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Tempe and State of Arizona Work to Save Town Lake Fish

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Tempe and the Arizona Game and Fish Department are working together to save scads of fish from Town Lake before it's drained completely in preparation for a new dam.

Samples of nine different species of sport fish and two species of bait fish will be recovered from the lake in the next couple of days, says Ron Mixan, a Game and Fish research biologist. They'll be kept in the Town Lake Marina, which will retain water during the draining process and be aerated, he says. The fish will be released in the lake once it's refilled.

The project began on Monday, Mixan says.

On Tuesday, about 10 Game and Fish employees gathered on the north side of the lake with a canoe and nets to catch the fish — not a bad job on a nice, springlike day.

Mixan says the crew expects to find channel catfish, flathead catfish, largemouth bass, yellow bass, white crappie, green sunfish, bluegill, red ear sunfish, and redbelly tilapia.

"Any native fish, like any suckers we come across — we're going to store those guys over there, too," he says.

The lake's original rubber dam is long past its 10-year warranty and already has proved to be unreliable. One year after the warranty expired, one of the rubber bladders made by Bridgestone burst, emptying the lake with a tremendous force. No one was injured, but officials shrunk the usable size of the lake after the incident and began exploring a more permanent solution to hold back about 800 million gallons of water.

The new $47 million dam is the largest capital investment in the city since Town Lake itself, which opened to the public in 1999. Depending on which Tempe web page you look at, the new dam will be either "the world’s largest" or "the country's largest" hydraulically operated steel-gate dam. It's a solution that's "expected to last for decades." 

Tempe began draining the lake on February 10, closing it to boating and other water activities as the final phase of dam construction nears.

Unless El Niño cranks up more rain, the lake could be refilled and stocked with fish again as soon as April 30.

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