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Federal Cash Arrives for San Diegans Drowning in Water Bills as Shutoffs Resume

Thousands of San Diegans are struggling to pay their water bills as shutoffs resume across much of the state. Experts fear the burden will only get worse as the cost of water continues to soar, driven in part by ongoing historic drought.

However, federal emergency cash is now providing temporary relief for many low-income residents — up to $2,000 for unpaid water bills.

Helix Water District Adds Zero-Emission Truck to Sustainability Efforts

The Helix Water District has expanded its ongoing sustainability efforts with the addition of its first all-electric, zero-emission, Ford F-150 Lightning pickup truck.

“Converting public and private fleets to zero-emission trucks is a big part of the governor’s plan to have five million zero-emission vehicles in California by 2030,” said Helix Water District Director of Operations Kevin D. Miller. “This is a small step, but Helix is heading in the right direction.”

Helix Water District Board of Directors in the district’s new all-electric, zero-emission, Ford F-150 Lightning pickup truck. Driver’s seat: Board President Kathleen Coates Hedberg. Backseat: Director Dan McMillan. Back of the truck: Directors Joel Scalzitti, De Ana Verbeke and Mark Gracyk. Photo: Helix Water District sustainability

Helix Water District Adds Zero-Emission Truck to Sustainability Efforts

The Helix Water District has expanded its ongoing sustainability efforts with the addition of its first all-electric, zero-emission, Ford F-150 Lightning pickup truck.

“Converting public and private fleets to zero-emission trucks is a big part of the governor’s plan to have five million zero-emission vehicles in California by 2030,” said Helix Water District Director of Operations Kevin D. Miller. “This is a small step, but Helix is heading in the right direction.”

Left to right: Board President Kathleen Coates Hedberg, Director Dan McMillan, Director Mark Gracyk, Board Vice President De Ana Verbeke and Director Joel Scalzitti. Photo: Helix Water District

The district dispatches 80 light- and heavy-duty trucks throughout its 50-square-mile service area daily to maintain the district’s pipelines, pump stations, and reservoir tanks, and also in response to customer calls. Field operations crews drive up to 100 miles per day.

Electric truck fuels savings

The Ford F-150 Lightning has over a 200-mile range. Ordering the vehicle prior to recent manufacturer price increases and taking advantage of rebates offset the price difference between the electric and gas-powered models. Electric trucks are also anticipated to save maintenance costs due to fewer moving parts to replace than comparable internal combustion engine models.

Avoiding fuel costs generates more savings. The district’s light-duty gasoline trucks have a fuel efficiency of about 20 miles to the gallon and cost 25 cents per mile to drive. Thanks to the district’s power purchase agreements and other investments, the electric trucks will cost less than 10 cents per mile.

New vehicle latest milestone in Helix sustainability efforts

The Helix Water District partnered with SDG&E and received grant funding to install on-site charging stations at two of its facilities. Photo: Helix Water District sustainability

The Helix Water District partnered with SDG&E and received grant funding to install on-site charging stations at two of its facilities. Photo: Helix Water District

Helix began transitioning to a sustainable fleet in 2017 when it replaced inefficient light-duty work trucks with seven Toyota Prius plug-in hybrids. The hybrids are 400% more fuel efficient than the trucks they replaced. The district also partnered with SDG&E and received grant funding to install on-site charging stations at two of its facilities.

“We welcome our first fully electric work vehicle,” said Helix Water District Board President Kathleen Coates Hedberg. “The technology has come a very long way, and zero-emission trucks benefit the cities and communities we serve by reducing operational costs, improving air quality, and reducing our environmental footprint. Whether developing new water sources or advancing toward a cleaner fleet, I am proud of the district’s sustainability efforts.”

In 2020, the district switched from diesel to renewable diesel, resulting in decreased emissions, particulates, and a noticeable increase in vehicle performance.

Additional sustainability efforts include:

  • Solar panel arrays at the Helix Operations Center in El Cajon
  • Purchasing electricity through California’s Direct Access Program
  • Pumping and moving water at night when electricity rates are lowest
  • Retrofitting facilities to reduce HVAC costs
  • Partnering with SDG&E to install charging stations for Helix and employee vehicles
  • Purchasing Toyota Prius vehicles with state and federal rebates

Each of these programs reduces energy use and reduces costs, which helps reduce operational costs for Helix Water District customers.

(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.)

Helix Water District Gets $18 Million Loan for Water Reuse Projects

The Helix Water District has received an $18 million loan from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to support the Drinking Water Reliability Project. Helix will use the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, or WIFIA loan, to increase the region’s drinking water resiliency by expanding water reuse opportunities and reducing the reliance on imported water.

Helix Water District-WIFIA loan-EPA-Water reuse

Helix Water District Gets $18 Million Loan for Water Reuse Projects

The Helix Water District has received an $18 million loan from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to support the Drinking Water Reliability Project. Helix will use the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, or WIFIA loan, to increase the region’s drinking water resiliency by expanding water reuse opportunities and reducing the reliance on imported water.

The WIFIA loan will help fund infrastructure improvements for the East County Advanced Water Purification Program, pump station upgrades and cast-iron pipeline replacement throughout the district.

Developing new drought-proof water supply

“In California, we are purifying recycled water and ocean water to replace the water that nature used to provide,” said Helix Water District Board President Kathleen Coates Hedberg. “The only way we can afford to keep rates as low as we can and develop these new projects is through collaboration – multiple agencies working together and securing capital from multiple funding sources. We are partnering with neighboring agencies to develop a new, drought-proof water supply and we are so pleased that the EPA selected our project for funding.”

$18 million loan helps recycled water efforts

Specifically, Helix Water District will modernize existing pump stations, conveyance infrastructure, and distribution pipelines as well as install an aeration system in Lake Jennings to meet state surface water requirements.

By completing the project, Helix Water District will replace 30% of its water needs that are currently met by regional sources with an alternative source of purified water conveyed from the East County AWP, which received a separate WIFIA loan. This project also supports California’s Title 22 “Pure Water” objective to increase use of recycled water by at least 2 million-acre-feet per year by 2030.

Scheduled to be complete in 2026, the East County AWP will generate up to 11.5 million gallons per day of purified water— meeting approximately 30% of current drinking water demands for East San Diego County residents and businesses.

As a result of the WIFIA program’s flexibility and competitive rates, Helix Water District will save approximately $3.2 million by financing with a WIFIA loan. Construction and operation are estimated to create nearly 400 jobs.

“Future of water in the West”

“Helix Water District’s project represents the future of water in the West,” said EPA Deputy Assistant Administrator for Water Bruno Pigott. “EPA is proud to help finance these infrastructure upgrades that will increase water reuse and help secure reliable safe drinking water for generations to come.”

Established by the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act of 2014, the WIFIA program is a federal loan and guarantee program administered by EPA. The WIFIA program’s aim is to accelerate investment in the nation’s water infrastructure by providing long-term, low-cost supplemental credit assistance for regionally and nationally significant projects.

(Editor’s note: The Helix Water District and the Padre Dam Municipal Water District are two of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies that deliver water across the metropolitan San Diego region. Water agencies in north San Diego County also received federal funds recently to support water recycling projects.)

‘It Puts Us In a Predicament:’ New East County Water Chief Reflects on his Biggest Challenges

When Brian Olney started in the water industry nearly three decades ago, it seemed nobody paid attention to what he and his colleagues were doing.

“The general consensus was: Water fell from the sky, it shows up in our faucet, no one wants to hear anything from the water agencies,” Olney said. “That has changed dramatically.”

Make Landscape Trees a Priority During Drought

As the unprecedented drought continues to affect California and the San Diego region, homeowners can still balance the need to conserve water as efficiently as possible while preserving valuable landscaping, including trees. Trees can be maintained while following California’s water guidelines.

Even the strictest drought restrictions allow for watering trees on residential and commercial properties. Photo: Helix Water District landscape trees

Make Landscape Trees a Priority During Drought

As the unprecedented drought continues to affect California and the San Diego region, homeowners can still balance the need to conserve water as efficiently as possible while preserving valuable landscaping, including trees.

Trees can be maintained while following California’s water guidelines. Trees are among the most valuable investment in San Diego County’s landscape – including your own WaterSmart landscaping. No other landscape plant offers more significant benefits to your landscape and the environment. Trees provide much-needed shade and cooling to increasingly hot neighborhoods and cities and are among the most efficient natural ways to remove harmful carbon dioxide fueling global warming.

When mature trees die due to lack of irrigation, they become a dangerous fire hazard. They are expensive to remove. Young replacement trees take many years to provide the benefits of mature trees. Taking care of your trees during drought ensures a tremendous return on this investment.

Long, deep soaks maximize irrigation use

Even when not in an acute drought, trees planted in a Mediterranean climate often need some additional water. Mimic the way Mother Nature provides water for the most effective irrigation.

Healthy tree roots reach three to four feet deep at the outer edge of a tree’s branches, where rainfall would naturally run off leaves. This area at the edge of the tree canopy is called the drip line.

Prolonged, slow soaking

When it does rain, Mother Nature’s rainfall is primarily steady, slow, and spread out. Follow this method to deliver a prolonged, slow soaking. Trees prefer infrequent deep watering. During drought, slow watering every two or three weeks for more established trees is sufficient. Avoid runoff with multiple cycles to allow water to soak deeply. Irrigate early in the morning to minimize evaporation.

Keep in mind turf competes with your trees for water. Even if you want to retain some lawn, it’s smart to remove the lawn immediately around your trees and replace it with WaterSmart landscaping.

Protecting trees from climate change

Carefully selected trees are the most valuable addition to your sustainable landscaping. Photo: Helix Water District landscape trees

Carefully selected trees are the most valuable addition to your sustainable landscaping. Photo: Helix Water District

Drought is a reality in the San Diego region as average temperatures increase. As summer months become hotter, soils dry out. Trees must be deep watered to supply their roots and preserve their health.

San Diego forestry and landscaping professionals are working with the San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies to help protect our region’s trees while also conserving water. Find more resources and learn more at drought.katestrees.org.

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WaterSmart Living-Logo-San Diego County Water Authority

(Editor’s Note: The San Diego County Water Authority and its 24 member agencies offer programs, resources, and incentives to improve water-use efficiency for residential, commercial, and agricultural users. WaterSmart choices are a way of life in the region. Stay WaterSmart San Diego! For more water-use efficiency resources, go to WaterSmart.SD.org. 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.)

Helix Water District Names Brian Olney New General Manager

The Helix Water District Board of Directors appointed Brian Olney as the organization’s new general manager, effective September 1, 2022. Olney was previously the Assistant General Manager and before that, the water district’s Director of Water Quality and System Operations.  He has 28 years of experience in the water industry.

The Helix Water District is the San Diego region’s second largest water utility, after the City of San Diego. Its service area includes La Mesa, Lemon Grove, El Cajon, Spring Valley, and other unincorporated areas of the county, with a population of 277,000. Brian Olney

Helix Water District Names Brian Olney New General Manager

The Helix Water District Board of Directors appointed Brian Olney as the organization’s new general manager, effective September 1, 2022. Olney was previously the Assistant General Manager and before that, the water district’s Director of Water Quality and System Operations.  He has 28 years of experience in the water industry.

“Brian’s experience spans system operations, water treatment plant operations and maintenance, water distribution and construction,” said Helix Board President Kathleen Coates Hedberg. “He’s been a member of the executive team since 2016, and he is knowledgeable about local and regional water issues. Brian is a leader and will make a smooth transition into the general manager role.”

“I am honored to be the next general manager of Helix Water District,” said Olney. “We provide an essential service to hardworking people, who expect us to do our jobs correctly and efficiently and provide clean, safe water at a reasonable price. I agree with that, and we meet and exceed those expectations every day.”

Summer job leads to water industry career

Brian Olney has been named General Manager of Helix Water District, effective Sept. 1, 2022. Photo: Helix Water District

Brian Olney named General Manager of Helix Water District, effective Sept. 1, 2022. Photo: Helix Water District

Olney, a native San Diegan, grew up in East San Diego County, and now lives in Santee with his wife, Brenda. He earned an associate’s degree in water science technology and is a graduate of San Diego State University, where he earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in public administration.

A summer construction job introduced Olney to a career in the water industry.

“I quickly realized how rewarding it was and embraced the public service aspect. It is truly enjoyable to meet customers and explain what we do or help them through an issue,” said Olney.

Olney worked in field operations for Lakeside Water District and as a water system operator for Otay Water District before joining Helix in 2000 as a water treatment plant operator. Olney maintains Grade 5 certifications from the California State Water Resources Board in water treatment and water distribution, the highest level of certification with ongoing education requirements.

Olney will oversee second largest water utility in San Diego County

Serving 277,000 customers, the Helix Water District maintains 16,892 valves and 56,504 water meters. Photo: Helix Water District Brian Olney

Serving 277,000 customers, the Helix Water District maintains 16,892 valves and 56,504 water meters. Photo: Helix Water District

The Helix Water District is the San Diego region’s second largest water utility, after the City of San Diego. Its service area includes La Mesa, Lemon Grove, El Cajon, Spring Valley, and other unincorporated areas of the county, with a population of 277,000. The Helix regional treatment plant also supplies water to Otay Water District, Padre Dam Municipal Water District, and Lakeside Water District in addition to its own customers, a total population of 500,000. Olney will oversee 150 employees and manage the FY2022-23 budget of $108 million.

“We are fortunate at Helix,” said Olney. “The board of directors are actively involved in the community and serve the district and our customers very well. Our employees are qualified, compassionate, and dedicated. I will continue to reinforce our values, and our goals and objectives, and we will work through the challenges we face.”

(Editor’s note: The Helix Water District, Otay Water District, Lakeside Water District and Padre Dam Municipal Water District are four of the San Diego County Water Authority’s 24 member agencies that deliver water across the metropolitan San Diego region.)