Helix recognizes employee for 35 years of service

Helix recognizes employee for 35 years of service

Helix Water District is proud to recognize Facility Location/Survey Technician Dave Moore for serving the district and its customers for 35 years.

Moore, an East County native, started with Helix in 1984, bringing with him nine years of prior construction experience. Moore started as a part-time employee at Lake Jennings, which helped him get his foot in the door, and step into a meter reader position a few months later. Moore learned a lot as a meter reader, walking the routes and learning the district street by street.

Later, after earning his water treatment and water distribution certifications from the State of California, Moore moved into the construction department, installing hundreds of pieces of underground infrastructure. He then progressed into the district’s valve department, where he performed valve maintenance, made repairs, responded to leaks and restored service to water mains.

For the last 19 years, Moore has worked in Helix’s engineering department as a Facility Location/Survey Technician, specializing in the use of the district’s geographic information system (GIS) to research, locate and delineate the district’s underground pipes and facilities.  He took surveying and water technology courses to succeed in his new role, and earned an associate’s degree. Today, Moore trains other employees in the proper procedures and use of locating equipment.

“We benefit tremendously from someone with Moore’s knowledge of the service area,” said Helix’s Director of Engineering Jim Tomasulo. “His job is no easy task. We have 732 miles of pipe buried below streets and along the district’s various easements. On any given day, we have to have our facilities identified and located. Sure our maps and reports help, but having someone with this level of experience is a tremendous asset to the team”

Moore is planning for retirement, but has declined to provide any clues to a specific year or date. The district likes having Dave Moore around so it is probably better that way.   

“On behalf of all of us at Helix, I want to thank Dave for the 35 years he has devoted to the communities we serve and for his steadfast commitment to excellence in public service,” said Helix General Manager Carlos Lugo.   

Top: Dave Moore in the middle, with Helix’s Eddie Brisendine and Jim Tomasulo on his right, and Carlos Lugo and Tim Ross on his left.

POSTPONED: April 3 landscape workshop

POSTPONED: April 3 landscape workshop

Back by popular demand! Helix is hosting a WaterSmart Landscape Design Workshop on Wednesday, April 3, 2019 at our Nat L. Eggert Operations Center in El Cajon.

The free, 6:00 – 9:00 p.m. workshop will show you how to have a beautiful landscape that needs a fraction of the water, and a fraction of the maintenance, that a traditional landscape needs. The workshop is taught by one of our local landscape experts and brought to you by Helix and the San Diego County Water Authority.

You will learn:

  • How to convert your turf area to water efficient landscape
  • How to select plants that thrive in our Mediterranean climate
  • How to analyze your yard, identify your soil type, remove turf and irrigate efficiently
  • How to create a professional landscapewith planting and irrigation designs ready for installation

We encourage you to reserve your seats now as seating is limited and these workshops fill up fast. It’s easy to do: click on the link below and complete the registration form.

WORKSHOP POSTPONED UNTIL FALL 2019

Helix awards mini-grant for rain barrels at local elementary school

Helix awards mini-grant for rain barrels at local elementary school

Helix Water District has awarded Lemon Avenue Elementary School a $250 mini-grant to purchase and install a rain barrel in their school garden. Helix Board of Director Kathleen Coates Hedberg presented the mini-grant check to Aimee Benson, lead teacher for the school’s garden, and her third-grade class on March 18, 2019.

Lemon Avenue Elementary is part of the La Mesa-Spring Valley School District and serves students in kindergarten through sixth grade.

Lemon Avenue Elementary students from all grade levels participate in the school’s award-winning garden program, which introduces students to healthy food choices and the importance of gardening, water conservation and sustainability. The mini-grant will be used to install a working rain barrel display, providing students first-hand experience with rainwater harvesting and alternative water supplies.

As part of its school education program, Helix awards up to three $250 mini-grants each year to schools within its service area for water-related projects or programs. Applications are sent out each fall to all schools within district boundaries.

Lemon Avenue Elementary School

Top of page: Aimee Benson, her third grade class and Helix director Kathleen Coates Hedberg. Below: The school’s garden. Bottom: One of the school’s new rain barrels.

Helix’s High School Photo Contest winners highlight water in everyday life

Helix’s High School Photo Contest winners highlight water in everyday life

Local high school students were honored for their winning photos at an awards ceremony during Helix Water District’s special board meeting on March 20, 2019.

Seventy-four students from four schools entered the annual high school photo contest, highlighting the importance and beauty of water in everyday life. The contest is open to any student living or attending school within the district’s service area. The following students took top honors:

Black & White Category:
First Place – Jeanette Chen, Monte Vista High School, Grade 12
Second Place – Brisa Rueda, Grossmont High School, Grade 10
Third Place – Neva Devine, Grossmont High School, Grade 10
Honorable Mention – Sabrina Lynn Boykin, Santana High School, Grade 10
Honorable Mention – Parker Rufener Simpson, Grossmont High School, Grade 11

Color Category:
First Place – Sunshine Astourian, Grossmont High School, Grade 10
Second Place – Joilee Luna, Grossmont High School, Grade 10
Third Place – Layla Burdett, Santana High School, Grade 10
Honorable Mention – Rylie Codiamat, Santana High School, Grade 11
Honorable Mention – Kristin Williams, Grossmont High School, Grade 11

The winning photos will be on display through mid-May at the district’s administration office located at 7811 University Avenue in La Mesa. They have also been posted on the district’s website at www.hwd.com and Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/helixwater/.

The Winning Images

A Rainy Day
Jeanette Chen, Monte Vista High School
1st Place / Black & White

Rain on Leaf
Sunshine Astourian, Grossmont High School
1st Place / Color

The Beauty in the Storm
Brisa Reuda, Grossmont High School
2nd Place / Black & White

Grasslands
Joilee Luna, Grossmont High School
2nd Place / Color

None
Neva Devine, Grossmont High School
3rd Place / Black & White

Leaf Splash
Layla Burdett, Santana High School
3rd Place / Color

Water Wheel
Sabrina Lynn Boykin, Santa High School
Honorable Mention / Black & White

Path of Light
Rylie Codiamat, Santana High School
Honorable Mention / Color

City of Stars
Parker Rufener Simpson, Grossmont High School
Honorable Mention / Black & White

Drops on a Bottlebrush
Kristin Williams, Grossmont High School
Honorable Mention / Color

Helix board to hear report on compensation study

Helix board to hear report on compensation study

On March 27, 2019, the Helix Water District Board of Directors will hear the final report on the compensation and benefits study conducted for the district by Reward Strategy Group. The public workshop will begin at 6:00 p.m. at Helix’s Administration Office in La Mesa. 

The survey compares the salaries for 54, or approximately half, of Helix’s employee classifications, from customer service representative to civil engineer, to the salaries for similar positions at 23 other public agencies in Southern California, including water districts, cities, the County of San Diego, and State of California positions within San Diego County.

The survey shows that the salaries of almost 70 percent of Helix’s employee classifications are reasonably competitive, with the district’s current salary range maximums falling within plus or minus five percent of the median.

“The results are consistent with our past compensation surveys. Helix is in the middle of the pack of public agencies,” said Helix General Manager Carlos Lugo. 

The survey also shows that Helix has an appropriately competitive benefits package compared to both the public sector and the private sector.

“Our strategy is to offer competitive salaries, not the highest salaries, and to point to the quality of our workforce, culture and performance to attract top talent to Helix,” added Lugo.

“With baby boomers retiring, the competition for talent is heating up. But we have to balance the needs of our employees and our customers.”

Helix conducts a compensation survey every two years. This year, the board requested that a third-party consultant complete the survey and the district retained RSG. The San Diego-based firm has provided compensation and human resources consulting for over 30 years.

The workshop on March 27 is open to the public. Helix’s Administration Office is located at 7811 University Avenue in La Mesa.

Helix Water District provides water treatment and distribution for 275,000 people in the cities of El Cajon, La Mesa and Lemon Grove, the community of Spring Valley and areas of Lakeside — east of downtown San Diego. Helix also provides treated water to neighboring Padre Dam, Otay and Lakeside water districts.

Helix Helps plants trees at Arbor Day in El Cajon

Helix Helps plants trees at Arbor Day in El Cajon

This past Saturday, April 16, 2019, Helix Water District joined the City of El Cajon and community volunteers at Hillside Park for the city’s annual Arbor Day celebration.

Under the “Helix Helps” program, Helix employees, families and friends volunteer to support the many communities that the district serves. This past Saturday, Helix Help volunteers were trained on proper tree planting techniques before heading out to help plant 20 trees in the park surrounding Hillside Recreation Center, located at 840 Buena Terrace in El Cajon.

The district also provided information on selecting low-water trees and tree watering schedules at its informational booth, alongside San Diego Gas & Electric and West Coast Arborists who provided free tree seedlings. Visit our trees page for more information on selecting and caring for trees.

This is the 22nd year that the City of El Cajon has been recognized as a Tree City USA by the Arbor Day Foundation.

Why Harry Griffen Park was built and how it got it’s name

Why Harry Griffen Park was built and how it got it’s name

The careful planning, innovation and cooperation of local agencies over 40 years ago turned a once fenced-off reservoir into a beautiful 55 acre public park that thousands of people enjoy every year.

Harry Griffin Park is dedicated to Helix Water District’s long-time board member and board president, who served from 1951 through 1978. During his 27 years of oversight, Mr. Griffin saw the district’s rapid expansion and growth, its construction and filling of Lake Jennings and the completion of the district’s R.M. Levy Treatment Plant in Lakeside, and he was instrumental to securing water supplies from Northern California for San Diego.

The park itself began as a storage reservoir, originally built in 1893. First known as Murray Hill Reservoir and later renamed to Grossmont Reservoir, it was used as a terminus reservoir for water diverted from Lake Cuyamaca to East County. The water arrived via the San Diego Flume, which started just east of the El Monte Valley and flowed by gravity for 33 miles into the reservoir.

In 1957, the reservoir was expanded to meet the region’s growing demand for water, caused by the post-war era population boom, and lined to improve water quality. But as the area grew, subdivisions and developments encroached on this once isolated reservoir and created a larger potential for contamination. Knowing of this vulnerability, Helix decided to fully enclose the reservoir and began construction of a new reinforced concrete reservoir in 1976.

The new structure was completed in 1978, is 600 feet long, 358 feet wide and 22 feet high. It is out of sight to the public today because it is buried below the grassy field within Harry Griffen Park.

Once the reservoir was completed, Helix initiated a Joint Powers Authority to form, fund, operate and maintain a master-planned regional park with Grossmont Union High School District, the County of San Diego and the cities of El Cajon and La Mesa. This partnership still lasts today and is a model for inter-agency cooperation for the benefit of the communities the agencies serve.

Helix launches 2019 Lake Jennings Spring Photo Contest

Helix launches 2019 Lake Jennings Spring Photo Contest

Helix Water District has launched its eighth annual Lake Jennings Spring Photo Contest to share the beauty of its reservoir with the local community. The contest is open to photos taken at Lake Jennings between March 1 and May 31, 2019.

Contest participants can get a free day pass to explore and photograph the scenic reservoir located in Lakeside. The 2019 contest theme is Life at the Lake. Photos can capture any aspect of the lake including camping, fishing, lake vistas, wildlife and wildflowers.

The district will award monetary prizes in two divisions, adult and youth. First place winners in each division will receive $150, second place winners will receive $100 and third place winners will receive $50. Awards will be presented at a public board meeting in June.

Judging will be performed by a panel of Helix Water District staff and will be based on this year’s theme, visual appeal, technical quality and creativity.

Entries must be submitted digitally to lakejenningsphotocontest@helixwater.org by midnight on Friday, May 31. There is a limit of three photo submissions per photographer, and photos may not contain watermarks. The complete set of rules and entry and model release forms are available at http://www.lakejennings.org/photo-contest/.

Helix board approves $8 million pay down of pension liabilities

Helix board approves $8 million pay down of pension liabilities

The Helix Water District Board of Directors approved on February 13, 2019 a one-time, $5 million payment in 2019 and an additional $3 million in payments over the next four years to reduce the district’s unfunded employee pension liabilities.

The advance funding plan will reduce Helix’s unfunded employee pension liabilities by $20.3 million, providing a net cost savings of $12.3 million for Helix and its customers.

The annual cost savings for the district will ramp up steadily from $138,000 this year to almost $2 million in fiscal year 2042-43, when the district will pay off, or fully fund, its employee pensions five years ahead of schedule.

“Helix’s board and staff have been working to find ways to address this challenge, which is impacting cities and government agencies throughout California,” said Board President Dan McMillan. “We have to pay down our unfunded pension liability. We have a responsibility to employees, to the fiscal health of the district and to our customers.”

In June 2018, 68 percent of Helix pensions were funded. The California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) expects the $5 million payment to increase the district’s funded status in June 2019 to 72 percent.

If the board had not approved the voluntary payments, the district’s employee pensions would remain 68 percent funded, annual payments to CalPERS would increase from $3.5 million this year to as high as $4.9 million in fiscal year 2030-31, and the district would not pay off its employee pensions until 2048.

Helix has consistently taken steps to reduce its unfunded employee pension liabilities and their impact on water rates and customers. The district pays the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) in full each year and saves $50,000 by paying in one lump sum, and district employees pay 100 percent of the optional employee contribution, saving the district and customers $1 million annually.

In fiscal year 2014-15, Helix’s board began making voluntary annual payments of $500,000 to $750,000 to reduce the unfunded portion of the district’s employee pensions. During the fiscal year 2018-19 budget process, the board directed staff to analyze the impact of a larger payment, and staff explored options with the California Public Employees Retirement System and municipal advisory firm Fieldman and Rolapp.

Funding for the $5 million payment comes from the $8 million Helix received from the sale of district property in the El Monte Valley in Lakeside, not from water rates or rate increases, and funding for the four $750,000 voluntary payments is already included in the district’s five-year cost projection.

“Making voluntary payments is a good strategy,” said General Manager Carlos Lugo. “We are striking the best balance we can between the district’s employees and current and future customers.”

Helix Water District provides water treatment and distribution for 275,000 people in the cities of El Cajon, La Mesa and Lemon Grove, the community of Spring Valley and areas of Lakeside — east of downtown San Diego. Helix also provides treated water to neighboring Padre Dam, Otay and Lakeside water districts.

Helix Helps at Lemon Grove Community Garden’s grand opening

Helix Helps at Lemon Grove Community Garden’s grand opening

This past Saturday, March 30, 2019, Helix Water District joined the Lemon Grove Community Garden for their grand opening celebration. Helix employees and their families volunteered early Saturday morning to help set-up chairs, spread mulch and prepare the site for the ribbon-cutting ceremony which began at 9:30 a.m.

The Lemon Grove Community Garden is located next to Civic Center Park at the northeast corner of Central Avenue and Olive Street and has 41 planting beds available for lease. The garden is run by the Lemon Grove Community Garden group, which leases land from the City of Lemon Grove and has partnered with the nonprofit Lemon Grove HEAL Zone and Thrive Lemon Grove.

Community gardens bring green spaces to urban areas. In addition to providing space for residents to grow organic fruits and vegetables, community gardens create neighborhood gathering spaces which can increase public safety and reduce blight. The district also hosted a community booth at the grand opening ceremony, providing drinking water and information on efficient watering to attendees.

Under the “Helix Helps” program, Helix employees, families and friends volunteer their time to help support the communities the district serves. Follow Helix on Facebook and Twitter to be notified of future events.

Small government – the 5 benefits of having your water provided by a Special District

Small government – the 5 benefits of having your water provided by a Special District

We know from the questions and comments we receive that some of our customers think Helix is a for-profit company and some have never considered what kind of entity Helix is.

In fact, Helix is a not-for profit special district, which is a form of local government that has the ability to levy taxes, issue bonds or collect fees in order to carry out a limited number of tasks for the benefit of the people it serves.

Special districts are local government agencies that serve a single purpose – such as water, fire protection, flood control, health care, wastewater treatment, air transportation or other public services. Helix is responsible for delivering a safe and reliable water supply to the 275,000 people within our service area.

Special districts offer several benefits to the people they serve and here are the top five.

The first is focus. Unlike cities and counties, which have competing demands to offer multiple services, special districts typically serve a single purpose which encourages expertise and efficiency. This allows us to focus on serving your water needs without administering  other services like traffic lights, street lighting or trash collection.  

The second benefit is that they allow more local control. They are governed by an elected board of directors who live in the divisions that they represent – chosen by registered voters within the district’s boundaries. This leads to the third benefit: special districts are accessible and accountable to the people they serve. Board meetings are open to the public and staff is available.

Special districts operate as not-for-profit entities, and this is the fourth benefit they offer. Water districts, specifically, cannot charge a penny more for their services than the actual cost of providing the service. We don’t have stockholders — only customers. 

Finally, special districts are subject to strict oversight. Assembly Bill 1234 requires all board members to attend ethics training, board members and staff must report any gifts or monies received to the Fair Political Practices Commission, and state law requires annual audits of special district finances.

Helix is a special district. Residents formed the district over 100 years ago to provide the communities of El Cajon, La Mesa, Lemon Grove, Spring Valley and parts of Lakeside with a safe, reliable and affordable water supply. Though we have grown, faced obstacles in every decade, and even changed our name a few times, our purpose and mission remains the same.

Our daily activities, annual budget and long-range planning all reflect this single mission, and that makes us very efficient at what we do. We are proud to be a special district and every employee, every day, is focused on the communities we serve.

For more information about us visit https://hwd.com/about-us