You had us at “putting green”

You had us at “putting green”

We love beautiful WaterSmart landscapes, and even more, we love to highlight those that our customers have installed. Join us as we highlight different Helix Water District customers and their beautiful, water-wise, sustainable yards – and get inspired to upgrade your landscape.

Customer profile: Morris residence
Neighborhood: Horizon Hills in El Cajon

When Betty Clement Morris and Tom Morris purchased their one-acre Horizon Hills home 23 years ago, they became the owners of property with a beautiful mountain view, a few established trees and a lot of dirt and weeds. After years of envisioning a more inviting entrance, they finally got inspired to start their project after attending a landscape makeover class hosted by Helix Water District. They installed an eclectic and lush low-water landscape that highlights their mountain views, an artificial turf putting green for Tom and low-volume irrigation to water the plants efficiently, incorporating both form and function in their landscape design.

Q: What was here before?

A: Being dedicated “academics” my husband, Tom, and I knew little about taking care of a house on an acre of land when we bought it 23 years ago. We had a very pretty entry way dominated by a large bougainvillea with 10 stairs and a walkway leading up to the front door, but when you got to the top of the stairs what you saw was a flat area with about 4800 square feet of weeds.  There were two tipuana tipu trees in the middle of the yard and a few other bushes around the perimeter.

We’ve made various attempts to cut and water the weeds, and through the years the yard has gone back and forth from high water green to dry dead weeds and dirt. Always in the back of our minds was a vision of a beautiful garden.  We didn’t want to put in plants that were too tall because from the house they would block the view of the mountains in the distance. But I wanted some color, flowers and a cool lush feeling to counteract the heat of El Cajon – drought resistant, but no hot dry desertscape for me!


Q: Where did your design ideas come from?

A:  Everywhere! I took gardening classes and joined a garden club. We received valuable input from Tom Piergrossi, Chris Wotruba, Betty Newton, Rancho San Diego Garden Club members and the Conservation Garden. I started collecting drought resistant plants that I liked, and had many in pots, but couldn’t find anyone to work with us to plant what we wanted without a complete plan on paper. And we didn’t want to be limited to a particular “style” of garden since many of the plants we liked were representative of different styles. Having to choose plants that could survive the hot sun of the southern exposure when the tipu trees were bare, but could flower in the partial shade when the trees were full of leaves and flowering added to the perplexity. We were overwhelmed and we couldn’t get started.

Q: What motivated this project?

A:  After we both retired, I took the water district’s 2014 landscape makeover class with the emphasis on drought tolerant plants and we were finally inspired and able to organize it well enough to start planning on our own.  It went slowly because we changed our minds as we went along. I wanted the garden and by then my husband wanted a putting green so we divided the yard in half.  Francisco Ramirez had put in a paver driveway for us, and my husband asked him to put in an artificial grass putting green. In the process, Francisco laid a weed barrier on the other half of the yard, laid out the drip sprinkler system, and Tom and I started planting a little at a time. We used left over “grass” from the putting green to fill in a strip near the house. It looks quite natural with no maintenance other than blowing off the leaves along with the pathway clean up.

Q:  What do you like best about your new landscape?

A:  It’s finished and we no longer need to be embarrassed in the face of all our garden-lover friends and everyone who has helped us wondering why we haven’t progressed! We feel free to enjoy it and love coming home and, at the top of the stairs, seeing each new plant as it blooms.  From the house we view a colorful garden with the mountains in the background. Tom enjoys his putting green and the green adds to the serenity. When the tipu trees bloom they leave a lovely carpet of gold over the whole yard. Spectacular!

Q:  Are you saving water?

A:   At first I thought we weren’t because we had to make several changes to the watering system. While dealing with the front yard drip, we also replaced several other sprinkler systems with MP Rotors and drip. Now that I look back at our water bills, I see that we have indeed decreased the number of water units by about 100-200 units per year. Given that we have an acre of irrigated land, three controllers and 17 watering stations, that’s significant.

Q:  Does it take more or less time for maintenance?

A:  Up to this point, it has certainly taken more maintenance than before when we had nothing in the front yard. It took several irrigation experts and large adjustments to find the right watering system for the plants we have and figure how to link it to our other front yard systems. We just recently conquered this dilemma. We anticipate much less work now that the major labor has been done.

Q:  Do you have any tips for other homeowners?

A:  1)  Be patient! For all the plants we put in, it seemed sparse before this year when it filled in and burst into bloom. However, we now see that we have more plants than we need in one place. I suspect that some plants will simply take over the smaller ones if we choose to let them–the low maintenance way. Or we can keep cutting the big ones back.

2)  Don’t be afraid to make changes until you get it right! For the lantana that spreads along the ground, the emitters got lost under the plants and were hard to see to know when to adjust them. We put the heads too close together and overwatered the plants. When we changed that line to low volume mini sprinklers, we used less water, covered the area better and could monitor the usage.

Thank You

Thank you, Morris family for sharing your lovely and sustainable landscape with us. You’ve created a landscape that is not only beautiful, but also meets the needs and wants of your family.

Inspired to upgrade your landscape but not sure where to start? Consider registering for a free WaterSmart Landscape Program workshop or series of classes.

Do you have a beautiful, WaterSmart landscape that you would like to share with others? Contact us at and you could be featured in a future blog article.

Helix recognized for transparent governance

Helix recognized for transparent governance

The Special District Leadership Foundation has awarded Helix a District Transparency Certificate of Excellence in recognition of our efforts to provide transparent and accessible government.

To receive the award, a special district must provide public access, financial transparency and public outreach to the communities it serves.

“This award is a testament to our day to day commitment to open government,” said General Manager Carlos Lugo. “The entire district staff contributes, and they empower our customers with information.”

The Special District Leadership Foundation is an independent, non-profit organization formed to promote good governance and best practices among California’s special districts through certification, accreditation, and other recognition programs. Special districts are local public agencies established by local voters to deliver core services, such as water, sanitation, fire protection, parks and recreation and more.

What follows are the steps we take, and the information we provide, to assure that Helix is providing open government.

Public Access

We provide our customers and the public with access to meetings, the decision-making process, elected board members and key staff.


Board of Directors

  • Board meetings are open to the public
  • Meetings schedule is on district website
  • Meeting agenda packages are posted on website
  • Board members must speak openly in meetings
  • Archive of meeting minutes on website
  • Board members receive ethics training
  • Conflict of interest policy on website
  • Board elections procedure on website
  • Board member names, terms and contact information on website


Other Information on Website

  • Mission statement
  • Authorizing statute
  • Description of services
  • Public Records Act Policy
  • Public records request form
  • General manager and key staff names and contact information


Financial Transparency

We post on our website the information needed to track the district’s finances month to month and year to year.



Financial Documents on Website

  • Current and past budgets
  • Annual financial audits
  • Financial reports in board agenda packages
  • Financial transactions filing with State Controller
  • Compensation filing with State Controller
  • Financial reserves policy
  • Disclosure of reimbursements to board members and employees


Public Outreach

We keep our customers, the public and our elected officials up to date on district activities.


Communications Channels

  • Website
  • Blog posts and email subscriptions
  • Social media — Nextdoor, Facebook and Twitter
  • Newsletter
  • Water bill envelope and message area
  • Classes for customers
  • Events for customers


Meet Bob Friedgen

Meet Bob Friedgen

Photo: Bob Friedgen on top of Mt. Helix.

Bob Friedgen went to work for the La Mesa, Lemon Grove and Spring Valley Irrigation District in 1955 — the year before it was renamed Helix Irrigation District — and retired in 1998 after 18 years as the district’s general manager. Today, Friedgen visits Helix at least once a year, to meet the local high school senior selected as the recipient of the scholarship that bears his name.

Karen Pearlman, who covers Helix for the San Diego Union Tribune, recently interviewed Friedgen about his time at Helix and what he’s up to now.

Read Karen’s Story

Jennings Fire — thank you first responders

Jennings Fire — thank you first responders

July 12 — the San Diego Union Tribune reported this morning that the Jennings Fire was no longer threatening Harbison Canyon residents thanks to the efforts of seven air tankers, four helicopters, about 250 firefighters and 11 hand crews. All of us at Helix would like to say “Thank You”.

The four helicopters pulled water out of Lake Jennings throughout the afternoon yesterday as the fire grew, and refueled in the parking lot at the front of the park.

Helicopter Photos / taken by Rachel O’Brien.

The fire is not growing any more. Right now I see zero smoke and fire.
(From San Diego Union Tribune)

Isaac Sanchez

Captain, Cal Fire

Don’t Miss July in The Garden

Don’t Miss July in The Garden

We have three big ideas for enjoying the summer and getting ready to plant a water efficient garden in the fall: go to each of these events this month at The Water Conservation Garden.


July 15 / Planting Water and Growing Soil

Regenerate your landscape with both “active” and “passive” sustainable planting and water harvesting strategies that can be used on any scale.  Landscape professionals, Communitree Gardens, share techniques to modify land contour in a hands-on class that will cover a lot of ground.  Class made possible by the San Diego County Watershed Protection Program. FREE

Please call 619-660-0614 x10 to register.


July 20 / Wags and Wine

The Garden is staying open late the third Thursday in June, July and August for you to enjoy fine wine and a leisurely stroll with your furry friend. Enjoy a lovely summer evening among the beautiful and unusual plants and trees. If possible, please bring your own wine glass to help us reduce waste.  Wine and yummy snacks for people and dogs will be provided.

$5 per guest. CLICK HERE to register.


July 20 / Designing with California-Friendly Plants

Create a water-wise garden design from scratch.  Clayton Tschudy, Director of Horticulture, will discuss topics including site analysis and measurement, plotting your design on paper, environmental factors and water-efficient plant grouping.

Members Free, Non-Members $10. Please call 619-660-0614 x 10 to register.

July is Smart Irrigation Month

July is Smart Irrigation Month

Over half of the water we use in our region is applied outdoors and, historically, water use is highest in July because the days are the longest, the weather is the hottest and the plants are the thirstiest. Plants struggle in July. They need water and they’re depending on you.  This is the month to be smart about watering and spruce up your irrigation system.

In recognition of Smart Irrigation Month, Helix would like to offer some suggestions. Turn on each of your irrigation zones and observe how the irrigation system is performing. Look at where the water is being applied. While preforming this walk through, look for these common problems:


Overspray is the result of a sprinkler applying water where it is not intended to go. Not only does overspray create a slipping hazard, it contributes to runoff (water on the sidewalk or in the street) and causes damage to hardscape, fences, and buildings.

To fix this, adjust the radius of your spray heads to make sure the water only goes where it is needed. This is easy to do. There is a screw on top of each spray head. Turn the screw clockwise while the spray head is on and watch the radius of the spray head decrease. Stop turning the screw when the spray is on the plants and off the hardscape. If you need to reduce the radius more than 25%, install a smaller radius spray head nozzle.


Check to make sure the spray patterns of your sprinklers are not blocked. Vegetation blockage tends to overwater one plant while depriving others of water.

To fix this, trim back plants around the spray head or raise the spray head’s  body. If the irrigation zone is all shrubs, flowerbeds or trees, consider converting the entire zone to  a more efficient drip irrigation system. Consider a drip conversion kit which allows you to retrofit your existing sprinkler system. Most include filters and pressure regulation, which are critical for the long-term success of drip irrigation.

Mixed Sprinklers

Different sprinkler nozzles apply water at different rates. A traditional spray head, for example, may apply water at a rate of one gallon per minute, while a newer rotary nozzle will apply half that amount. And drip irrigation may apply water at a rate of one gallon per hour. Use these different sprinklers together in the same irrigation zone, for the same amount of time, and you will either over-water or under-water areas of your landscape.

To fix this, don’t mix different types of sprinklers — spray heads, rotary nozzles, rotors and drip — in the same irrigation zone. Are you wondering which sprinklers to keep and which to replace?  If you have old (really old) spray heads, you can save a lot of water by replacing them with rotary nozzles for turf and drip for plants.


Misting is the result of having too high of water pressure in your irrigation system. This fine mist is easily carried by the wind away from your plants, leaving them high and dry. High pressure increases water use, too, and it causes heavier wear on irrigation components, making them more likely to fail in the future.

To fix this, you can install a pressure regulator on the water line to your irrigation system or each of your irrigation valves, or you can install new sprinklers with built-in pressure regulators. Learn more in this Hunter Industries video.

These and many other problems are all commonly observed through our Home Water Use Evaluations at single-family homes and Irrigation Check-ups at commercial and multi-family properties — which Helix offers free to our customers.

To learn more about these services or to schedule your FREE Home Water Use Evaluation or Irrigation Check-up, call 619-667-6226 or email

Happy 4th of July!

Happy 4th of July!

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Thomas Jefferson