Safety is our highest priority

Safety is our highest priority

Last week, Helix’s confined space rescue team held their quarterly safety training in Lakeside in conjunction with Heartland Fire’s Rescue Engine 12 crew from La Mesa.

Confined spaces are areas large enough for employees to enter and perform work, are not intended for continued occupancy, and have restricted entry and exit points.

Helix has a variety of confined spaces including pipelines, water storage tanks and underground vaults. District staff regularly enters these spaces for inspections and maintenance to ensure the integrity of our infrastructure. There are 37 miles of pipe 30-inches and larger in diameter, a portion of which is inspected from the inside annually.

To ensure workers stay safe, Helix follows Cal/OSHA safety protocols that include permit issuance, continuous air monitoring, ventilation, the use of harnesses and retrieval systems, emergency whistles and stand-by rescue personnel on site. \

The rescue personnel are members of the district’s confined space rescue team. The team is made up of nine volunteer employees who receive no extra compensation for these duties. Although OSHA requires annual drills, Helix’s team conducts quarterly drills and training to ensure everyone is prepared in case an emergency arises during confined space work.

Morgan Blake, valve maintenance technician and volunteer member of Helix’s confined space rescue team, lowers himself into a 36-inch pipe through a manhole.

Captain Tom Brown, firefighter/paramedic Kyle Tasco and engineer Scott Norris, Heartland Fire’s Rescue Engine 12 crew from La Mesa, practice maneuvering themselves and their rescue equipment through the tight confines of a 36-inch pipe.

Last week’s training session focused on simulated emergency rescues. One member of Helix’s confined space rescue team volunteered to be the victim – an employee who was injured while working underground in a dewatered 36-inch diameter pipeline. The remainder of Helix’s team and the fire department personnel assumed rescue roles.

They worked together to crawl through the pipe to the victim, secure him to an immobilization device, and pull him out of the confined space.Regular safety training such as this allows the district’s volunteer rescue team to practice and continually improve its processes.

Travis Powell, system operator, and Pete Spangler, utility crew member, practice hoisting Eric Hughes, valve maintenance technician, out of a 36-inch pipeline during a rescue training exercise in Lakeside last week. They are three of nine Helix employees that have volunteered to be part of the district’s confined space rescue team. Firefighters from Heartland Fire’s Rescue Engine 12 crew from La Mesa attended the training  as well to practice coordinated emergency responses between the agencies.

Water, gravity and Fletcher Hills’ new pump station

Water, gravity and Fletcher Hills’ new pump station

Rendering: the current Fletcher Hills 2 Pump Station is located between the Aldwych Reservoir Tanks. The new station will be built west (left) of the tanks, as shown.

Ever wonder what a pump station is for and why we need them? Check out the new pump station project Helix will be constructing over the next year! This station will serve the Fletcher Hills area and provide enhanced reliability.  Last spring, the District met with residents in the immediate area surrounding the new station site to discuss the project during the initial phases of design. Now that the project design is complete and the construction contract has been awarded, a follow-up meeting has been scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on Monday, October 24 at the Aldwych Reservoir Tanks.

Pump Stations 101

The new station, called the Fletcher Hills 2 Pump Station, is one of 25 pump stations within Helix’s water distribution system. They play a critical role: filling reservoirs and pressurizing water mains.

Helix’s 25 Pump Stations







Many of you reading this are probably familiar with the basic concept of water distribution, which is to pump water to reservoirs on hilltops, and let gravity distribute the water to homes, schools and businesses. This is the most energy efficient way to operate a public water system.

A public water system, like Helix, strives to maintain water pressure at an adequate level for every customer. Water pressure is the force exerted per square inch (psi) of wall – whether in a reservoir, a water main or the pipes in your home.  If water pressure is too high, pipes burst. If it’s too low, firefighters can’t put out the fire, and you can’t take a morning shower, do laundry and irrigate at the same time.

The catch is that water pressure is directly related to elevation, or more specifically, the height of a water column. One foot of water height is approximately equal to 0.434 psi.  So, if we provide 50 psi to customers near the top of Mt. Helix at an elevation of 1,300 feet, the water pressure for customers at a low elevation, for example, the western edge of Lemon Grove, elevation 270 feet, will be 497 psi.

(1,300 – 270) x 0.434 = 447 psi

50 psi + 447 psi = 497 psi

The solution to this issue is to serve water to customers at different elevations, such as Mt. Helix and at the western edge of Lemon Grove, from different reservoirs. In fact, we group customers over the 50 square miles based on their elevation and we serve into 33 pressure zones. The zones are isolated from each other with specialized valves and each zone has its own reservoirs and pump stations. Check the map to see which zone you are in.

Map: Ctrl-click then click “open image in a new tab” to see a larger map.

Fletcher Hills 2 Pump Station

The Fletcher Hills 2 Pump Station pumps water from the Aldwych Tanks (that serve the Aldwych pressure zone) into the Fletcher Hills Combined Tank that serves the Fletcher Hills pressure zone.

Photo: Helix stores water in the saucer shaped section of the Fletcher Hills Combined Tank.

Diagram: note the elevation gain from the Aldwych Tanks to the Fletcher Hills Combined Tank.

The Fletcher Hills Combined Tank is actually two tanks in one — Padre Dam Municipal Water District operates the lower, cylindrical section and Helix utilizes the higher elevation, saucer section.  The saucer is at a higher elevation than Helix’s old tank, which was demolished to make way for the 125 freeway, and provides higher water pressure for customers in the Fletcher Hills pressure zone.

The Fletcher Hills 2 Pump Station now must pump to a higher elevation than it was originally designed to handle, requiring both of the station’s 50 horsepower pumps to operate simultaneously. Neither pump can be taken offline for maintenance.  The industry term for this is lack of redundancy, and Helix requires redundancy in all facility designs to ensure a reliable water supply. Even our water treatment plant has two of everything.

The new pump station includes three pumps that are capable of pumping 2,000 gallons per minute more efficiently than their predecessors. The third pump is a standby unit, allowing maintenance of the other two.  The state of the art design also includes automated control valves, flow metering, electrical switchgear and instrumentation coordinated with the district’s SCADA control network.  

Rendering of new pump station

Current pump station

Helix maintains and replaces our pump stations as needed, and nearly all of our older stations have been improved at some point to ensure reliable service. The average age of our pump stations is 33 years old. If you want more information about the Fletcher Hills 2 Pump Station, please feel free to contact Helix Water District’s Engineering Department or click on the following link. 

Learn More

Saving hives

Saving hives

In September, Helix’s Ted Salois followed Jesse Adcock, owner of J.R. Bees, who performs live bee removal from the meter boxes of Helix customers. Ted’s story, photos and video clip show just how Mr. Adcock does it.

Why is Helix investing in live bee removal? One reason, which Mr. Adcock explains in the story, is that it is more effective than killing bees. The big reason is bee populations are dwindling, in California and around the world. A study published earlier this year by the United Nations Environment Program found that over 40 percent of pollinators —  primarily bees and butterflies — are facing extinction. This matters: according to the report, 75 percent of the world’s crops and 90 percent of wild flowering plants are dependent on pollination.

Read Saving Hives

Watch the video

Read Six easy ways you can help save the bees


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