Water conservation and fire safety go hand in hand

Water conservation and fire safety go hand in hand

National Fire Prevention Week is October 8-15

In recognition of this week and California’s current wildfires, we wanted to share some information that you can do today protect yourself and your property against wildfires.

The University of California Cooperative Extension for Sustainable and Fire-Safe Landscapes has published information on fall-appropriate measures for wildfire protection. These resources contain some surprising recommendations that also create water savings including; installing low water use plants, incorporating hardscapes and dry stream beds to act as natural fire breaks and maintaining plant health through efficient irrigation practices and pruning.

Learn, take action and be prepared today! 

Photo: Quartz.com

Designing edible gardens

Designing edible gardens

Garden Design Magazine is introducing readers to Niki Jabbour’s new book, Groundbreaking Food Gardens, and they are sharing five garden design sketches from the book.

Jabbour presents a fresh idea among garden and landscape designers: that food doesn’t have to be planted in rows — that fruit, vegetables, spices and chickens can mix and mingle with shrubs, perennials and annuals throughout a beautiful landscape design. What a great idea, and the sketches just might spark an idea or two for your own landscape. Also, one of the sketches is the San Diego garden of Nan Sterman, a watersmart gardening expert, author and host of A Growing Passion on KPBS.

Explore food gardens and more on the Garden Design Magazine website 



Plant Extravaganza this Saturday at Balboa Park

Plant Extravaganza this Saturday at Balboa Park

Come this Saturday to Balboa Park for a Plant Extravaganza produced by the Master Gardener Association of San Diego County — a.k.a. the experts on growing plants in San Diego’s climate and soils.

You’ll find over 1,500 square feet of table tops filled with California natives, salvias, succulents, tillandsia, epiphyllum, asclepias, staghorn ferns, unusual varieties and everyday favorites, ranging in size from 4″x 4″ pots to small shrubs and trees. This is a popular event, so come early for the best selection.  You’ll also find Master Gardeners ready to help you with information about the plants and their care and cultivation, exhibits and demonstrations, garden art, garden tools and supplies, and books.

The event is open from 9:00am to 3:00pm at the Casa del Prado and adjacent patios. For more information and a map go to the Master Gardener Association of San Diego County website.

Reserve your seats for October 21 WaterSmart Landscape Design Workshop

Learn how to transform your yard into a beautiful, water-saving landscape at our next WaterSmart Landscape Design Workshop on October, 21, 2017.

The free workshop, from 9:00am to 12:00pm, is taught by a local landscape expert at Helix’s Nat L. Eggert Operations Center in El Cajon. You’ll learn the skills needed to convert your turf into a water efficient landscape:

  • How to remove turf
  • How to analyze your yard, identify soil types and irrigate efficiently
  • How to select plants that thrive in our Mediterranean climate
  • How to create professional landscape, planting and irrigation designs

This event fills up fast, so don’t wait to reserve your seats.


Helix is Going Green

Helix is Going Green

Helix Water District is turning green, and it’s not from all the rain last year.

In 2014, the board of directors adopted a strategic plan that emphasized their commitment to the environment. While Helix’s much touted success in water conservation is what first comes to mind — thanks to our customers — the district has also thoughtfully implemented a much broader, environmentally conscious approach.  From solar energy to plug-in hybrid vehicles, the district is looking for ways to not only reduce its carbon footprint but also save money. Put simply, we are going green to save our customers green.

Over the last several years, we have conducted extensive energy efficiency audits and have completed our first comprehensive inventory of greenhouse gas emissions.  These audits have identified opportunities to implement energy efficient solutions in facilities as they come due for rehabilitation, such as facility lighting, heating, cooling and roofing systems. These studies serve as guiding documents for the district to develop long term strategies to reduce its carbon footprint.

In 2010, Helix installed a large, 250 kilowatt solar photovoltaic system on our Nat L. Eggert Operations Center in El Cajon, and the system produces enough clean energy to fully power the center.  Building on this success, Helix has continued to evaluate other opportunities for solar power and has successfully connected smaller-sized solar systems to power other district facilities.

Within the last six months, we added four plug-in hybrid vehicles to our fleet and we have already seen a dramatic increase in fuel efficiency. With an environmental protection agency estimated 133 miles per gallon gasoline equivalent, this technology is delivering significant fuel savings.

In addition to the dramatic increase in fuel efficiency, existing state incentives provide savings of $5,250 on the purchase of each new hybrid vehicle, making this an extremely cost effective solution for the district’s fleet.  Within the next 10 years, as vehicles become due for replacement, we expect to integrate over 40 plug-in hybrid vehicles to our fleet, providing anticipated annual savings of $40,000 from reduced fuel consumption.

An exciting new development supporting this fleet evolution is the construction of 20 electric vehicle charging stations at district facilities in La Mesa and El Cajon.  These charging stations are fully funded through a California state grant and we expect to complete construction before the end of the year. Moving forward, Helix will continue its responsible stewardship of our precious natural resources.

Helix customers continue to conserve

Helix customers continue to conserve

This July, after the wettest winter ever recorded in California, Helix customers used the same amount of water they used last July, when the state was still in the grip of a severe drought.

This is consistent with the results of a county-wide survey conducted by the San Diego County Water Authority in May. When asked how much water they would use in 2017 compared to 2016, 59% of respondents said they would use the same amount, 33% said they would use less, and only 5% said they would use more.

It’s consistent with statewide water use, as well.

Read more in News Deeply



Eight design principles for your landscaping project

Eight design principles for your landscaping project

From Garden Design Magazine —
It’s tempting, in a field as subjective as garden design, to feel that rules do not apply. However, after 28 years and hundreds of projects later, I’ve come to believe in certain rules and guidelines that are neither fussy nor constraining. All have proven invaluable to me over my years of garden-making. Applied by any gardener, amateur or professional, they will result in a more successful, satisfying design.

Read the Story (And Enjoy the Magazine’s Website)

This will be your new favorite website

This will be your new favorite website

Are you working on, or thinking about, installing a new landscape? If the answer yes, we found your muse.

Gardenista.com is the spot for landscaping ideas and know-how, right up there with houzz.com, which we featured in a blog post last year.

For a lot of us, the “what do want our new landscape to be?” question is a lot scarier than the hard work of clearing out old plants and installing new ones. This is the creative part of a landscaping project, and it conjures up equal parts excitement and anxiety. Go to Gardenista.com and let beautiful photos of beautiful landscapes instill you with ideas and confidence.

This site is not all about water efficiency — it features properties throughout the country. But a lot of these landscapes are in California. Click on the See All the Winners of the Gardenista Considered Design Awards link at the top of their site and explore the Best Curb Appeal, Best Edible Garden and Best Outdoor Living Space entries. Then hover on the Garden Design 101 link and let the learning and creativity begin.

Explore Gardenista.com


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 conserve@helixwater.org and you could be featured in a future blog article.

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 conserve@helixwater.org.

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