Last week we hosted a live event on Facebook all about water tanks. Our water tanks are everywhere. Some are on hillsides, some are in neighborhoods, and some you don’t see, like the tank buried underneath the grass field at Harry Griffen Park in La Mesa.

Last week’s Water Chat gave customers an inside look at our tanks: why we have tanks where we do, how they help us provide safe and reliable water 24/7, and what Helix is doing to maintain, repair and improve them.

We started the evening with an overview of Helix, why tanks are critical to keeping the water flowing for 277,000 people every day, and how our water distribution system works. We explain how we move water in our simple gravity-fed systems and expand to the complex water delivery system we manage, containing 35 pressure zones, 25 tanks and 25 pump stations. We also shared stories about some of the more memorable tanks in our community, including the Fletcher Hills Combo tank near Grossmont College and State Route 125.

It’s not too late – you can watch the presentation below. And don’t forget to follow our Facebook page for future events and information.

Video Transcript (32 minutes)

hey welcome to helix water chats we’re going to get started now
do you know why water comes out of your faucet
it’s because your faucet is connected to helix’s drinking water system
and all that water in our pipelines is pushed forward
to your faucets by the water behind it and above it
and first we deliver water to our reservoir tanks
and then we use gravity and water pressure to deliver water to your homes
i’m just going to move you guys so i can see my slides here
our reservoir tanks are what makes this work and how they work is the topic of
tonight’s helix water chats and with that i’d like to introduce our
two experts tonight we have tim ross our assistant director
of engineering and brian olney helix’s director of water quality
and they will be backed up by the rest of helix’s executive team
general manager carlos lugo director of engineering jim tomasulo
jennifer bryant our director of administrative services and kevin miller
our director of operations and we’re going to start tonight with a few minutes
about helix and then tim is going to explain how our tanks work and why they are
exactly where they are then brian will explain how we use tanks
to manage water quality after that we’ll answer your questions
and if you have questions for us tonight type them into the comments box on our
facebook’s page on our facebook page which is at helix water
so let’s start with a little bit about helix we provide the water for san
diego’s east county suburbs the 277 000 people living in la mesa
lemon grove spring valley and el cajon and also residents living in lakeside in
the county we are a not-for-profit local government
agency and we’re governed by a five-member board
who are elected by the community they live in
and it’s our job to keep the water on 24 7. and that’s because
every shower every sprinkler coffee house grocery store construction site every
service and job that we depend on depends on water
and delivering water at this scale is a large undertaking
and one way to understand how large is to take a look at the next 40-foot
shipping container passing you on the freeway if you were
to fill one of those shipping containers about a foot from the top with water
that would be about equal to the average water use for
a single family home and helix of service area
small family front yard backyard indoor water use
how much water they use in a two-month period
it’s a lot of water and it’s a hard thing to get a handle on so we thought
this visual might help now consider that helix serves 45 000
homes and to deliver that much water would take
six ships like this one fully loaded with shipping containers
uh moving around east county every two months and and we share this
it’s helpful to share this because we move around that much water every day
and you don’t even see it and our distribution system is nearly invisible
we have 149 employees and we provide six essential services
we collaboratively manage the region’s water supply
with the other water districts in san diego county
we provide within our own system we provide water storage
water treatment and water distribution we also provide
public education to help people conserve water and reduce their water bills and
their water use and we provide the engineering that
keeps these systems maintained and running and operating fully
decade after decade and also facilitating the development that keeps
our communities growing so that they can use our system and our system can
benefit them as well if you look a little more closely at our
system it starts up in our local mountains with lake cuyamaca
when we receive local rain and snow in the winter
the water at lake cuyamaca can very much offset the cost of importing water from
the colorado river northern california at lake jennings we
store both our local water and our imported water before we treat it
our treatment plant can and uh can treat up to 106 million gallons a day
and it doesn’t serve just helix and our customers it also serves our neighboring
water agencies and their customers it’s a regional facility
we have 25 pump stations that pump water up to 25 reservoir tanks and from there
we deliver water through 738 miles of pipe to all the homes and businesses and
public buildings that we serve and if you were to take all of our pipe
and connect each segment and end starting in la mesa you’d end up about
30 miles outside of albuquerque new mexico
it’s a lot of pipe but that 738 miles of pipe is how much it takes to go up and
down every street to every home within our service area
and that small brown pipe that’s a service connection
you have one in front of your home and it connects your home to the water main
the blue pipe that’s out under the street in front of your house
we have almost 17 000 valves they allow us to isolate pipe
for maintenance and for repair we have over 6 500
hydrants and they are there for firefighters and the meter in front of your home
allows volumetric rates paying only for the water you actually
use and we maintain over 56 000 meters and all of these components from the
hydrants to the meters to the valves they all have their own lifespan tracking
when each meter valve and pipe segment is installed
and managing its replacement decades later
the planning the engineering the design and the construction
that’s what our assistant director of engineering tim ross does
with his engineering department so we invest about 15 million dollars
each year in replacing aging infrastructure and that money comes
from water rates and with that i would like to introduce tim ross
he’s going to tell us about our tanks thank you mike yeah it’s a pleasure to
be here tonight um i do work in the engineering department
and as mike mentioned we’re going to talk a little bit about
water tanks in our system there there are many components of our system that
are vital to delivering water to customers um
so tonight we’re just going to take a peek into just this one particular
component which is tanks we’re going to look at where they’re
located the function they serve talk a little bit about the material
types and then and talk about what the engineering department does to renew
rehabilitate and reinvest in our infrastructure regarding tanks
so this first tank you were looking at here is called the
homelands tank it’s located in east el cajon just above granite hills area
and as mike said you probably don’t see most of the tanks because they’re
usually located in remote areas this one is you can you can see it if
you look off to the east off i-8 if you look closely
and the tanks are located many times on hillside because we have a really great
geographical topography within the the service area in east county san diego
it provides many opportunities to take advantage of that topography to generate
the pressure that we deliver in the water system to your homes
without adding a lot of extra energy in which which
translates into lower cost and lower rates for our customers so
this is one particular location we have them on hillsides so we can situate them
to provide pressure without having to pump the
water another location that we’d like to situate tanks in
is underground and as a water district we’re tasked with providing safe secure
reliable water to our customers 24 7 365. so the best way we can protect
those assets is if people don’t even know they’re
there like mike said they’re they’re mostly hidden
and probably most the people that are watching this video right now
don’t know that the largest reservoir in our system
is actually in plain sight located directly under harry griffin park
this used to be an open water reservoir in the 70s it was put underground in
this particular facility you’re looking at here to put it into perspective
this facility is actually you could fit four football fields in this and the
water contained in this reservoir is 20 feet tall so four
football fields 20 feet tall totals about 30 million gallons of water
that’s available to our customers in the la mesa lemongrove spring valley
area so quite quite impressive so next time you’re at harry griffen park look
to your left in the big grassy field and this is what’s buried underneath it
another area we have our tanks is in plain sight in neighborhoods and
and one thing you know people think is why the heck would they put a water tank
there in the middle of that neighborhood
um but in most cases that water tank was there before any of the homes were put
there so the neighborhoods have built done built up around our tanks
which actually turns out good for us because our our customers are very good
at keeping their eyes and ears open for any
kind of suspicious activities that might be going on so we appreciate them
calling in and letting us know and and tanks are pretty
quiet neighbors most of time too so it’s a good reciprocal
um brian olney as mike mentioned our director of water quality we’ll be
talking a little bit later about um some of these sites that have two
tanks on them and why that is um this one is in the fletcher hills
area just south of fletcher parkway on aldewich road
and to give a little graphical representation of how our system works
and why we use reservoirs in our system just here’s a demonstration of how
elevation works and converts into water pressure
so uh you see in the the graphic on the left we have a column with one foot of
water in it and based on the weight of that water
and how gravity affects it at the bottom of that water column you have about a
half a psi so when you translate that to our
distribution system and how we deliver water
if we have a tank situated at roughly 140 feet above a residence
that’s providing 60 pounds of pressure to to that residence which is just about
ideal for residential use we try to get in that range in our system we range
anywhere between 35 psi upwards of north of 100 psi
anything more than that you typically we try to stay away from because it causes
problems with with too much pressure inside the resident’s homes but anyway
this is really the the main way we deliver pressure is through gravity
to give a graphic representation of that
this is our flagship treatment plant the rm levy treatment plant in lakeside in
the upper left corner you can see lake jennings
and in the bottom left corner there is a the main storage reservoir that
stores all of the treated water from the treatment plant
and this is just a a way for us to show really how our system works
so i’m from this tank it stores about six million gallons of water
the most efficient way is just to deliver that through gravity and goes
right to our customers homes because of our topography we aren’t able
to deliver all the water in our system through this gravity system so we have
to introduce pump stations to homes that are situated at higher elevation
than this particular reservoir so we do that through a pump station and we’ll
pump that up to a secondary storage tank this tank is so you’ll see it later in
another slide but this is the south rim tank and from there we introduce a new
pressure system at a higher hydraulic gradient in our
system to deliver water to those homes higher up
and when we have high homes in between this pressure system and the gravity
system we can install another piece of equipment called a pressure reducing
station that can deliver intermediate pressure and when we have homes in certain
situations that are higher in elevation than our highest
storage tanks and when we have the situation we can
put install a hydro tank where we pressurize this vessel with compressed air
and we can actually artificially create a higher hydraulic gradient
to homes that are at the very highest elevations
within helix’s system might kind of alluded to
the the assets that we have we have um two main
storage reservoirs 21 pump stations we pump to 21 potable reservoirs and
from that we have 26 different pressure zones and
four hydro tanks that sit higher above in our system
and when you look at it from a technical standpoint this is this is what the
graphic we use in our system to get a snapshot of
where all of our tanks and pump stations sit in
relation to one another and so there’s bonus points at the end of this
presentation if anyone can tell me where the tank is uh located helix three
tank the very highest one where that one’s situated within helix’s district um
now i’d like to show a few of the different types of materials that we’ve
used in our distribution system uh and related to tanks um back in the day
they used to use what was available and that was redwood
and you can see in this picture we have a
steel reinforced redwood tank uh you can see the
the hoop straps reinforcing that redwood
and you can also realize that probably a lot of maintenance that went into
keeping these redwood tanks going so back in 1959 this was removed and
replaced with a steel tank um the next genesis was concrete tanks
and back in 1958 we had several concrete tanks that were installed
you can see this one lasted about 45 years and
most of them have been replaced at this point because back in 1958 we didn’t
have the seismic requirements we do now so we needed to replace these to upgrade
the current seismic standards these tanks are
steel tanks and they’re actually a very unique situation on the left we have the
helix’s storage tank and on the right is padre dam storage tank
um steel is used very frequently as modern day tank construction material
these particular tanks are interesting because um these
were relocated in the mid 90s as a result of the construction of interstate
125 that you know connects from the uh 52 down to or 50 yeah 52 down to the 8.
and um so when that went through we had to relocate the these two tanks
and uh we we used some innovation we partnered with padre down
municipal water district our neighboring district to the north of us
and we constructed a um two tank the tank within a tank uh
system we call it the combo tank and so padre needed to deliver lower
pressure so they have the water in the bottom of the
tank and helix needed to deliver higher pressure so we have that
the mushroom shaped portion on top if you’ve ever driven down the 125 and
you’ve looked to the east by grossmont college you’ve you’ve seen it um
and uh i’ve got a few more photos here so the photo on the left
is padres portion of this tank and the photo on the right
shows them hanging those beautiful stainless steel clouds on the upper
portion which is owned by helix and a lot of people you know have a lot
of opinions about this tank it’s fairly controversial but from an engineering
standpoint it’s quite remarkable um this this rusty looking tank
was actually the built in by design to look like this because this type of
steel they used is called corten steel whereas with regular carbon
steel it rusts and crowds and and falls apart
corten steel actually has a property where it rusts
and then it passivates which basically is it stops corroding so
it translates into a very low maintenance highly efficient tank structure um
and the the plan was for it to over time to
turn from rusty to a nice brown color which as you see in this photo it is today
so again you might have an opinion about it but from an engineering standpoint
it’s quite remarkable um other ways we get
creative with our tanks as mike said you don’t even know they’re there
is we designed some of our facilities and tanks to look like homes to fit into
the surrounding neighborhood this particular tank is in the mount
helix area near forte drive so again you’ve probably probably never
noticed it but you’ve probably driven right past it
and mike i’ll let you take it away and introduce brian’s video
yeah once you go ahead and close your screen
introduce brian only our director of water quality [Music]
helix water district maintains 26 different water tank sites
to supply water to our customers today we’re at one such site to go through
different aspects of tanks how they operate and how they’re maintained
the site we’re at today has two water tanks typically larger service areas
with higher demand will have more than one tank the benefit of multiple tanks
on a water site is the ability for the district to accommodate maintenance
activities during that time one tank can remain in
service while the other tank is taken out of service
this allows the customers to continue to be supplied under normal operation
tank sites are placed where they can provide water to certain service areas
the location of the tank sets a hydraulic gradient
that gradient sets the pressure levels to the customers that we feed
when the tanks are sized they include peak demand flows that would be needed
to sustain fire flows for a certain amount of time so although the
water storage that are in these tanks may be more than just what the customers
are using if the fire department had to hook up
and pull water for two or three hours the tanks are sized to have that much
capacity to continue that flow typically tanks are filled by the use of
a pump station or they can be gravity fed directly from their treatment facility
at this facility this tank is filled by a pump station
that pump station kicks on and supplies flow into the distribution system
whatever flow is not needed in that distribution system
will flow into this tank to raise the elevation
when that tank elevation is full that pump station turns off
and then this tank then now returns water to the system for any demands that
the customers may have tanks provide additional reliability and
efficiency in the operation of the system without tanks a pump station would be
required to run 24 hours a day seven days a week 365 days a year with a tank
that pump station fills the tank and then shuts off that reduces the amount
of electrical consumption ultimately reducing the cost
operation staff control the operation of the tanks
through our computer system they can set the cycle parameters of the tank
and control when the tanks are going to fill
typically tanks will be set to to run between a certain elevation
for example the tank will get down to a certain elevation let’s say 40 percent
pumps will kick on the tank will fill back up to 90 percent
variability throughout the year will change how they operate the tank
for example in winter when demands are lower we’ll reduce that operation time to
maintain water quality in the tank and in the distribution
system in the summer or during periods of fire season
those elevations will be increased so that there’s more water available
when it’s needed tanks are a critical piece of
infrastructure and it’s important to protect them
there’s several layers of security at a tank site
to protect the tank itself for example we limit
access to the tops of our tanks by removing ladders that would provide easy
accessibility when our crews need to access the sites
we have to use equipment that has the ability to lift them to the top of the
tank all of these security features are meant to protect the tank
and maintain water quality and safety for our customers
tanks are just like any other equipment in the water system
they must be repaired inspected and maintained
tanks can be drained and entered through hatches like this
to do cleaning and inspections and sometimes tanks can be entered when
they’re in service by inserting divers through the top of the tank
or using remote control camera or video equipment
tank inspections are aimed at looking at the interior coating
and making sure the overall structural integrity of the tank is in good
condition items that are identified are relayed to our engineering department
and then capital projects are put on the books to come back
and address those issues an inspection program
helps us maintain tanks longer repair of interior structures
and coatings ultimately increases the lifespan of the tank
reducing the overall cost to the customer tanks are a critical component
maintaining an efficient and reliable water system
this helps us ensure the continued delivery of safe
and healthy water to our customers 24 hours a day
seven days a week 365 days a year okay thank you brian brian of course is
with us live tonight uh and he was very gracious enough to
work with public affairs on site at the tunnel hills tank earlier this week
appreciate that brian so at this point we’re gonna hand it back to tim
to wrap my discussion yeah so uh just to kind of put a bow on
the the tank discussion as brian mentioned when we do identify
issues and we’ll talk about this more about how we do that um then
the the products get turned over to the engineering department where we
will assess whether the tank can just get a renewal a full rehabilitation or
total replacement so um this particular picture is a construction photo of that
homeless tank that i showed at the beginning
and as you can see by the the magnitude of this construction um we much
prefer to uh renew what’s already there than having to
do a full replacement like this but that particular tank like i mentioned was
seismically inadequate so it had to be fully replaced
um here’s the interior photo of the johnstown tank that i showed earlier
um tank floats are a common way we assess the interiors
and um one thing to to note is that really
the the most um the most part of a tank that requires the most maintenance is
the roof structure because of how corrosive that environment is it’s
hot and humid and um there’s uh not much protect
except for that coating so this is where we do most of our inspections
um here’s a picture of our crews entering the tank with our raft
to get in and do that tank float and inspect the the roof of that tank
brian also mentioned one other method we use for inspections is
having a certified diver go inside the tank and do an underwater inspection
here’s a picture of the closed circuit circuit video of that diver inside one
of our tanks and then lastly another common way is to fully drain the tank
and get a look and erect scaffolding so we can look at every
component of the interior of the tank the picture on the left is actually that
fletcher hills combo tank i talked about and the person in the yellow suit is
standing on top of padres dam’s tank he’s inside of helix’s portion of that
mushroom cloud on top um and the picture on the right is our
el cajon tank situated at the south end of El Cajon valley
when we uh get inside of a tank and we identify that the
the tank structure itself is in good shape really all we need to do is
take off the old coating and fix the minor repairs and put a new coating on
there this particular tank again is the johnstown tank i mentioned
in lakeside near lake jennings we also take the opportunity to evaluate whether
or not a new color is appropriate so you can see here what a little
tlc and renewal of coding will do um this project
it took approximately a year but it should actually extend the life of this
facility by decades another type of project we do is when
the the tank shell and foundation itself look okay but the roof
doesn’t look good we’ll go and we’ll rehabilitate that tank and take the roof
off it and put a more advanced aluminum geodesic dome
roof on it that’s more corrosion resistant
this is our south rim tank and the roof you can see is in very poor condition
due to all that corrosive environment so we took the top off of it extended
the shell up and put a brand new geodesic roof on it with a new coating on the
the tank shell um this facility again is
as good as if we would have replaced the entire tank and will last for decades
um and an upcoming project we wanted to highlight as long as we’re on the air
here is we have a new project coming up in the
lakeside area just kind of north of uh old highway 80 on greenfield
in between greenfield and los coaches it’s called tunnel hill tanks it’s
uh got a twin tank system like brian was talking about
and we’re planning on rehabilitating this system to
replace the coating on the big tank and put a new aluminum dome roof on that so
here we see some mock-ups of what that will look like in the future
so just wanted to close with the fact that um as i mentioned the beginning
tanks are just one component of our system that delivers
waters to our customers there’s a very comprehensive master plan that we have
um we look at every facet of our system to make sure that that water keeps
flowing to our customers uninterrupted nonstop i appreciate your time and at
this point i will turn it over to the michelle curtis and our q a
thank you tim yeah i think we have have received some questions we do we
actually got an answer to one of the questions mike that you posed
earlier in the presentation so let’s go ahead and start with that question first
um and that was which tank is the highest elevation wise in your system
and before we get an answer from our group here um we had
a guest by jason on facebook that um it says the largest tank but i
believe he meant the highest tank is located under the cross on mount helix
so would someone like to take that answer because it looks like we have the
correct answer sure i’ll take that answer michelle so that is correct
so that would be our helix 3 tank it is located under the
cross up on the top of mount helix um the elevation levels is at 1368 feet
thanks brian and very good guest jason uh we have another question how many
miles does each gravity system feed i’ll take that one michelle so when we
talk about our gravity systems we generally speak
in terms of service connections or households that they serve
so when you look at our gravity system quite a large portion of the district
service area is fed via gravity from the treatment plant and the clear well
that tim presented on it goes all the way from
lakeside to feeds folks all the way down into lemon grove it equates to about
50 percent of our population over that 50 square mile service area
when you look at the auxiliary pumping zones that we have which we have
dozens of them they range in services from 10 services up to 33 000 services so
it’s a quite a variation of the services of the various
systems feed through that network of over 700 miles of pipe that
mike spoke about thank you kevin and this is not a question but a comment
and it looks like jason also heard that students from
grossmont college did the stainless steel cloud artwork
would anyone like to touch on that i can answer that
um i had the pleasure of working on that project years ago
and we did we partnered with grossmont college and their art students
industrial arts students and they came up with a design and fabricated them
at the college and the contractor we had on board installed them
carlos and a question from carl is there any schedule for replacement of the
helix 2 tank yet i can speak on that um so that tank um
is under design consideration and it is part of our master plan that tim
mentioned in his presentation um so but it’s still several years out
um but um we are looking at doing that i believe it is in the 10-year at this
point in time so over the next 10 years we’ll be addressing that site
thanks brian and that leads us into another common question we get which is
does the district plan to build any new tanks in the service area
i can take that question as well so at this point in time our district’s what
they consider built out so we don’t have any proposed new
service errors that require complete new
construction of a tank for a new service zone however as tim showed during his
presentation as we evaluate either to rehabilitate repair or replace
tanks that are already in service that does come as a consideration
and there are some like the homelands tank and in fact
the helix 2 tank will be under consideration for a complete replacement
as well during that time so nothing brand new for a service area but
we do consider full replacement or brand new tanks as part of our rehabilitation
or capital master plan thanks brian and it looks like that’s
all the questions we’ve received on facebook
um so i think with that i’ll turn it back over to mike to wrap it up
okay well thank all of you who came tonight and thank everybody from the
helix executive team uh for coming and helping us out tonight
and uh with that i think we will wrap it up uh we would please know that we will
take tonight’s video and make it available on uh i think facebook twitter and on
our website so if you missed it tonight of course you’re not
hearing this but if you missed it tonight you’ll be able to see it in the future
so thanks everyone good night


About Helix Water Chats

Started in 2019, our Water Chats series provides customers with an in-depth look at what we do. These smaller “chats” focus on single water-related subjects like distribution, supply, meters and infrastructure. We started doing Water Chats on Facebook Live in July to allow customers to participate during the pandemic.

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