Trees, defensible space and relandscaping

Trees, defensible space and relandscaping

We would like to assure customers that Helix takes water use efficiency very seriously and will continue to promote water efficiency though our ongoing programs and public outreach.

As most San Diegans know, droughts are a frequent occurrence in southern California. San Diego County’s location at the end of the pipeline placed it in a precarious position historically, so Helix, along with other water districts in the county, have worked diligently over the past two decades to ensure that the region has a reliable and diversified water supply in and out of drought. Our customers have invested in projects such as the desalination plant in Carlsbad and the dam raise at San Vicente Reservoir. The region’s planning and investments have paid off – in 2015, even during the worst drought in the state’s history, San Diego County had enough water to meet 99 percent of the region’s water needs.

Photo of Carlsbad Desalination Plant

The region has also promoted conservation as a permanent way of life. Here at Helix, we have had a proactive conservation and public outreach program for more than 20 years. Between 2007 and 2013, our customers reduced water use by 21 percent thanks to the installation of low-flow showerheads, toilets, high-efficiency washing machines and improving outdoor watering habits. We are dedicated to these programs and ensuring a sustainable water supply, and we will continue to promote them into the future.

Last year, the state stepped in with a one-size-fits-all response to the drought and set mandatory water use reductions for all water agencies, regardless of their actual water supply situation. Helix was required to have customers reduce water use by an additional 21 percent, on top of their previous conservation efforts. As we’ve seen in the past, our customers answered the state’s call and reduced water use by an additional 21 percent compared to 2013. However, these additional reductions came at a price, with many customers turning off their irrigation completely, letting all of their landscaping and their trees die. Helix, along with many other water agencies statewide, had concerns about how the state responded to the drought and encouraged a more balanced approach that would take into account an area’s previous conservation efforts and their actual water supplies.

The postcard we recently mailed to customers is a result of changes the state made earlier this month. No longer using a one-size-fits-all-approach, each agency now performs a “stress test” to see if they have enough water available to meet customer demand for at least three more years of drought. For Helix, and the rest of the San Diego region, that answer is yes. Thanks to the regions planning and investment is a diversified and reliable water supply, we have enough water to meet demand for a minimum of three additional years of extreme drought.

Photo of lavender in bloom

The relaxing of watering day restrictions will allow our customers more flexibility this summer, especially for those with drought stressed trees, those that live in fire-prone areas that need to re-establish defensible space and for those who let their lawn die and would now like to establish a new water-wise landscape in its place. This is the only restriction that has been relaxed by Helix. Other restrictions, including the ban on irrigation runoff and hosing down paved surfaces, not only remain in place but have now been made permanent for our all of our customers, at all times.

Helix’s goal is to encourage and support sustainable landscapes and water use practices that can withstand the current drought, if it continues, along with any future droughts. We will continue to work towards that goal by offering customers the resources they need to make permanent, water-wise choices.

Why we lifted limits on watering

Why we lifted limits on watering

Photo: San Vicente Dam under construction in 2010, to increase the storage capacity of the reservoir.(SDCWA)

More than a few Helix customers are probably wondering how Helix and water agencies in San Diego County and other parts of California can go all the way to No limits on watering days (our June 17th blog post), when climatologists predict a La Nina and a dry winter ahead. Here’s how.

On June 1, 2016, the State of California adopted a self-certification approach that allows each water agency or region to conduct a “stress test” certifying whether they have sufficient water supplies available to meet customer demand through 2019, assuming that water supply conditions in 2017, 2018 and 2019 are identical to conditions in 2013, 2014 and 2015. If demand exceeds supply, the agency or region must implement mandatory water use reductions equal to the shortfall.

State Supply Calculation

San Diego County water agencies agreed to self-certify as a region under the coordination of the San Diego County Water Authority.  Thanks to decades of conservation and water resources development, the San Diego region has more than enough water to meet demand through at least 2019.

On June 22nd, Helix submitted its request to the State Water Resources Control Board to have its state mandated conservation standard reduced from 12 percent to zero. Although Helix’s conservation standard will be reduced, the district will continue to promote water use efficiency as a permanent part of our San Diego lifestyle and commitment to a sustainable California.

Read the Water Supply Reliability Certification Supporting Analysis and Calculations that Helix submitted to the State Water Resources Control Board.

Size does matter — among water utilities

Size does matter — among water utilities

Photo: East Porterville in 2015 (Source:

In January, 2014, public health officials from the State of California identified 17 small community water districts throughout the state that were at risk of running out of water in 60-120 days. East Porterville in the Central Valley did run out of water, as did communities along the Central Coast and in wine country north of the Bay Area. What did these communities have in common? One source of water and a small population unable to pay for the development of new water resources.

While approximately 400 medium to large water utilities serve California cities, there are 7,642 water utilities in California and 63 percent of them have 200 or fewer connections.  In May, California’s Senate passed Senate Bill 1263, in an attempt to stop the creation of small utilities that lack water supply reliability and financial resources. The bill pits public health against local independence, and the controversy is building.

Read the Santa Cruz Sentinel story

No Limits on Watering Days

No Limits on Watering Days

Photo: Lake Oroville on May 17, 2016. (Source:

As of yesterday, there are no limits on what days, and how many minutes, you can water. This is good news for customers nurturing struggling or newly-planted plants and trees. And the news comes just in time for summer and the 100+ degree heat wave expected to arrive this weekend.

Helix’s Board of Directors voted Wednesday to rescind the mandatory Level 2 Drought Alert that has been in effect since last year and return to a voluntary Level 1 Drought Watch. The Board also adopted the State of California’s permanent water use efficiency measures, which apply to all customers at all times, regardless of drought conditions. The state’s measures may be new in some parts of California but they will look familiar to Helix customers. You can find the measures and Helix’s voluntary level 1 measures on our water use restrictions webpage.

This is the welcome outcome of the State of California’s decision on May 9, 2016 to rescind statewide water use reduction mandates and allow regional drought management. The decision requires water suppliers to calculate supply and demand based on drought conditions continuing through 2019 and to reduce demand, if necessary, to match supply.

The San Diego County Water Authority announced on June 9th and Metropolitan Water District of Southern California announced on Wednesday that, thanks to over 20 years of water conservation and investments in new water resources, the San Diego region and Southern California have an adequate water supply even if the drought continues three more years.

It is important to note that the completion of the Carlsbad Desalination Plant last fall is not the final step in developing a resilient, drought-proof water supply for the San Diego region. The City of San Diego’s Pure Water Project is expected to meet up to a third of the city’s water demand by 2035, Padre Dam Municipal Water District’s Advanced Water Purification Program could meet up to 25-30 percent of East County’s water demand, and planning has begun for a desalination plant at Camp Pendleton.

For now, however, water use efficiency remains as important as ever and Helix will continue to promote water use efficiency as a permanent way of life through our public outreach efforts and conservation programs. When you need advice, instructions or a rebate, you’ll find it at

How to replace yardwork with gardening

How to replace yardwork with gardening

Photo: Marie and Joe Venable with Helix Board President, DeAna Verbeke.

Last month, Helix Water District selected Marie Venable of Lemon Grove as the winner of the 2016 California Friendly Landscape Contest, our annual competition recognizing customer landscapes that are both beautiful and water-efficient.

Venable’s home sits on a half acre lot, and even though she waters a landscape, vegetable garden and fruit trees, her water bill averages about $80 every two months. She has four 250 gallon rain barrels, too, to capture water from winter storms.

This month, Venable did an interview with the County of San Diego in which she describes all the benefits of her winning garden and the philosophy behind it. One of the many insights Venable has to offer is that when she turned her yard into a garden, she replaced yardwork with gardening and turned a chore into a hobby.

Read Venable’s interview with the county

Being in and working in my garden is my stress release, my creativity outlet, and my exercise.

Marie Venable

Just in time for the weekend

Just in time for the weekend

You’re not the only one who plans to cue up a movie on Netflix for a cozy Friday night at home. There are millions more around the world doing the same thing.  If you like the documentaries, you might want to consider viewing a short film before the night’s main feature.

Earlier today, the San Diego County Water Authority released To Quench a Thirst, a three-part, 13-minute documentary that chronicles the development of our region’s water resources. The videos move quickly through 250 years of challenges and accomplishments and local history, and are as entertaining as they are informative.

Watch To Quench a Thirst

May 31: Board adopts preliminary budget

Helix’s Board of Directors adopted the district’s Fiscal Year 2016-17 Preliminary Budget at a special board meeting on May 31st. They will consider setting rates in August.

Customers are welcome to attend meetings and address the Board throughout the process. A meetings calendar is available on Helix’s website at Agenda packages are posted to the calendar and available for review by customers and the Board 72 hours in advance of each meeting.

Helix’s 2016 Poster Contest Winners

Helix’s 2016 Poster Contest Winners

Above: The winning poster in the K-3rd grade category, drawn by Annlynn Bean, a 3rd grade student at Madison Avenue Elementary School in El Cajon.

Helix’s boardroom filled with teachers, parents, grandparents and siblings on May 18th to recognize eight young artists — the winners of Helix’s 2016 Water is Life Poster Contest. Today, the posters are in Los Angeles, where they are competing with posters from throughout Southern California for inclusion in the 2017 Water is Life Calendar.

The Water is Life Poster Contest is an educational program for K-6 students developed by Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. Helix, and teachers and students in the communities we serve, participate each year. “This is a fun activity for the kids and makes them think about water conservation,” said Helix’s Francine Thompson, who coordinates the district’s school programs.


K-3rd Grade

1st Place
Annlynn Bean, 3rd Grade, Madison Avenue Elementary School

2nd Place
Jaselle Boyd, 3rd Grade, La Presa Elementary School

3rd Place
Camryn Gavin, 3rd Grade, Flying Hills Elementary School

Honorable Mention
Xavier Huerta, 3rd Grade, Flying Hills Elementary School

4th-6th Grade

1st Place
Maryam Ablahad, 6th Grade, Literacy First Charter School

2nd Place
Brandon Case, 5th Grade, Murray Manor Elementary School

3rd Place
Patty Bean, 6th Grade, Literacy First Charter School

Honorable Mention
Qasim Ade, 5th Grade, San Miguel Elementary School