Helix leverages drone technology

Helix leverages drone technology

Helix Water District is now utilizing drone technology to view and monitor district storage tanks.

Helix recently used drone technology to inspect its Fletcher Hills Combo Tank, which is located near Grossmont College in El Cajon. The top of the tank sits at a height of 120 feet and the district needed to inspect the tank’s air vents, located at its outer edge. Inspecting the Combo Tank vents has proven challenging over the years. Inspecting the vents from the exterior required district inspectors to walk along the edge of the 120-foot high tank. The use of appropriate safety equipment to perform the inspections was cumbersome and expensive and did not eliminate all risk to the inspectors. Inspecting the vents from the interior required taking the tank out of service. Seeking a safe and cost-effective alternative, Helix Cathodic Inspector Eric Fockler suggested using a drone to view the vents’ condition.

The resulting photos and video imagery allowed Helix staff to perform this inspection, less expensively and without placing any staff members at risk. “Using drones for this type of inspection work is a simple, elegant and safe solution,” said Jim Tomasulo, Helix’s Director of Engineering. “We anticipate using drones for this and other purposes.”

Drones will also be used to inspect interior roof supports of the district’s storage tanks. These supports are well above the tanks maximum water level but are especially vulnerable to corrosion since they are constantly exposed to humidity and heat. Inspecting these components requires taking the tank out of service and viewing the roof supports by using a moving 30-foot high scaffolding. The scaffolding is assembled and brought in piece by piece through the tank’s 36-inch access-ways on the sidewalls. The scaffolding is then moved around the tank from one support to the next which is both labor and time intensive. Drones can accelerate this process by surveying each bracket inside the tank and allowing district crews to use the footage to decide which supports need refinishing.

“We continually look for ways to utilize technologies where appropriate to minimize facility down time and to keep staff safe,” said Carlos Lugo, Helix General Manager. “Drone technology is proving to be a useful and cost efficient way to survey and keep the district’s facilities properly maintained.”

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.

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

Serving our communities

Serving our communities

You know Helix Water District as your local water provider who delivers drinking water to your homes and businesses every day.

Did you also know that we have over 100 years of commitment to serving our customers as a local public agency?

Our staff and board members are dedicated to providing safe, reliable and affordable drinking water to the communities we serve. Each day, on average Helix delivers 27 million gallons of water to over 274,000 people. We have a deep history with our customers, a commitment to excellence, leadership in regional planning and perseverance with everything we do. Watch our three-minute video and get to know us better.


Climate change is water change

Climate change is water change

A key lesson from climate physics and one well evident in the models is that climate change is water change. The two are inextricably linked.

Colorado River Research Group

In October, the Colorado River Research Group (CRRG) published a new paper, Climate Change and the Colorado River: What we already know. There is something remarkable about this paper: it’s only four pages long. In fact, all of the papers published by this group of university professors are four pages long and highly readable “gateways” into the science behind our water issues.

News Deeply’s interview of Douglas Kenney, a member of the group and the director of the Western Water Program at the University of Colorado, provides an “executive summary” of the new paper. If you have a little more time, read the paper itself. It may be the clearest analysis of climate change you have read.

Read News Deeply’s interview of CRRG member Douglas Kenney

Read Climate Change and the Colorado River: What we already know

The future cost of water

The future cost of water

Today, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) released What Will Be the Cost of Future Sources of Water in California, a white paper comparing the costs of the state’s traditional water resources, water conservation and new resources like desalination.

The CPUC, which is better known for governing energy utilities, also oversees 108 investor-owned water utilities that operate in California and serve about 16% of the state’s population. The white paper focuses on examples and data from these utilities but provides helpful analysis of the economics of water conservation and the good price San Diegans pay for water from the Carlsbad Desalination Plant.

Read What Will Be the Cost of Future Sources of Water in California