Helix dams ready for Infrastructure Week

Helix dams ready for Infrastructure Week

Above:  Helix’s R.M. Levy Water Treatment Plant sits across the street from Chet Harritt Dam and Lake Jennings, where we store imported water from the Colorado River and the State Water Project.

The damaged spillway at Oroville Dam, which occurred earlier this year in northern California, sparked concern about the integrity and safety of aging infrastructure nationwide.

Those concerns are front and center again this week during Infrastructure Week 2017, a national campaign created to raise awareness about the importance of improving and maintaining local, state and national infrastructure – including critical water infrastructure like dams.

Here at Helix Water District, we own and operate two earthen fill dams: the dam at Lake Cuyamaca captures and stores local runoff and the dam at Lake Jennings stores imported water from the Colorado River and Northern California. Unlike Oroville Dam, Helix’s dams do not serve flood control purposes.

Helix’s dams are inspected regularly by Helix staff and annually by the State of California, Department of Water Resources, Division of Safety of Dams. Helix is in full compliance with all requirements of the Division of Safety of Dams and maintains an Emergency Operations Plan in the event of emergencies involving one of the dams.

Helix staff regularly inspect and maintain dam infrastructure, including spillways, outlet towers and the dams themselves. During weekly visual inspections, staff checks for cracks, settling, rodent intrusion, brush growth and abutment integrity, all things that can undermine a dam’s integrity.

Regular maintenance includes clearing brush and woody vegetation off of the dams and abutments, and operating all mechanical devices such as outlet valves to ensure they remain in good working order.

Chet Harritt Dam at Lake Jennings is equipped with an underdrain system that allows the measurement of water flow. If water flow becomes excessive, alarms activate automatically, notifying staff immediately. At both dams, monitoring well measurements are taken on a weekly basis and surveys are conducted annually to verify dimensions.

Finally, in the event of an earthquake of magnitude 5 or greater with an epicenter within specified distances from the dam, survey and engineering crews will inspect the dam to ensure its integrity and dimension.



Scientists link CA drought to atmospheric waves

Scientists link CA drought to atmospheric waves

The Ridiculously Resilient Ridge was a high pressure ridge that formed over the west coast of North America and blocked winter storms from reaching California in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Last week, scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research published two papers attributing the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge and this year’s record precipitation to the same phenomenon: a wave pattern that emerges in the upper atmosphere and circles the globe.

Read the National Center for Atmospheric Research press release

How Drought Changes California

How Drought Changes California

Photo: Yosemite National Park on April 5, 2017 (National Park Service)

Jay Lund, Director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at University of California, Davis, said of the recently ended drought, “We lost a third of our water supply and the impact to the agricultural economy was a 2-3 percent loss and urban economy had almost no economic impact. To me that’s remarkable.”  Past droughts may be why California’s economy and most jobs made it through the driest four-year period on record, because each drought brings changes in water policy that bolster our resilience.

Read the San Jose Mercury News story

Governor Brown lifts the drought emergency

Governor Brown lifts the drought emergency

Photo: Associated Press


SACRAMENTO – Following unprecedented water conservation and plentiful winter rain and snow, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. today ended the drought state of emergency in most of California, while maintaining water reporting requirements and prohibitions on wasteful practices, such as watering during or right after rainfall.

“This drought emergency is over, but the next drought could be around the corner,” said Governor Brown. “Conservation must remain a way of life.”

Executive Order B-40-17 lifts the drought emergency in all California counties except Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Tuolumne, where emergency drinking water projects will continue to help address diminished groundwater supplies. Today’s order also rescinds two emergency proclamations from January and April 2014 and four droughtrelated executive orders issued in 2014 and 2015.

Executive Order B-40-17 builds on actions taken in Executive Order B-37-16, which remains in effect, to continue making water conservation a way of life in California:

  • The State Water Resources Control Board will maintain urban water use reporting requirements and prohibitions on wasteful practices such as watering during or after rainfall, hosing off sidewalks and irrigating ornamental turf on public street medians.
  • The state will continue its work to coordinate a statewide response on the unprecedented bark beetle outbreak in drought-stressed forests that has killed millions of trees across California.

In a related action, state agencies today issued a plan to continue to make conservation a way of life in California, as directed by Governor Brown in May 2016. The framework requires new legislation to establish long-term water conservation measures and improved planning for more frequent and severe droughts.

Although the severely dry conditions that afflicted much of the state starting in the winter of 2011-12 are gone, damage from the drought will linger for years in many areas. The drought reduced farm production in some regions, killed an estimated 100 million trees, harmed wildlife and disrupted drinking water supplies for many rural communities. The consequences of millions of dead trees and the diminished groundwater basins will continue to challenge areas of the state for years.

The full text of today’s executive order can be found here.

California’s Drought Response
The drought that spanned water years 2012 through 2016 included the driest four-year statewide precipitation on record (2012-2015) and the smallest Sierra-Cascades snowpack on record (2015, with 5 percent of average). It was marked by extraordinary heat: 2014, 2015 and 2016 were California’s first, second and third warmest year in terms of statewide average temperatures.

The state responded to the emergency with actions and investments that also advanced the California Water Action Plan, the Administration’s five-year blueprint for more reliable, resilient water systems to prepare for climate change and population growth. To advance the priorities of the Water Action Plan and respond to drought, the voters passed a comprehensive water bond, the Legislature appropriated and accelerated funding and state agencies accelerated grants and loans to water projects.

California also enacted the historic Sustainable Groundwater Management Act, took action to improve measurement and management of water, retrofitted tens of thousands of inefficient toilets, replaced lawns with water-wise landscaping and provided safe drinking water to impacted communities.

Californians also responded to the drought with tremendous levels of water conservation, including a nearly 25 percent average reduction in urban water use across the state.

Sierra snowpack 5 inches from record

Sierra snowpack 5 inches from record

If just five more inches of precipitation falls in the Northern Sierra before September 30, then 2017 would become the wettest year on record in California. What are the chances? Pretty good, actually. A new storm is forecast to drop two to six inches of rain and snow in the region today through Sunday.  Even if you don’t read the whole San Francisco Chronicle story, enjoy the slideshow of the snow levels in Lake Tahoe.


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.

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.

Firefighters pause for a photo inside a Helix water main.

Moving water ahead of expected storms

Moving water ahead of expected storms

The San Diego County Water Authority announced Tuesday that it transferred water out of Lake Hodges for the first time to create room to capture rain and runoff from storms expected to move into the region this week. The Water Authority’s Emergency Storage Project allows the movement of water from Lake Hodges (above right) into Olivenhain Reservoir ( above left), and to San Vicente Reservoir in East County.

Read the 10News story

Regulation vs. Cooperation

Regulation vs. Cooperation

Photo: The Toulumne River flooding its banks in February.

Farmers, cities, water districts and environmental advocacy groups throughout California are waiting for Governor Brown and the State Water Resources Control Board to announce the end of the drought and the start of new water use regulations.

At stake are reduced water supplies if the state board mandates higher river flows to support spawning salmon and the wetlands that benefit juvenile salmon on their downstream migration to the ocean. And cities and water districts are concerned just how stringent the state board’s upcoming water conservation regulations — “Water Conservation as a Way of Life in California” — will be.

What’s interesting, however, are the farmers, cities, water districts and environmental advocacy groups that aren’t waiting for the state board. They are collaborating — bringing scientific expertise and research capabilities together with local knowledge — to develop solutions at the watershed level. They are also bringing into question whether regulation or cooperation is the most effective approach to California’s water issues.

San Francisco and Central Valley farmers
The city of San Francisco and Central Valley farmers have formed an unusual alliance and are proposing their own plan to restore the salmon population and wetlands on the Toulumne River.

Read the story in the San Francisco Chronicle

Trout Unlimited and Sonoma Valley landowners
In the Sonoma Valley, Trout Unlimited and the Sonoma Ecology Center are working with landowners to increase increase flow in Sonoma Creek for Chinook Salmon and Steelhead.

Read the story in the Sonoma Valley Sun

Environmental Defense Fund and Central Valley farmers
And the Environmental Defense Fund is collaborating with Central Valley farmers on a new program to develop water markets that pay farmers for allocating land and water to habitat restoration projects benefiting salmon and river ecosystems.

Read the story in Water Deeply

State’s “Sampling for Lead in Schools Program” is underway

State’s “Sampling for Lead in Schools Program” is underway

La Mesa Spring Valley School District, the subject of a channel 7 news story on February 28th, is collecting water samples to determine if the plumbing or water fixtures in their schools expose students to lead. The school district’s decision to provide bottled water to students is not due to the quality of water provided by Helix Water District.

There is no lead pipe in Helix’s water distribution system, including water mains and service lines to homes and schools, and the district is in full compliance with state and federal lead and copper testing requirements.

In mid-January, the State Water Resources Control Board, Division of Drinking Water directed all water systems in the state to assist the K-12 schools they serve in determining if a school’s plumbing or water fixtures expose students to lead. The state is focused on schools because older school buildings throughout the state were built before current lead regulations were in place.

The purpose of the state’s directive is to help schools determine if their plumbing or water fixtures are a potential source of lead exposure for students and staff.  Schools can then remove or replace plumbing as needed.

Helix sent letters to all K-12 schools in our service area on January 20, 2017 to advise schools of the program and provide a point of contact should they decide to request sampling assistance from the district.  School participation in the water sampling program is voluntary, and schools must request assistance in writing.

Additional information regarding Helix Water District’s compliance with state and federal lead and copper testing, and all other water quality regulations, can be found in our annual Water Quality Report. Information on the testing for lead in schools program can be found on the State Water Resources Control Board’s website.

Can California’s dams adapt?

Can California’s dams adapt?

Photo: the damaged spillway at Oroville Dam last week (source: yahoo.com)

California’s State Water Project collects snowmelt from the Northern Sierra in Lake Oroville and moves the water in aqueducts to Central California farms and Southern California cities. The project’s design is based on two key tenets: that the Sierra snowpack stores up to 30 percent of the state’s water supply through the winter, and that the snow melts just in time to meet the summer water demands of crops and cities. But data tells a different story.

In 1906, the State of California’s Department of Water Resources began measuring how much water flows into the Sacramento River when the Sierra snowpack melts. The first 50 years of data show river flow peaking in April. From the mid-1950s to 2007, however, the Sierra snowpack melted earlier and river flow peaked in March (See Figure 3-20 from the California Water Plan). Warmer temperatures caused the change, and continued warming could melt the snowpack even earlier in the decades ahead (See Figure 3-23 from the California Water Plan).

This is no small change for California’s dam operators, who lower reservoir levels in January, February and March to make room for the runoff caused by winter storms. This is critical to prevent flooding in Northern California. Oroville Dam, for example, captures the precipitation that falls in the 6,000 square mile expanse of the Feather River watershed. Now, and in the decades ahead, dam operators need to capture the melting Sierra snowpack in January, February and March, and manage flood control simultaneously.

Read the Christian Science Monitor Story

Pin It on Pinterest

Font Size