SDG&E honors Helix for energy efficiency and environmental sustainability

SDG&E honors Helix for energy efficiency and environmental sustainability

San Diego Gas and Electric honored Helix Water District yesterday at the energy utility’s Annual Energy Showcase for leadership in advancing energy efficiency and sustainability in the San Diego region. Below is the video they produced about Helix for yesterday’s awards ceremony.

“This is a nice award to receive,” said Helix Board President Dan McMillan, “Because it recognizes the commitment the board made years ago to increase energy efficiency, and it reflects our results.”

Energy – primarily to pump water throughout Helix’s distribution system, which serves 275,000 people in El Cajon, La Mesa, Lemon Grove, Spring Valley and other unincorporated areas of the county – cost Helix Water District $2.2 million in fiscal year 2017-18.  Controlling energy costs, and their impact on water rates, is a priority for the district.

Helix Water District / 2017 Energy Consumption

Helix maintains operations and design standards that reduce the district’s energy demand during peak periods when SDG&E’s charges are higher, and the district purchases energy through the State of California’s Direct Access Program, saving an average of 18 percent on commodity costs. Helix staff continually evaluate opportunities to replace aging infrastructure with energy efficient solutions and smart building systems. A solar energy system at the district’s operations center in El Cajon further reduces energy demands and costs.

In 2012, Helix retained DHK Engineers of Escondido to perform an energy audit of the district’s facilities, and the firm worked closely with Helix staff to prepare a list of 150 energy conservation opportunities. A week ago, on April 24, 2019, DHK reported to the Helix board that staff had successfully implemented 148 of the conservation strategies, including:

Constantly monitoring SDG&E rate schedules and schedule alterations

Load shifting to off-peak periods at the treatment plant and pump stations

Equipping pumps with power meters, programmable logic controllers and variable frequency drives for remote monitoring and operation through the district’s supervisory control and data acquisition system

Installing window film on the district’s Administration Office

Installing energy efficient lights in all district buildings

Last year, Helix enrolled in SDG&E’s Power Your Drive Program to install 20 electrical vehicle charging stations through a $225,000 grant. The district also purchased six plug-in hybrid vehicles, received a $3,500 rebate per vehicle from California’s Clean Vehicle Rebate Program, and expects to save $1,000 per vehicle annually based on avoided fuel costs. The district expects the integration of electric vehicles into its vehicle fleet to accelerate when hybrid light-duty trucks become available.

Helix Water District / 2005-2017 Energy Consumption

Combined, these initiatives have reduced Helix’s annual energy use by 25 percent over the last 10 years.

“We are reducing operating costs for our customers,” said Helix boardmember Mark Gracyk. “Helix is also becoming part of the solution. We are reducing greenhouse gas emissions and contributing to the sustainability of the communities we serve.”

Becoming part of the solution was the key message at SDG&E’s Energy Showcase event. “It’s electric in here,” Helix boardmember Kathleen Coates Hedberg half-joked during the event. “Everyone and every company that’s here is pulling in the same direction – towards a sustainable California – and you can feel the momentum.”

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.

Helix board approves $8 million pay down of pension liabilities

Helix board approves $8 million pay down of pension liabilities

The Helix Water District Board of Directors approved on February 13, 2019 a one-time, $5 million payment in 2019 and an additional $3 million in payments over the next four years to reduce the district’s unfunded employee pension liabilities.

The advance funding plan will reduce Helix’s unfunded employee pension liabilities by $20.3 million, providing a net cost savings of $12.3 million for Helix and its customers.

The annual cost savings for the district will ramp up steadily from $138,000 this year to almost $2 million in fiscal year 2042-43, when the district will pay off, or fully fund, its employee pensions five years ahead of schedule.

“Helix’s board and staff have been working to find ways to address this challenge, which is impacting cities and government agencies throughout California,” said Board President Dan McMillan. “We have to pay down our unfunded pension liability. We have a responsibility to employees, to the fiscal health of the district and to our customers.”

In June 2018, 68 percent of Helix pensions were funded. The California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) expects the $5 million payment to increase the district’s funded status in June 2019 to 72 percent.

If the board had not approved the voluntary payments, the district’s employee pensions would remain 68 percent funded, annual payments to CalPERS would increase from $3.5 million this year to as high as $4.9 million in fiscal year 2030-31, and the district would not pay off its employee pensions until 2048.

Helix has consistently taken steps to reduce its unfunded employee pension liabilities and their impact on water rates and customers. The district pays the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) in full each year and saves $50,000 by paying in one lump sum, and district employees pay 100 percent of the optional employee contribution, saving the district and customers $1 million annually.

In fiscal year 2014-15, Helix’s board began making voluntary annual payments of $500,000 to $750,000 to reduce the unfunded portion of the district’s employee pensions. During the fiscal year 2018-19 budget process, the board directed staff to analyze the impact of a larger payment, and staff explored options with the California Public Employees Retirement System and municipal advisory firm Fieldman and Rolapp.

Funding for the $5 million payment comes from the $8 million Helix received from the sale of district property in the El Monte Valley in Lakeside, not from water rates or rate increases, and funding for the four $750,000 voluntary payments is already included in the district’s five-year cost projection.

“Making voluntary payments is a good strategy,” said General Manager Carlos Lugo. “We are striking the best balance we can between the district’s employees and current and future customers.”

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.

Watch how winter rains wash away California’s drought

Watch how winter rains wash away California’s drought

From the San Jose Mercury News —

What a difference a winter can make.

On Jan. 1, three-quarters of California was in drought. Just eight weeks later, however, succession of storms have washed drought conditions away from all but a splotch at the far north edge of the state, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.

Some of Southern California is still considered abnormally dry, which means there are some lingering water deficits.

Considering what the state has been through in recent years, this is good news.

Read the Story

 

Photo: John King, Water Resources Engineer, of the California Department of Water Resources, prepares to insert the snow depth survey pole into the snow for the third media snow survey of the 2019 season at Phillips Station. (Source: California Department of Water Resources)

Helix Water District is Recognized for Reducing Insurance Claims

Helix Water District is Recognized for Reducing Insurance Claims

Each year the Association of California Water Agencies Joint Powers Insurance Authority, recognizes its members who have low claims on their insurance policies. Helix Water District was able achieve this low level of losses through its policies, procedures and programs aimed at reducing risks associated with purveying water. These include preventing construction related losses, administering fair employment practices, preventing workplace injuries, operating vehicles safely, and responding to emergencies efficiently.

 “The policies set in place by the district’s Board of Directors and the commitment of staff to work safely and reduce risks, prevents workplace accidents and damage and reduces our insurance costs. Like a good driver discount, these actions keep our insurance costs low, which ultimately benefits our customers.” said Kevin Miller, Helix’s Director of Operations.

 For more information about this award or other board meetings at hwd.com/agendas-minutes

Helix lobbying against a tax on water bills

Helix lobbying against a tax on water bills

Last summer, the Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Act, legislation seeking to add a tax to your water bill, died, returned, and died again during negotiations to pass California’s state budget. But support for the tax did not die. On January 11, 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom released his proposed budget for fiscal year 2019-20 and it includes a Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund.

Water Tax

Revenue for the fund would be collected through a statewide tax on drinking water and an assessment on fertilizer sales and dairies, and would be used to fund drinking water solutions for disadvantaged communities, primarily in California’s central valley, that are dependent on contaminated groundwater.  As previously structured under Senate Bill 623, the water tax would raise an estimated $160 million in annual revenue, with 85 percent of the revenue coming from the tax on urban water bills.

Supporters of the tax cite the urgent need to provide safe drinking water to disadvantaged communities and find a reliable solution to important public health issues.

Learn more about support for the water tax

Opponents of the tax agree with the goal, but believe that a tax on drinking water works against the goal of keeping water affordable, and that alternative funding solutions should be utilized. They have proposed a Statewide Drinking Water Trust, which would be funded with a one-time infusion of state general fund dollars during a budget surplus year, as a credible alternative.

Learn more about opposition to the water tax and proposed Statewide Drinking Water Trust

Read Helix Water District’s February 6, 2019 comment letter opposing the water tax and supporting the drinking water trust.

Helix Water District Letter to Assemblywoman Shirley Weber

Low Income Rate Assistance Program

Helix is also lobbying our elected representatives regarding the Low-Income Water Rate Assistance Act, established through Assembly Bill 401 in 2015, which directs the State Water Resources Control Board to prepare a plan to create a statewide program to help low income households pay their water bills.

On January 3, 2019, the State Water Resources Control Board released a draft report analyzing the options for designing, funding and administering such a program. Proposed options include providing a tiered discount to households that have incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level when their monthly water bills (based on 12 units of water use) exceed a certain amount. Program costs are dependent on the option selected but could total $606 million during the first year of the program.

Funding options considered include adding a $7-$10 per month fee onto non-low-income household water bills statewide, a tax on high personal income earners or businesses via the state income tax system, and a tax on bottled water.

Learn about the LIRA program

Read the State Water Resources Control Board’s Options for Implementation of a Statewide Low-Income Water Rate Assistance Program report

Read Helix Water District’s comment letter to the State Water Resources Control Board dated January 31, 2019.

Helix Water District Letter to State Water Resources Control Board

How wildfires affect California’s water supply

How wildfires affect California’s water supply

From the Public Policy Institute of California —
Summer marks the traditional beginning of California’s fire season, although the warming climate has stretched the season considerably. Until the winter rains arrive, wildfires will burn forests and grasslands throughout the state. Since January 1, about 3,700 fires have consumed more than 111,000 acres of land—outpacing 2017, the most destructive and deadly fire season in state history.

Read the Public Policy Institute of California Blog Post

Helix Water District Opposes Water Tax and SB 998

Helix Water District Opposes Water Tax and SB 998

At the July 18, 2018 board meeting, Helix Water District’s board of directors voted unanimously to adopt resolutions opposing two water industry bills currently in the state legislature. Both are anticipated to be considered during the upcoming August legislative session.

Water Tax – SB 623 and Budget Trailer Bill

A proposed statewide tax on drinking water is being advanced through Senate Bill 623, a two-year bill introduced in 2017 by William Monning (D-Carmel), and a 2018 Brown Administration budget trailer bill related to safe drinking water. The public goods tax would be added to water bills and used to fund drinking water solutions for disadvantaged communities.

As currently structured, SB 623 would raise an estimated $160 million in annual revenue. Of that total, approximately 85 percent would be collected through a tax on drinking water provided to residential, businesses, industrial and institutional customers; the remaining 15 percent would be collected through a tax on confined animal facilities, bulk or packaged fertilizer materials, and dairies and producers of milk.

Supporters of the tax cite the urgent need to provide safe drinking water to disadvantaged communities and find a reliable solution to important public health issues.

Learn more about support for the budget trailer bill and SB 623

Opponents of the tax agree with the goal but believe that a tax on drinking water works against the goal of keeping water affordable and that alternative funding solutions should be utilized.

Learn more about opposition to the budget trailer bill,
SB 623 and alternative funding solutions here

On July 18, 2018, Helix Water District’s board of directors adopted Resolution 18-29, opposing (unless amended) a tax on drinking water.

Read the resolution and reasoning here

Prohibitions on Shutoff – SB 998

Senate Bill 998, introduced by Bill Dodd (D-Napa) would create a statewide program that would establish state-wide limits on how a water provider handles residential water service disconnections for non-payment, including establishing a cap on reconnection fees.

Supporters of the bill state that it would protect low-income families from having their water service disconnected as water prices statewide continue to increase.

Learn more about support for SB 998 here

Opponents of the bill are concerned that the cap on reconnection fees have no direct relationship with a water provider’s actual costs to reconnect service, triggering Proposition 218 concerns, and preventing disconnections would result in a loss of revenue for non-profit water providers, requiring other customers to shoulder the burden of these missed payments.

Learn more about opposition to SB 998 here

On July 18, 2018, Helix Water District’s board of directors adopted Resolution 18-30, opposing Senate Bill 998.

Read the resolution and reasoning here