Tempe Town Lake

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Tempe Town Lake
Pano TempeTownLake.jpg
Panoramic photo
Location Tempe, Arizona,
United States
Coordinates 33°25′56″N 111°55′55″W / 33.43222°N 111.93194°W / 33.43222; -111.93194Coordinates: 33°25′56″N 111°55′55″W / 33.43222°N 111.93194°W / 33.43222; -111.93194
Lake type reservoir
Primary inflows Colorado River Water (CAP), Salt River
Primary outflows Salt River
Basin countries United States
Max. length 3 km (2 mi)
Surface area 910,000 m² (224 acres)
Average depth 4 m (13 ft)
Max. depth 6 m (19 ft)
Surface elevation 350 m
Settlements Tempe

Tempe Town Lake is a reservoir that occupies a portion of the currently dry riverbed of the Salt River as it passes through the city of Tempe, Arizona just north of Tempe Butte.

On July 20, 2010, a portion of the west side of the dam that contained the water in the lake collapsed sending a flood of water into the Salt River bed which drained the lake.


In March 1989, Tempe adopted the Rio Salado Master Plan which represented the culmination of more than 20 years of environmental land planning. Studies of water quality and usage, the Mill Avenue Bridges and ASU recreation ensued and programming began. A groundbreaking ceremony near Tempe Beach Park marked the beginning of construction of the river channelization. The Rio Salado Master Plan showed a Town Lake concept with a continuous body of water between the north and south shores. Previously, the lake concept included islands; this concept was modified to meet the flow capacity of the river channel.

In 1995, the City added more staff to the team dedicated to the Rio Salado project and began construction of a mile long bike path along the south bank of the river. The path features public art at a number of spots along the way. The city began the Town Lake design report and completed another financial capacity study and landscape designs for portions of the parks. The next year, the consultant completed construction drawings for the Tempe Town Lake and the City designated 800 acres (3.2 km2) of area including the lake as Rio Salado Park. On March 19, 1997, requests for bids were sent out for the lake construction. The city awarded contacts for construction of the lake on June 12, and groundbreaking ceremonies were held on August 8.

Water from the Central Arizona Project (CAP) started flowing into Tempe Town Lake on June 2, 1999, and by July 14, the lake was declared full. On November 7, Tempe Town Lake was opened to the public.

Tempe Beach Park[edit]

Originally built in 1931, Tempe Beach Park was completely renovated in 1999 as part of the construction of Town Lake. The park connects to the 5 miles (8.0 km) of paths for bicycling, jogging or in-line skating that circle Town Lake.


Sailboats at Tempe Town Lake

The historic baseball field plays host to baseball and softball games, as well as carnival games.

In 2002, the $1.3 million Splash Playground was opened in Tempe Beach Park. The 1-acre (4,000 m2) playground is both a way for kids to have fun in the water, and to learn about the water cycle. Only about two inches of water will pool in parts of the park. The water is kept flowing across the playground, where it is eventually collected, filtered, cleaned, and re-circulated in a state-of-the-art system.

The amphitheater accommodates 5,000 people for concerts or outdoor trade shows.

Rio Salado Cruise Company operates its boat concession out of the beach park.

Ironman Arizona - Nov 23, 2008

The Arizona State University Sailing Club, the Arizona Yacht Club and private boat owners sail out of the Tempe Town Lake Marina on the north bank of the lake.

Several rowing clubs practice and race on the lake, including Rio Salado Rowing Club, Arizona State University's Rowing Club, Tempe Town Lake Rowing, Tempe Junior Crew as well as many private owners. All boat owners must have a license as well.

The Arizona Dragon Boat Association, the Gila Dragons Dragon Boat Team and several Outrigger Clubs all have their home on the lake.


Tempe Town Lake at sunset on the Fourth of July with crowd waiting for the annual fireworks display with the Mill Avenue Bridges in the background.

Annual events at Tempe Beach Park include the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl New Year's Eve Block Party, Circle K Tempe Music Festival, Oktoberfest, APS Fantasy of Lights, Fourth of July fireworks show, and AVP Pro Beach Volleyball (now held in Glendale as of 2007).

The lake is used for the Tempe International Triathlon each May.

Tempe also hosts the Ironman Arizona Triathlon in November of each year. The 2.4-mile (3.9 km) swim portion of the race is held in Tempe town lake.

In addition, several regattas for rowing, sailing, and kayaking occur throughout the year. There is also the annual Rowers Triathlon, which consists of a 4000 meter erg piece, body circuits, and a five kilometer run.

Tempe Beach Park also hosted the Rockstar Uproar Festival on September 19, 2010. The festival drew a huge crowd filling the park with thousands of rock fans.


Tempe Town Lake at night, with the city's skyline in the back

The lake was completed in 1999, using inflatable rubber barriers in the riverbed to confine water within its boundaries. It is nearly 3 km (2 mi) long, with an average surface area of 910,000 m² (224 acres), and an average depth of 4 m (13 ft), for a total average volume of 3,590,000 cubic metres (2,910 acre·ft). The maximum depth of the lake reaches 6 m (19 ft). The lake was initially filled with 3,800,000 cubic metres (3,100 acre·ft) of water purchased from the Central Arizona Project. Evaporation and other water losses of 6,400 cubic metres (5.2 acre·ft) per day are compensated through additional purchase of CAP water, exchanges of reclaimed water, and long-term storage credits. Seepage losses are virtually nil, thanks to a system that recaptures virtually all seepage and pumps it back into the lake.

A park surrounds the area, along with office and residential highrises such as SouthBank, Grigio, Northshore Condominiums, Onyx Tower Condominiums, Rio West, Plaza Del Rio and Hayden Ferry Lakeside. The lake is used for practice by the ASU rowing team. The lake has fishing, boating (by permit and by day rental which can be purchased at the Rio Salado Operations Center), and an excursion cruise, the “Rio Salado Cruise.” The lake also hosts a small marina on the northern shore. Tempe Beach Park is home to several major annual events including Tempe's yearly Independence Day Celebrations and the Tempe Music Festival.


Fishing at Tempe Town Lake

Tempe Town Lake is stocked with rainbow trout on a monthly basis from November to February. Other species found in the lake naturally include largemouth bass, yellow bass, tilapia, carp, channel catfish and bluegill. An Arizona fishing license is required to fish in the lake. All motor vehicles are required to have a four stroke marine engine.



View of the West Dams holding back the lake

The dams are made up of three main elements:

  • Strong, flexible, rubber coated fabric tube which is fixed securely to a concrete base slab by clamping bars and anchor bolts
  • An operating system which controls inflation and deflation of the tube
  • An automatic safety device which ensures tube deflation in flood situations.

Each section of dam, or bladder, is about 240 feet (73 m) long, weighs 40 tons and is more than one inch thick. At times, a small amount of water can be seen flowing over the top of the west dams, creating a 19-foot (5.8 m) waterfall. This water can be recaptured by a recirculation system and pumped back into the lake.

The east dams are five feet high and sit on a two-foot concrete base. The west dams are 16 feet (4.9 m) high and sit on a three-foot base.

Tempe's dams are computer controlled and maintain air pressure of 6 pounds per square inch (41 kPa). They can be controlled individually to within 0.5 inches (13 mm) and can be lowered incrementally depending on the flood conditions. Due to rapid deterioration of the west dams, the City of Tempe has worked out an agreement to replace them with manufacturer Bridgestone. Replacement costs are expected to reach $2.5 million USD. Work was scheduled to begin in spring 2010 in conjunction with a new $6.3 million USD pedestrian bridge that will cross over the tops of the west dams.[1] However due to the high amount of rainfall in the winter and upstream runoff in the spring, the project had been postponed until July.[2]

In 2014 Tempe began construction on a new dam 100 feet west of the current dam, to be completed over 18 months and finish late 2015. The dam will feature seven steel gates, the largest of their kind in the world at over 100 feet long and weighing 230,000 pounds.[3]

Dam break[edit]

The collapse of the lake's west dam drained the lake into the Salt River, exposing debris and trash under the area that the lake used to occupy.

At approximately 9:45 pm MST on July 20, 2010, one section of the inflatable dam on the west end burst, thus releasing water up to 15,000 cubic feet per second (420 m3/s) into the normally dry Salt River bed. The lake began draining immediately and by the next morning the lake had lost about three fourths of its normal water. The dam breach left some areas of the lake with three feet of water or less; the average lake depth is about 16 feet (4.9 m).[4] Most of the 10,000 fish in the lake were swept downstream, but those that remained were expected to die within five days; fishing was not expected to resume until a year after the lake refilled.[5][6]

City officials indicated that they expected to reopen the lake by November 1, and that if the lake is reopened by then, that the dam collapse's economic impact will be "fairly light."[7] The city indicated that replacements for two of the remaining bladders have already been delivered, and will be installed as soon as possible. The replacement for the failed section was delivered to Tempe by the middle of August. The city built a cofferdam to allow the lake to be refilled while the northernmost bladder was replaced at a later date.[8]

Some of the fish that had temporarily survived the dam break and were left stranded in shallow pools of water in the lake bed were scooped out and fed to a captive 6-foot (1.8 m) alligator in the parking lot of the Tempe Center for the Arts on Friday, July 23. Most of the fish removed from the lake were to be fed to other denizens of the Phoenix Herpetological Society, where the alligator has lived since 2005.[9]

On October 8, 2010, SRP crews began refilling the lake. Water used to refill the lake was brought down the Salt River reservoir system from Roosevelt Lake east of the Phoenix area. Tempe officials elected to use a portion their allotment of lake water since it was filled to capacity at the time. This method saved the city hundreds of thousands of dollars versus the alternative of filling it with Colorado River water from the CAP.[10] After about two and a half weeks, the lake was reopened for normal water activities on October 26, 2010.[11]

Notable water releases[edit]

The riverbed of the Salt River at Phoenix is often dry or a trickle, with the river's flow being entirely diverted to agricultural and other uses upriver. The Tempe Town Lake uses artificial structures and the natural riverbed to form a lake. In periods of high runoff, the inflatable dams confining the lake must be lowered to permit the passage of the Salt River itself. The lake has released water on multiple occasions as the river levels rise normally due to heavy rain or winter snow run off.

For the first time since its construction the 1.5-meter (5 ft) eastern dam was lowered, on December 31, 2004. Heavy rains in the Salt River watershed required the release of 570 m³/s (20,000 ft³/s) of runoff into the Salt River. The dams are designed to handle a maximum flow of 1800 m³/s (65,000 ft³/s).[12]

Additional releases occurred in February 2005, January 2008[13] and February 2009.[14]

Tempe Town Lake Bridge[edit]

The Valley Metro Light Rail project began building this bridge (designed by T. Y. Lin International) over Tempe Town Lake, starting in the first quarter of 2005. The lighting ceremony for the bridge, which was the celebration for the completion of the most important parts of the bridge, was held on Saturday, December 9, 2006 during the APS Fantasy of Lights Boat Parade. The project has been completed as of December 27, 2008, when the light rail line was officially opened to the public. The LED light display that occurs each time a train passes overhead at dark casts varying colors onto the lake, increasing the aesthetic quality of the bridge at night.


The Rio Salado Project received the following recognitions:[15]


  • City of Stockholm sponsored Global Bangemann Challenge - Finalist (2000)


  • James C. Howland Awards for Urban Enrichment, Gold winner[16]
    • National League of Cities (2003)
  • The American Public Works Association Structures Project of the Year
    • (City of Tempe, CH2M Hill, Martin Eby Construction Co.; Ogden Remediation Services Co.; Geo-Con, Inc.; Ames Construction, Inc.; Bridgestone Engineered Products, Co.) (200)
  • The United States Conference of Mayors Outstanding Achievement Award in the Public/Private Partnership Award Program (Joint submission with CH2M Hill) (2000)
  • Joint Center for Sustainable Communities Award
    • Tempe Town Lake (Joint submission with the Flood Control District of Maricopa County) (1999)
  • American Planning Association Economic Development Planning Award
    • Tempe Rio Salado Project (1997)


  • Arizona Planning Association
    • Master Plan/Project Award (2000)
  • Arizona Parks and Recreation Association
    • Outstanding Facility Award (2000)
  • Arizona Parks and Recreation Association
    • Partnership Award - with the Flood Control District of Maricopa County for the promotion of recreation in Arizona (1999)
  • Arizona Consulting Engineers Association
    • Outstanding Award (with CH2M Hill) (1999)
  • Arizona Community Tree Council
    • Outstanding Efforts to Promote Planning, Planting, and Maintenance of Trees (1998)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Náñez, Dianna M. (February 19, 2010). "Tempe delays replacing four Town Lake dams". The Arizona Republic. Retrieved March 1, 2010. 
  2. ^ Karina Bland; William Hermann (July 21, 2010). "Tempe Town Lake: Dam burst before it could be replaced". Arizona Republic. Retrieved 2010-07-23. 
  3. ^ http://eastvalleytribune.com/local/tempe/article_5c0719e0-ec03-11e3-bd98-0019bb2963f4.html.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. ^ Karina Bland and William Hermann (July 21, 2010). "Tempe Town Lake dam bursts". The Arizona Republic. Retrieved July 21, 2010. 
  5. ^ "A serious fish tale as Tempe Town Lake empties". East Valley Tribune. Associated Press. July 22, 2010. Retrieved 2010-07-23. 
  6. ^ Urbaszewski, Katie (July 22, 2010). "All fish that survived Tempe Town Lake burst will die". Arizona Republic. Retrieved 2010-07-23. 
  7. ^ Sherman, Austen (July 22, 2010). "Businesses optimistic Town Lake will be back to normal by Nov. 1". Arizona Republic. Retrieved 2010-07-23. 
  8. ^ Hermann, William (July 22, 2010). "Officials detail how Tempe Town Lake dam will be repaired". Arizona Republic. Retrieved 2010-07-23. 
  9. ^ Holland, Catherine (2010-07-24). "Alligators eating fish could help with host of problems in Tempe". KTVK-TV. Retrieved 2010-07-27. 
  10. ^ Seligman, Allie (2010-10-08). "Refilling of Tempe Town Lake under way with little fanfare". The Arizona Republic. Retrieved 2010-10-08. 
  11. ^ Quizon, Derek (2010-10-26). "Tempe Town Lake officially reopens". Azcentral.com. Retrieved 2012-08-07. 
  12. ^ "Salt River's lost runoff helps state, after all". Azcentral.com. 2005-02-05. Retrieved 2012-08-07. 
  13. ^ "Town Lake closed while rainwater flows through". Azcentral.com. 2008-01-28. Retrieved 2012-08-07. 
  14. ^ McKinnon, Shaun (2009-02-10). "Nearing limit, Roosevelt Lake releases water". Azcentral.com. Retrieved 2012-08-07. 
  15. ^ "Rio Salado Project Awards". City of Tempe. Archived from the original on August 14, 2007. Retrieved September 30, 2010. 
  16. ^ "James C. Howland Awards for Urban Enrichment: 2003". National League of Cities. p. 12. Retrieved September 30, 2010. 

External links[edit]