How do we stop wildfires?

How do we stop wildfires?

It’s too soon to know what caused multiple conflagrations spreading across Northern California’s wine country, but elsewhere in the state dead and dying trees have been the subject of much concern. The five-year drought in California killed more than 102 million trees on national forest lands. That is a gigantic problem in itself that will lead to huge wildfire risks in the future. new report by the Public Policy Institute of California recommends changes in state law and new contracting practices, and changes in public attitudes.

Read Water Deeply’s interview of the Report’s Author

Read the Report

Photo: California State Association of Counties

Scripps scientists forecast future weather

Scripps scientists forecast future weather

Precipitation in California, especially Southern California, is already more variable from year to year than anywhere else in the U.S, which makes things difficult for water utilities.

“It rarely happens that we get near-average rainfall for a year, we typically get deficient rainfall or excessive rainfall,” says Alexander Gershunov, a research meteorologist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.  Scripps recently published studies investigating California’s current and future weather, and the forecast is even greater variability.

Read About California’s Future Weather


Photos — construction continues on Oroville Dam spillway

Photos — construction continues on Oroville Dam spillway

From the California Department of Water Resources —

Photo Above:
Crews work on structural rebar panels for the new side walls on the lower chute of the Lake Oroville flood control spillway in Butte County, California.

Photo Below:
The lower chute of the Lake Oroville flood control spillway. Construction crews are rebuilding the floor and the side walls of the chute.

Photo Below:
Sheena Williams of Kiewit Infrastructure looks for nicks in the coating on the rebar before structural concrete is poured into a panel on the lower chute of the Lake Oroville flood control spillway.

Coalition forms to protect California’s salmon

Coalition forms to protect California’s salmon

From the San Francisco Chronicle — A coalition of government agencies and advocates for sustainable fisheries came together Tuesday to launch a long-term effort to save California’s beleaguered salmon populations in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river systems.

Read the Story

Legislature to vote on a new tax on drinking water

Legislature to vote on a new tax on drinking water

On Friday, California’s Senate Appropriation Committee in Sacramento will vote on Senate Bill 623, which would establish a state tax on drinking water. The purpose of the bill is to generate funds over the next 15 years to clean up contaminated groundwater and improve faulty water systems in rural areas throughout the state.

The Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA), of which Helix is a member, opposes the bill.

Read The Mercury News’ “First-ever water tax proposed to tackle unsafe drinking water in California”

Watch ACWA’s Video

Throwback Thursday: The San Diego Flume

Throwback Thursday: The San Diego Flume

Remember Ken Kramer’s About San Diego series on KPBS?

KPBS general manager Tom Karlo told the San Diego Union Tribune in 2015, when Kramer retired, “What made his work special is he truly wanted the community to know about the richness and history of all of San Diego. He talked about places they know, and he talked about places that, after they heard him, they wanted to go see.”

Above all else, Kramer was known as a storyteller, and nobody tells the story of the San Diego Flume better than he did. The flume — which marks the beginning of Helix Water District’s long history — brought fresh water from the mountains to urban San Diego for the first time. Today, we still go to the mountains for fresh water — the Rockies, Sierra and our local Cuyamacas.

Enjoy the video — courtesy of KPBS.

Poll shows high levels of confidence in region’s water supply

Poll shows high levels of confidence in region’s water supply

Photo:  Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant

The results of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 2017 public opinion poll are in, and after one of the most severe droughts in California’s history, 83 percent of respondents rated the San Diego region’s water supply as very or somewhat reliable, and 79 percent support the Water Authority’s supply diversification plan, which includes Colorado River water transfers, water-use efficiency and the development of new local water resources, like the construction of the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant.

The Water Authority polled 1,001 adults in San Diego County from May 3 to May 25, approximately a month after Governor Jerry Brown ended the statewide drought emergency he declared in 2014. The Water Authority began conducting public opinion research more than 17 years ago to determine local residents’ knowledge and attitudes regarding water issues.

“Coming out of this most recent drought that challenged so many communities across the state, it’s great to see that the public feels more secure about our region’s water supply reliability than before,” said Mark Muir, chair of the Water Authority’s Board.

“Our residents continue to support supply diversification, are willing to continue to use water efficiently no matter the weather, and recognize the need to ensure ongoing water security for our region’s 3.3 million people and $222 billion economy.”

As state regulators develop a new long-term, statewide policy for regulating water use, poll respondents strongly support taking a balanced approach to water management in California. Two-thirds — 66 percent — indicated the best way for the state to meet future water needs is to both save water and make investments in local supplies. Only 28 percent said the best strategy is to focus principally on saving water.

San Diego County residents also maintain a widespread belief in the need to continue using water efficiently. An overwhelming majority of poll respondents – 92 percent – predicted they will use less or about the same amount of water in 2017 as they did the year before. Only 5 percent predicted they will use more. In addition, 81 percent said water-use efficiency is a civic duty.

What East County Respondents Said


of East County residents feel that tap water is a good or excellent value after learning that it only costs around one cent per gallon.


of East County residents feel that San Diego County’s water supply is very or somewhat reliable.


of East County residents support the Water Authority’s plan to diversify the region’s water resources.


of East County residents agree that a reliable water supply for the region is essential for a healthy economy.


of East County residents said they will use less or about the same amount water in 2017 as they used in 2016.


of East County residents said they are very willing or would consider replacing their turf with a low water use landscape.

Probe Research conducted the 2017 survey by a random telephone sample of 500 respondents (including 150 respondents who only use a mobile phone), and 501 online respondents chosen from a custom panel of San Diego County residents who have agreed to participate in online surveys. All participants were at least 18 years old and had lived in the county for at least one year.

The full results of the 2017 poll and prior polls are available at

Our annual water quality report is on our website

Our annual water quality report is on our website

We posted Helix’s annual water quality report on our website. There are five ways you can access it:

Also known as consumer confidence report, the water quality report contains important information about the source and quality of customers’ drinking water. As in years past, district tap water met all U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state drinking water health standards.

To speak to someone about the report or to have a paper copy of the report mailed to your home, call (619) 466-0585.

Helix’s preliminary budget: rates should be lower than planned

Helix’s preliminary budget: rates should be lower than planned

Photo: Lake Cuyamaca earlier this year.


Based on the $84.1 million preliminary budget approved by the board on June 13th, Helix anticipates a 4 percent rate increase on January 1, 2018, well below the 11 percent increase specified in the five year rate projection adopted by the district two years ago.

“A 4 percent rate increase for our average customer is $2.50 per month. Barring any unforeseen issues this summer, this is where our rates are expected to be,” said Helix board president Joel Scalzitti.

Lower than planned rates next year are the result of local rainfall this year, and, due to cost controls, an anticipated increase in operating costs of just 1 percent, Scalzitti said.

Helix owns Lake Cuyamaca, which is located in the mountains south of Julian. Thirty inches of precipitation this winter filled much of the lake, providing above average runoff as part of the district’s local water supply.

“We had very little local water supply during the drought,” said Helix general manager Carlos Lugo. “Now we have it. And the more water the lake provides, the less imported water we need to purchase. That’s important, because water purchases are almost half of our budget.”

The district’s preliminary budget is comprised of three cost areas: water purchases, operating costs and capital improvements. Water purchases are 43 percent of the budget, with anticipated costs next year of $35.9 million.

“Our water purchases budget includes a 5.7 percent increase in the cost of imported water from the San Diego County Water Authority,” Lugo said. “But the budget is decreasing by 0.5 percent and that’s because we are using water now from Lake Cuyamaca.”

According to Lugo, the 1 percent increase in the district’s operating costs next year is driven primarily by the increase in the cost of water treatment and the district’s potential involvement in Padre Dam Municipal Water District’s potable reuse project, which would purify wastewater, providing a drought-proof water supply.

The district’s capital improvement budget is $12.5 million and is increasing by $1.8 million. “We delayed projects during the drought to reduce our water rate,” Lugo said. “Now we need to move ahead. Delaying the replacement of aging infrastructure brings with it a higher risk of system failures and the higher cost of emergency repairs.”

“We are doing our very best to provide affordable water,” Lugo added. He said the EPA defines affordable drinking water as no more than 2.5 percent of median household income. “Our water costs 1.3 percent of the median household income in East County.”

Helix’s board of directors has discussed the budget in public meetings over several months, providing input regarding budget guidelines and principles on April 19, and reviewing budget schedules and line items for over nine hours in two budget workshops on May 3 and 4. The board will vote on the anticipated water rates to support the budget later this summer.

Photo Below
The view from the top of Cuyamaca Dam looking west. This is Helix’s measuring channel and wier. The white pole in the channel is calibrated to the wier so Helix’s system operators can convert height to flow and measure the amount of water released from the lake. Operators monitor hourly flow data from this facility.

Photo Bottom
Helix operations crew at work earlier this year.

Helix dams ready for Infrastructure Week

Helix dams ready for Infrastructure Week

Above:  Helix’s R.M. Levy Water Treatment Plant sits across the street from Chet Harritt Dam and Lake Jennings, where we store imported water from the Colorado River and the State Water Project.

The damaged spillway at Oroville Dam, which occurred earlier this year in northern California, sparked concern about the integrity and safety of aging infrastructure nationwide.

Those concerns are front and center again this week during Infrastructure Week 2017, a national campaign created to raise awareness about the importance of improving and maintaining local, state and national infrastructure – including critical water infrastructure like dams.

Here at Helix Water District, we own and operate two earthen fill dams: the dam at Lake Cuyamaca captures and stores local runoff and the dam at Lake Jennings stores imported water from the Colorado River and Northern California. Unlike Oroville Dam, Helix’s dams do not serve flood control purposes.

Helix’s dams are inspected regularly by Helix staff and annually by the State of California, Department of Water Resources, Division of Safety of Dams. Helix is in full compliance with all requirements of the Division of Safety of Dams and maintains an Emergency Operations Plan in the event of emergencies involving one of the dams.

Helix staff regularly inspect and maintain dam infrastructure, including spillways, outlet towers and the dams themselves. During weekly visual inspections, staff checks for cracks, settling, rodent intrusion, brush growth and abutment integrity, all things that can undermine a dam’s integrity.

Regular maintenance includes clearing brush and woody vegetation off of the dams and abutments, and operating all mechanical devices such as outlet valves to ensure they remain in good working order.

Chet Harritt Dam at Lake Jennings is equipped with an underdrain system that allows the measurement of water flow. If water flow becomes excessive, alarms activate automatically, notifying staff immediately. At both dams, monitoring well measurements are taken on a weekly basis and surveys are conducted annually to verify dimensions.

Finally, in the event of an earthquake of magnitude 5 or greater with an epicenter within specified distances from the dam, survey and engineering crews will inspect the dam to ensure its integrity and dimension.



Scientists link CA drought to atmospheric waves

Scientists link CA drought to atmospheric waves

The Ridiculously Resilient Ridge was a high pressure ridge that formed over the west coast of North America and blocked winter storms from reaching California in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Last week, scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research published two papers attributing the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge and this year’s record precipitation to the same phenomenon: a wave pattern that emerges in the upper atmosphere and circles the globe.

Read the National Center for Atmospheric Research press release

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