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Empty Tempe Town Lake bringing an influx of bugs
by Dianna M. Náñez - Sept. 8, 2010 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic
Walk past Tempe Town Lake at sunrise or sunset and you might get a mouthful of bugs.
But those living in the swanky condos on the lake's shores deal with the bugs all day long. The glossy windows of the office buildings and condos on the lake are smattered with dead midge flies.
Swarms of the bugs are attracted to the lights on the balconies of condominium residents who want to enjoy their patios.
The spike in midge flies since the Town Lake dam burst in July has caused frustration for residents living on the lake. Those who were already dealing with the effects of the real-estate-market crash on their property values say the dam's failure just adds to their list of complaints.
When Amanda King moved into the Town Lake condo her family purchased four years ago as an investment, she had a lake view and was told that the land east of her $700,000 home would soon be developed with restaurants, a spa and other retail.
Today, her balcony view consists of a riverbed full of mud and puddles. The land east of her is a dirt hole where the development was supposed to be. And bugs have multiplied by the thousands since the lake emptied.
"The lake draining was like the cherry on top of a bad cake," she said. "Look, we're living next to a huge dirt hole. There's literally so many bugs it's disgusting. And the smell."
King lives in Edgewater, a condo building on the south bank of Town Lake. She is one of many residents who have had to cope with the ramifications of the Town Lake dam failing.
Ironically, the dam failure has increased interest in Bridgeview condos just east of Edgewater. Katie Williams, who markets Bridgeview, said curiosity about the empty lake has brought more people to see the condos.
"They say they had always thought about living here and figured since they came to see what happened, they would look at the condos," she said.
They sell for $299,000 for a one bedroom up to $1.85 million for a furnished penthouse.
"The lake would only be a problem for us if it wasn't coming back," she said.
The city expects to refill the lake by Nov. 1.
Still, King thinks Tempe officials have failed their residents.
"This lake is just a glorified puddle," she said. "They should do more to encourage development. I'm very pessimistic with regards to the Nov. 1 date."
Last week, city officials were able to place the second of four rubber bladders into the riverbed necessary to rebuild the dam on the western end. Officials say they are on track to have the lake completed on time.
Kris Baxter Ging, a Tempe spokeswoman, said Tempe is also dealing with the bug problem.
"Even before there was evidence (of the problem) ... we had actually instructed (the pest-control company) to make the condominium areas a priority," she said.
Rick Amalfi, of Aquatic Consulting and Testing, has experience in killing Town Lake bugs since the lake was built. He said the spike in bugs is the result of success Tempe had in controlling bugs without insecticides.
"The biggest problem is that for years we worked on establishing biological control of bugs. We've used literally zero larvicide for the last seven or eight years," he said. "But now all of our biology is gone. All the fish that were eating the bugs have either moved to a new residence downstream or have died. So we have no predators."
For several weeks, Amalfi has been wading in the riverbed sludge looking for problem areas. Last week, he spread larvicide to kill midge-fly eggs and treated about 10 storm drains where mosquitoes were reportedly breeding.
"There's been no significant changes in increases in mosquitoes, but we had reports about some in storm drains that are normally underwater. Because there's standing water inside those drains, now it's the perfect place for them to breed," he said. "We'll be out here treating it again in about another week so that we can keep the (insecticide) concentrations up. We can only do what the (safety) regulations allow and we're doing that."
Amalfi said his company uses environmentally safe products to manage the problem and testing of the mosquitoes has shown no evidence of the West Nile virus. The midge flies are harder to deal with now because they thrive in the current humid and rainy season.
"The female midge fly deposits eggs on the water surface, the eggs that drop into the water and land sediment and eventually sink into the mud. Each female can produce 200 eggs. The eggs hatch in masses," he said. "That is why you see so many and the numbers increase so quickly. But midges don't bite and they don't carry disease. They are a nuisance. I think it will get better when the lake is there and we get some fish back."
For now, Amalfi suggests condo residents use lights on their balconies made especially to ward off bugs. "What we also found that works really well is putting a fan out. Mosquitoes and midge flies have a difficult time flying when there's a fan," he said.