On July 20, the day before the crews were to begin maintenance on the dam, one of the four inflatable rubber bladders located on the west end of the dam burst, sending a raging torrent, 15,000 cubic feet per second, enough to fill over fifty thousand swimming pools, crashing downstream. Since then, the man made lake has sat empty.
Tempe Town Lake has long been a dream of those living in Tempe and throughout the valley of the sun. In 1987, after years of research and development, the Rio Salado project, which included construction of the lake, was finally put before valley voters. It was the beginning of what would slowly develop into Tempe Town Lake.
Eight rubber bladder dams, each 16 feet tall and 240 feet in length, were installed along the river, creating a two-mile long lake with over 220-surface acres of water. Finally, on June 2, 1999, water from the Central Arizona canal began flowing into the Tempe Town Lake. 43 days later, the lake was officially declared full.
After ten years, Tempe Town Lake has become the top attraction in the valley, with nearly three million people visiting the lake annually. It is the crowning achievement of a project over thirty years in the making. Each year, millions of people enjoy the lake. Some boat, while others choose to walk or jog along the miles of adjoining trails. Valley parents bring their family for an afternoon picnic. Some simply come to the lake to gaze at the beautiful oasis in the middle of the bustling desert city.
Understandably, many valley residents were saddened by the sudden loss of the lake. Thousands of fish left to die on the desert floor were scooped up and fed to alligators at a neighboring zoo. Kris Baxter of the Town of Tempe predicts construction will be complete by October 8th. The lake is expected to reach capacity by November 1st..
There is an up-side. Crews working on the first pedestrian footbridge to span the lake say work is progressing much quicker than expected without the water to contend with and predict the bridge will be ready for use by the time the lake is re-filled.