New law creates path to water industry jobs for military veterans

New law creates path to water industry jobs for military veterans

Assembly Bill 1588 has been signed into law, making it possible for veterans to receive credit for their military education and experience when applying for civilian water and wastewater system operator certifications in California.

State legislators, water industry leaders, veteran advocates, businesses and community organizations gathered at the Veterans Museum in Balboa Park on Wednesday to celebrate the signing of AB 1588 by Assemblymembers Todd Gloria (San Diego), Adam Gray (Merced) and Tasha Boerner Horvath (Oceanside).

The bill was co-sponsored by the San Diego County Water Authority and Otay Water District as the water and wastewater industries face a wave of retirements statewide. Known as the “silver tsunami,” more than 30 percent of the San Diego region’s 4,500 water and wastewater professionals are expected to reach retirement age by 2024.

“What we are missing, and what this bill addresses, is a pathway in which we honor the experience of our veterans and allow that experience to qualify them for a career path in our civilian water systems,” said Assemblymember Todd Gloria. “Thanks to Governor Newsom, that pathway now exists. California will now properly credit the service of our veterans and enable them to secure good-paying jobs here in our water system. In this time – when the importance of clean water and good paying jobs is undeniable – let’s create bridges not barriers.”

AB 1588 provides a pathway for veterans – who worked in water and wastewater while in the military – to apply their advanced skills and experience toward state and industry certifications in the civilian water and wastewater treatment and distribution operator fields.

Helix Water District’s board has supported AB 1588 since its introduction. “This bill is a win for both veterans and the water industry,” said U.S. Army veteran and Helix’s Board Vice President Mark Gracyk. “It provides veterans with a clear career path as they transition to civilian life, and it provides water agencies with an expanded hiring pool of experienced and dedicated individuals.”

Helix helps restore water system in Paradise

Helix helps restore water system in Paradise

Photo: The crew from Helix and Padre Dam with Paradise Irrigation District employees. The banner is signed by Helix and Padre Dam board members and employees.

Helix Water District sent four operations employees to Paradise, the northern California town leveled by the Camp Fire in November 2018, to help restore the community’s water distribution system.

They left Helix’s operations center at 3:30 a.m. on August 18, with two employees from neighboring Padre Dam Municipal Water District, and worked Monday through Friday in Paradise.

“If you closed your eyes, all you heard were friendly people. Everyone in town was very positive,” said Helix Utility Crew Supervisor Dan Baker. “But, when you looked around, there were trucks and workers everywhere — rebuilding.”

At the end of July, the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) reported that they had removed 75 percent of the structural debris from the Camp Fire in Paradise and Butte County, including 1.6 million tons of ash and debris, over 518,000 tons of concrete, 37,000 tons of metal and over 446,000 tons of contaminated soil.

On August 6, Paradise residents gathered to hear the progress reports from all of the local and state agencies involved in rebuilding the community. The California Office of Emergency Services is developing a plan to remove the hazardous trees still standing, the town is opening a resource center to streamline the permitting process for residents rebuilding their homes, and the school district is making sure the new school year begins on schedule.

Top: Fire damage in Paradise, California. Below: Helix employees John Wilson, Eric Hughes, Dan Baker and Bryan Watte, and Padre Dam workers Jesse Knowles and Austin Darley.

But a safe water supply is still an issue. The water distribution system was contaminated during the fire with Benzene, a known carcinogen. Fire officials believe that the system depressurized during the fire and sucked in a toxic mix of gases from burning homes. This also happened in Santa Rosa during the Tubbs Fire in 2017.

Paradise Irrigation District General Manager Kevin Phillips reported to residents on August 6 that the district lifted water advisories on 133 standing homes and is testing and restoring water quality at 30-50 standing homes each week.

When Helix offered mutual aid assistance through the Office of Emergency Services, Phillips said they had cleared the gases from their water mains, but could use help testing and restoring water quality in customer service lines — the small pipe that connects a home to the water main. Helix sent Baker and Bryan Watte from its meters and valves section and John Wilson and Eric Hughes from its construction section to provide that help.

From 6:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day, the four went from one water meter to the next, collecting a water sample at each standing home and installing a highline to deliver safe water to the home until the sample was tested and the customer service line approved for use. They also assisted with the installation of backflow prevention assemblies to prevent contamination from the ongoing construction throughout the community. Phillips reported to residents on August 6 that PID had installed 275 backflow prevention assemblies to date, and had 400 more to install.

Monday evening, after their first day in Paradise, Baker emailed Helix Operations Director Kevin Miller that, “There’s a lot of work up here but the town is healing. I think I speak for all four of us when I say I’m proud to be a part of this.”

In fact, Baker was speaking for everyone at Helix. Field Supervisor Paul LaFalce said, “We lost four valuable people here at Helix for a week, but everyone was so supportive of what was happening in Paradise that they covered for them and made up the difference. It was good to see.”

The four took with them to Paradise a “California Strong. Paradise Strong.” banner signed by board members and district employees at both Helix and Padre Dam. Helix engineer Jeff McMaster emailed, “Sending a crew to help, the banner, this definitely reinforces the pride in working here.”

Helix Water District provides water treatment for much of San Diego’s east county suburbs and water distribution for the 276,000 people in the cities of La Mesa, Lemon Grove and El Cajon, the Spring Valley community and unincorporated areas of the county.

Helix launches smart leak detector rebate program

Helix launches smart leak detector rebate program

Customers of Helix Water District are now eligible for a $100 rebate when they purchase a qualifying smart leak detector device.

Smart leak detectors allow you to monitor your home’s water use in real time, 24/7. They sync to your smartphone and alert you if there is high consumption or a leak at your property. This can help you manage your daily water use and protect your home from expensive leaks. There are two types of smart leak detectors: plumbed devices and external devices. Learn more about plumbed versus external devices and the rebate program here.

 

It’s easy to apply!

  1. Purchase a qualifying device on or after August 1, 2019.
  2. Complete the application.
  3. Submit your application and a copy of your sales receipt to conserve@helixwater.org.

 

Qualifying devices

A qualifying device requires all of the following characteristics:

  1. Automatically records water use at a minimum of five minute intervals;
  2. Automatically alerts or notifies users of unusual water usage including spikes in usage and continual flows; and
  3. Provides customers with a platform to view their water consumption data.

Some devices require tapping into your existing plumbing and may require a licensed plumber for installation, while others simply attach to your water meter.

Examples of models that meet the qualifying device characteristics include:

Plumbed Devices

External Devices

 

DISCLAIMER: Helix Water District does not endorse individual vendors, products or services. Therefore, any reference herein to any vendor or product by trade name, trademark, manufacturer or otherwise does not constitute or imply the endorsement or recommendation of Helix Water District.

Rebates are available on a first-come, first-served basis and are not guaranteed.

 

Our annual Water Quality Report is available

Our annual Water Quality Report is available

Helix Water District’s Water Quality Report for calendar year 2018 is now available at hwd.fyi/wqr2018-english. A Spanish version is available at hwd.fyi/wqr2018-espanol.

The annual water quality report, also known as the Consumer Confidence Report (CCR), contains important information about the source and quality of customers’ drinking water. As in years past, Helix Water District tap water met all U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and State of California drinking water health standards.

For questions regarding the report, call 619-667-6248 or email wqr@helixwater.org. To have a paper copy of the report mailed to your home, call 619-466-0585.

Helix board adopts resolution opposing statewide water tax

Helix board adopts resolution opposing statewide water tax

Last week, Helix Water District’s board of directors received updates on multiple legislative bills that could significantly impact the district and its customers if approved. The board adopted resolutions regarding six proposed bills:

Governor Newsom’s Administration Budget Trailer Bill: Water Tax / OPPOSE UNLESS AMENDED
Resolution 19-18 adopted by Helix Water District’s board of directors on April 3, 2019

The administration’s 2019 budget trailer bill includes language to provide funding to disadvantaged communities to ensure all Californians have access to safe drinking water. The budget trailer bill, based on Senate Bill 623 (Monning, 2017) specifies that revenue for the fund would be collected through a statewide tax on drinking water and an assessment on fertilizer sales and dairies. In addition to the budget trailer bill, three policy spot bills have also been introduced on the safe drinking water subject: Assembly Bill 134 (Bloom), AB 217 (E. Garcia) and Senate Bill 200 (Monning). The district believes that a tax on water would increase the cost of water for customers and that the goals can be met through alternative, non-tax, funding solutions.

Senate Bill 669: Water Trust Fund / SUPPORT
Resolution 19-20 adopted by Helix Water District’s board of directors on April 3, 2019

Senate Bill 669 is an alternative funding solution to the water tax; it would create a Safe Drinking Water Trust at the state treasury, which would provide a durable funding source to help community water systems in disadvantaged communities provide their customers with access to safe drinking water. The trust would be funded with an infusion of general fund dollars during a budget surplus year, which would be invested – the net income from the trust would be transferred on an ongoing basis to the Safe Drinking Water Fund. The district believes that, unlike a regressive water tax which would have high implementation costs for the state’s 3,000 water providers, the trust would not drive up water costs nor work against the state’s water affordability policy.

Senate Bill 414: Small Water System Water Authority Act of 2019 / SUPPORT
Resolution 19-19 adopted by Helix Water District’s board of directors on April 3, 2019

Senate Bill 414 would authorize the creation of small system water authorities that would have the power to absorb, improve and competently operate noncompliant public water systems – those that are historically out of compliance with drinking water quality standards. The district believes that delivery infrastructure and governance structures of failing and noncompliant agencies should be improved prior to any broader funding solutions.

Colorado River Drought Contingency Plans Agreed to by Basin States / SUPPORT
Resolution 19-17 adopted by Helix Water District’s board of directors on April 3, 2019

The Colorado River provides water to over 40 million people in seven states and Mexico. As a result of ongoing drought conditions and historic over-allocations, the river’s ability to meet water demands has become increasingly strained and could reach critically low levels as early as 2021. Working collaboratively to address this issue, the seven Colorado River basin states signed an agreement on the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plans on March 19, 2019 and are seeking congressional authorization for the Department of the Interior to implement the agreement.

Assembly Bill 533: Income Tax Exemption for Water Efficiency Rebates / SUPPORT
Resolution 19-22 adopted by Helix Water District’s board of directors on April 3, 2019

Assembly Bill 533 would exempt from state income tax any rebates, vouchers or other financial incentives issued by a local water agency for participation in water efficiency or storm water runoff improvement programs. Consumer rebates are a proven, cost-effective tool for increasing participation in water conservation programs – taxing rebates is a disincentive for consumers and agencies to expand these effective programs. The passage of AB 533 would also ensure that rebates for water efficiency programs receive the same tax exemption as those afforded energy efficiency programs.

Assembly Bill 1486: Local Agencies Surplus Land / OPPOSE UNLESS AMENDED
Resolution 19-23 adopted by Helix Water District’s board of directors on April 3, 2019

Assembly Bill 1486 would require special districts and other public agencies to offer a right of first refusal to affordable housing developers, schools and park agencies before leasing, selling or otherwise conveying any of the agency’s land. The new requirements in the bill could be problematic for many public agencies that have valid reasons to lease or otherwise protect land they own. It could also result in agencies keeping properties vacant, which does not typically benefit nor enhance the surrounding communities.

Read the full board report, resolutions and associated legislative letters:
April 3, 2019 Legislative Board Report

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.

Helix recognizes employee for 35 years of service

Helix recognizes employee for 35 years of service

Helix Water District is proud to recognize Facility Location/Survey Technician Dave Moore for serving the district and its customers for 35 years.

Moore, an East County native, started with Helix in 1984, bringing with him nine years of prior construction experience. Moore started as a part-time employee at Lake Jennings, which helped him get his foot in the door, and step into a meter reader position a few months later. Moore learned a lot as a meter reader, walking the routes and learning the district street by street.

Later, after earning his water treatment and water distribution certifications from the State of California, Moore moved into the construction department, installing hundreds of pieces of underground infrastructure. He then progressed into the district’s valve department, where he performed valve maintenance, made repairs, responded to leaks and restored service to water mains.

For the last 19 years, Moore has worked in Helix’s engineering department as a Facility Location/Survey Technician, specializing in the use of the district’s geographic information system (GIS) to research, locate and delineate the district’s underground pipes and facilities.  He took surveying and water technology courses to succeed in his new role, and earned an associate’s degree. Today, Moore trains other employees in the proper procedures and use of locating equipment.

“We benefit tremendously from someone with Moore’s knowledge of the service area,” said Helix’s Director of Engineering Jim Tomasulo. “His job is no easy task. We have 732 miles of pipe buried below streets and along the district’s various easements. On any given day, we have to have our facilities identified and located. Sure our maps and reports help, but having someone with this level of experience is a tremendous asset to the team”

Moore is planning for retirement, but has declined to provide any clues to a specific year or date. The district likes having Dave Moore around so it is probably better that way.   

“On behalf of all of us at Helix, I want to thank Dave for the 35 years he has devoted to the communities we serve and for his steadfast commitment to excellence in public service,” said Helix General Manager Carlos Lugo.   

Top: Dave Moore in the middle, with Helix’s Eddie Brisendine and Jim Tomasulo on his right, and Carlos Lugo and Tim Ross on his left.

Helix board to hear report on compensation study

Helix board to hear report on compensation study

On March 27, 2019, the Helix Water District Board of Directors will hear the final report on the compensation and benefits study conducted for the district by Reward Strategy Group. The public workshop will begin at 6:00 p.m. at Helix’s Administration Office in La Mesa. 

The survey compares the salaries for 54, or approximately half, of Helix’s employee classifications, from customer service representative to civil engineer, to the salaries for similar positions at 23 other public agencies in Southern California, including water districts, cities, the County of San Diego, and State of California positions within San Diego County.

The survey shows that the salaries of almost 70 percent of Helix’s employee classifications are reasonably competitive, with the district’s current salary range maximums falling within plus or minus five percent of the median.

“The results are consistent with our past compensation surveys. Helix is in the middle of the pack of public agencies,” said Helix General Manager Carlos Lugo. 

The survey also shows that Helix has an appropriately competitive benefits package compared to both the public sector and the private sector.

“Our strategy is to offer competitive salaries, not the highest salaries, and to point to the quality of our workforce, culture and performance to attract top talent to Helix,” added Lugo.

“With baby boomers retiring, the competition for talent is heating up. But we have to balance the needs of our employees and our customers.”

Helix conducts a compensation survey every two years. This year, the board requested that a third-party consultant complete the survey and the district retained RSG. The San Diego-based firm has provided compensation and human resources consulting for over 30 years.

The workshop on March 27 is open to the public. Helix’s Administration Office is located at 7811 University Avenue in La Mesa.

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.

Why Harry Griffen Park was built and how it got it’s name

Why Harry Griffen Park was built and how it got it’s name

The careful planning, innovation and cooperation of local agencies over 40 years ago turned a once fenced-off reservoir into a beautiful 55 acre public park that thousands of people enjoy every year.

Harry Griffin Park is dedicated to Helix Water District’s long-time board member and board president, who served from 1951 through 1978. During his 27 years of oversight, Mr. Griffin saw the district’s rapid expansion and growth, its construction and filling of Lake Jennings and the completion of the district’s R.M. Levy Treatment Plant in Lakeside, and he was instrumental to securing water supplies from Northern California for San Diego.

The park itself began as a storage reservoir, originally built in 1893. First known as Murray Hill Reservoir and later renamed to Grossmont Reservoir, it was used as a terminus reservoir for water diverted from Lake Cuyamaca to East County. The water arrived via the San Diego Flume, which started just east of the El Monte Valley and flowed by gravity for 33 miles into the reservoir.

In 1957, the reservoir was expanded to meet the region’s growing demand for water, caused by the post-war era population boom, and lined to improve water quality. But as the area grew, subdivisions and developments encroached on this once isolated reservoir and created a larger potential for contamination. Knowing of this vulnerability, Helix decided to fully enclose the reservoir and began construction of a new reinforced concrete reservoir in 1976.

The new structure was completed in 1978, is 600 feet long, 358 feet wide and 22 feet high. It is out of sight to the public today because it is buried below the grassy field within Harry Griffen Park.

Once the reservoir was completed, Helix initiated a Joint Powers Authority to form, fund, operate and maintain a master-planned regional park with Grossmont Union High School District, the County of San Diego and the cities of El Cajon and La Mesa. This partnership still lasts today and is a model for inter-agency cooperation for the benefit of the communities the agencies serve.