Throwback Thursday: The San Diego Flume

Throwback Thursday: The San Diego Flume

Remember Ken Kramer’s About San Diego series on KPBS?

KPBS general manager Tom Karlo told the San Diego Union Tribune in 2015, when Kramer retired, “What made his work special is he truly wanted the community to know about the richness and history of all of San Diego. He talked about places they know, and he talked about places that, after they heard him, they wanted to go see.”

Above all else, Kramer was known as a storyteller, and nobody tells the story of the San Diego Flume better than he did. The flume — which marks the beginning of Helix Water District’s long history — brought fresh water from the mountains to urban San Diego for the first time. Today, we still go to the mountains for fresh water — the Rockies, Sierra and our local Cuyamacas.

Enjoy the video — courtesy of KPBS.

Poll shows high levels of confidence in region’s water supply

Poll shows high levels of confidence in region’s water supply

Photo:  Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant

The results of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 2017 public opinion poll are in, and after one of the most severe droughts in California’s history, 83 percent of respondents rated the San Diego region’s water supply as very or somewhat reliable, and 79 percent support the Water Authority’s supply diversification plan, which includes Colorado River water transfers, water-use efficiency and the development of new local water resources, like the construction of the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant.

The Water Authority polled 1,001 adults in San Diego County from May 3 to May 25, approximately a month after Governor Jerry Brown ended the statewide drought emergency he declared in 2014. The Water Authority began conducting public opinion research more than 17 years ago to determine local residents’ knowledge and attitudes regarding water issues.

“Coming out of this most recent drought that challenged so many communities across the state, it’s great to see that the public feels more secure about our region’s water supply reliability than before,” said Mark Muir, chair of the Water Authority’s Board.

“Our residents continue to support supply diversification, are willing to continue to use water efficiently no matter the weather, and recognize the need to ensure ongoing water security for our region’s 3.3 million people and $222 billion economy.”

As state regulators develop a new long-term, statewide policy for regulating water use, poll respondents strongly support taking a balanced approach to water management in California. Two-thirds — 66 percent — indicated the best way for the state to meet future water needs is to both save water and make investments in local supplies. Only 28 percent said the best strategy is to focus principally on saving water.

San Diego County residents also maintain a widespread belief in the need to continue using water efficiently. An overwhelming majority of poll respondents – 92 percent – predicted they will use less or about the same amount of water in 2017 as they did the year before. Only 5 percent predicted they will use more. In addition, 81 percent said water-use efficiency is a civic duty.

What East County Respondents Said


of East County residents feel that tap water is a good or excellent value after learning that it only costs around one cent per gallon.


of East County residents feel that San Diego County’s water supply is very or somewhat reliable.


of East County residents support the Water Authority’s plan to diversify the region’s water resources.


of East County residents agree that a reliable water supply for the region is essential for a healthy economy.


of East County residents said they will use less or about the same amount water in 2017 as they used in 2016.


of East County residents said they are very willing or would consider replacing their turf with a low water use landscape.

Probe Research conducted the 2017 survey by a random telephone sample of 500 respondents (including 150 respondents who only use a mobile phone), and 501 online respondents chosen from a custom panel of San Diego County residents who have agreed to participate in online surveys. All participants were at least 18 years old and had lived in the county for at least one year.

The full results of the 2017 poll and prior polls are available at

Our annual water quality report is on our website

Our annual water quality report is on our website

We posted Helix’s annual water quality report on our website. There are five ways you can access it:

Also known as consumer confidence report, the water quality report contains important information about the source and quality of customers’ drinking water. As in years past, district tap water met all U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state drinking water health standards.

To speak to someone about the report or to have a paper copy of the report mailed to your home, call (619) 466-0585.

Helix’s preliminary budget: rates should be lower than planned

Helix’s preliminary budget: rates should be lower than planned

Photo: Lake Cuyamaca earlier this year.


Based on the $84.1 million preliminary budget approved by the board on June 13th, Helix anticipates a 4 percent rate increase on January 1, 2018, well below the 11 percent increase specified in the five year rate projection adopted by the district two years ago.

“A 4 percent rate increase for our average customer is $2.50 per month. Barring any unforeseen issues this summer, this is where our rates are expected to be,” said Helix board president Joel Scalzitti.

Lower than planned rates next year are the result of local rainfall this year, and, due to cost controls, an anticipated increase in operating costs of just 1 percent, Scalzitti said.

Helix owns Lake Cuyamaca, which is located in the mountains south of Julian. Thirty inches of precipitation this winter filled much of the lake, providing above average runoff as part of the district’s local water supply.

“We had very little local water supply during the drought,” said Helix general manager Carlos Lugo. “Now we have it. And the more water the lake provides, the less imported water we need to purchase. That’s important, because water purchases are almost half of our budget.”

The district’s preliminary budget is comprised of three cost areas: water purchases, operating costs and capital improvements. Water purchases are 43 percent of the budget, with anticipated costs next year of $35.9 million.

“Our water purchases budget includes a 5.7 percent increase in the cost of imported water from the San Diego County Water Authority,” Lugo said. “But the budget is decreasing by 0.5 percent and that’s because we are using water now from Lake Cuyamaca.”

According to Lugo, the 1 percent increase in the district’s operating costs next year is driven primarily by the increase in the cost of water treatment and the district’s potential involvement in Padre Dam Municipal Water District’s potable reuse project, which would purify wastewater, providing a drought-proof water supply.

The district’s capital improvement budget is $12.5 million and is increasing by $1.8 million. “We delayed projects during the drought to reduce our water rate,” Lugo said. “Now we need to move ahead. Delaying the replacement of aging infrastructure brings with it a higher risk of system failures and the higher cost of emergency repairs.”

“We are doing our very best to provide affordable water,” Lugo added. He said the EPA defines affordable drinking water as no more than 2.5 percent of median household income. “Our water costs 1.3 percent of the median household income in East County.”

Helix’s board of directors has discussed the budget in public meetings over several months, providing input regarding budget guidelines and principles on April 19, and reviewing budget schedules and line items for over nine hours in two budget workshops on May 3 and 4. The board will vote on the anticipated water rates to support the budget later this summer.

Photo Below
The view from the top of Cuyamaca Dam looking west. This is Helix’s measuring channel and wier. The white pole in the channel is calibrated to the wier so Helix’s system operators can convert height to flow and measure the amount of water released from the lake. Operators monitor hourly flow data from this facility.

Photo Bottom
Helix operations crew at work earlier this year.

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.

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