authorities said, but it created tremendous headaches and unplanned expenses for both business owners and government officials.

Workers from the Altoona Water Authority and the state Department of Environmental Protection conducted “extensive field and laboratory testing” on water and found no contaminants, authority officers said in a news release.

“It’s substantial,” authority General Manager Mark Perry said Saturday of the expense the threats incurred. Workers remained at the authority’s offices Saturday to field frequent customer calls, he said, and water had to be diverted from alternate sources as officials temporarily closed the Plane Nine Reservoir.

Perry said he couldn’t yet place a price tag on the weekend’s advisory.

Workers spent the weekend flushing local water lines in preparation for the system’s official reopening, he said.

The next step is a police investigation, with computer experts set to analyze the twin emails that hit Hollidaysburg over the week – one an unfounded bomb threat aimed at the Blair County Courthouse, and the other, two days later, describing unspecified water contamination.

“We’re progressing,” Hollidaysburg Police Chief Jeffrey Ketner said. He declined to say whether police have established any leads or conducted interviews.

The water threat shut down businesses across the borough throughout the weekend, with several Hollidaysburg restaurants and cafes shuttered and typed notes blaming their closures on the advisory. While the annual Halloween Parade went ahead as planned, some businesses that would have profited from the massive crowds instead sat empty.

Hollidaysburg-area water customers rushed to stores Friday in search of bottled water; by the night’s end, some stores’ supplies were nearly exhausted.

With the Sunday confirmation that tap water is safe, they can once again drink, wash dishes and get water to cook using the faucet.

“We apologize for any inconvenience and thank you for your patience,” the authority said in a public notice.

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.