Posted by: Charissa Heckard | April 3, 2012

Feeling the heat? Arizona’s lakes, Tempe Town Lake

Visiting some of Arizona’s many lakes during the warmer parts of the year can be an enjoyable activity. Water bodies such as Lake Pleasant, Canyon Lake, Saguaro Lake, Tempe Town Lake, Lake Mary, and many more are visited by people every year. Maps show  lakes throughout the state. Visitors enjoy activities such as fishing, boating, jet skiing and swimming at these lakes. Which ones are safe to swim in? Which ones can you eat the fish you catch?

Tempe Town Lake, Tempe, Ariz.

Not all lakes allow swimming in Arizona. The Kiabab National Forrest, in Northern Arizona, doesn’t allow swimming in any of their lakes because they serve as a natural water source. Coconino Forrest allows swimming in all their lakes even though they’re a bit murky. Fishing in lakes in Arizona is allowed with a fishing license. There is a consumption advisory of fish caught in certain areas because they contain high levels of chemicals such as mercury and methylmercury. We also learned in a previous post on bottled water, that hormone chemicals are also found in the fish in Arizona.

One lake I had a lot of questions about, has a rich history and is located smack dab in the middle of Maricopa County.Tempe Town Lake, photographed on the right, is a sectioned off portion of the Salt River that used to flow through The Valley. It was a project created in 1966 to control floods and create a series of green belts and bike paths. The construction cost totaled $45,532,196, and it opened in Nov. 1999.  The lake holds 977 million gallons of water stocked with fish to catch. Specific kinds of boats are permitted in the lake, however, swimming is not permitted.

National swimming contests are held here so it is important to keep the water healthy by not allowing public swimming. The lake has to have a pH level of 9.0 or lower to allow swimming. Levels higher could cause skin irritation. In 2006, Garin Groff wrote that over 11 water treatments helped bring the pH level down that year, but cost near $10,000 each time. On Tempe’s government website, Assistant City Manager, Jeff Kulaga states that swimming competitions will only be held if the pH water levels are correct.

Since Tempe Town Lake is man-made, one must wonder the consequences of urbanization of aquatic ecosystems. A study aimed to answer this question.The study done by scientists and researchers at ASU isn’t readily available through BioOne, but an article in ScienceDaily provides an inside look to what lead author John Roach and his colleges found. “By starving streams of their historic supply of this material, canals accidentally alter the way nutrients are cycled in stream ecosystems,” Roach said as quoted in the ScienceDaily article.

There are natural lakes throughout Arizona that allow swimming and do not require expensive water treatment maintenance. Physical upkeep on the lake also costs money. An example of failed structural maintenance was seen in July, 2010 when a rubber dam developed a tear, emptying the lake which upset Tempe residents and boaters.   There is information saying Tempe Town Lake was a sustainable project to build. Hardly any information I found focused on how the lake is progressively becoming more difficult to sustain. What lies in the future for Tempe Town Lake?

Photo:Robyn Sedell

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