Helix’s 2016 Scholarship Recipients

Helix’s 2016 Scholarship Recipients

Allison Hale, a senior at Liberty Charter High School, is the 2016 recipient of Helix Water District’s Robert D. Friedgen Scholarship, and Parker Van Every, a senior at Steele Canyon High School, is this year’s recipient of Helix’s Dr. Lillian M. Childs Scholarship. The two students were honored at district board meetings in April.

Helix awards the two $1,000 scholarships each year to graduating, college-bound high school seniors who live in the communities we serve and share the district’s commitment to service, integrity and continuous improvement.  The scholarship funds were established by Robert Friedgen, Helix’s general manager from 1980 to 1998, and Dr. Lillian Childs, who was a member of Helix’s Board of Directors from 1979 to 1999.

Ms. Hale plans to major in biochemistry at Point Loma Nazarene University next fall. She is an honor roll student and a recipient of Charter High School’s Responsible Community Leader and Literate Citizen awards. She is also a member of the San Diego Union Tribune’s All-Academic Team for volleyball in 2014. Her extensive community service includes feeding the homeless, tutoring a disabled student and volunteer work for the County of San Diego, Nurse Family Partnership, San Diego Food Bank and the Rapture Horse Rescue Foundation.

Mr. Van Every plans to major in mechanical engineering. He has a perfect attendance record for all four years at Steele Canyon High School, is an honor roll student and a member of the San Diego Union Tribune’s All-Academic Team for swimming in 2014-15 and for water polo in 2015-16. Mr. Van Every has already chalked up work experience in contracting and website management and his community service includes assisting a senior housing non-profit with both the facility and residents and volunteer work for St. Theresa Academy and Parish and the YMCA.



Photo of Parker Van Every and his parents
California’s Future: Sustainable Landscaping

California’s Future: Sustainable Landscaping

By Michelle Curtis
Rain in California can be a mixed blessing. While it brings welcome relief during times of drought, it also flushes pollutants into our oceans and waterways. Population growth over the years, combined with more parking lots, asphalt roadways and concrete driveways, has deceased the number of native wetlands that historically served as natural filters and buffers during major storms.

Sustainable landscaping strives to change that by turning each individual landscape into a mini-watershed where rainwater is captured, cleaned, and used to nurture local plants and wildlife. This not only saves water but also helps restore loss habitat, decreases erosion and reduces storm water pollutants, one property at a time.

To get started creating your own sustainable landscape, plan to tackle one section of your yard at a time. Many home and business owners haphazardly add a plant here and there, ending up with a mix of plants with different needs. Instead, pick one section of your yard to focus on and do a complete overhaul, then move on to the next area as time and resources allow.

Ready to start planning your project? Here’s what to do, starting from the ground up.


Loosen your soil
If your soil is compacted, loosen it with a pitchfork to increase air and water flow below ground which improves plant growth and water storage.

Amend your soil with organic compost, either homemade or store-bought, to improve soil health and water retention.

Add a three inch layer of mulch to the top of your soil to limit water loss due to evaporation and to keep soil and plant roots cooler. Organic mulch such as shredded bark will also decompose over time, further adding to soil life and plant health.

Don’t use fertilizer or pesticides
These chemicals run off our properties during rain storms, polluting our rivers and ocean. They can also kill beneficial microbes and insects. Healthy soils nourish themselves and the plants that grow in them.

Photo: Christine Holmquist Landscape Design
Below: The Design Build Company


Choose climate-appropriate plants
Choose plants that are adapted to our long, dry summers and limited winter rain. Plants from Mediterranean regions are a good choice, or better yet, plant local natives.

Plant trees
Trees improve water quality, reduce runoff and erosion, help clean and cool the air and can improve property values; make sure your landscape plan includes them.

Don’t plant invasives
Some low-water plants can become invasive in San Diego County, such as African fountain grass, taking water and soil nutrients from other plants or even pushing them out. Visit www.plantright.org for a list of plants to avoid.

Group plants by water needs
Even water-wise plants can have different water needs. Make sure to create hydrozones by grouping plants with similar water needs together so that they are easier to water and maintain.


Contour for rain
Move your soil around to capture rainwater where it can be used by your plants. If there’s more rainwater than your site can absorb, allow it to flow through your garden. This helps remove pollutants before it reaches our streams and ocean.

Use permeable materials
Water runs off concrete and asphalt. Use decomposed granite or permeable pavers so that rain water can pass through to your soil, nourishing your plants and reducing storm water runoff.

Capture rainwater
Rainwater can also be stored; install rain barrels and cisterns under your downspouts so you can store it until later when the weather turns dry.

Use graywater
Reroute and reuse graywater from your showers or washing machine. This water is a great supplement to rainwater and is great for watering shrubs and trees.

Supplement with intelligent irrigation, if needed
Sometimes rainwater isn’t enough to keep plants alive and healthy during the heat of summer. Install or retrofit your irrigation system so that you’re using drip or low volume spray heads, which deliver water more efficiently.

By following these steps, you will be on your way to creating your own healthy mini-watershed. Join us in the upcoming weeks for additional articles which will explore sustainable soil, plants and watering in more detail. Together, we can redefine what a California landscape is – beautiful and sustainable.

Colorado River Cuts On the Table

Colorado River Cuts On the Table

Representatives from California, Nevada, Arizona and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation have been negotiating since last summer how to equitably reduce each state’s allocation of Colorado River water if Lake Mead levels continue to drop.

Lake Mead was just 39 percent full at the end of the water year on April 1, 2016. On Monday, the reservoir’s surface elevation was 1,077 feet. At an elevation of 1,075 feet, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation can declare a water shortage. At 1,025 feet, the U.S. Department of the Interior takes control of each state’s water allocation.

California, Nevada and Arizona hope to avoid federal mandates by negotiating voluntary cutbacks at various elevation levels as Lake Mead empties.  “We’re trying to reduce the probabilities that those critical elevations will be hit or even exceeded by putting this plan in place,” said Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

Read the Desert Sun Story
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Helix’s 2016 High School Photo Contest Winners

Helix’s 2016 High School Photo Contest Winners

Helix’s annual High School Photo Contest challenges student photographers in Helix’s service area to capture water — the lack, value, beauty or anything of water—in San Diego County. Students submit up to three photos in black and white or color for judging by a panel of professional photographers and Helix staff. See who won our 2016 contest. Click on the first slide below to enlarge the slideshow.

San Francisco taking water conservation to a new level

San Francisco taking water conservation to a new level

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s headquarters in downtown San Francisco, shown in the above photo, uses 65 percent less water than other buildings of similar size. 

The 13-story building is a big step towards sustainability, right up there with water efficient landscaping. But the best part of this story is what has happened since the completion of the building in 2012. The City and County of San Francisco are taking water conservation to a new level.

The building captures rainwater from its roof, stormwater at its base and the nuisance groundwater that drains into its foundation and uses the water for irrigation. Most of the water savings, however, come from recycling the wastewater from the sinks and toilets on each floor.

The wastewater is treated on-site in a system called a Living Machine®. Solids are removed in a primary treatment tank and put in the sewer. Then the water moves through a series of basins that mimic tidal wetlands. The basins are flooded and drained to create multiple tidal cycles each day, producing reusable water that is treated with ultraviolet light and chlorine and pumped back into the building’s toilets.  All people see are the tops of the wetland plants next to the sidewalk.

The Living Machine® recycles up to 5,000 gallons of water per day and is expected to save the SFPUC $118 million over the next 75 years. And, the treatment, plumbing and rainwater harvesting systems added less than one percent to the cost of construction.

Diagram of SFPUC Headquarters Building's Living Machine onsite wastewater recycling system.

Within a year after the completion of the building, the City and County of San Francisco adopted an ordinance allowing for the onsite collection, treatment, and use of alternate water sources, released the Non-Potable Water Program Guidebook and a grants program for developers, and established a collaborative working relationship between the SFPUC and the departments of Public Health and Building Inspection to oversee developers.

Developers have embraced the program. The March 2016 update of San Francisco’s Non-Potable Water System Projects showcases 13 completed developments throughout the city and lists 14 future developments not yet under construction. Beginning November 1, 2016, the city and county will require all new building projects with 250,000 or more square feet of floor space to use available alternate water sources for toilet and urinal flushing and irrigation.

The SFPUC went one step further. In 2014, they hosted states, cities and research foundations to a two-day discussion on overcoming institutional barriers to onsite water treatment. The group developed the Blueprint for Onsite Water Systems: a Step-by-Step Guide for Developing a Local Program to Manage Onsite Water Systems, a how-to guide to help other cities and communities repeat San Francisco’s success.

Click on the links below to learn more:

San Francisco’s Non-Potable Program

Innovations in Urban Water Systems




Surveying Helix Water District

Surveying Helix Water District

Helix Water District’s survey crews have been an integral part of the District’s day to day operations since the early 1900’s. In those early days, survey work was performed with levels to measure elevation, transits to measure horizontal and vertical angles, and chains to measure distance.

While the type of work we do has remained the same — providing Helix engineers with critical data for planning, design and construction — those early tools have been updated by advancements in technology.

Surveyors use levels to measure elevation. At right is a model from the early 1900s and a model used today.

Photo of a Theodolite, which surveyors use today to measure angles.
Photo of a surveyor's transit from the early 1900s. A transit measured horizontal and vertical angles.
Photo of a surveyor's transit from the early 1900s. A transit measured horizontal and vertical angles.
Photo of a Theodolite, which surveyors use today to measure angles.

Transits are used to measure angles.  At left is a model from the early 1900s and a model used today.

Today, Helix crews are equipped with GPS (global positioning system) receivers driven by electronic data collectors connected via Bluetooth technology, and synchronized via modem with a real-time network that allows for instantaneous positions that are accurate within one centimeter. This new technology also saves time by eliminating line-of-sight obstacles and heat wave refraction. It reduces the chance of equipment theft, as well, since our equipment remains with the survey crew at all times.

How Surveying Supports Project Design

These advancements allow Helix survey crews to perform highly accurate surveys at any position within district boundaries. And, keeping all projects and facilities tied into one coordinated system allows for seamless data transition into our districtwide GIS (geographic information system) database. These capabilities are vital during the design of new projects, such as the replacement of cast iron pipeline and the construction of new reservoir tanks. Survey crews collect existing topographic features, ground elevations, and utilities locations in the field, then download the data into AutoCad files and send it to engineering staff for design.

Left: Dave Moore, Survey Technician, and Scott Gregg, Senior Survey Technician, staking out pothole locations for a capital improvement project and recording each location with GPS. Right: Cameron Scott, Survey Technician, using GPS to locate an existing pipeline for a large valve replacement project.

How Surveying Supports Construction

Helix’s surveyors also locate existing boundary (property) line monuments to ensure that new facilities are located within established easements and right-of-way. Once these projects are designed, survey crews return to the field and provide construction crews with survey stakes to ensure accuracy of construction. Quite often, construction crews must remove a property line monument in the work area. Before they do, the construction crew will contact the surveyors to document its position.

When construction is completed, the survey crew will replace missing monuments in the original’s exact location and Helix will draft and submit a map to the County Surveyor office to be recorded. The crew will also collect final as-built locations for inclusion in the record drawings inserted into Helix’s GIS system. Collecting these accurate locations helps ensure that facilities can be easily found in the future for mark-out, repair or replacement.

Monitoring Easements

Survey crews also work closely with Helix’s right-of-way staff, monitoring Helix’s easements and main transmission lines quarterly to ensure that no new construction has infringed upon or blocked access to an easement and that Helix’s facilities are not damaged.

As Helix moves ahead in providing our customers with safe, dependable drinking water, the Survey Department will be there, continuing to play its vital role in maintaining the district’s infrastructure.

MWD Board Rejects 62 Percent Increase

MWD Board Rejects 62 Percent Increase

April 12, 2016 — This afternoon, the Board of Directors of Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD) rejected a proposed fee increase that would have increased the cost of MWD’s treated water by up to 62 percent in 2017.

While Helix Water District operates its own treatment plant, a number of San Diego County water agencies, including Padre Dam and Otay water districts in east county, purchase water treated by MWD.

The decision by MWD’s board followed testimony against the increase from numerous stakeholders, including Helix Board President, DeAna Verbeke, and San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce General Manager, Eric Lund.

In lieu of the proposed fee, the MWD board voted to continue the agency’s surcharge for water treatment, which will reach $313 per acre foot of treated water in 2017. One acre foot of water is equivalent to the average annual use of two single family homes in Southern California.

The MWD board went on to approve a two year budget of $1.65 billion in fiscal year 2016-17 and $1.69 billion in fiscal year 2017-18. The budget includes a minimum of $100 million in funding for water conservation rebates over the next two years.

Read the San Diego Union Tribune’s April 11, 2016 Editorial


Photo of Helix board president, DeAna Verbeke, and San Diego East County Chamber General Manager, Eric Lund, after lobbying for east county at MWD board meeting.

Helix board president, DeAna Verbeke, and San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce General Manager, Eric Lund, after petitioning MWD board.

Plant Strawberries and Enjoy ’em All Summer

Plant Strawberries and Enjoy ’em All Summer

Across most of the country, fresh-picked strawberries are a summer-only delicacy. One more great thing about living in San Diego is that local farmers are growing strawberries and selling them at farmers’ markets spring through fall, and we can enjoy them in a lot more salads and smoothies. If you’re interested in growing your own, you’ll like this article, which recommends varieties to try and provides technical advice on when to plant, soil, pests and how to water.

If you don’t want to raise your water use, then match the square footage of your “moderate water use” kitchen garden with an equal size area of “very low water use” plants.

Read the Article on Houzz.com