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City, FBI confirm unsubstantiated threat to Wichita water system, others ‘in this area’

Updated: 2013-10-19T00:09:23Z

Bill Wilson

Wichita Eagle

FBI officials say they’re taking “very seriously” a regional water threat in the past several days including the city of Wichita’s system.

However, FBI spokeswoman Bridget Patton in Kansas City said Friday that the threat – against water systems in Wichita and three other cities “in this area” – has not been substantiated by FBI investigators.

“The city’s water is safe to drink,” city spokesman Van Williams said shortly after 11:30 a.m. this morning. “If that changes, the public and the media will be notified immediately.”

Meanwhile, city officials say security has been beefed up and residents are asked to remain vigilant in the wake of the threat, which apparently is several days old.

“Whenever a threat like this comes in, it’s something we take very seriously,” Patton said.

City officials also confirmed the threat, which was first revealed in two internal city e-mails obtained by The Eagle this morning.

In the first e-mail, sent just before 10 a.m. this morning to city employees, city water distribution manager Elizabeth Owens writes, “A specific threat has been made that mentions four cities, one of which is Wichita, related to the water distribution systems. Please tell your employees to be extra vigilant over the next 30 days about anything they see hooked up to a fire hydrant. If it does not look right, they should call 911, then let you or me know.”

Billie Vines, another city water manager, followed that up with an e-mail to the broader plumbing community, advising them to call police or the city if they see “someone messing with a fire hydrant or vent pipe who is not a Public Works or Fire Dept. employee and does not have the hot pink “2013 bulkwater” permit sticker on the back of their water tank.” Vines also asks for a “picture, tag #, company name.”

Williams said the Owens e-mail was internal and intended strictly for the city’s water department employees.

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