Year later: Tempe Town Lake still being restored

More than a year after the Tempe Town Lake dam’s rubber bladders burst, the city of Tempe is still working to restore the lake to its full use.

The lake was fortified with new rubber bladders that will be used for approximately five years until a permanent dam is installed, according to a July 18 press release from Tempe Community Development Marketing Specialist Kris Baxter-Ging.

The fish population suffered when the lake was emptied, as most of the fish were unsalvageable after the water drained so fast, said Rory Aikens, spokesman for the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

However, the fish population is now recovering at a “miraculous” pace, Aikens said.

“It just occurred naturally,” Aikens said. “They came with the water and they have proliferated ever since.”

When the lake was refilled with water from the Salt River Project in October, the fish that populate those waters assimilated naturally into the lake, Aikens said.

“We really didn’t have the expectation that when the lake got filled, it would be filled with fish as well,” Aikens said. “When we did our surveys last spring, we found to our delight that it did.”

The perception the lake is no longer a good fishing spot is “absolutely wrong,” Aikens believes Tempe Town Lake is back, he said.

“There are people there fishing, there are families riding their mountain bikes, hiking and doing all of these different activities,” Aikens said. “It has really become a multi-dimensional outdoor recreation Mecca within Phoenix.”

Tempe Town Lake is one of the largest man-made bodies of water in Arizona, holding up to 1 billion gallons of water, and is filled primarily through water from the Colorado River, according to the City of Tempe website.

The new dam design is still under development, but the entire project should be completed by November 2015, according to the release.

ASU organizations that use the lake for water recreation were forced to improvise during the lake’s three-month hiatus.

Jake Geller, head coach of the ASU Sailing Club, said the team used Tempe Town Lake regularly to practice, but was left with few options during the lake’s absence.

“Last year, we had to go without it for those three months and it really made a difference as far as getting people to come to practices and stay on the team,” Geller said.

The team was forced to use Vista Lake near Scottsdale, which Geller said was more of a pond than a lake, taking away one of their advantages over the colleges they compete against every semester.

“Most of the schools we compete against in California travel 30 to 40 minutes to their practice from where their college is located,” Geller said. “We’re just five minutes away so we can get more people to participate and it really makes a difference.”

Geller, a 2010 ASU graduate, said the team was short on members without the lake and was forced to pay largely out of pocket to attend an ocean sailing competition in Santa Barbara.

“We didn’t have enough people to pay enough dues to sponsor so we had to rely on (participants) to basically pay their own way,” Geller said.

Geller said he found there is a direct correlation between the lake and the sailing team’s popularity. When the lake is full, so are the club’s funds and boats.

“That was the number one question last year, ‘Where are you guys sailing now that Tempe Town Lake is empty?’” Geller said. “I think that demonstrates how important the lake is to getting new people to join.”


Reach the reporter at


Get the best of State Press delivered straight to your inbox.