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 www.sdcwa.org/public-opinion-research.

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 Helps at Clean El Cajon Day

Helix Helps at Clean El Cajon Day

This past Saturday, June 17, 2017, Helix Water District joined with community volunteers in the first ever Clean El Cajon Day at Wells Park.  Under the “Helix Helps” program, over 20 Helix employees, families and friends volunteered their Saturday morning to support one of the many communities that the district serves.

The clean-up was held in the well-shaded, 18 acre park that is surrounded by homes and businesses and is heavily used year round. The City partnered with Waste Management, which provided the necessary materials needed for the cleanup as well as free tee shirts for community members in attendance. See the YouTube video of Saturdays cleanup at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IlwMJfp11NU

“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to contribute to the cities in which we both live and work,” said Carlos Lugo, General Manager of Helix Water District. Through Helix Helps and events like these, Helix employees volunteer to help the communities they serve to continue to be beautiful places to live.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for upcoming events in your neighborhood. Or if there is a future need for volunteers, feel free to let us know at publicaffairs@helixwater.org

Photographers capture moments of local beauty

Photographers capture moments of local beauty

Winners named in annual Lake Jennings Spring Photo Contest.

Have you ever imagined the beauty of intense light sparkling from a rippled lake surface… or the majesty of birds in flight, riding a cool breeze just inches above a glass-smooth body of water?  Twenty-four photographers captured these images and many more and entered them in Helix Water District’s Lake Jennings Spring Photo Contest.

Seventy images in two categories, adult and youth, competed for top spots in this year’s edition of the annual event that highlights the district’s reservoir and recreation area in San Diego’s East County.

Shutterbugs submitted images covering a wide range of angles and focal points, including scenic shots and portraits of wildlife that call the recreation area home.

Adult Winners

1st Place, Robert Rosenbaum (Eye to Eye)

2nd Place, Kurt Scherbaum (Jack)

3rd Place, Zan Just (Pelican Precision)

Honorable Mention, Jan Taylor (Family Fishing at Sunrise)

Honorable Mention, Billy Ortiz (Full Moon T-Dock)

Honorable Mention, Pat Rendon (Morning Poetry)

Honorable Mention, Mariecor Agravante (Brother & Sister on Boat)

Honorable Mention, Larry Cruikshank (Cactus Bee)

Honorable Mention, Bob Ryan (Full Moon Fishing)

Youth Winners

1st Place, Mary Tran, 17 (Duck)

2nd Place, Devona Kassab, 16 (Lake 2)

3rd Place, Destiny Kassab, 16 (Flower 2)

The Winning Photos

See the gallery of winning images at Facebook.com/LakeJenningsRecreation. Below is the first place photo taken by Robert Rosenbaum. At the top of the page is the second place photo taken by Devona Kassab.

Awards for first, second and third places are $100, $50 and $25, respectively, and honorable mentions receive certificates.

The Lake Jennings Spring Photo Contest is a digital competition.  All images, entry forms and model releases are submitted as electronic files via email.

Helix hosting Water is Life art exhibit thru June 20

Helix hosting Water is Life art exhibit thru June 20

Image: Water is Life poster by 3rd grader Melody Yu.

Water is Life posters created by grade 3-11 students throughout Southern California are on exhibit in Helix’s lobby through June 20th. The posters were selected from hundreds of entries in the annual Water is Life poster contest, an educational program from Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and Met will feature them in their 2018 Water is Life calendar. Helix and teachers in our service area participate each year.

Drop by if you’re in the neighborhood. Our Administration Office is at 7811 University Avenue in La Mesa.

Last stretch of cast iron pipe removed in Lemon Grove

Last stretch of cast iron pipe removed in Lemon Grove

Photo:  from right: Helix Boardmember Mark Gracyk, who represents Lemon Grove, Boardmember DeAna Verbeke, Board President Joel Scalzitti and Lemon Grove assistant city manager and public works director Mike James.

Helix Water District Board President Joel Scalzitti operated the excavator this morning, lowering a segment of PVC pipe into the trench at the corner of Mt. Vernon Avenue and Golden Avenue in Lemon Grove.  The pipe was signed by the Lemon Grove City Council and Helix board members, and its installation marks the removal of the last large segment of cast iron pipe in the water distribution system serving the city of Lemon Grove.

In addition to president Scalzitti, Helix board members Mark Gracyk, who represents Lemon Grove, and DeAna Verbeke were on site to mark the milestone in Helix’s Cast Iron Pipe Replacement Project. Also on site were Lemon Grove assistant city manager and public works director Mike James, and Helix’s general manager Carlos Lugo, director of engineering Jim Tomasulo and director of operations Kevin Miller.

“This is an important milestone for our engineering team and for our Lemon Grove customers,” said Lugo. “Each segment of cast iron pipe we remove reduces the possibility of pipe breaks and service interruptions.”

Cast iron pipe was the most commonly used pipe material in Helix’s water distribution system from about 1926 to 1949. By 1959, Helix’s system included 185 miles of cast iron pipe. In 1963, however, the number of leaks from the district’s cast iron pipes reached 1.5 per 10 miles of pipe – just under 30 leaks a year.

In 1967, the district committed to replacing all cast iron pipe. In 2005, the board approved the Cast Iron Pipe Replacement Project for the replacement of the remaining 67 miles over the next 20 years.

The success of this project is largely due to a protocol developed by Helix’s engineers for assessing and prioritizing which pipes to replace first, based on prior history of pipe breaks, soil conditions, water pressure in the pipe, and the potential for property damage if a break were to occur.

“The prioritization was effective,” said Tomasulo. The number of cast iron pipe leaks per year dropped from 3.5 per 10 miles of pipe in 1973 to less than one per 10 miles of pipe in 1999.

Helix is replacing approximately 15,000 linear feet of cast iron pipe per year and, at this rate, will complete the program in 2026.

Photo:  Lemon Grove city council. From left: Councilmember Jerry Jones, Mayor Racquel Vasquez, Mayor Pro Tem Jennifer Mendoza, Councilmember David Arambula and Councilmember Matt Mendoza.

The drought is over — now what?

The drought is over — now what?

Photo: Sierra snowpack.

Governor Brown declared California’s drought over on April 1, 2017 and last week, Helix’s board of directors rescinded the district’s Level 1 Drought Watch.

While water supplies have drastically improved over the past year, we know that we’ll face more droughts in the future. The chart below, created by the San Diego County Water Authority, shows that California has experienced continual cycles of wet and dry years for decades:

Regionally, San Diego water suppliers have worked together for decades to protect ourselves from these repetitive cycles. Projects such as the Carlsbad Desalination Plant help reduce negative impacts on residents during dry periods.

But additional water supplies are expensive and can’t be relied on alone. We also need everyone to use the water we have responsibly, in and out of drought. Don’t waste water by letting it run into the gutter when you water, and don’t water during the rain.

Although the drought is over, our permanent water efficiency measures remain in place:

  • Do not wash down hardscape unless required for public safety
  • Eliminate irrigation runoff and overspray
  • Do not water for at least 48 hours following rain
  • Do not water turf on public street medians
  • Use recirculated water in fountains and water features
  • Use a hose with a positive shut-off nozzle when washing vehicles
  • Restaurants may only serve water upon request
  • Hotels must offer guests the option of not laundering towels and linens daily

These measures not only prevent water waste, but most importantly, protect our water resources as we continue to move in and out of droughts in the future.