Only On 6: Monitoring Lake Kemp

Only On 6: Monitoring Lake Kemp

Lake Kemp has gone from almost full at the beginning of last year to what many are now calling a scary level.

The situation is so scary farmers aren't even allowed to use the water to irrigate their farms.

Another big concern is Lake Kemp could eventually be the last resort when it comes to the dwindling water supply in Wichita Falls.

"It will take a flood in the water shed to get the lake back to a level that is useful," says Wichita County Water Improvement District 2 General Manager

Just last spring Lake Kemp was close to 90% capacity. Right now the lake is down more than 50 percent from that.

"It's at 37%," says Wichita Falls Water Source/Purification Superintendent Daniel Nix. "I don't think it got that low during the last drought and the last drought we had lasted 5 years. So, for it to be there in a year to a year and an a half's use, critical is a good word."

Lake Kemp is down a total of 19-feet from last spring. We asked Wichita County Water Improvement District 2 General Manager Kyle Miller what happened between then and now.
"It's a combination of not just the heat, but really no rain fall to replenish what we use. Then also the uses of irrigation, drinking water and electricity," Miller said.

The lake is losing 3-billion gallons of water this week for electricity use. The water is taken 18-miles away to Lake Diversion. That water is being used by the Oklaunion Power Plant to help ease the stress on the Texas power grid. Some of that is also for drinking water in Wichita Falls. The City is the only entity that can take that water and make it drinkable because of the amount of salt in the lake. That's done with the Reverse Osmosis facility at the Cypress Water Treatment Plant. Wichita Falls has state water rights to Lake Kemp, but does not use all the state has mandated.

"When we started the planning back in 1999 the last drought, we made the decision that we would start using half of those adjudicated rights and so that's what we designed and built the plant for," said Nix.

The State of Texas has given Wichita Falls water rights to around 18-billion gallons of water from Lake Kemp. That's roughly 3.6 billion of those water cooler bottles many of you have around the office. That's a lot of water. But, refining it through the Reverse Osmosis facility would be more expensive for the city than the conventional treatments they use for water from Lakes Arrowhead and Kickapoo.

"That last 55,000 acre feet is going to be some bad water," said Nix. "Its going to be tough and with the R.O. technology we've got we're the only facility that will be able to treat it and use it."

The District 2 Board of Directors is taking action. They are trying to slow water loss. The Board voted in June to cut off irrigations to farmers. Farmers we talked to say they aren't terribly upset with this year's decision, and they'll join the rest of the farming and ranching community in praying for rain.

However, if we don't get a large rain event to replenish the lake, those same farmers may not be so understanding next year. They pay taxes you and I don't pay, just to have rights to use the water to irrigate their lands and those taxes don't stop even when irrigation rights do.

"It's going to be hard to justify if we don't have water next year," said Kyle Miller. "To be able to explain why you are paying your taxes if you don't have something to show for it or something to use."

Kyle Miller told us that it may take a disaster to fix this disaster. A major rain event like a tropical depression is what the area needs and it needs to fall on the water shed. In the mean time, officials will continue to monitor the lake and it's level and they just like the farmers will be praying for rain.