© 2024 KOSU
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

High manganese levels turned its water yellow, but Altus officials say it's still safe to drink

A view of a large body of water between two leafy trees. Land is visible on the opposite side of the reservoir, and it features utility poles, trees and one building. A few small mountains are visible in the distance against a sky that's cloudy and pink-tinged.
Staff Sgt. Nathanael Callon
U.S. Air Force
Altus gets its drinking water from Tom Steed Reservoir near Lawton.

Altus residents may have noticed yellow water coming from their taps yesterday. The city says that’s due to higher-than-normal manganese levels in the water thanks to a lake turnover at Tom Steed Reservoir.

Debbie Vogt, who lives in Altus, said she noticed her water was a brown-ish yellow when she went to brush her teeth Wednesday morning. She opted not to find out how it tasted, but the City of Altus said in a Facebook post that the flavor and smell may be unpleasant.

Altus gets its water from Tom Steed Reservoir near Lawton. Chris Riffle, the communications and special projects director for the city, said the reservoir is turning over, leading to higher manganese levels near the lake bed. The reservoir operators have started drawing from the top instead, but it’s taking that water about two days to travel through 25 miles of pipe from the reservoir to the city.

Manganese is a heavy metal. People need small amounts of manganese for normal brain and nerve function, but it can cause health problems at very high levels over long periods of time.

A closeup of a pink hand holding a test tube about half-full of dull yellow water.
Wikimedia commons
Manganese can make water appear yellow-ish or brown-ish.

On Wednesday, the city measured 0.28 milligrams of manganese per liter of water at their treatment plant, which is about seven times the normal level. It’s also just below the Environmental Protection Agency’s advisory limit of 0.30 milligrams per liter. The EPA considers anything below that level safe to drink, even over long periods of time. But just 0.05 milligrams per liter can affect water’s appearance, odor and taste.

Riffle said the levels in Altus’ water aren’t dangerous, especially since the city addressed the problem quickly.

“At no time did anything indicate a risk to public safety,” he said. “It was really just to the point of having some yellowy, browny, smelly water compared to what people normally see.”

Still, Vogt said she’s sticking with bottled water until the tap water clears up, although she said she’d seen improvements by Wednesday evening.

Riffle confirmed that manganese levels are already coming down and should be back to normal Thursday or Friday. On Thursday morning, the water at the city’s treatment plant only contained twice as much manganese as it usually does.

“We've learned a little bit about more about what caused this,” Riffle said, adding that he hopes that will allow the city to improve its responses to lake turnover in the future.

* indicates required

Graycen Wheeler is a reporter covering water issues at KOSU as a corps member with Report for America.
KOSU is nonprofit and independent. We rely on readers like you to support the local, national, and international coverage on this website. Your support makes this news available to everyone.

Give today. A monthly donation of $5 makes a real difference.
Related Content