Threat of E. coli in Tempe Town Lake, swimming banned

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TEMPE, Ariz. -- Just 0.2 inch of rain is all it took to shut down Tempe Town Lake to swimmers.

The athletes competing in the Red Rock Marquee Triathlon are supposed to consume water as they race through the course, but city officials were concerned they might drink some unwanted water if they swam through Tempe Town Lake during the race.

Saturday’s rain might have allowed the river to cross the east barrier, sending E. coli from upstream into the lake.

Jim Snow, who was competing in the race, believes it’s better to be safe than sorry.

“I don’t think you really want to mess around with that kind of bug," he said.

It takes the city at minimum 24 hours to test for E. coli. That's why the Tempe-based Red Rock Company quickly implemented plan B. They turned the swim/bike/run event into a run/bike/run.

Renee Defeo said the swimming portion was missed but not necessary to have a good time.

"I love the tri and swim is my favorite part," she said.

Other competitors agreed. While they were upset about skipping the swim, they weren’t letting the news slow them down.

“I was [upset] for about 10 minutes and then I got over it," shouted one runner as he raced by.

Most were just shocked at how little rain it took to cause a problem.

"It was a quarter inch of rain and we got E. coli," Defeo laughed.

Kimo Seymour, the Red Rock Company owner, doesn’t blame the city for closing the lake to swimmers.

"The underlying issue is that Tempe Town Lake is a river," he explained. "It’s not really a lake. And, we have made this lake out of it, but the issue is when there is rainfall [or] snowfall upstream, it’s got to go somewhere and it's coming down the lake."

Red Rock Company runs five triathlons here every year. The risk of having the lake closed to swimmers is one they're willing to take.

"It’s worth the risk," Seymour said. "A little bit of a bad roll here, but we won’t complain at all."

You can still take a boat out on the lake. You just have to avoid contact with the water. Swimming is banned from the lake without a special permit. The city said it should have the place cleared and open by Wednesday.

Snow put everything in perspective.

“I prefer to be in the water, of course," he said. "But, all in all, I love this stuff. And, now that it’s warming up, it’s a great day!”