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.

Q. Is there a way to visualize household water use?

Q. Is there a way to visualize household water use?

A. Yes, picture a 40-foot shipping container.

Helix’s average residential customer uses 21 units of water over a 60 day billing cycle. That much water would fill a 40-foot shipping container to about a foot from the top.

Now try to visualize 46,752 shipping containers — one for every single family home Helix serves. Delivering 46,752 shipping containers would take a fleet of six ships like the one in the photo above.

This is the scale of Helix’s operations, and the value of a water distribution system that delivers this much water on demand, in your home, 24/7 — at a cost of less than one cent per gallon.

Helix Boardmember Joel Scalzitti Joins Joint Powers Authority

Helix Boardmember Joel Scalzitti Joins Joint Powers Authority

Photo: Helix Boardmember Joel Scalzitti with East County Advanced Water Purification Joint Powers Authority members. Left to right: Padre Dam Municipal Water District Boardmember August Caires, Scalzitti, San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob and El Cajon Councilmember Gary Kendrick.

On February 20, the East County Advanced Water Purification Joint Powers Authority swore in Helix board member Joel Scalzitti as a nonvoting, ex-officio member of the JPA. Helix board member Kathleen Coates-Hedberg will serve as an alternate.

The three voting member agencies of the JPA which include Padre Dam Municipal Water District, city of El Cajon and County of San Diego, serve as governing members of the project. Helix’s role in the JPA is to serve as an advisory member, focused on providing input about the drinking water component of this project.

“We look forward to our participation in this project and working with the JPA”, said Scalzitti.

The proposed $528 million project will use advanced water treatment technology to purify the recycled wastewater that the ECAWP JPA will produce. The purified water will be delivered to Lake Jennings and treated through Helix’s R.M. Levy Water Treatment Plant. This program will reduce the discharge of wastewater to the ocean at the City of San Diego’s and expects to produce up to 30 percent of East County’s drinking water supply. This water will create a local, sustainable drought-proof supply and reduce East County’s dependence on imported water.

For more information on Helix’s involvement go to

Photo: Helix board members Joel Scalzitti and Kathleen Coates-Hedberg, who will serve as Helix’s alternate representative to the JPA.

How a Helix team is modernizing the district

How a Helix team is modernizing the district

Before Helix installed a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system, field operations staff used to drive to each of the district’s 25 pump stations to turn on a pump.

Helix’s SCADA system consists of remote computers that operate sensors and switches throughout the district’s infrastructure. Staff communicate with the computers to monitor and operate the district’s water treatment plant and water distribution system, which serves 276,000 people.

A supervisor and four Helix employees support the SCADA system and the motors, instruments and controls to which it is connected. The team’s latest accomplishment is standardizing the design, hardware and software of the motor control centers in Helix’s 25 pump stations. Helix Electrical Technician David Reagan, a member of the SCADA team, wrote about the project in a feature article in Flow Control Magazine, and the article gives Helix customers a deep look into the technology behind our operations.

Read David Reagan’s Article in Flow Control Magazine

Investments in water reliability paying off

Investments in water reliability paying off

Every ratepayer in the San Diego region is an investor in a reliable water supply, and today, our investments are paying off. Even if drought grips this region, or the state, we have access to enough water to meet our needs.


We were not always in this solid position. In 1991, after four years of drought, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California threatened to increase water delivery cutbacks  to the San Diego region from 31 percent to 50 percent. Managing drought is always challenging, but the real issue was that Metropolitan was our only water supplier.

Luckily, the drought ended before the 50 percent cutback started. However, the cities and water districts serving the San Diego region – including Helix Water District – vowed never to be in such a vulnerable position again. Over the last 25 years, we’ve collaboratively invested in, and developed a diversified and reliable water supply.

Imported water arrives to San Diego County via the San Diego County Water Authority, our region’s water supplier. SDCWA secures and delivers water to 24 cities, municipalities and water agencies, and its 36-member board of directors is made up of representatives from those 24 member agencies. Helix board members hold two seats on SDCWA’s board, helping to shape regional water policies


When SDCWA first looked for a new reliable water source, it turned to its water-secure neighbor in the Imperial Valley, the Imperial Irrigation District.

IID happens to have some of the largest and oldest water rights in the entire southwest. IID receives 3.1 million acre feet of Colorado River water annually – more than Arizona and Nevada receive together each year. Additionally, IID’s Colorado River rights predate California’s and even MWD’s water rights. This means that IID’s water is last in line to receive water supply cuts.

An acre-foot is 325,900 gallons – roughly enough water to submerge a football field one foot deep, or enough water to supply 2.5 single-family households of four for a year.

Looking for a secure supply, SDCWA began negotiations with IID in the early 1990’s to create large-scale, farm-to-urban transfers. In 2003, IID, Coachella Valley Water District and SDCWA signed the Quantification Settlement Agreement.  The QSA agreement allows SDCWA ratepayers to pay for on-farm conservation programs in Imperial County and allows IID to transfer the conserved water to San Diego. Last year, SDCWA received 160,000 acre-feet of water from this agreement, providing almost 35 percent of our regional water supply. This amount ramps up to 200,000 acre-feet per year in 2021 and the agreement lasts until 2078.


Another benefit of the QSA is that it allowed for the transfer of water from lining porous canals in IID and CVWD. Prior to these canal linings, earthen canals lost millions of gallons of water each year to soil seepage. SDCWA financed the lining of 23 miles of the All American Canal in IID canal and another 35 miles of the Coachella Valley Canal in CVWD.

In return for the projects, SDCWA delivers to member agencies 80,000 acre-feet of this conserved water annually for the next 110 years. This is enough water to provide 15 percent of SDCWA’s annual water demands.


In addition to looking for reliable sources, SDCWA wanted a diverse portfolio of water sources. This way if there is a shortage in one water source, other sources may supplement our needs.

Being a coastal community, SDCWA looked towards ocean desalination as a local, drought-proof water supply. In 2015, the Claude “Bud” Lewis Desalination Plant in Carlsbad opened, producing 56,000 acre-feet per year or 10 percent of our region’s annual water supply.


Finally, through regional conservation programs, we use 25 percent less water today than we did in 1990, even though our population grew over 25 percent. This is thanks to almost 30 years of regional conservation programs that encourage residents to install efficient toilets, showerheads, washing machines, faucets, irrigation systems and climate appropriate landscapes.

Water we conserve is water that we do not have to annually purchase or transfer. This makes a big difference; SDCWA’s regional conservation programs conserve about 90,000 acre-feet of water each year. This is about one and a half times the amount of water  the Claude “Bud” Lewis Desalination Plant produces; to produce or transfer the same amount of water would be very expensive. Since this plant cost over $1 billion to construct, you can see savings.   


We have come a long way since 1990 when MWD was our sole supplier. By 2020, MWD will only provide 11 percent of SDCWA’s water supply.

With the new water transfers, local supplies,  desalination and a water use efficiency, San Diego shines as a model for long-term water reliability and sustainability. We have more access to water than we currently use. This is water for our homes and landscapes, businesses and industries and water for our growing regional needs.  

For the benefit of our region, our local leaders ensured our future by securing reliable water supplies. Through your water rates and the rates of every water customer in San Diego, we have water.

Use it as you need to, use it wisely and be proud of the future we now have.

As a member agency of the Water Authority, Helix Water District is committed to continuing to secure a sustainable water supply for our customers. To learn more about the steps and actions we are taking, visit

See how our water system works — Helix Water Chats is on Thursday, December 5

See how our water system works — Helix Water Chats is on Thursday, December 5

Learn how our water system works and see how we plan, design, and upgrade our vital infrastructure for today and tomorrow. – at Helix Water Chats on Thursday, December 5.

Water is heavy – just over 8 pounds per gallon. That means we need a heavy-duty system to deliver it across 50 square miles and up each hill to 276,000 people. And, we have to design the facilities we build today to provide the water El Cajon, La Mesa, Lemon Grove and Spring Valley will need in 2070, and connect it to facilities we built in 1970.

Helix Water District’s Director of Engineering Jim Tomasulo will discuss how Helix’s complex water system continuously operates to deliver water to our customers and how we plan, design, and upgrade our vital infrastructure for today and tomorrow. This should be good, and we hope you can join us for an insightful evening.

Date and Time
Thursday, December 5
6 – 7:30 p.m.

Helix Administration Office
7811 University Avenue, La Mesa
(Parking in the back of the building)

6:00         Coffee and cookies
6:10          Welcome and introductions
6:15          Presentation
7:00          Questions and discussion

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.

Video: South Rim Tank Rehabilitation

Video: South Rim Tank Rehabilitation

The South Rim Tank in El Cajon is one of Helix Water District’s 25 drinking water storage reservoirs. Originally built in 1956, this 1 million gallon steel storage reservoir was beginning to show its age. 

In service for 6 decades, the steel roof suffered from corrosion which prevented the tank from being operated at full capacity.

However, with the rest of the tank still in good condition, the district was able to replace the roof and rehabilitate the tank. Rehabilitation projects utilize existing structures in the rebuilding process and are less a expensive alternative than demolition and installation projects, saving the district and ratepayers money.

Watch our brief video showing the construction process and see the improvements for yourself!













Notice of Intent to Adopt a Mitigated Negative Declaration

Notice of Intent to Adopt a Mitigated Negative Declaration

Notice is hereby given that, in accordance with the California Environmental Water Quality Act, Helix Water District has completed an Initial Study of its Pipeline Project 4241, located in the unincorporated community of Spring Valley, California, within the East County region of San Diego County.

These documents are required to be posted to the Helix Water District website December 1 to December 31, 2017.

Notice of Intent to Adopt a Mitigated Negative Declaration-Work Order 4241

Helix Water District Pipeline Project 4241-Draft Initial Study-Mitigated Negative Declaration-November 30, 2017