The Helix Water District received the 2023 San Diego County Taxpayers Association (SDCTA) Golden Watchdog Award in Municipal and Educational Services for the District’s Tunnel Hill tanks project. The project resulted in a $6.3 million cost savings for its customers.
“It’s a mindset at Helix,” said Helix Water District Board Vice President Dan McMillan. “From the board to our frontline workers, we all keep an eye on cost control. We are good stewards of public funds.”
SDCTA’s annual Golden Watchdog and Fleece Awards recognize the best and worst in local government decision-making, public spending, and efficiency.
“The winner and finalists this year reflected creative and innovative tactics when dealing with ongoing challenges and our homelessness crisis,” said Haney Hong, president and CEO of the Association. “Ultimately, the Awards Committee applauded cutting-edge resourceful solutions while criticizing poor planning and use of taxpayer dollars.”
Project Extends Lifespan of Water Tanks, Reduces Maintenance Costs
The original estimated cost to replace the Tunnel Hill tanks was $10 million. Rehabilitating the tanks instead was priced at $3.7 million. Alongside the cost savings, the project brought the Tunnel Hill tanks into compliance with new seismic standards. The improvements will extend the useful life of the tanks for another 50 to 60 years and reduce future maintenance costs.
The pair of tanks are located above Interstate 8 near the Los Coches freeway exit. These tanks play an important role in the water infrastructure system by storing and providing water to thousands of Helix Water District customers in Lakeside and El Cajon.
The project took two years to complete in several phases. The first phase of the project involved stripping the exterior of the smaller and newer, reinforced concrete tank. The new, natural concrete finish does not require paint and will reduce long-term maintenance costs.
Next, the larger steel tank received new paint and a corrosion-resistant aluminum dome roof. The height of the tank was extended by five feet to improve the tank’s performance and safety in an earthquake, especially to protect nearby neighborhoods. The exterior of the steel tank was recoated.
Both tanks received new interior coatings to prevent corrosion and were replumbed with flexible fittings to prevent breaks and keep the tanks connected during an earthquake.
Watch video of the Tunnel Hill Tank rehabilitation project in progress.
Vital Roles In Water Infrastructure
Tanks are the most visible parts of water infrastructure and play a vital role in supplying water for the daily needs of residents and businesses, as well as for emergencies. The Helix Water District operates and maintains 25 tanks across its 50-square-mile service area. Proactive rehabilitations are less expensive than the construction of a new tank.
Eight additional water storage tanks were inspected and repaired in 2022. In addition, as part of its proactive maintenance, crews replaced 11,560 feet of cast-iron pipeline and surveyed 14,728 feet of pipeline route for design.
“We are proud of our employees and the work we do every day. This (Tunnel Hill tanks) project is just one example,” Helix Water District Board Member Joel Scalzitti said to community and business leaders and elected officials when accepting the award at the Golden Awards event on behalf of the district.
(Editor’s note: The Helix Water District is one of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24
member agencies that deliver water across the San Diego County region.)