The Finnon Lake Restoration Project involves construction of the new dam, restoring water storage, enhancement of fisheries and aquatic habitat, improving 5.5 acres of wetland habitat, improving 5.9 acres of forested habitat and securing a sustainable water supply to combat wildfires. Indirect benefits include supporting beneficial uses such as public access, camping, swimming, fishing, hiking, boating and other uses associated with the campground. Future projects call for an addition to the bathrooms for handicap access, and pedestal grills in the
Day Use area.
By Mike Roberts
Reproduced with permission from an article published in The Mountain Democrat, 21 November 2010, Placerville California
NOTE: The texts in italics represent clarifications and corrections to the original text and are included with permission of the author, Mike Roberts.
After 13 years of fundraising, hope and disappointment, it now appears that Mosquito will get its swimming hole back. Residents recall summer dips in Finnon Lake, the jewel of their rural community, until its old earthen dam was condemned in 1997.
The water level was dropped, leaving the once proud lake a fraction of its original size, surrounded by marshy wetlands. Camping, fishing and bird watching opportunities remained, but what’s left of the lake dropped off the local radar for most county residents.
Nevada Conservancy promised $610,000 toward the dam restoration, with the El Dorado County Water Agency adding another $100,000.
Qualifying for the grants took a lot of hard work from an alphabet soup of environmental agencies, volunteers and local politicians who lined up in support of the project.
The Mosquito Volunteer Firefighters Association (Mosquito Volunteer Fire Association, MVFA) now owns the recreation area, and made significant headway in the years following state-ordered water lowering, but was stymied by the strict environmental requirement for a dam restoration project. In 2005 the county Board of Supervisors asked the Georgetown Divide Resource Conservation District to help them out.
Director Mark Egbert jumped in with both feet, recruiting other agencies and tirelessly applying for grants, long after many local residents had lost faith that they’d ever see Finnon Lake restored.
The lake, located a mile west of the confluence of Mosquito and Rock Creek roads in the rural community of Mosquito, sits behind a 1905 earthen dam that was deemed seismically unsafe by the state Division of Safety of Dams in 1997. The resulting lake-lowering left a smaller lake surrounded by a beautiful, marshy bird sanctuary, but cost the community its focal point.
Its elevation made Finnon Lake a favorite target for firefighting helicopters on the south Divide. Lake water was used to fight the 1994 Kelsey Fire.
For that reason, and for the good of the community, the local firefighters association (MVFA is a non-profit 501C3 organization whose membership is open to all residents of the Mosquito Fire Protection District) bought the entire site from the state Department of Fish and Game for a dollar in 1997 and set about finding money for the million-plus dollar dam restoration project.
They found a volunteer labor source in the local heavy equipment operators union. Local 3 committed to the project as a Job Corps training exercise. (This organization had to withdraw from the project. A private contractor ultimately completed the dam.)
The volunteers also found retired Natural Resources Conservation engineer Al Thyme, who assembled design specifications for the new dam that satisfied officials at the state Division of Safety of Dams, and eventually the Army Corps of Engineers.
But the project was far from “shovel ready.” Myriad local, state and federal environmental surveys and applications – all very technical – were needed to land a big-ticket grant.
Complicating matters, dam projects had become bad politics on the West Coast. Both California and Oregon were proactively tearing down older dams to restore fisheries, and state policies hindered new water storage projects.
Egbert rallied local conservation and water agencies to prepare the necessary environmental and engineering documents. The required permits and approvals were all secured by late last year, including an agreement with El Dorado Irrigation District to fill the lake after the new dam is completed.
With a “shelf ready” project in hand, he chased down every matching fund and grant opportunity he could find, leaving no potential funding source unturned.
“We applied for so many different grants and kept getting rejected,” he said. “People were losing faith.”
He hit pay dirt in July with the $610,000 Sierra Nevada Conservancy grant. The County Water Agency followed with another $100,000. Operating Engineers Local 3 remains committed to the earth-moving at no charge as a training project. (See note above.)
“This project will turn dirt in the spring of 2011,” promised Egbert by phone last week.
The dam is 51 feet high and 830 feet long (as built, the dam is 734 feet long). Its base consists of hydraulic fill. Mosquito legend holds that it was constructed with leftover hydraulic mining equipment. Tailings have proven unstable during earthquakes at other California dam sites.
The work itself sounds simple: Drain what’s left of the lake, capturing and securing the remaining fish in holding pens. Bulldoze the old earthen dam and spread the dirt out. Once dry, push it back into place, compacting it to modern seismic standards along the way. Install fish-friendly habitat in the lakebed and refill the lake.
The bulldozers should roll in the spring. If all goes according to plan, construction will be complete by fall of 2011. The lake can then be refilled. Additional fish will be planted with a long-range management plan.
Volunteers are needed to help with fish habitat construction, netting and moving. Temporary housing in Mosquito is also needed for the Job Corps trainees.
A list of donatable building materials will be posted at a soon-to-be created project Website. Monetary donations are welcome.
Currently the contracts are signed, and an advance grant payment has been approved. “We’re just waiting for the check to show up,” said Egbert, who credits many local agencies and politicians for “stepping up.”
He specifically thanked Assemblyman Tim Leslie for getting the Department of Water Resources to take the lead on the environmental assessments and wetland delineations. The late Sen. Dave Cox, Congressman Tom McClintock and Assemblymen Ted Gaines and Leslie all spent political capital on Finnon Lake.
Officials at the state Division of Safety of Dams told Egbert that they’d never seen a dam project of this size undertaken with such a tiny budget. “This is a demonstration that collaboration and commitment does achieve results,” said Egbert.
Locally, county Supervisors Ron Briggs and Jack Sweeney championed the dam project. “That was a real demonstration of leadership,” said Egbert. “When you see elected officials recognize a rural community in need, and work to restore a community asset like this, that’s inspiring.”
Egbert landed a follow-on $16,000 conservancy grant for forestry improvement around the lake. The money will fund conservation crews who will thin the forest and put up bat and songbird houses.
The primary funding source for the Finnon Lake Restoration is the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, which was signed into law in 2004 with a mission to support “efforts that improve the environmental, economic and social well-being of the Sierra Nevada Region, its communities and the residents of California,” according to its Website.
The conservancy was subsequently funded by Proposition 84 in 2006, which provided $5.4 billion for water projects around the state.
The Georgetown Divide and El Dorado County Resource Conservation districts are local, independent, non-enforcement, non-regulatory, self-governed districts with elected boards. They share the same staff, headed by Egbert.
The sister agencies’ mission is to assist landowners and public agencies in protecting, restoring or developing of land, water and related natural resources.
Finnon Lake is also home to a popular 18-hole disc golf course and Mosquito’s only restaurant, the Rock Creek Café. Owner Frank Ethridge admits that keeping the doors open with the lake down has been a struggle, and realizes that facing a full summer of construction with no disc golf, things might get worse before they get better. “But this community has a big heart,” he said. “We’ve got some very loyal customers. We’ll hang in as best we can. I can’t wait until the summer of 2012 when the lake is back.”
For additional History on Finnon and the Bridge click on this link: http://adamsamigos.net/mosquito.htm
The Mosquito Volunteer Fire Association (MVFA) is an independent community volunteer organization funded solely through Finnon Lake fees, private donations and fund raiser events. MVFA receives no money from any tax source or from the homeowners association (SCPOA). Formed in 1972 as the Mosquito Volunteer Fire Department (MVFD), it purchased the Finnon Lake property in 1997 from the state for $1. In 2006, the name of MVFD was changed to MVFA and organized as a non-profit in order to relieve the tax district (and taxpayers) of the responsibility for fees, expenses and liabilities associated with the Finnon Lake property.
The role of MVFA is to provide community support and community education. They do this through various community events like the Christmas Dinner, Christmas Basket donations, Easter Egg Hunt, Saint Patrick's Day Dinner, Cinco de Mayo Dinner, Yard Sale, Community Picnic, Children's Halloween Party, Spaghetti Feed, etc., and by publishing the Mosquito Byte newsletter, the Mosquito Phone Book and by providing assistance to residents in need through its various community funds. Click the "Events-Links" page for MVFA event dates and information.
In addition, MVFA supports the Fire Department, and manages the "Station 75 Fund". This fund benefits Mosquito Fire Station 75. At the request of the Station Chief, MVFA may purchase tools and equipment for use by the fire department. MVFA is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, and donations may qualify for a tax deduction.
The Mosquito Volunteer Fire Association is governed by 7 volunteer members making up the Board of Directors. The components are: Volunteer Firefighters, Support Group and Community at large. MVFA has no paid employees, and all their work is done by volunteer staff without any form of compensation. Opinions expressed by individual MVFA board members in social media and other venues may not represent the opinions of the board as a whole.
All adults living in the Mosquito Fire Protection District are automatically members of MVFA. If you would like to enrich your membership, please become an MVFA Volunteer. The Board meetings are open to the public and held at the Mosquito Fire Station at 7:00 PM on the first Thursday of each month.
Finnon Lake Recreation Area is owned and managed by MVFA, and is open to the public for camping, fishing, boating, picnicking and disc golf. A day use fee is required for participation in these activities, but no fee is required for wildlife viewing, hiking or bicycling. An annual Day Use Pass for Mosquito residents is now available for sale. Please come out and enjoy the peace and quiet of nature in the surrounding area. With the new dam, and after the rain storms of 2017, Finnon Lake is now full and back to how it looked over 20 years ago.
To the many donors, patrons and volunteers of MVFA who offer their overwhelming support; to the Disc Golfers, fishermen and the many campers from around the world who have visited Finnon Lake and read our newsletter and websites and offered their support, THANK YOU from our hearts to yours.
Please report any unauthorized vehicles or activity on Finnon property to the Sheriff's Dept. From cell phone call 530-626-4911, or call MVFA at 530-409-5515. Do not call the fire department or the store.
For emergencies, call 911. Thank you for your support.
Notice: www.finnonrecreationarea.com is the official website for Finnon Lake.
Related information contained on any other website is not authorized by MVFA.
Access to Finnon Lake Recreation Area is by Mosquito Road or Rock Creek Road.
Trailers are prohibited on the Mosquito Road one-lane Swing Bridge.
Due to the narrow bridge and multiple tight switch-backs,
we highly recommend all motor homes and vehicles with trailers use Rock Creek Road.
Finnon Lake Recreation Area is located at 9100 Rock Creek Road, Placerville, CA 95667