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Eric Heidemann-Welcome-Board-City of Poway

Welcome to the Board: Eric Heidemann, City of Poway

Editor’s Note: This feature highlights new members of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 36-member Board of Directors. Each of the Water Authority’s 24 member agencies appoints at least one representative to the Board, which sets policy for the Water Authority.

Welcome to the Board: Eric Heidemann, City of Poway

Who: Eric Heidemann was seated on the Board of Directors on May 8, 2020, representing the City of Poway. Director Heidemann serves on the Imported Water and Engineering and Operations committees for the Water Authority.

Background/Education: University of Arizona, B.S. Business and M.S. Urban Planning

Water Industry Affiliations: 

City of Poway, Public Works Director

Metro Wastewater Commission JPA

American Water Works Association (AWWA)

American Public Works Association (APWA)

League of Californian Cities

Q & A

Q: How did you get interested in water issues?

A: I was born in California, raised in Arizona, and after graduating college – worked as a planner in Colorado.  I’ve spent my entire life in the Southwest. As a kid from Tucson, I lived through decade-long droughts and watched the Central Arizona Project (CAP) be constructed and deliver Colorado River water to southern Arizona.  That was a big deal back then.  In Colorado, I worked for a small town near Vail (at the headwaters of the Colorado River) and was responsible for managing development and the Town’s very senior water rights portfolio.  Currently, I’m the Director of Public Works for the City of Poway and responsible for, among other things, its water treatment and distribution systems.  I’m a product of the Southwest, and water has had a strong influence on my personal and professional life.

Q: What are your priorities or interests as a Board member?

A: My priorities as a Board member are to work hard, listen carefully, and add value wherever I can.  The SDCWA is a premier organization with excellent staff and strong administrative and financial policies.  I want to see that continue.  I don’t take the responsibly of being a Board Member lightly – I feel honored to work with some of the brightest minds in water.

Q: Besides maintaining safe and reliable water supplies, what do you see as the top three issues facing the San Diego region?

A:  Housing, transportation, and aging infrastructure.

Q: What do you like to do when you are not working?

A: Now that my kids are older I spend a lot of my free time running. Recently, I’ve been stretching myself by training for an ultra-marathon. It really helps me think, clear my mind, and reduce stress.

The Water Authority’s Board of Directors typically meets on the fourth Thursday of each month. The Board invites the public to attend its monthly meetings and to comment on agenda items or other matters before the Board. For meeting times, agendas and documents, go to www.sdcwa.org/board-directors.

Fallbrook Students Won’t Let Pandemic Stop 2021 “Be WaterSmart” Poster Contest

The annual “Be WaterSmart” student poster contest is a favorite tradition in many San Diego County classrooms, including elementary schools in the Fallbrook Public Utility District. In most years, 250 students submit entries, with the top submissions selected for publication. But 2020 wasn’t a typical year.

Sixteen determined Live Oak Elementary School students in Fallbrook made sure a 2021 "Be WaterSmart" calendar would be published despite the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Fallbrook Public Utility District Fallbrook students

Fallbrook Students Won’t Let Pandemic Stop 2021 “Be WaterSmart” Poster Contest

The annual “Be WaterSmart” student poster contest is a favorite tradition in many San Diego County classrooms, including elementary schools in the Fallbrook Public Utility District. In most years, 250 students submit entries, with the top submissions selected for publication.

But 2020 wasn’t a typical year. Remote learning challenges due to the coronavirus pandemic meant little time left for students and teachers to participate. Fallbrook PUD public affairs representative Noelle Denke normally visits every participating classroom in October for a fun, interactive water themed bingo game to teach students about water conservation and get their minds rolling on poster themes.

Fourth grade teacher Guillermo Acevedo loves the “Be WaterSmart” poster contest. Acevedo found a way to make it work and was the only teacher in the school district whose students participated. Photo: Courtesy Guillermo Acevedo

Fourth-grade teacher Guillermo Acevedo loves the “Be WaterSmart” poster contest. Acevedo found a way to make it work and was the only teacher in the school district whose students participated. Photo: Courtesy Guillermo Acevedo

Guillermo Acevedo teaches fourth grade at Live Oak Elementary School and loves the “Be WaterSmart” poster contest. His students have participated for 16 years, and he wouldn’t give up on the contest he loves. Acevedo found a way to make it work this year.

Thanks to Acevedo, 16 students submitted entries. They were the Fallbrook PUD’s only entries in 2021, and there were just enough to make the annual calendar come to life.

Teamwork plus creativity teaches valuable lesson

Jacqueline Rosas puts the finishing touches on her artwork, which was selected for the cover of the FPUD 2021 Be WaterSmart calendar. Photo: Fallbrook PUD

Jacqueline Rosas puts the finishing touches on her artwork, which was selected for the cover of the FPUD 2021 Be WaterSmart calendar. Photo: Fallbrook PUD

The annual contest is open to all fourth-graders in FPUD’s service area. Teachers play a key role in encouraging or requiring their students to enter. Fourth-graders are chosen because they have studied water conservation and the water cycle in earlier grades.

Since in-person classroom visits were not an option, and uncertainty remained whether students would return to the classroom soon, Denke wasn’t sure if there would be any participation.

“No participation means no calendar,” said Denke. “So I reached out to Mr. Acevedo to see if he had any ideas. Together, we brainstormed. We extended the deadline, made a video explaining the contest and sent it to all the fourth-grade teachers in the district.”

Live Oak Elementary School student Bruce Byrd. Photo: Fallbrook PUD

Live Oak Elementary School student Bruce Byrd. Photo: Fallbrook PUD

During a brief, two-week return to the classroom in January, Acevedo worked with his students to make their posters. All 16 submissions came from his class. All ended up being high-quality choices for inclusion in the 2021 calendar.

“This is by far my favorite contest,” said Acevedo. “As teachers, we are approached with so many contests. This one gives the kids the most recognition. They learn so much and have so much fun playing water bingo and then making their posters.”

Winning students and Acevedo were recognized at the Fallbrook PUD virtual board meeting February 22.

Fallbrook student calendar poster contest winners

First Place winning poster by Jaqueline Rosas. Photo: Fallbrook Public Utility District

First Place winning poster by Jaqueline Rosas. Photo: Fallbrook Public Utility District

 

Sixteen determined Live Oak Elementary School students in Fallbrook made sure a 2021 "Be WaterSmart" calendar would be published despite the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Fallbrook Public Utility District Fallbrook students

Second Place winning poster: Camila Palma. Photo: Fallbrook Public Utility District

 

Third Place winning poster by Liam Rafalski. Photo: Fallbrook Public Utility District

Additional winners include Bruce Byrd, Adrian Calderon, Edgar Campos, Annabella Cunningham, Brandon Garcia, Jocelyn Garcia, Tobin Marshall, Natalie Mendoza, Ryder Orozco, Evan Pellanda, Deisy Ramos, Ewny Sebastian, and Noah Varela.

Live Oak Elementary student Edgar Campos enjoys the creative process. Photo: Fallbrook PUD

Live Oak Elementary student Edgar Campos enjoys the creative process. Photo: Fallbrook PUD

This will be the first time the annual calendar will feature entries from just one class. It is also the first time FPUD will be producing an 18-month calendar. The free calendar can be picked up at Major Market, Northgate Market, Albertson’s, Joe’s Hardware, and the Fallbrook Chamber of Commerce.

Gary Croucher-Board Chair-San Diego County Water Authority-Primary

Local Water Agencies to Receive $44.4 Million Rebate

I’m so pleased report that yesterday the Water Authority’s Board of Directors voted to distribute a rebate of $44.4 million to its 24 member agencies across the region after receiving a check for that amount from the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to pay legal damages and interest.

The rebate resulted from the Water Authority’s decade-long rate case litigation in state Superior Court seeking to compel MWD to set legal rates and repay overcharges. The Water Authority won several critical issues in cases covering 2011-2014 and was deemed the prevailing party, which means the agency is also owed legal fees and charges in addition to the recent damages and interest payment from MWD.

The court rulings will also help avoid future overcharges and thereby minimize future disputes over MWD’s unlawful Water Stewardship Rate for transporting the Water Authority’s independent water supplies through MWD facilities. Those charges – if they had continued – would have cost San Diego County residents more than $500 million over the life of the Water Authority’s water delivery contract with MWD.

This day has been a long time coming. We never wanted to litigate these issues – but if we had not had the courage to do so, MWD would still be collecting the illegal fees and we would not have money to give back to local retail water agencies across the region.

MWD Overcharges-Rate Case-Rebates-Member Agencies

Conservation Corner-mulch-landcape-WaterSmartill you need? It depends on how you'll be using it in your sustainable landscaping. Photo: Phil Roeder/Flickr-Creative Commons License mulch master plan

Develop a Mulch Master Plan

How much mulch does your landscaping plan need? To develop your mulch master plan and answer this question, you first need to understand the job it will perform in different areas of your watersmart landscaping plan.

  • If you want to hold in moisture and keep down weeds: Use three to six inches of mulch on top of the soil
  • If you want to maintain your planting beds: Maintain two to four inches of mulch on beds at all times

Master Tip: Keep mulch one to six inches away from plant stems. When mulch crowds them, it can cause plants to rot due to moisture.

How much mulch do you need?

How much mulch do you need? First, decide how it will be used in your sustainable landscaping. Photo: Water Authority Different types of mulch

How much mulch do you need? First, decide how it will be used in your sustainable landscaping. Photo: San Diego County Water Authority

For accurate results, check these numbers:

  • Square footage of your landscaping
  • Thickness of your mulch cover in inches

Take your square footage, multiplied by mulch thickness, and divide this number by 12. The result is the amount of mulch you need in cubic feet.

Example: 891 square feet of land, multiplied by one inch of mulch, divided by 12 = 74.25 cubic feet of mulch.

Avoid these mulch types around plants

Inorganic mulches don’t decompose to feed your soil microbes and keep your plants and garden healthy and thriving. There are also some organic mulches containing dyes or other chemicals. Others such as shredded redwood take a very long time to break down.

Master Tip – These are the types of mulches you should use only in areas without plants:

  • Shredded redwood
  • Dyed wood mulch
  • Decomposed granite
  • Gravel
  • Rubber pellets

This article is part of a year-long series inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook available at SustainableLandscapesSD.org. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.

Water Utility Hero of the Week-Phil Stevens-Primary-Padre Dam MWD

Water Utility Hero of the Week, Phil Stevens, Padre Dam MWD

Editor’s Note: This feature highlights water utility employees in the San Diego region working during the coronavirus pandemic to ensure a safe, reliable and plentiful water supply. The water industry is among the sectors that are classified as essential. Phil Stevens, Padre Dam Municipal Water District Senior Lab Analyst, is the Water Utility Hero of the Week.

Water Utility Hero of the Week: Phil Stevens

Job/Agency: Padre Dam Municipal Water District Senior Lab Analyst

How did you become interested in working in the water industry?

After serving in the military, I decided to attend college majoring in Biology. Upon graduation, I began searching for a field that is intellectually challenging, has an important role in the community, and contributes a positive impact in the environment. I found a job announcement for a laboratory analyst at Padre Dam Municipal Water District. I was not very familiar with the water industry at the time, but after doing further research it seemed like it would be a great fit for me. I have now been in this field for 18 years and still find this career very rewarding.

How has your job changed during the pandemic?

As one would imagine, work done in a water quality laboratory cannot be done remotely. There have been staffing challenges when a member of the lab staff cannot come into work due to potential COVID-19 exposure or caring for a family member. Early on in the pandemic we also found it hard to get some of the supplies we needed.

How are you keeping safe?

I am keeping safe by following the health guidelines that have been established. My coworkers and I wear a mask and practice social distancing at all times and do our best to stay safe outside of work.

What are you most looking forward to after the crisis ends?

I miss my family and close friends very much and cannot wait to spend time with them. I am also looking forward to attending my children’s sporting events.

The Water Utility Hero of the Week highlights essential work performed during the COVID-19 pandemic by employees of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies.

Let Nature Be Your Guide: Compost vs. Mulch

You may not know the difference between compost and mulch, but your landscape soil does. Compost and mulch represent two different soil treatments with different advantages when used in a watersmart landscape plan.

Compost is made of organic matter such as food scraps, landscape debris, or livestock manure that have already been partially consumed and mostly decomposed by microorganisms. You cannot tell the original source of compost. Good quality compost brings the helpful OWL formula of oxygen, water, and life together in one package. It is used to amend your landscape soil by adding valuable nutrients it may be missing.

Mulch can be either organic or inorganic material that covers soil. Unlike compost, it’s not worked into the soil itself. Another difference is that the original recycled debris source of mulch is often identifiable. Mulch can be made from organic sources (grass clippings, leaf and yard litter, shredded wood trimmings) or inorganic sources such as gravel or decomposed granite (DG). Mulch is a soil topping.

Healthy, biologically diverse mulch contains microbes with the ability to “knit” the organic material together, forming a thick blanket. Mulch covers and protects the soil and plant roots from temperature swings, retains moisture by slowing down evaporation from the surface of the soil; and keeps weeds from sprouting by reducing sunlight penetration to the soil surface.

Top Tips for Using Compost

Compost the right way, including using compost as mulch to prevent erosion and help soil filter pollution. Photo: Ben Kerckx/Pixabay

Compost can be purchased, or it can be homemade. The compost-making process, or composting, involves creating the optimal conditions for the microbes to do their transformative work.

When compost looks like soil, you can work it directly into the soil. When compost is more coarse or has visible bits of the original materials, it is more likely used on top of the soil instead of as an incorporated soil amendment worked in.

Compost works in several ways. The compost itself contains particles that improve soil structure. Next, as compost decomposes in the soil, it encourages the formation of soil macroaggregates. These macroaggregates are composed of existing soil particles and decomposed organic matter, which combine to create a more stable and better functioning soil structure.

Top Tips for Using Mulch

Mulch builds soil structure over time and holds in moisture. Photo: Monsterkoi/Pixabay compost

Mulch builds soil structure over time and holds in moisture. Photo: Monsterkoi/Pixabay

Mulch always sits on the surface of your soil. It is never worked in. Recycled organic material is the most effective type of mulch because it builds soil structure over time. It creates a durable, protective barrier.

The smaller the debris pieces are, and the more mixed the organic pieces are, such as leaves with wood chips, the faster it decomposes. When building your soil, small mixed mulch is best. When compost is made from course materials like decomposed granite, you can also apply it to the top of your soil as mulch.

Artificial and inorganic mulches (DG, gravel, rubber chips) are mainly decorative. They do not contribute to soil life or plant health. They are best used in limited applications, such as creating natural pathways.

To learn more about your soil, sign up for Soil & Site Assessments virtual workshop.

This article is part of a year-long series inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook available at SustainableLandscapesSD.org. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.

Water Conservation Garden-#FreeDayFriday-conservation

Water Conservation Garden Growing Strong With New #FreeDayFriday Program

In a normal year, The Water Conservation Garden in east San Diego County provides resources and education for 88,000 children and families annually. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, meeting the Garden’s mission took a little extra effort and creativity.

To remain open after its initial closure and re-opening in June 2020, the Garden now charges a small admission fee. Thanks to the new #FreeDayFriday initiative, supported by a donation match through the Rice Family Foundation, more than $60,000 in contributions now allows the Garden to offer free admission on the second Friday of each month, starting February 12.

“We can now create #FreeDayFriday so every person in the community, no matter their ability to pay, can enjoy all the Garden has to offer,” said Jennifer Pillsbury, Water Conservation Garden executive director and CEO.

The Garden continues operations under safety modifications

Outdoor fitness classes including yoga are popular at The Garden. Photo: The Garden

Outdoor fitness classes including yoga are popular at The Garden. Photo: The Garden

Since its reopening to the public on June 16, the Garden continues to offer programs with modifications under California health and safety guidelines due to the pandemic, including limiting visitor admissions and requiring masks.

The Garden’s series of fitness and wellness programs remain on site, including outdoor bodyweight workout classes and yoga sessions. Classes take place mornings and evenings, including a family yoga program for kids. The full schedule is available on the Garden’s new website.

Pam Meisner, AKA Ms Smarty Plants, offers The Garden's elementary school education program virtually. Photo: The Garden (screenshot)

Pam Meisner, AKA Ms. Smarty Plants, offers the Garden’s elementary school education program virtually. Photo: The Water Conservation Garden

The Garden’s elementary school education program featuring Ms. Smarty Plants is now available online for grades K-2 and 3-6, including full lesson plans and video. Safely distanced Family Field Trips are also available for schools, homeschool groups, and individual classes.

“Our garden, not only is it an educational site, but we have classes that coincide with how to make what you see at our garden happens, where to buy the supplies, and how to do it,” said Pam Meisner, director of operations and education and founder of the Ms. Smarty Plants program. “We are the go-to place in San Diego for sowing beauty with low water use plants.”

“We can’t survive without water. But people don’t value that. One of our reasons being here is to show them the value of water and make that part of your life,” added Meisner.

Classes on sustainability, gardening, and art are currently offered online. Professional one-on-one phone or video consultations on water harvesting, and how to set up, retrofit, and maintain your irrigation or landscape are available by reservation through the website at thegarden.org/consultations

To support the Garden through the ongoing #FreeDayFriday program, visit FreeDayFridays.org.

A task force of water agencies and municipalities conceived the Water Conservation Garden in response to six years of drought in San Diego County.

Otay Water DistrictHelix Water District, and Cuyamaca College kick-started the effort in 1990. By 1992, the San Diego County Water AuthorityCity of San Diego, and Padre Municipal Water District joined the effort, forming the original Water Conservation Authority.

The following year, the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District approved the establishment of a 4.5-acre Water Conservation Garden adjacent to Cuyamaca College.

San Diego County Water Authority-Tish Berge-Assistant GM

Tish Berge Joins Water Authority Executive Leadership Team

Veteran water industry executive Tish Berge is joining the San Diego County Water Authority as assistant general manager, bringing experience from every aspect of water utility management to serve the region. Berge is currently general manager of the Sweetwater Authority, one of the Water Authority’s 24 member agencies. Berge starts her new role February 22 alongside Deputy General Manager Dan Denham and General Manager Sandra L. Kerl.

“Tish is a respected leader in San Diego County who understands the needs of retail water agencies and the communities we collectively serve,” said Kerl. “Her knowledge of all aspects of the industry will enhance our mission both day-to-day and over the long-term. I look forward to collaborating with her even more closely in her new role.”

Tish Berge led Sweetwater Authority to “District of Distinction” award

As general manager of the South Bay-based Sweetwater Authority since 2017, Berge led the agency to a “District of Distinction” award from the Special District Leadership Foundation for demonstrating sound fiscal management policies and practices. Only 2% of special districts receive that honor. Working with the Sweetwater Board and community, she deployed a new 5-year rate structure and associated award-winning outreach campaign to smooth rates and provide financial sustainability.

Before joining Sweetwater, Berge served as director of administration and finance at the Escondido-based Rincon del Diablo Municipal Water District, where she implemented a 10-year financial model to inform policy decisions related to debt issuance, Capital Improvement Projects, and rates. She also moved the organization to a two-year budget practice, allowing for longer-term planning and cost savings. Prior to her time at Rincon, Berge was the assistant general manager at the San Elijo Joint Powers Authority in Cardiff, where she oversaw administration, finance, operations, maintenance, and laboratory staff.

Tish Berge-Water Authority Assistant General Manager-leadership team

“While it saddens me to leave the Sweetwater community, I’m delighted to continue serving ratepayers across our great region as part of the Water Authority team,” said Tish Berge, who joins the San Diego County Water Authority as assistant general manager on Feb. 22. Photo: Sweetwater Authority

“While it saddens me to leave the Sweetwater community, I’m delighted to continue serving ratepayers across our great region as part of the Water Authority team,” said Berge. “This is both an exciting opportunity and a critical responsibility to help the Water Authority maintain its proud tradition of reliability and innovation that sustains 3.3 million people and a $245 billion economy.”

Berge earned a Bachelor of Science in Engineering from Harvey Mudd College and a Master of Business Administration with an emphasis in Finance from the Paul Merage School of Business at UC Irvine. She is also a Certified Special District Manager and Registered Professional Engineer.

Her appointment fills one of two executive positions left vacant by the Water Authority since April 2019 as part of the agency’s ongoing strategy to combat upward pressure on water rates outside the agency’s control.

Irrigation-Soil-roots-Conservation Corner your plants, use a soil probe. Photo: Karolina Grabowska/Pexels soil probe tips

Soil Probe Tips for Success

Knowing how to use a soil probe as an important soil management tool will support your effort to create a healthy, thriving landscape full of beautiful plants.

You need to first know as much as possible about your soil to understand your irrigation needs. Irrigation is critical to keep your landscaping green and growing. But more isn’t better. One way to easily gauge your landscape’s needs is to use the Jar Test.

Another helpful tool is a soil probe. A soil probe lets you determine a lot more information about the soils in your landscaping. It will give you information about whether your irrigation is successfully reaching the roots of your plants, or even if it soaks in too deep past the reach of plant roots.

If you don’t understand your individual soil profile, you can’t plan effective irrigation. When there is variability in the conditions across your landscape, you may have different types of soils from one area to another or from a surface layer of soil to a deeper layer.

A good soil probe will help you figure out when your irrigation water has reached the right depth for the plants in your landscaping. It is a simple process with the right tools.

How to use your soil probe

Use a soil probe to test how well irrigation dispenses into your landscape. Photo: Courtesy University of Florida/Creative Commons soil probe tips

Use a soil probe to test how well irrigation dispenses into your landscape. Photo: University of Florida/Creative Commons

When your soil is moist, a soil probe should go into the ground easily, without a lot of effort. Your soil probe will stop when it hits hard, dry dirt, and won’t go further. But your soil probe could also be hitting rock, so you may want to reposition it just a few inches away and try again.

If you are confident you’ve hit only dry soil, put your fingers around the probe at the soil surface, and pull it out. Measure the depth in inches to learn how deep your irrigation will penetrate into the soil.

To properly irrigate your plants, understand the depth of their roots. Trees send their roots much deeper into the soil than shrubs, and shrubs have deeper roots than bedding plants like annual and perennial flowers or vegetables.

Most plants will do fine as long as the top foot of soil (12 inches) is filled with water when you irrigate. Shrubs should be irrigated to a depth of two feet (24 inches), and trees irrigated to a depth of three feet (36 inches).

You can purchase a soil probe at any general hardware store or gardening center. A basic soil probe costs between $30 and $80, but there are high-tech probes costing up to $300.

To learn more about your soil, sign up for Soil & Site Assessments virtual workshop.

This article is part of a year-long series inspired by the 71-page Sustainable Landscapes Program guidebook available at SustainableLandscapesSD.org. The Water Authority and its partners also offer other great resources for landscaping upgrades, including free WaterSmart classes at WaterSmartSD.org.