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Virtual Reality Video Tour for East County Water Project

A new 360-degree virtual reality video tour takes viewers through the planned East County Advanced Water Purification facilities. Participants are immersed in a guided tour of water facilities, where they can control their view by moving their computer mouse or smartphones to any direction in the video they want to see.

Viewers with a virtual reality headset for smartphones can take engagement one step further by stepping into the video.

Pure Water Oceanside-Drought-Water Shortage-Water Supply-Drought

Water Conservation Helps San Diego Regional Supply During Drought

Water conservation is a way of life in the San Diego region, whether during drought periods or wet years. While the region is in drought like much of the Southwest U.S., San Diego County is not experiencing a water shortage. That’s because the Helix Water District, and the other water utilities serving the region, have worked together for 25 years to conserve water and invest in new water resources.

The San Diego County Water Authority, its 24 member agencies, and the water ratepayers of San Diego County, have made investments to increase water supply reliability.

June 2021 was the hottest June on record in the U.S.

High temperatures make drought conditions worse. The hotter it is, the faster water evaporates from soil and transpires from plants. This is why urban landscapes, crops and forests dry out and the risk of wildfires increases. The map below shows all of the wildfires currently burning throughout the West.

Map from InciWeb

InciWeb map shows current fires burning across the U.S. West.

On July 8, Governor Newsom declared a drought emergency everywhere except Southern California

The Governor called for all Californians to voluntarily reduce their water use by 15%, but only declared a drought emergency in the counties in red in the map below. That’s because communities in central and northern California are more likely to rely on a single river, creek or well for their water and are more vulnerable to drought. It’s drier in Southern California and water agencies have been developing multiple water resources to meet water supply needs for more than 100 years. Today, this approach helps protect the region against drought and water shortage.

Map from Cal Matters

On July 8, 2021, Governor Newsom extended his drought emergency declaration to include all 50 counties in central and northern California.

In the San Diego region, water utilities work together to develop water supply

Helix and other water utilities in San Diego depend on the San Diego County Water Authority to import water from the Colorado River and Northern California.  When residents and businesses pay their water bills, their water utility pays the Water Authority for the imported water they use. Then, all the water utilities meet at the Water Authority and decide how to invest that money in water resources. By pooling our money over the last 25 years, we invested $3 billion and developed projects no single utility could afford on its own.

San Diego County Water Authority board meeting photo from Water News Network

Board members from member agencies work together as the board of the San Diego County Water Authority.

San Diego residents use half the water they used in the 1990s

Residents and businesses in the region have reduced their water bills by installing water efficient plumbing fixtures, appliances, landscapes and irrigation, and have taken advantage of rebates to save money. Today, San Diego County residents use half the water they used in the 1990s. As a result, water utilities have been able to reduce the size and cost of new water projects. Conservation eases demand when there is a water shortage due to drought or emergencies.

Water efficient landscaping at The Water Conservation Garden

Water efficient landscaping at The Water Conservation Garden.

Water supply from the Colorado River

In 2003, the Imperial Irrigation District agreed to sell up to 200,000 acre feet of water annually to the San Diego County Water Authority. Water used to irrigate crops was now available to San Diego homes and businesses, and just one acre foot of water can sustain up to four homes for a year. And, the Imperial Irrigation District has the most senior water rights on the Colorado River. If the Colorado River Basin states renegotiate how the river’s water is divided up, those senior water rights will help protect San Diego.

Colorado River photo from KUER Public Radio

Muddy Colorado River flowing through Utah.

Drought-proof water resources

In 2014, the Water Authority completed the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant to turn Pacific Ocean water into drinking water. It’s the largest desalination plant in the western hemisphere. Now, we’re focused on turning recycled water into drinking water by using reverse osmosis, just like at the Carlsbad plant, and other advanced water treatment technology.

New water supply projects underway

Helix is working with Padre Dam Municipal Water District, the city of El Cajon and the county of San Diego on the East County Advanced Water Purification Program, and the cities of San Diego and Oceanside are developing “Pure Water” programs.

Reverse osmosis cannisters at the Carlsbad Desalination Plant. Photo from Poseidon Water

Reverse osmosis canister arrays at the Carlsbad Desalination

More space to store water

The more water we can store during a wet year, when a lot of rain and snow falls on California and the Colorado River Basin, the more water we have available in a dry year. Diamond Valley Lake, which Metropolitan Water District of Southern California filled in 2002, stores enough water for Southern California for six months. With the construction of Olivenhain Dam and the raising of San Vicente Dam, we have an additional six month water supply just for the San Diego region.

San Vicente Dam photo from the San Diego County Water Authority

San Vicente Dam.

(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 metropolitan San Diego region.)

Padre Dam Named Utility of the Future Today

Padre Dam Municipal Water District’s leadership in the development of water reuse as well as its strong workplace culture received national recognition with a 2020 Utility of the Future Today award. The award honors substantial excellence in the operation of water sector services.

“We are honored to be recognized as a groundbreaking agency in the area of water reuse,” said Allen Carlisle, Padre Dam general manager and CEO. “This distinction highlights our ongoing commitment to innovative improvements in service of our customers.”

East County Advanced Water Purification Joint Powers Authority JPA Logo

East County Advanced Water Purification Program Receives $86 Million in Funding from Metropolitan Water District’s Local Resources Program

July 15, 2020, Santee, Calif. – The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s Board of Directors recently approved the East County Advanced Water Purification Program for its Local Resources Program, providing approximately $86 million in funding for this important water supply project.

Helix Water District's R.M Levy Water Treatment Plant

Water Recycling Project to Expand San Diego Region’s Local Supply

A water recycling project that will purify treated wastewater into drinking water for East San Diego County is moving toward its completion date after the Helix Water District Board of Directors authorized the signing of water purchase agreements.

The East County Advanced Water Purification Project is a collaborative, regional effort to diversify the district’s water portfolio and provide a drought-proof supply. The  water reuse project will further enhance reliability by purifying treated wastewater using Lake Jennings and other facilities.

The Helix Water District Board of Directors authorized its General Manager to sign water purchase agreements for the East County Advanced Water Purification Project at a special meeting on May 27.

Water recycling project ‘investment in water supply reliability’

The $681 million project, led by the East County AWP Joint Powers Authority, will recycle daily wastewater flows from Santee, El Cajon, Lakeside, Winter Gardens and Alpine. Treated water will undergo membrane filtration, reverse osmosis and advanced oxidation to produce water that is near-distilled in quality.

The purified water will be piped into Helix’s Lake Jennings before undergoing additional processing at the district’s R.M. Levy Water Treatment Plant and then distributed as safe, clean drinking water.

“I’m looking forward to the development of this project and I believe it’s an investment that strengthens our district’s water supply reliability and security,” said Helix Water District Board President Mark Gracyk. “This is a great example of what can be accomplished by working with our neighboring agencies.”

Water reuse will reduce dependence on imported water

East County AWP project water will reduce east San Diego County’s dependence on imported water by almost 30% once full operations begin in 2026. The project will create a local supply for the East County at about the same cost as what Helix pays now for imported water, according to the Helix Water District.

San Diego County water agencies, including Helix, Padre Dam, and the cities of San Diego and Oceanside, are developing or expanding water recycling projects. Diversifying local supply sources remains a priority for the San Diego County Water Authority. Imported sources, including water from the Colorado River and State Water Project, can be cutback during times of drought.

“The project was conceived by JPA members as a way to reduce rising wastewater costs for their customers,” said Helix Water District General Manager Carlos Lugo. “For Helix to participate, the project had to make financial sense for our ratepayers as well. By expanding our local supply, the East County AWP project water will help ensure that we are better able to navigate future droughts.”

The 30-year purchase agreements establish the cost and quantity of water that Helix will purchase from the East County AWP JPA under the proposed project.

Agency collaboration on sustainability

East County Advanced Water Purification Project-Visitor Center rendering-June 2020-Helix

An artist’s rendering of the new East County Advanced Water Purification Facility. The water recycling project is a partnership between Padre Dam MWD, Helix Water District, San Diego County and the City of El Cajon Graphic: Courtesy Padre Dam Municipal Water District

Helix and the JPA members – Padre Dam Municipal Water District, San Diego County Sanitation District and the City of El Cajon – have been working together to evaluate the ECAWP plan since 2014. Each JPA member has until 2021 to make a final decision on the feasibility of the project and participation.

Helix has invested $850,000 and significant board and staff resources to study the feasibility of the project, including a tracer study with Scripps Institution of Oceanography to learn how water moves and mixes in Lake Jennings.

“We are committed to exploring sustainable projects that benefit our customers,” said Gracyk. “The ECAWP project will be a great complement to our other ongoing investments in regional water supply projects, such as the Carlsbad Desalination Plant, to ensure we have enough water to meet demand.”

Supervisors Back East County Water Recycling: 15 Million Gallons Daily

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors Wednesday unanimously approved a service agreement for a major drinking water recycling project in East County.

East County Advanced Water Purification is a regional project that includes the county Sanitation District, Padre Dam Municipal Water District, the city of El Cajon and Helix Water District. Those entities are also part of a joint powers authority, which was formed last November.

The agreement covers the amount of wastewater capacity and financial obligations for the Sanitation District, city of El Cajon and the Padre Dam district.

Padre Dam Water Board Approves Raise for General Manager

The five-member Padre Dam Municipal Water District Board has approved a 4 percent salary increase for its General Manager and CEO Allen Carlisle.

Carlisle, who started with the district in February 2011, saw his annual salary rise to $258,554, effective Dec. 29. The approved new rate is just over $124 hourly. With benefits, Carlisle will earn nearly $368,000 to oversee Padre Dam’s water, wastewater and recycled water, as well as recreation services at Santee Lakes.

Helix Continues to Evaluate Local Drinking Water Project

On Nov. 5, Padre Dam Municipal Water District, city of El Cajon and County of San Diego formed a Joint Powers Authority to serve as the governing body for the East County Advanced Water Purification project.

A Helix Water District representative will serve as an ex officio, nonvoting member of the JPA board. “The JPA board will be focused on the wastewater side of the project. Our role in the project if it moves forward, is on the drinking water side,” said Helix Water District General Manager Carlos Lugo.

Helix Water Continues To Evaluate Local Drinking Water Project

On November 5, Padre Dam Municipal Water District, city of El Cajon and County of San Diego formed a Joint Powers Authority to serve as the governing body for the East County Advanced Water Purification project.  A Helix Water District representative will serve as an ex officio, non-voting member of the JPA board.

“The JPA board will be focused on the wastewater side of the project. Our role in the project if it moves forward, is on the drinking water side,” said Helix Water District General Manager Carlos Lugo.

East County Advanced Water Purification Joint Powers Authority JPA Logo

Joint Powers Authority Formed to Govern East County Advanced Water Purification Program

On Tuesday, November 5, 2019, appointed representatives from Padre Dam Municipal Water District, City of El Cajon and County of San Diego held the formation meeting of the East County Advanced Water Purification Joint Powers Authority (JPA) to serve as the governing body for the East County Advanced Water Purification project. The creation of the JPA marks a key milestone in moving forward the project that will create a new, local, sustainable and drought-proof drinking water supply using state-of-the-art technology to purify East San Diego County’s recycled water. In its initial action, the Board elected Gary Kendrick, representing the City of El Cajon, to serve as Chair of the JPA for the first year. Supervisor Dianne Jacob, representing the County of San Diego, was elected as Vice Chair. August Caires, representing Padre Dam, serves as the third member of the JPA Board.