Inside Friant Dam

Wired for Safety

Hydro-electric power operators rely on a Ponderosa Telephone landline to monitor crucial safety thresholds.

Inside Friant Dam

Inside Friant Dam, mammoth turbines generate hydro-electric power and sophisticated electronics control and monitor the generation of raw energy. A gnarly, wild beast in Spring; now that it is Fall, Millerton Lake is extremely low, and with only one turbine operating it is surprisingly quiet.

In the Operations Office of the Friant Power Authority is a bank of enormous power generation monitors with an impressive array of lights and dials for outputs to the San Joaquin River, the Kern Canal and the Madera Canal. Today, two operators are monitoring computer data which displays enormous water flow pressures and megawatts transferred to PG&E.

Descending into the bowels of the dam on a steep metal stairway with several switchbacks, we encounter monolithic sized water turbines as tall as 5 men standing foot to shoulder. A historic wall displays tools and silhouettes of gigantic maintenance tools seemingly designed for the strength of Mr. Universe. We’re told that most dam workers come from Navy backgrounds, and for good reason—the inside of the dam is not unlike the engine rooms of massive ocean-going vessels.

Our guide, Lance Darrow, Senior Operator, finds the Ponderosa Telephone service gives him invaluable freedom of movement: “We use the phone line as a link between our computer alarm systems and our pagers to alert us to potential anomalies within dam operations. When we are monitoring enormous water pressures and energy output, it is crucial for the safety of ourselves and our community to keep everything operating within the safety zone. It’s “Murphy’s Law” that alarms activate just after we’ve stepped away for a visual inspection or other activity. It could signal a minor adjustment is needed or an impending critical situation—which can occur in spring flood conditions! In any case, we can count on Ponderosa Telephone to keep us reliably connected.”