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.

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