Cleantech San Diego is a nonprofit organization that fosters collaboration between companies, government agencies and universities in the San Diego region to encourage investment in the technologies needed to make cities sustainable.

The nonprofit’s 100-plus members include the region’s universities, many of its cities and the likes of Qualcomm and Cisco, Ernst & Young and the Toronto Stock Exchange, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and venture capital firms, and a number of technology and energy startups.

Two water utilities are also members — Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the largest water utility in the United States, and Helix Water District. I asked Helix Facilities Manager Joe Garuba, who helps support sustainability initiatives within the district, to explain.

Joe, why did Helix join Cleantech?

Our board asked us to join over the summer and we did. Cleantech’s meetings are a good place for conversations on how to leverage advancing technologies to achieve sustainability in the region. They are the crossroads of the private sector, education, utilities and government, and they have established themselves across the region.

You and Helix Director of Operations Kevin Miller presented recently at Cleantech’s board of directors meeting. Why?

They asked us to present because we are at the front of the curve on water agency sustainability. We can also serve as a technical resource for the other members and provide opportunities for proof-of-concept projects. Since Cleantech members represent a variety of businesses, Helix has an opportunity to share its expertise with a broad cross-section of organizations.

Helix is seen as a regional leader in water. We bring a lot to the table from the water world, because we manage and operate both water treatment and water distribution systems. Engaging with Cleantech also helps fulfill our mission statement – to be a progressive industry leader. This means not just setting the bar but moving it forward in a cost-effective manner.

Helix Water District Energy Use

2017 Energy Consumption kWh – 12.9 M Total Usage

What were the key points of your presentation?

We recognized that there would be a lot of large companies at the meeting and many didn’t know that Helix has been around for 100 years, or that we are the second largest water agency in the region. We wanted to highlight our longevity and proven track record and reinforce that as a government agency, we set standards of excellence in public service and will continue to do so for decades to come.

We explained how this region’s water supply is managed collaboratively: that retail water agencies like Helix are member agencies of the San Diego County Water Authority, which is a member agency of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. And, we discussed our coordinated, multi-agency efforts to shape the regulations that come out of Sacramento.


Helix Water District Electricity Use Down 25%

Energy Consumption kWh

Finally, we talked about our approach to sustainability and the water/energy nexus. Ninety percent of Helix’s electric bill is for the treatment and movement of water.  We outlined how we actively manage our energy use – how we fill our reservoir tanks at night, for example — to reduce our burden on the power grid and to minimize the rates and charges we pay; our installation of a solar panel array at our operations center in El Cajon; and our increasing use of hybrid electric vehicles.

Even though the state of California has mandated that cities reduce their energy use, there is no similar mandate for water agencies. We wanted Cleantech member companies to understand that Helix is proactively pursuing energy efficiency to reduce the cost of water for our customers and are setting the standard for other water agencies to follow.

The Water/Energy Nexus

According to a November 2018 report from the Public Policy Institute of California, about 20 percent of all electricity use in California and 30 percent of the natural gas used in homes and businesses is related to water use. This is the nexus between water and energy.

The PPIC’s diagram below explains the nexus. What may surprise you is that moving billions of gallons of water from Northern California to Southern California accounts for just 10 percent of water’s energy use, and we use four times that much energy heating water in our homes. The takeaway is that conserving water also conserves energy, and that reduces carbon emissions. We have step-by-step instructions on our website to help you get started.