Because of what it called a "vague threat," the Altoona Water Authority is recommending that public water customers in the greater Hollidaysburg area not drink or otherwise consume tap water for 48 hours, beginning about 7 p.m. Friday.
An advisory on the Altoona Water Authority website stated that people in the affected areas should use an alternate water source or bottled water "for drinking, making ice, brushing teeth, washing dishes and food preparation until further notice."
The recommendation applies to customers of the Hollidaysburg Borough, Freedom and Blair Township water systems and to customers of the Altoona Water Authority in the Foot of Ten and William Penn Highway (Route 22) areas, according to authority General Manager Mark Perry.
It does not affect Duncansville Borough water customers.
Other areas served by the Altoona Water Authority are not affected by the advisory.
The authority has performed normal tests on finished water that could have been affected and found no clear sign of contamination, according to Perry. The state Department of Environmental Protection has taken samples, which will require a wait time of 24 to 48 hours for biological results, according to Steve Michelone, deputy director of the Blair County Emergency Management Agency.
The threat involving the Plane Nine and Muleshoe reservoirs came to the Mirror in the form of an email Friday morning.
The same email also talked of bombs in Hollidaysburg.
On receiving the email, the Mirror promptly notified the Altoona Water Authority and Hollidaysburg police.
On getting word from DEP that a public notification about the water system threat was mandatory, officials from the Altoona Water Authority and the other municipalities sent out automated phone warnings with the do-not-drink-or-consume recommendation.
The Dream Restaurant was one of those customers and responded by sending staff to the Hollidaysburg Family Dollar, where they bought 17 two-liter bottles of soda and water for $1.49 apiece, according to Manager Jess Lyon.
They explained the situation to customers, who didn't seem bothered, Lyon said.
Presbyterian Village in Hollidaysburg was handling the situation "as a normal water advisory," said Executive Director Deb Larkin. Staff turned off the water to water fountains and emptied the ice machines and began using the Department of Health-mandated three-day emergency supply of bottled water - in gallons and smaller bottles, Larkin said.
On Saturday and Sunday, the kitchen will cook with bottled water, she said.
The village alerted its emergency suppliers in case the do-not-consume recommendation extends beyond three days, she said. After the Water Authority lifts the recommendation, workers will flush the lines, she said.
Officials in the press box at the Hollidaysburg Area High School football game announced that those in attendance shouldn't drink the tap water because of a water main break.
The credibility of the water system threat is "very questionable," at least partly because the Muleshoe Reservoir has been closed for months for renovations, Michelone said. But officials decided to take a cautious approach after talking with DEP representatives, he said.
That included taking Plane Nine reservoir off line immediately and redirecting water that could have been affected, he said.
"We've done just about everything that could be done to keep [the threat] at bay," he said. "It was done as if it were real."
Officials may never know, he said. There are 121 million gallons of water in Plane Nine, and it takes a month for the water that enters it to make it to the treatment plant, he said. The Altoona Water Authority is the bulk supplier for Hollidaysburg and the two townships.
Anyone who has questions can call 949-2540 or visit the Altoona Water Authority website at www.altoonawater.com.
State police Trooper Todd Roby, a member of the Southwest Regional Computer Crime Task Force in Indiana, plans to come to the Mirror Monday to examine the threat email.
He won't know the initial prospects for tracing it to its origin until he looks at it, he said. Contact with the service provider could lead to one or more court orders before reaching that source, he said.
Roby obtained a court order Friday in connection with an emailed bomb threat concerning the Blair County Courthouse on Wednesday.