Many, many, many years ago – more than 25 million — the area that is now northwestern Texas, western Oklahoma, and southwestern Kansas was a large inland sea. The ocean is gone now, but the salt remains, and springs pump thousands of gallons of saltwater into the area’s rivers and streams. This natural brine pollution renders the Red River generally unsuitable as a dependable source of agricultural, municipal and industrial water supply.
The challenge of the Red River Chloride Control Project is to significantly reduce the salinity to make the area’s water usable. Tulsa District’s Truscott Project does just that for south fork of Wichita River. “Most people think we remove the salt from the water, but we don’t,” said Peat Robinson, natural resource conservation specialist. “We divert it.” That diversion is a fascinating process that begins more than 20 miles above Truscott Brine Lake at the Area VIII dam site and pump station.
There, an inflatable dam – basically a big rubber bladder – sits on a concrete weir that crosses the river. During dry times (and there are lots of those) when the river isn’t running, the dam is inflated to capture saltwater from the springs that flow into the river. The water will travel through a 22-mile pipeline that traverses the rugged and rocky west Texas terrain. The contained saltwater is first pumped at the rate of 3,000 gallons per minutes seven miles to the highest elevation on the pipeline, peak surge.
From peak surge, gravity carries the water through two more segments to an evaporation spray field. There, the water is released from the pipeline through 40 spray nozzles. This spray process provides a higher evaporation rate than that which would occur if the water were just allowed to flow out of the pipeline. The evaporation field is often a field of rainbows; it’s an unusual, quite alluring sight with haunting sounds.
All the saltwater that doesn’t evaporate then makes its way into Truscott Brine Lake. The deep blue water of the lake has approximately the same salt content as an ocean. It’s even home to some saltwater fish.
Approximately 4,000,000 gallons of salt water per day is pumped into the lake. Truscott Lake is totally contained with no means of discharging water. The lake’s surface area is large enough that it evaporates as much water as is being pumped into the lake.
Back up at the dam site and pump station, when it has rained and the river is running, the dam is deflated; this allows the water with its greatly reduced salt content to flow over the dam and continue downstream.
Other pump stations, one on the Middle Fork of the Wichita River and one on the North Fork of the Wichita River are proposed as part of the Red River Chloride Control project but have yet to be built. When these two pump stations are constructed, the Wichita River portion of the Chloride Control project will be complete. This will control about 360 tons of chloride per day and will make the water in Lake Kemp usable 98% of the time.