Harman Patil (Editor)

Tempe Town Lake

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Lake type  reservoir
Basin countries  United States
Length  3 km
Width  366 m
Bridges  Mill Avenue Bridges
Primary outflows  evaporation
Area  91 ha
Surface elevation  350 m
Year built  8 August 1997
Tempe Town Lake wwwtempetourismcomwpcontentuploadsTempeTown
Location  Tempe, Arizona, United States
Primary inflows  Central Arizona Project (CAP) Water
First flooded  June 2, 1999 (1999-06-02)
Similar  Tempe Beach Park, Tempe Center for the Arts, Salt River, Papago Park, Tempe Marketplace

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


Map of Tempe Town Lake, Tempe, AZ 85281, USA

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 ParkEdit

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 five miles (8.0 km) of paths for bicycling, jogging or in-line skating that circle 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 one-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.(No longer functional)

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, and Tempe Junior Crew, as well as many private owners. All boat owners must have licenses.

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


Annual events at Tempe Beach Park include the 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 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.

Several regattas for rowing, sailing, and kayaking occur throughout the year. There is also the annual Rowers Triathlon, which consists of a 4,000 meter erg piece, body circuits, and a five kilometer run.


The lake was completed in 1999, using inflatable rubber barriers in the riverbed to confine water within its boundaries. It is nearly two miles (3.2 km) long, with an average surface area of 224 acres (0.91 km2), and an average depth of 16 feet (4.9 m), for a total average volume of 977 million US gallons (3,700,000 m3). The maximum depth of the lake reaches 19 feet (5.8 m). The lake was initially filled with one billion US gallons (3,800,000 m3) of water purchased from the Central Arizona Project. Evaporation and other water losses of 1.7 million US gallons (6,400 m3) 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.


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.


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 80,000 pounds (36 metric tons), and is more than one inch (2.5 cm) 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 (1.5 m) high and sit on a two-foot (61 cm) concrete base. The west dams are 16 feet (4.9 m) high and sit on a three-foot (91 cm) base.

    Tempe's dams are computer controlled and maintain air pressure of six pounds per square inch (41 kPa). They can be controlled individually to within 12 inch (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. However, due to the high amount of rainfall in the winter and upstream runoff in the spring, the project had been postponed until July.

    In 2014 Tempe began construction on a new dam 100 feet (30 m) west of the current dam, to be completed over 18 months and finished in late 2015. The dam will feature seven steel gates, the largest of their kind in the world at over 100 feet (30 m) long and weighing 230,000 pounds (100 metric tons).

    Dam breakEdit

    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. Emergency workers rushed to clear the area and the lake's outdoor warning sirens started wailing, both within minutes. 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). 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.

    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." 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.

    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 six-foot-long (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.

    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. After about two and a half weeks, the lake was reopened for normal water activities on October 26, 2010.

    Notable water releasesEdit

    The Salt River bed in the Phoenix metropolitan area is often either dry or flowing to a trickle, with the river's water being entirely diverted to agricultural and other uses upriver. Since Tempe Town Lake uses artificial structures and the natural riverbed to form the lake, the inflatable dams confining the lake must be lowered in periods of high runoff 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.

    On December 31, 2004, the eastern dam was lowered for the first time since its construction. Heavy rains in the Salt River watershed required the release of 20,000 cubic feet (570 m3) of water per second into the Salt River. The dams are designed to handle a maximum flow of 64,000 cubic feet per second (1,800 m3/s). Additional releases occurred in February 2005, January 2008 and February 2009.

    Tempe Town Lake BridgeEdit

    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.


    Tempe Town Lake Wikipedia