Let the drain begin: Tempe Town Lake emptying for dam construction

TEMPE – Tempe Town Lake will soon be dry.

Workers started draining the lake Wednesday as city officials prepare to put in a new steel and concrete dam. City officials said the $47 million project will replace the rubber bladders that burst a few years ago, flooding nearby areas and emptying the lake.

This time, the lake draining is deliberate and will take two to three weeks. Boating, fishing and other water activities won’t happen until it reopens, tentatively on April 30. Sidewalks and bridges will remain open during construction, city spokeswoman Kris Baxter-Ging said.

As the countdown to draining began this week, walkers, bicyclists and people on Segways made their way across bridges and paths around the lake.

Longtime Tempe resident John Black said the area was an eyesore before it was turned into a lake and that he will continue to take walks around the dry lakebed.

The lake water will be temporarily pumped into the Salt River Project canal system as construction continues on the new dam, Baxter-Ging said.

Once the water is moved to the canals, garbage and other large items that have sunk to the bottom of Tempe Town Lake will be removed, said Baxter-Ging.

It’s not safe for people to walk on the dry lakebed, she said. People can easily sink into a clay liner that was installed in the lakebed.

“Who knows what will be down there,” said Baxter-Ging. “Who knows what will be under the water.”

The water pumped from the lake into the SRP canals will be reused, including irrigating yards and parks, said Baxter-Ging.

Tempe lifted fishing limits in the fall and stopped stocking fish earlier this year to reduce the number of fish. Those left will flow through the pipes into the canals, Baxter-Ging said.

Nick Walter, spokesperson for Arizona Game and Fish said he does not expect the process to harm the fish.

Waterfowl that frequent the lake also will fine because they are migrating as winter ends, said Steve Prager with Audubon Arizona.