If you go to the bridge over the Wichita River on Barnett Road west of Wichita Falls and look over the side, you will see a large pipe gushing water into the river. That water comes from Lake Kemp in Baylor County.
A question that might come to mind is, at a time when area lakes are getting critically low, why is lake water just being dumped into a river?
The answer is several million years old.
The creation of Lake Kemp came about in the 1920s, the brainchild of city founder Joseph A. Kemp. Kemp, who had masterminded Lake Wichita, saw a need for a larger water supply for the growing city. After three decades of relentless pushing, Kemp was able to get funding for the construction of dams on the Wichita River of Lake Kemp and Lake Diversion, a catch basin for the larger lake.
The lakes, now owned by the city of Wichita Falls and the Wichita County Water Improvement District No. 2, have provided flood control along the river and irrigation for agriculture, but never quite realized Kemp's dream of being a source of drinking water.
The problem is salt.
In the Permian era, parts of West Texas were covered by a shallow sea. As the ancient ocean evaporated, it left vast deposits of salt. Those salt formations are under the plains that stretch to the west.
Salty springs from them feed into the Wichita River, whose water is captured by Lake Kemp, As a result, the salt content in the lake ranges between 1/2 and 3/4 of that of seawater. Varieties of sea grasses grow in the lake's watershed.
Because Lake Kemp's water was unacceptable as drinking water, lakes Kickapoo and Arrowhead were built between the end of World War II and the mid-1960s. The new lakes were much smaller and had smaller watersheds — but they provided good drinking water.
Dry years between 1995 and 2000 that lowered area lake levels persuaded city leaders to invest in a state-of-the-art reverse osmosis system than filtered out enough of Lake Kemp's water to make it usable.
The system went on line in 2007, and the addition of Lake Kemp water to the city's system help preserve the levels of Arrowhead and Kickapoo through the withering heat and drought of 2011.
The smaller two lakes are down to 40 percent capacity, and Lake Kemp is just above 27 percent.
Lake Kemp is providing about 20 percent of the city's water, osmosis-filtered water that is blended in with that from the other two lakes.
That 20 percent translates into about 2 million gallons per day.
But not all water taken from Kemp can be used. Daniel Nix, the city's utilities operations manager, said by the time reverse osmosis is done, 75 to 80 percent can flow into the water system.
The remaining 20 to 25 percent is just too salty to use. That's what is discharged back into the Wichita River.
The pipe jutting into the river at Barnett Road gushes out millions of gallons over the course of a few days — but nary a drop we can drink.