It’s Been Six Months

It’s Been Six Months

It’s been six months since Governor Newsom ordered all Californians to stay at home to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

It was unclear back in March just how devastating the coronavirus pandemic would be. Schools and businesses announced they would reopen in three weeks – remember that? Six months later, it’s still unclear how and when this emergency will end.

In an emergency, our job at Helix Water District is to keep the water on — for first responders, doctors and nurses, and everyone helping someone stay safe or recover. When Governor Newsom issued the stay at home order, we assembled Helix’s executive team, human resources, information systems and risk and safety managers, and the public affairs supervisor into a coronavirus response team to meet weekly and respond to the ever-changing conditions.

To protect public health, our board of directors suspended on March 18 all water shutoffs and late fees. Then, in response to exploding unemployment levels locally and across the country, the board voted on April 1 to freeze water rates.

Our first priority in March was to get the word out to customers that their tap was safe to drink, based on Centers for Disease Control findings that coronavirus spread through air, not water. We posted four articles on our website and social media, broadcast a recorded phone message to all customers, sent a bilingual email to all customers, and were the subject of stories in the San Diego Union Tribune and the Times of San Diego.

Water Treatment and System Operations

We maintained full compliance with federal and state water quality standards over the last six months. We planned for emergencies like this one, and our operators have the technical qualifications to provide back-up in an emergency.

As they say in sports, we have a deep bench. While normal operations require six treatment plant operators and four distribution system operators, we have seven additional operations staff certified and proficient in treatment plant operations, and three additional staff certified and ready to operate the district’s water distribution system.

Operations

To protect customers, the operations department put on hold all maintenance-related system shutdowns, and deployed a water truck and additional notification for all emergency shutdowns.

To maintain our ability to respond to emergencies during and after business hours, including water main breaks and broken hydrants, we implemented a rotation schedule that protects employees from coronavirus. Some employees worked from home, and some reported directly to the field each day.

Engineering

Engineering divided their employees into two categories. We authorized field engineering staff to work remotely from vehicles. This ensured reduced exposure but allowed for near-normal response to field engineering and construction activities.

And we quickly equipped office staff with computers for working from home, allowing design work and normal office duties to continue. The department set-up Zoom and GoTo Meeting accounts so staff meetings and design and construction progress meetings could continue.

Administrative Services

In less than a week, we reconfigured our phone system and customer billing system to allow our customer service representatives to rotate – with half in the office and half working from home. We answered all customer calls and we maintained billing review and accuracy.

Finance and accounting collaborated with the district’s financial consultant and performed the analysis the board needed to vote with confidence to freeze water rates. The finance team also completed our fiscal year 2020-21 budget, after conducting a 5-hour, virtual budget workshop with the board on Zoom.

Thank You

We would like to thank our customers for their patience and understanding over this past six months. We are working to keep each other safe, so that you have the water you need to stay safe.

Though our facilities are closed, we are here. Please call Customer Service at 619-466-0585 if you need assistance.

4 Ways to Prepare Your Landscape During Fire Season

4 Ways to Prepare Your Landscape During Fire Season

Our hearts go out to those impacted by the local Valley Fire and the other fires that continue to devastate many parts of California and the western United States. We also want to say thank you to the firefighters and first responders who are working nonstop to protect our communities.

This week, we wanted to share the practice of firescaping. Firescaping is the term used for landscape principles that reduce the risk and spread of wildfires around your home. While any plant will burn under the right conditions, when done well, firescaping can help you create beautiful, healthy, water-conserving landscapes that also reduce your property’s wildfire risk.

It takes time to implement all the practices of firescaping, but here are some steps you can take today to reduce your risk of wildfire and help you save water.

1.    Hand remove dead and overgrown plants.

Keep your plants lean and green by removing any dead or dying vegetation. Pruning reduces the amount of vegetation on your plants, which means that the plant will require less water to thrive.  Hand pruning, rather than hedging, allows you to be more selective with your cuts, which creates healthier plants that will need less water in the future.

Thin plants away from trees and remove undergrowth from trees to reduce ladder fuels. Ladder fuels are plant groupings where fire can spread from a ground fire into a tree canopy. Well-spaced and properly pruned plants reduce the risk of a manageable fire spreading into something more severe.

Remember to remove vegetation that is against or near the home or other structures. Also, avoid using power tools that can create sparks and possibly start a fire.

2.    Keep your plants healthy.

As mentioned earlier, healthy plants require less water and create less dead fuel. One way to get healthy plants is to establish deep roots in your plants. Deeply rooted plants tolerate heat waves and dry weather better, so you do not have to irrigate them as often. Watering your plants deeply but infrequently encourages deep root growth. Schedule shrub and tree zones to 1-2 times per week, and adjust run times to let water move deeper into the soil.

Learn more about plant maintenance for firescaping

Image shows pampas grass

Pampas Grass

(flammable and invasive)

Image shows the invasive plant, artichoke thistle

Artichoke Thistle

(flammable and invasive)

3.     Remove invasive plants.

Invasive plants outcompete native plants and are not as fire-resistant as other plants native to our region. Many of the common invasive plants in our region are incredibly flammable. To reduce fire risks, homeowners should consider removing these plants from their property. These include plants like fountaingrass, pampas grass, artichoke thistle, mustard, tree of heaven and the frond skirts of Mexican fan palm trees.

Removing invasive plants also helps you save water, too, as invasive plants compete for water with the other plants you are watering.

Learn more about invasive plants and alternatives

4.    Get ready for planting season.

Late fall is the best time to plant and establish new plants. Many water saving plants reduce fire risk by holding moisture year-round, giving you green and colorful plants. Additionally, succulents, agaves and cacti are excellent firescaping plants because they retain a lot of water without requiring much themselves.

There are many choices when it comes to what to plant around your home. Sign up for one of our virtual landscaping classes to learn more about plants, landscape design, irrigation and how to maintain your plants. Classes are free and you can learn more from the comfort of your own home.

Sign up now at:

https://www.watersmartsd.org/landscape-makeover-program/introductory-workshop/

More Reasons to Visit Lake Jennings This Weekend

More Reasons to Visit Lake Jennings This Weekend

This weekend is Labor Day and we have exciting news at Lake Jennings. Not only can you see our new boat dock in person, we are also open on Monday. This gives you extra time to rent a boat, try fishing, explore our trails or take in the scenery. Make your Labor Day weekend memorable and visit Lake Jennings.
On Friday, Fish Until Midnight

Fish this Friday and stay out until midnight! Friday Night Fishing is now on a regular schedule. The lake opens at 3 p.m. and you can fish until midnight. Entrance to the lake closes at 10 p.m. Full-size lanterns are required for each boat after 8 p.m.

Try Fishing this Saturday

Saturday, September 5, is the California Department of Fish & Wildlife’s FREE fishing day. You can fish without a California state fishing license for the day. This is a great chance to bring a rod, reel and try a new sport. Fees for lake entrance and fishing permits still apply.

We are Open Monday, too

We are open this Monday for Labor Day. This is one extra day for boating, hiking, fishing, picnicking or bird watching. The lake opens Monday at 6 a.m. and will close at 3 p.m.

Low-Cost Fishing Fees for Children

Share fishing with the next generation. We have free or low-cost fishing fees for children. Children under the age of eight fish free with a paid adult fishing permit. Children 8 to 15 years old fish for $5. An adult must accompany children under age 16 at all times. Any person fishing who is 16 and over must have a California state fishing license.

We’re Stocking Extra Fish

We stocked the lake with a total of 5,000 pounds of catfish this summer. We’re adding another 1,000 pounds the week after Labor Day.

Photo shows post on new dock to help visitors get in and out of boats. Visitors can rent fishing skiffs with an outboard motor.
Image shows woman sitting on fishing dock in a cove at Lake Jennings.. The image was Frances Schnall's entry in Helix's 2019 Lake Jennings Spring Photo Contest.
Our Fish are Biting

Last weekend, catfish were biting on mackerel and chicken livers in Eagle and Half Moon Coves. Catfish are biting during the day in deeper waters accessible by boat. If fishing from the shoreline, our rangers recommend fishing in areas where there is cover, or if possible, cast to deeper waters. Visitors caught bass in Sentry Cove this weekend. Anglers reported they were biting on Brush Hog green pumpkin and watermelon candy.  Anglers also caught Bluegill in Hermits Cove this weekend using wax worms and half a night crawler. The water temperature is over 80 degrees and isn’t on a cooling trend yet. For an up-to-date weather forecast in Lakeside, click HERE.

Lake COVID-19 Regulations

Only one family unit in the bait shop at a time and everyone must wear a mask both in line and inside the bait shop. Handwashing facilities are available at the restrooms adjoining the bait shop. Please maintain social distancing at all times. Card payment is preferred. Please help us stay open by complying with these simple measures to keep our staff and the public safe.

Lake Jennings Gets a New Boat Dock

Lake Jennings Gets a New Boat Dock

Above: Helix Water District Board of Directors cutting ribbon to open new boat dock at Lake Jennings on Monday, August 31, 2020.

Lake Jennings, Helix Water District’s reservoir and recreation facility in Lakeside, has a new floating dock that will last for generations to come.

The new dock is reinforced concrete encapsulating a solid polystyrene core, which makes the dock float. Numerous safety features include a nonskid concrete surface, enhanced security fencing and access gate, gangway handrails, and support posts to assist visitors as they enter and exit boats.

The new dock is replacing a wooden dock that, after 25 years, had reached the end of its useful life. This is where visitors come to rent motorboats, rowboats, kayaks and paddleboats to explore the lake and catch fish.

 “Over the years, we have upgraded our campground facilities, installed new trails and improved our recreation programs to make Lake Jennings a fantastic East County destination,” said Helix Water District Boardmember and Parks, Land, Lakes and Garden Committee Vice Chair Joel Scalzitti. “With our recent dock improvements, even more visitors can enjoy everything the lake has to offer.”

The modular dock is easily reconfigured and expanded and features a new, solar-powered dock house, lighting improvements for nighttime operations, shade structure, lockable kayak storage, and additional boat slips.

“This project is a long-term investment in our lake operations and the community,” said Helix Water District Boardmember and Parks, Land, Lakes and Garden Committee Chair Dan McMillan. “This is a high-quality dock and it sets the standard for future improvements at the lake.”

The district’s board is in the early stages of evaluating improvements of similar quality at the lake’s campground.

Lake Jennings is one of two reservoirs owned by Helix Water District. It has a water storage capacity of 9,790 acre-feet and is open to the public for boating, fishing, camping and hiking.

The lake is currently open on Fridays from 3 p.m. to midnight for night fishing, and for fishing and day use on Saturdays and Sundays from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. The campground – which boasts full-hookup, partial-hookup, non-hookup and tipi sites – is open daily and accepting reservations. Further information, including COVID-19 safety requirements for visitors, is available at www.lakejennings.org.

Lake Jennings is located at 10108 Bass Road in Lakeside.

Top Left: new aluminum gangway. Top Right: new dock house and lighting improvements are powered by solar panels on the dock house roof. Bottom Left: view of the dock from the bait shop. Bottom right: posts on the new dock help visitors get in and out of fishing skiffs that visitors can rent.

Photo shows new gangway entrance to boat dock.
Photo of boat house on new, modular, concrete boat dock at Lake Jennings
Image shows view through the trees of new boat dock at Lake Jennings.
Photo shows post on new dock to help visitors get in and out of boats. Visitors can rent fishing skiffs with an outboard motor.

Helix Helps virtual food drive provides over 30,000 meals

Helix Helps virtual food drive provides over 30,000 meals

Thank you to the Helix employees, board members and customers who donated over $6,000 to our virtual food drive in partnership with the San Diego Food Bank, which will provide 30,000 meals to individuals and families in need.

 The virtual food drive was hosted by our employee volunteer program, Helix Helps, which was looking for a way to help those in our community impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.  By hosting and donating to a virtual food drive, we were able to assist those in our community while still practicing social distancing and helping everyone stay healthy.

 Although our virtual food drive campaign has ended, the need for emergency food assistance continues. You can donate directly to the San Diego Food Bank at  https://sandiegofoodbank.org/. They distribute food at more than 200 locations countywide, ensuring those in need have access to food during this difficult time.

 Under the Helix Helps program, Helix employees, families and friends volunteer their time to help support the communities the district serves. Follow us on Twitter to learn about upcoming Helix Helps efforts.

 Thank you for your generous support of the community in this time of need.

New Partnership Improves Public Safety in East County

New Partnership Improves Public Safety in East County

Helix Water District recently collaborated with Heartland Communication Facility Authority to improve communications for firefighters and first responders operating in East County by installing a new radio repeater on Helix Water’s Calavo tank, located near Mt. Helix.

“When public agencies work together to improve the lives of our citizens, everyone benefits. We are delighted with the outcome and are very proud to participate in making East County a safer place to live,” said Helix Board President Mark Gracyk.

The HFCA provides public safety communication services to 13 different fire departments and districts in San Diego’s East County. They use a universal radio system – known as a VHF radio – to communicate with different firefighters and first responders. Though reliable, our hills and mountains can interfere with VHF radio communications. HCFA wanted to improve communication in the El Cajon and Spring Valley areas, but they did not have a place to install a radio repeater between these two communities. Recognizing that Helix’s Calavo storage tank was in a strategic location to install a new radio repeater, the HFCA approached Helix to work out an agreement.

“Heartland Communications Facility Authority knows the needs of our local emergency communication infrastructure,” said Helix Water District Board Member Dan McMillian. “When HFCA approached Helix, our board saw this as an opportunity for our two agencies to work together for the benefit of the communities that we serve.”

Above: New onsite radio repeater unit

Above: New conduit leading to top of the Helix Calavo tank

Above: New sky blue radio antenna at top of the Helix Calavo tank

Construction started in March 2020 and completed in June 2020.  Improvements at the Calavo site included installing a new radio repeater and a 4-foot antenna at the top of the tank. As part of the project, San Diego Gas and Electric installed a new electric service and meter at the site so that the HFCA’s equipment can operate independently from Helix’s pumps and monitoring equipment.

“The HCFA/Helix partnership will enhance communication capability throughout El Cajon and Spring Valley. The HCFA and its member agencies are proud to partner with Helix Water District in improving fire protection and firefighter safety in the East County,” said Carlos Castillo, director of communications for HFCA. “Communications are an integral part of the firefighting effort in suppressing wildland fires, and firefighter safety relies on an effective communication infrastructure.”

The Heartland Communication Facility Authority provides emergency communication services for its member agencies, which include Alpine Fire, Bonita Fire, San Miguel Fire, City of El Cajon, City of La Mesa, City of Lemon Grove, Lakeside Fire, City of Santee, Barona Fire and Viejas Fire.

Helix Water District treats and delivers water to 277,000 people in La Mesa, El Cajon, Lemon Grove and parts of Spring Valley, Lakeside and unincorporated San Diego County.

Helix announces 2020 Landscape Contest winner

Helix announces 2020 Landscape Contest winner

​Helix Water District named Tim and Brianna Montgomery of La Mesa as the winner of its 2020 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 Montgomery’s previous lawn, this blooming and colorful English inspired landscape uses much less water than a lawn of a similar size. This thriving landscape creates privacy from the road as well as compliments the couple’s cottage style home. Over the two-month billing period ending this May, this home used only 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 Montgomerys purchased the home in 2014 and were not happy with the water use of the existing lawn. In addition, the low-lying grass offered little privacy from the road since their home’s front window faces two streets. After they tried to reduce the lawn’s water use, they did not like the lawn’s dried hay appearance during the warm months. Another issue was that the front yard sloped towards the house, which caused moisture to form in the home’s basement during rains.

With a landscape to renovate and a drainage issue to fix, the couple started researching water efficient landscapes. In 2017, they toured numerous gardens in East County with the California Native Plant Society’s native garden tours. The garden tours allowed the couple to see which landscapes they liked and didn’t like. Eventually, Tim and Brianna hired a landscape designer in fall 2018. The landscape designer worked with the couple to select plants that would not require too much maintenance while still matching the charm and character of their 1950s cottage style home. In addition to the plant pallet, the landscape designer created a hardscape layout, irrigation design and planting plan.

“Our landscape designer gave us the design to meet our needs and created a plan so that we could do most of the work ourselves,” said Brianna Montgomery. “We only had to hire a contractor to do hardscape work and install the new water efficient irrigation system. We did all of the other work ourselves, including grading the front, amending our soil with fresh compost, purchasing and installing the new plants, and adding mulch according to the design.”

Although just over one year old, the landscape boasts a filled-in appearance and a wide variety of vibrant and colorful plants. To offer privacy, create shade and add the element of height, the landscape has a fruitless olive tree and a bright desert willow. The low water use daisies display lovely whites and yellows that add to the lushness of this landscape. There is a charming variety of greens from the yard’s shrubs and groundcover that provide contrast with the home’s red brick, including soft blue-greens from the lavender; clumping fescue grasses and Mexican bush sage; emeralds from the rosemary; green-yellows of the rockrose; and splashes of purple, yellow, white, reds and pinks among the landscape’s many flowers.

Plants receive water from an efficient irrigation system, which includes micro sprays, drip irrigation and a smart, weather-based irrigation controller. The landscape diverts and captures rainwater from the front roof and diverts the water to the back yard through a series of French drains. The new rainwater diversion prevents moisture from forming in the home’s basement. It also provides additional water for the plants in the home’s backyard.

The new landscape is now more welcoming to the couple and neighbors who pass by. Additionally, the landscape also attracts birds, bees, pollinators, ladybugs, lizards and other wildlife that now call this landscape home. “We couldn’t have asked for a better landscape,” said Montgomery. “Our landscape fits the energy of our home and ourselves, and we loved being a part of the transformation every step of the way.”

Helix invited Brianna and Tim Montgomery to Helix Water District’s virtual board meeting on Wednesday, June 17, at 4 p.m. to recognize their work.  Following the meeting, Helix sent the Mongomerys their awards —a gift card totaling $250, an award certificate and a WaterSmart contest winner’s sign to display in the yard.

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

The landscape contest typically runs from January through April each year; however, due to this year’s pandemic, the participating water agencies extended the contest one month. 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.

Inspire others and share your yard in the landscape contest

Inspire others and share your yard in the landscape contest

Photo: 2019 Landscape Contest Winner Matt & Lauren Kirkpatrick

Helix is accepting entries through Friday, May 29, for the 2020 WaterSmart Landscape Contest.

In its 16th year, the contest seeks to recognize Helix Water District customers for their beautiful, colorful and water-efficient landscapes. Entries are judged for overall attractiveness, design, plant selection, efficient irrigation and appropriate maintenance. Residents who share their water-efficient landscape could win a $250 grand prize to the nursery of their choice.

To enter in this year’s contest, simply take a few photos of your water-efficient landscaping, share why you installed your landscaping, the types of plants you have and some of the benefits you see from your landscape. We would love to hear your story!

We understand that this spring is far from normal. The 2020 WaterSmart Landscape Contest is a great non-virtual opportunity to be outside. So get out in your yard, apply for the contest and inspire others.

For more information, visit the contest website: landscapecontest.com or contact us at 619-667-6226.

Receive a rebate on smart irrigation controllers

Receive a rebate on smart irrigation controllers

Before turning your irrigation controller back on after the rain, consider upgrading to a smart, weather-based irrigation controller – also known as a “WBIC”. You can purchase these devices online and receive a rebate for your purchase.

Conventional irrigation controllers use the same weekly schedule to water your plants, regardless of the weather. WBIC’s automatically adjust your watering schedule based on local weather conditions using your home’s Wi-Fi or real-time sensor data. They can help reduce your outdoor water use by as much as 15 percent.

WBIC’s are perfect for saving water during unpredictable gloomy weather or keeping your plants healthy during hot, dry spells – both of which are common in the Spring and early Summer months.

The best news is that your rebate may cover the full purchase price of your WBIC.

Currently, Helix customers with properties under 1 acre may receive up to a $200 rebate on a qualifying WBIC. Most eligible controllers cost between $150 and $230.

For properties larger than 1 acre, Helix customers may receive a rebate of  up to $35 per station. For example, a property with a 16-station controller would be eligible for a $560 rebate (16 stations at $35 each) for a qualifying WBIC. Most 16-station controllers cost between $200 – $600.

Installation and programming are easy. Many of the newer devices are even easier to operate than your current controller.

Take control of your irrigation this spring and upgrade to a smart, weather based irrigation controller. View eligibility and apply at socalwatersmart.com.