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Phoenix Lake Restoration Project Setup Begins

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Sonora, CA – Fake owls, orange spheres that look like eyes and shiny ribbon are cropping up at a local lake ahead of a long-awaited multi-million-dollar restoration project that is shortly kicking off.

As reported here, environmental documents for public review came out two-and-a-half years ago detailing the Phoenix Lake restoration project.

The lake, which is a primary water source for Sonora, Jamestown, and areas like Mono Village and East Sonora, has roots tracing back to 1852 mining days.

Among the project’s goals are to increase water storage in the reservoir by roughly a third to 850 acre-feet and to improve water quality. Funding has already been secured to pay for most of the work.

Tuolumne Utility District (TUD) officials say they anticipate receiving the final required environmental permits by the end of this month and plans are to then go to bid as soon as possible to bring project contractors on board and set them to work.

The district estimates it will take through the end of this year and possibly part of the 2021 construction season to get everything done. “The project scope involves dredging up to 400,000 cubic yards out of the lake over the next several months,” acknowledges Gaddiel DeMattei, TUD associate engineer.

Activities Picking Up Around The Lake

Currently, residents may see parties of people walking around the lake who might be potential contract bidders or field meeting participants. District personnel is also busily installing owl figurines and other bird deterrents in various locations, specifically on the Apple Valley side to prevent nesting activities.

“We have to survey every area before we disturb ground…we are placing the deterrents now just before nesting season so they will go nest somewhere else and ideally, we will be able to start our projects without having a bird in the way,” DeMattei explains.

“If they do nest, 300-foot buffering is required so if we find a nest we will do the right thing and protect the nest in place until [the birds]…are old enough to fledge the nest.”

Too, he says, “The lake level is as low as we can possibly get it right now and some people have called to ask because it is extremely low…that is to encourage the soil to dry before the construction starts.”

Whether the work spills over into the spring of 2021 or wraps up by the end of the year depends on too many variables to predict, according to DeMattei. In the meantime, he reminds residents and would-be recreaters “We are just not going to fill the lake back up this summer so people can work in it.”