Tempe Lake West Dam

How do you contain a man-made lake in the middle of the desert?

The Tempe Town Lake was completed in the summer of 1999. Water is a scarce resource in Arizona so the water for the Tempe Lake comes from the Colorado River though a chain of canals. Since this is an unnatural, man-made lake in the middle of the desert, the Tempe Lake West Dam has become an essential part of the Tempe Town Lake. In the 1970's and 1980's there was a massive flooding problem in the Salt River area which caused a lot of damage to the bridges and property in the area. The flooding was so detrimental that it would even cause injury and death to some of the Tempe residents. Due to the harmful effects of the flooding, the lake and the dam became a necessity for Tempe tenants.

The original dam in Tempe Town Lake was created using a series of rubber bladders made by Bridgestone Industrial Products. These bladders were 240 feet long and weighed roughly 40 tons. This type of dam is extremely uncommon and it is unknown if another rubber bladder dam exists anywhere in the U.S. At the time of its conception, it was expected that these rubber bladder dams would last up to thirty years, however, the city soon realized that these bladders required an enormous amount of patching up. As early as 2002, the City of Tempe began looking to improve the dam system in the lake. They were looking for a system that was more durable and had a longer life span. In the spring of 2009, there was a plan to have Bridgestone replace all of the rubber bladder dams with new material, to no extra cost to the City of Tempe. However, this plan was nixed when in the summer of 2010, the bladder dam ruptured.

Since the completion of the Tempe Town Lake nearly twenty years ago, it has had to be filled a total of three times. The first time it was filled was obviously in 1999 when the lake was created. In 2010, the rubber bladder dam burst, causing massive amounts of flooding in nearby areas and completely emptying Tempe Town Lake. At this point it became quite obvious to the City of Tempe that the rubber bladder dam was not going to work in the Tempe Lake. Upon closer examination of the dam, engineers concluded that the substantial amount of UV exposure was causing the rubber bladders to deteriorate at an alarming rate.

The flooding and emptying of the lake is a huge problem for Tempe. Again, the flooding has caused damage and injury in the past, so it is critical to prevent destructive flooding. Also, since the creation of the Tempe Town Lake in 1999, it has created 40,000 jobs in the area, attracts 2.4 million visitors each year, and has brought in a total of 1.5 billion dollars. Therefore, if the lake keeps emptying, it could negatively impact the economy.

In the winter of 2015 and 2016, the Tempe Town Lake was purposely drained in order to replace the dam with a completely new dam. The new hydraulically-operated steel and concrete dam is designed to be better quipped for the harsh Arizona heat and the enormous amount of sunlight that it is exposed to. The new dam cost the City of Tempe approximately 47 million dollars and took two years to fully complete; however, the lake was only closed for about three weeks as they temporarily drained the lake. The lake was then filled up for the third time, and hopefully the last time. The City of Tempe and its residents are optimistic that the new steel gate dam will be more durable. Since it was only installed within the last year, it is too early to tell whether or not this is the solution Tempe Town Lake needs to keep the water in the lake instead of damaging the city.


Tempe Town Lake Dam Breaking The Tempe Town Lake Dam broke in 2010 leading to the lake draining and exposing the barren desert. Source: ABC15 Arizona, "RAW: Tempe Town Lake Dam Break," YouTube, July 22, 2010, Accessed Decemebr 6, 2016.
Date: July 22, 2010


Tempe Lake Dam
Tempe Lake Dam As a result of the Tempe Town Lake, Tempe's economy has boomed and the lake has become a new community center and a tourist attraction. The lake would not be a possibility if it was not for the dam. Dam maintenance has become essential. Source: Nick Bastian, "Tempe Town Lake Dam," Flickr, January 1, 2007, accessed December 8, 2016, https://www.flickr.com/photos/nickbastian/4815605043/in/photolist-8kxeBa-8kxjTM-t9kijv-8kxxWK-rioMv1-8kxv7x-8kAwYU-8kAPmm-8kASaW-8kxHSX-8kxn7R-8kAqNE-8kAr5s-8kAs1o-8kxqyz-oDpDUk-do95DD-5ozWGD-7SLjFr-oX8CkH-8kxn1M-8kxwN8-8kxgdn-cBQA6d-8kxg5g-8Zhs6r-cBQAx3-cBQAYd-crDBmU-bjC7vc-cBQBFs-6Fqfaz-5nN2Hq-8ZkuKw-8ktzhh-Cp5Hn-rbhSmd-9zJ2nE-584puu-6t9Wse-qumfmq-5oEen3-5oA6dc-8mpHu1-ofjwDu-4ntSjA-amtd5H-5oEnzW-5oEtDq-ambGf3 Creator: Nick Bastian Date: January 1, 2007
Placement of a Cofferdam
Placement of a Cofferdam Divers in Tempe Town Lake are looking for locations to place a cofferdam (a temporary dam) while the Tempe Lake West Dam is getting fixed. Source: Bob Petrie, "Work Begins to Repair Dam Leak," The Arizona Republic (Phoenix), September 17, 2002. Creator: Dave Cruz Date: Sept. 17, 2002
Diagram of the Tempe Town Lake Dam
Diagram of the Tempe Town Lake Dam A sketch depicting the rubber bladder dam used in the Tempe Town Lake. This type of dam is quite uncommon and not seen very often in the U.S. The bladder is constructed using laminated heavy duty nylon reinforced rubber. Source: Bridgestone, Army Corps of Engineers, Rio Salado Operations Center, Arizona Republic;
Bob Petrie, "Work Begins to Repair Dam Leak," The Arizona Republic (Phoenix), September 17, 2002.
Creator: Jim Wambold
Date: September 17, 2002
Drained Tempe Town Lake was drained in August of 2010. It also had to be drained again in the winter of 2015 and 2016 in order to replace the leaky dam with a newer model. Source: Doc Searls, 2010_08_06_rno-phx-bos_239, Flickr, <https://www.flickr.com/photos/docsearls/4907773693> accessed December 7, 2016. Creator: Doc Searls Date: August 6, 2010
Construction of New Tempe Town Lake Dam
Construction of New Tempe Town Lake Dam Reconstruction on a permanent fix of the Tempe Town Lake Dam costing roughly $47 million. This will replace the rubber bladder dams with a hydraulically operated steel gate dam. City officials claim that this is a safe, dependent, and cost-effective option for the Tempe Town Lake. Source: Kelly Fisher, "6 Years after Tempe Town Lake Dam Burst: What to Know about the New Dam," Azcentral, July 24, 2016, Accessed December 9, 2016.
Creator: Mark Henle Date: Sept. 29, 2014



Shannon Maki, “Tempe Lake West Dam,” Salt River Stories, accessed May 19, 2024, https://saltriverstories.org/items/show/234.