Ensuring a Safe Holiday on the Lake

With National Dam Safety Awareness Day approaching, Southern California Edison teams help provide safe recreation at its lakes and reservoirs.

As the temperature rises this Memorial Day weekend, thousands of people will cool off at Southern California Edison’s 18 lakes and reservoirs near dams. While those reservoirs offer plenty of relaxation and recreation, behind the tranquil waters are sophisticated hydroelectric generation systems, managed by expert teams of engineers and technicians dedicated to public safety.

“Our operations team members are essential for maintaining the safety of our dams, including by being our ‘eyes and ears,’” said Nicolas Von Gersdorff, SCE chief dam safety engineer and senior manager for Dam and Public Safety.

Connected to a network of conveyance systems, these bodies of water function as basins that are essential to
generating hydroelectric power. Public safety always comes first as crews ensure sound infrastructure and a reliable flow of electricity.

“When we’re using our hydro plants, we’re making water move and we’re making it move at very high speeds,” said Maryanne McMillan, SCE principal manager of Generation major projects and engineering. “There’s a lot that we need to make sure is operating very safely, and we don’t take that for granted.”

Dam 5 at the Big Creek Hydroelectric Project, an intricate system of nine powerhouses, six reservoirs and 27 dams.
Dam 5 at the Big Creek Hydroelectric Project, an intricate system of nine powerhouses, six reservoirs and 27 dams.

Safety at SCE’s hydroelectric operations involves reviewing and updating public safety plans, updating signage, distributing flyers to camping and recreation sites and providing visitors with guidance on water conditions. Communication between visitors and SCE staff is encouraged.

“If visitors see something they’re concerned about, we invite them to let us know,” said Daniel Keverline, senior manager of SCE’s southwestern Generation operations. “It may be something we’re already monitoring, but it never hurts to alert us, and we appreciate their support.”

Several SCE teams, including Dam Safety, Security, Licensing, Environmental Resources, Engineering, Business Resiliency, Ground Operations and Hydrography, work together to test the dams’ systems, identify necessary upgrades and improve production. This collaboration ensures nothing falls through the cracks, from the moment the water enters the generating system until it reaches the reservoirs, lakes and beyond.

“People might not realize that behind every dam are men and women working in the background to make sure everything is in safe working order,” said Seth Carr, Generation supervisor of SCE’s Bishop and Mono Basin operations. “We regularly have boots on the ground monitoring and maintaining our facilities, engineers reviewing data and planners scheduling work and our next inspections. Our approach is always to be proactive instead of reactive when it comes to dam safety.”

At an elevation of 10,141 feet, Saddlebag Lake is the highest lake you can drive to in California.
At an elevation of 10,141 feet, Saddlebag Lake is the highest lake you can drive to in California.

While the extreme drought is expected to affect lake levels across much of the West, SCE’s infrastructure is built to withstand a wide spectrum of weather conditions and will continue to support water recreation this summer season. With an influx of visitors expected, SCE’s teams are prepared to provide a safe and enjoyable escape from the summer heat.

“One of the best parts of the job is seeing people enjoying our reservoirs, and we would love for them to do so safely,” said Carr.

Lake & River Safety Tips:

  • Be cautious and check water levels before jumping into lakes and rivers. Severe drought conditions have brought unseen hazards, such as underwater rocks and trees, closer to the surface.
  • Always be aware of your surroundings, especially in areas near and around burn scars. There may be loose debris, shifting dry sediment and hazardous trees. Know what is below and above you, and always have a path out.
  • Be aware of sudden shifts in water levels during storms that can occur at any time. Determine where the high ground is and how to get there if there is a change in water level. Do not camp in low-lying areas next to water if rain is forecast.
  • Pay attention to signage. Signs identify areas that the public should not access for safety reasons and warn of potential changes in water flow. Some areas have early-warning sirens that alert the public to move to high ground.
  • Research the areas where you will be recreating. Kayaking and paddling organizations provide information about recreational water conditions and hazards (americanwhitewater.org, paddling.com, paddlewise.org). Be aware of your swimming and paddling abilities relative to conditions and types of currents.

Dam Safety Tips:

  • Never swim near a dam or dive from a dam structure. Dangerous currents can pull you through the dam or against flow structures.
  • Never fish, boat or swim immediately below a dam because water levels and flow can change quickly.
  • Never moor, tie or anchor your boat immediately below a dam.
  • Keep personal watercraft and boats clear of dams and dam structures.
  • Stay outside of booms and away from all dam structures.
  • Never sunbathe, picnic or camp in an area that may flood because of dam operations.
  • Never get into a water canal or flume. Canals and flumes have steep, slippery sides and icy cold water and it can be very difficult to get out of one. Stay off walkways next to flumes and canals.

Click here for more information about National Dam Safety Awareness Day, May 31.