We’re Building a WaterSmart Demonstration Garden

We’re Building a WaterSmart Demonstration Garden

We’re breaking ground next week on a WaterSmart Demonstration Garden at our administration office in La Mesa.

The landscaping will front University Avenue, Lee Avenue and Quince Street and will feature three unique, water-wise plant palettes – a Mediterranean garden, desert garden and California native garden. Once complete, the project will showcase the beauty and water savings possible with WaterSmart plants, which need 40 to 80 percent less water than the common lawn.

The project includes removing the existing landscape, building new hardscape features, optimizing soil, and installing efficient irrigation, water-wise plants and interpretive signage. It should be complete by June 2020.

The demonstration garden goes beyond just providing inspiration – it will also provide resources for those that wish to install their own WaterSmart landscape. Upon completion, exhibit signs will introduce visitors to the three plant palettes and plant markers will identify each plant. Those markers will also include QR codes, which visitors can scan with their smartphone to learn more. Visitors will also be able to take home a free copy of the landscape’s design plan and plant palette, as well as access the information on the district’s website.

The new demonstration garden was made possible in part by funding from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s Member Agency Administered Program, which supports projects that promote water-efficiency.

For Helix, the project is one more step toward a sustainable water supply and a sustainable east county.

 WaterSmart Demonstration Garden Construction Notice

Renderings: The project includes the installation of a desert garden on Lee Avenue (above), a California native garden on Quince Street (below) and a Mediterranean garden on University Avenue (bottom).

FREE landscape design workshop Saturday, March 7

FREE landscape design workshop Saturday, March 7

Reserve Your Seats!

Learn everything you need to know — from a local landscape expert — about selecting and installing beautiful and water efficient plants. Our FREE 3-hour WaterSmart Landscape Design Workshop is on Saturday, March 7, from 9:00am to noon.

You’ll Learn
— How to convert your turf area to a water efficient landscape
— How to select plants that will thrive in our Mediterranean climate
— How to analyze your yard, identify soil, remove turf & irrigate efficiently
— How to create a professional landscape, planting & designs that are ready for installation

4 reasons you’ll win the 2020 WaterSmart Landscape Contest

4 reasons you’ll win the 2020 WaterSmart Landscape Contest

Here are four reasons why this is your year to win the WaterSmart Landscape Contest and walk away with the $250 grand prize.

1. Your landscape is 3-5 years old

You were excited when you planted it, but now your water efficient landscape is coming into its own. The plants have grown and all that soil you used to look at is hidden underneath the beautiful garden and habitat you created. It takes this long for a new garden to mature, but the wait was worth it.

2. You selected cool plants

You have Mediterranean plants and California native plants that need a third of the water your old lawn needed. What’s cool is that instead of having a big variety of plants, you planted groups of the same plant, and the different colors and shapes of the leaves are beautiful. And each time a plant group blooms, it’s a big splash of color.

3. You’re inspiring your neighbors

They see the two of you out in your landscape after work, plucking spent blooms off of plants and talking under the setting sun. No lawn mower. No noise. No trash bags full of clippings. Just plucking spent blooms and a little pruning in the winter and mulching in the spring.

4. Your water bill is inspiring, too

Because you’re watering the whole front yard with drip emitters. And you connected the irrigation controller to your phone so you can adjust for the weather even when you’re at work. The rain barrels were a good idea, too. Free water. In San Diego. Nice.

You know why you’re going to win the 2020 WaterSmart Landscape Contest? Because the judging criteria are:

Overall attractiveness

Appropriate plant selection


Appropriate maintenance

Efficient methods of irrigation

Yes — 2020 is your year.

Learn more and enter at landscapecontest.com

Plant of the week: Italian Stone Pine

Plant of the week: Italian Stone Pine

The Italian Stone Pine (Pinus pinea) is native to the Mediterranean region, which means it’s right at home in California’s Mediterranean climate. It is a large shade tree and is also called the umbrella pine and parasol pine because of the shape of it’s canopy.

The Italian Stone Pine is also the primary source of pine nuts in Europe. While it may take years for your tree to produce pine cones, you can collect the cones off the ground and place them in a warm, sunny location until they open and expose the nuts.

Height: 40-80 feet
Width: 40-60 feet

Growth Rate
24-36 inches per year

50-150 years

Prefers full sun

Like all water efficient perennials and trees, a young, newly planted tree needs six months of heavy watering (same amount of water as a lawn) to establish its roots. After that, however, it is drought tolerant and needs only 30 percent of the water a lawn needs.

Prefers loamy to sandy soil

The fundamentals of growing gorgeous lavender

The fundamentals of growing gorgeous lavender

Lavender is a tough, dependable woody perennial that will last for several years under the right conditions. Because of its Mediterranean origin, lavender loves blazing hot sun and dry soil. If your lavender doesn’t thrive, it’s most likely due to overwatering, too much shade, and high humidity levels.

Continue Reading on Garden Design’s Website

P.S. If you’re looking for water efficient plants for your garden, check out the plant list on our Sustainable Landscape webpage.

10 things to do in your east county landscape in January

10 things to do in your east county landscape in January

Garden Design Magazine’s new article, 10 Gardening Activities for January in Southern California, offers valuable strategies to get your east county landscape ready for the year ahead. The article provides links to videos and articles with step-by-step instructions, including how to prune your shrubs and roses, and how to plant, harvest and prune fruit trees. Don’t miss these important few weeks in your landscape!

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 hwd.com/sustainable-utility/

Helix continues to evaluate local drinking water project

Helix continues to evaluate local drinking water project

On November 5, Padre Dam Municipal Water District, city of El Cajon and County of San Diego formed a Joint Powers Authority to serve as the governing body for the East County Advanced Water Purification project.  A Helix Water District representative will serve as an ex officio, nonvoting member of the JPA board.

“The JPA board will be focused on the wastewater side of the project. Our role in the project if it moves forward, is on the drinking water side,” said Helix Water District General Manager Carlos Lugo. The proposed project will use advanced water treatment technology to purify the recycled wastewater that the ECAWP JPA will produce which would then be stored in Lake Jennings and treated through Helix’s R.M. Levy Water Treatment Plant.

Helix’s board is still evaluating the district’s participation in the project.

“We’re looking at our participation in this project through three lenses. First, we are, and continue to be, a collaborative regional partner to the east county community.  Next, as a water district, supporting efforts that enhance water supply reliability in the region has long been a strategic goal.  And lastly, whatever Helix does, it has to make financial sense for our ratepayers,” said Helix Water District Board President Dan McMillan.

Since 2014, Helix Water District has participated with Padre Dam, the city of El Cajon and the San Diego County Sanitation District to explore the feasibility of the project.  Helix has invested significant board and staff resources, time, energy and efforts in this evaluation.  The district has been actively involved in project studies and design work, including a tracer study with Scripps Institution of Oceanography to learn how water moves and mixes in Lake Jennings.  To date, Helix has invested almost $850,000 in these activities.

In July, Helix’s board approved the district’s participation in an Interim Funding Agreement, which commits each of the four agencies to fund 25 percent of the project’s interim development costs up to $2.4 million for each agency.

Interim development work will continue through early 2021 when each JPA member will make a final decision on the feasibility and their participation in the project.   Currently, Helix continues to negotiate the terms and conditions of a Water Purchase agreement, through which the JPA will deliver annually 8,882 acre-feet of recycled water to Lake Jennings for further treatment and distribution to Helix customers.

About the Project

 Padre Dam Municipal Water District began exploring the East County Advanced Water Purification project to reduce the potential rising costs of its wastewater treatment, find a new, local, drought-proof water supply and to reduce its water purchase costs from the San Diego County Water Authority by 2025.

The $528 million project would recycle daily wastewater flows from Santee, El Cajon, Lakeside, Winter Gardens and Alpine, then purify it through membrane filtration, reverse osmosis and advanced oxidation to produce water that is near-distilled in quality.

The purified water would be piped into Helix’s Lake Jennings, treated at the district’s R.M. Levy Water Treatment Plant and distributed as drinking water.

Watch the East County Advanced Water Purification Project video

Learn about the advanced treatment process

Tour Padre Dam’s demonstration plant

Plant trees at Harry Griffen Park this Saturday

Plant trees at Harry Griffen Park this Saturday

The City of La Mesa is holding its 14th annual Park Appreciation Day this Saturday, November 9, from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Harry Griffen Park. 

Every year the city invites the community to help beautify local parks. This year, join neighbors and Helix Helps employee volunteers to help plant 200 trees at Harry Griffen Park, located at 9550 Milden Street in La Mesa. All ages are welcome.

The event will help the city increase its urban tree canopy, which is one of its climate action plan goals. Trees improve air and water quality, reduce heat island effects and provide important natural habitats.

You can show up at the park on event day or go to the city’s Park Appreciation Day webpage in advance to sign the required waiver. All ages are welcome. Participants are encouraged to bring their own gloves and shovels.

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 events.