5th grade desalination project wins mini-grant

5th grade desalination project wins mini-grant

Helix Water District has awarded Saint John of the Cross Catholic School, located in Lemon Grove, a $250 educational mini-grant for its fifth grade science program. Helix Board of Director Mark Gracyk presented the check to Aurelia Barreto, the teacher who applied for the grant, her fifth-grade class and Principal Greg Krumm at a school assembly on May 28, 2019.

Mrs. Barreto is developing a science module that will introduce her fifth grade students to the limited availability of fresh water and the challenges associated with developing alternative water supplies. Through hand-on activities, students will recreate the water cycle and attempt to desalinate ocean water. The mini-grant will be used to purchase materials for the desalination experiment.

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. Saint John of the Cross Catholic School is located in Lemon Grove and serves students in preschool through middle school.

Native garden wins Helix’s 2019 landscape contest

Native garden wins Helix’s 2019 landscape contest

Helix Water District has named Matt and Lauren Kirkpatrick of La Mesa as this year’s winner of its WaterSmart Landscape Contest, an annual competition that recognizes outstanding water-wise residential landscapes based on overall attractiveness, design, efficient irrigation and appropriate plant selection and maintenance.

Compared to the Kirkpatricks’ previous lawn, this growing, colorful and entirely native landscape requires very little water and creates a place of inspiration and peace for these outdoor enthusiasts. Over the two-month billing period ending this April, this home used just 13 units of water, which is almost 40 percent less than the average water use of other Helix customers.  One unit is 748 gallons.

The Kirkpatricks purchased the home in 2014 with a front yard full of grass that required frequent watering and mowing just to maintain a modest appearance. In the end, the lawn’s appearance was lackluster and proved to be too costly and time consuming for the couple. Taking advantage of SoCal WaterSmart’s grass removal rebate program, the Kirkpatricks tossed their turf for a landscape that requires less maintenance, less water and offers more beauty.

The two chose a native plant pallet so that they can bring home the look, feel and smell of what they love – the California outdoors. “California natives were an obvious choice,” said Matt Kirkpatrick. “They are a reflection of our love for the plants we know closely from our experiences outdoors. Native plants make us feel at home and give us an appreciation for the beauty of our state.”

Although only a few months old, the yard already displays a wonderful spring bloom with a wide variety of colors that native landscapes can offer. There are vibrant oranges from hundreds of California poppies, reds from sticky monkey flower, blues from ceanothus, purples from lupine, yellows from yarrow and plenty of green and golds from various shrubs and grasses. At the center of the landscape is a young but promising Engelmann Oak, a signature Southern California tree among wild and urban landscapes.

Plants receive water from rainwater catchment and through an efficient irrigation system, which the couple installed. The landscape captures rainwater from the roof and diverts it into two separate swales designed to absorb the water and allow it time to soak into the soil. The two swales provide water for half of the yard and prevent rainwater from running off into the street. The remaining plants receive water through high-efficiency spray nozzles that were retrofitted onto the existing irrigation system and use less water than the previous sprinklers. The Kirkpatricks only run the system once per month during the warm season.

Native gardens are just one of many different designs of landscapes available to homeowners looking to redesign their thirsty and traditional landscapes. In addition to requiring minimal irrigation beyond rainfall, native gardens are colorful, low maintenance and provide a natural habitat for local wildlife.


Helix will invite the Kirkpatricks to receive their prizes—gift cards totaling $250 and an award certificate—at Helix Water District’s Board of Directors Meeting on Wednesday, June 19 at 6:00 pm. Kirkpatrick also will get a WaterSmart contest winner’s sign to display in the yard.

Photos of the Kirkpatricks’ yard will appear in the winner’s section at landscapecontest.com, along with Helix’s past winners and those of other local water agencies, and on the district’s website at hwd.com.

The landscape contest runs from January through April each year.  Visit Helix’s website at hwd.com, Facebook.com/HelixWater or Twitter at @HelixWater for more information.

Helix Water District treats and delivers water to over 276,000 people in La Mesa, El Cajon, Lemon Grove and parts of Spring Valley, Lakeside and unincorporated San Diego County.


Helix honors student artists

Helix honors student artists

Helix Water District honored local student artists for their winning Water Is Life posters at an awards ceremony during Helix Water District’s board meeting on May 22, 2019.

Each year, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, one of the Helix’s wholesale water providers, holds a regional poster contest for students in kindergarten through sixth grade to increase student’s awareness about water.

Helix promotes the contest to all K-6 schools within its service area. This year, 220 students from 20 schools submitted posters depicting how to use water wisely. The following students took top honors:

Grade K-3

1st Place

Eden Olivas, Flying Hills Elementary, Grade 2

2nd Place

Sofia Figueroa, Murdock Elementary, Grade 3

3rd Place

Mia Lara, Saint John of the Cross, Grade K

Honorable Mention

Octavio Calderon, Saint John of the Cross, Grade 2

Honorable Mention

Allegra Diller, Saint John of the Cross, Grade 2

Grade 4-6

1st Place

Zoe Miles, Flying Hills Elementary, Grade 6

2nd Place

Karina Rodriguez, Avondale Elementary, Grade 6

3rd Place

Aaron Moreno, Bostonia Language Academy, Grade 4

Honorable Mention

Valeria Ramirez, Saint John of the Cross, Grade 4

Honorable Mention

Irene Tehan-Boren, Flying Hills Elementary, Grade 6

SDG&E honors Helix for sustainability

SDG&E honors Helix for sustainability

San Diego Gas and Electric honored Helix Water District yesterday at the energy utility’s Annual Energy Showcase for leadership in advancing energy efficiency and sustainability in the San Diego region. Below is the video they produced about Helix for yesterday’s awards ceremony.

“This is a nice award to receive,” said Helix Board President Dan McMillan, “Because it recognizes the commitment the board made years ago to increase energy efficiency, and it reflects our results.”

Energy – primarily to pump water throughout Helix’s distribution system, which serves 275,000 people in El Cajon, La Mesa, Lemon Grove, Spring Valley and other unincorporated areas of the county – cost Helix Water District $2.2 million in fiscal year 2017-18.  Controlling energy costs, and their impact on water rates, is a priority for the district.

Helix Water District 2017 Energy Consumption

Helix maintains operations and design standards that reduce the district’s energy demand during peak periods when SDG&E’s charges are higher, and the district purchases energy through the State of California’s Direct Access Program, saving an average of 18 percent on commodity costs. Helix staff continually evaluate opportunities to replace aging infrastructure with energy efficient solutions and smart building systems. A solar energy system at the district’s operations center in El Cajon further reduces energy demands and costs.

In 2012, Helix retained DHK Engineers of Escondido to perform an energy audit of the district’s facilities, and the firm worked closely with Helix staff to prepare a list of 150 energy conservation opportunities. A week ago, on April 24, 2019, DHK reported to the Helix board that staff had successfully implemented 148 of the conservation strategies, including:

Constantly monitoring SDG&E rate schedules and schedule alterations

Load shifting to off-peak periods at the treatment plant and pump stations

Equipping pumps with power meters, programmable logic controllers and variable frequency drives for remote monitoring and operation through the district’s supervisory control and data acquisition system

Installing window film on the district’s Administration Office

Installing energy efficient lights in all district buildings

Last year, Helix enrolled in SDG&E’s Power Your Drive Program to install 20 electrical vehicle charging stations through a $225,000 grant. The district also purchased six plug-in hybrid vehicles, received a $3,500 rebate per vehicle from California’s Clean Vehicle Rebate Program, and expects to save $1,000 per vehicle annually based on avoided fuel costs. The district expects the integration of electric vehicles into its vehicle fleet to accelerate when hybrid light-duty trucks become available.

Helix Water District 2005-2017 Energy Consumption

Combined, these initiatives have reduced Helix’s annual energy use by 25 percent over the last 10 years.

“We are reducing operating costs for our customers,” said Helix boardmember Mark Gracyk. “Helix is also becoming part of the solution. We are reducing greenhouse gas emissions and contributing to the sustainability of the communities we serve.”

Becoming part of the solution was the key message at SDG&E’s Energy Showcase event. “It’s electric in here,” Helix boardmember Kathleen Coates Hedberg half-joked during the event. “Everyone and every company that’s here is pulling in the same direction – towards a sustainable California – and you can feel the momentum.”