Winter Snowmelt Begins Filling SCE’s Reservoirs

Fishermen, boaters and other summer visitors to the lakes are reminded to exercise safety around dams.
Photo Credit: Sher Beard

The Sierra snowpack that feeds Southern California Edison’s Big Creek hydroelectric system was 150% of normal this year, assuring the utility there will be plenty of runoff to support summer recreation at its reservoirs.

That’s a far cry from four years ago when the Sierra was suffering through a five-year drought that left many reservoirs studded with boulders on dry lake beds. The annual High Sierra Regatta at Huntington Lake was canceled an unheard of two years in a row due to low water levels.

But this year, after a so-so 2018 snow year, the Sierra was the target of several atmospheric rivers that brought storm after snowy storm, assuring a healthy snowpack to feed the waterways that provide hydroelectric power to SCE and to the farmers and water agencies in the San Joaquin Valley below.

“We’ve got plenty of water and we are in good shape leading into this summer,” said Andrew McMillan, a senior advisor at SCE’s Western Operation’s office in Big Creek.

Water pours through SCE's Mammoth Pool Reservoir in the Sierra.
Water pours through SCE's Mammoth Pool Reservoir in the Sierra.

Visitors to SCE’s reservoirs earlier in the spring may have been concerned because of the low water levels, but McMillan said the lake levels were lower than normal this year to provide storage for sudden runoff. The reservoirs are filling now for the summer recreation season.

However, he noted the water is from snow runoff, so it will be extremely cold for those playing in or around it.

That is just one of the safety tips for visitors to reservoirs around dams. May 31 marks Dam Safety Awareness Day, a national commemoration of the tragedy caused by the failure of the South Fork Dam near Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in 1889, which claimed more than 2,200 lives. 

As the summer recreation season approaches, here are some other tips for staying safe around dams:

  • Never swim immediately above 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 below a dam because water levels and flows can change quickly.
  • Keep personal watercraft and boats clear of dams.
  • 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.