The idea for Tempe Town Lake originated in 1966 from Dean Elmore of the College of Architecture at Arizona State University and his students. They envisioned building a series of locks and channels along the dry riverbed. They proposed refilling the channels with water, building sections of park and greenbelt along the rivers neglected banks and rehabilitating the surrounding ecosystem. After years of research, planning, political bickering and fighting the opposition, eight rubber bladder dams, each 16 feet tall and 240 feet in length, were installed along the river, creating a 2-mile long lake with over 220-surface acres of water. On June 2, 1999, water from the Central Arizona canal began flowing into the Tempe Town Lake and 30 days later the lake was officially declared full. Tempe finally had its lake... up until last month of course.
Interesting enough this incident should have been avoided all together. In 2009, Bridgestone Industrial Product, the manufacturer of the dams, urged the city of Tempe to replace the western dams because inspectors had found evidence of damaged material due to the scorching desert sun. Apparently, there once had been a plan in place to keep the rubber bladders constantly wet but for whatever reason it was never implemented. With no protection, the Inflatable rubber dams, once thought to last 25-30 yrs, had no chance under the intense Arizona heat. The unfortunate part of if it all is had the city of Tempe and Bridgestone officials not spent so much time arguing over who was responsible, the damaged dam could have been replaced way before it failed last month. Now it seems Bridgestone will shoulder the cost for repairs and the lake will be back open prior to Tempe’s Ironman event in November but what a shame it is to have this happen to the lake. It took so long for the project to materialize, from its origins in 1966 to finally being built in 1999, and it washed away (literally) so quickly. Its just another black eye for a lake plagued with controversy.