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Alexander Schultz, Otay Water District geographic information systems technician, operates a drone in front of a district water storage tank. Photo: Otay Water District

Drones Offer Water Agencies Cost, Safety Benefits

Water agencies across San Diego County are saving time and money while improving employee safety with drones.

Industry analysts say drone use by water agencies worldwide is growing. The Helix Water District, Otay Water District and the San Diego County Water Authority have embraced the technology, using drones to inspect and monitor facilities, and to map and survey inaccessible areas.

Helix used a drone in February to check rooftop air vents on a water storage tank in El Cajon, rather than send employees high in the sky to do it. The agency determined it was too risky for employees – even with safety equipment – and too costly to have staff inspect the vents outside the 120-foot-high Fletcher Hills Combined Tank.

“We continually look for ways to utilize technologies where appropriate to minimize facility down time and to keep staff safe,” said Carlos Lugo, general manager at Helix. “Drone technology is proving to be a useful and cost-efficient way to survey and keep the district’s facilities properly maintained.”

Drones provide a safe and cost-effective alternative for inspecting the condition of storage tank vents without placing employees at risk or taking the storage tank offline. Photo: Helix Water District

Drones provide a safe and cost-effective alternative for inspecting the condition of storage tank vents without placing employees at risk or taking the storage tank offline. Photo: Helix Water District

Helix uses drones to inspect interior roof supports of its water storage tanks. The supports are especially vulnerable to corrosion because they are constantly exposed to humidity and heat.

Drone image of a roof bracket inspection. Photo: Helix Water District

Drone image of a roof bracket inspection. Photo: Helix Water District

Inspecting the storage tank roof supports requires moving 30-foot-high scaffolding from one support to the next, a time-consuming and labor-intensive process. To cut down that time, Helix used a drone to get high-resolution images of the supports. The drone images showed which ones needed repair without moving the scaffolding to each support.

A drone helps reduce the need to move scaffolding to each bracket during inspections. Photo: Helix Water District

A drone helps reduce the need to move scaffolding to each bracket during inspections. Photo: Helix Water District

“Using drones for this type of inspection work is a simple, elegant and safe solution,” said Jim Tomasulo, Helix’s director of engineering. “We anticipate using drones for this and other purposes.”

Drone inspections of reservoirs, treatment plant

The Otay Water District also is finding drones useful to save money and improve employee safety.

After a two-year study and evaluation period, the district is now using two camera-equipped drones to assist with preliminary inspections of its water facilities in eastern and southern San Diego County, including 40 potable water reservoirs, four recycled water reservoirs, 20 pump stations and a recycled water treatment plant.

Drones Reduce Risk

Countywide, the Water Authority uses drones to monitor rights of way and to survey inaccessible landscapes.

When a drone was used to get images and video of steep terrain on the Second Aqueduct west of Interstate 15 and south of the San Luis Rey River, the images were 10 times higher resolution than stock aerial images. Using the drone also kept staff from being exposed to potentially dangerous conditions.

The Water Authority is also exploring using drones for future surveys and potentially at water transportation, treatment, and storage facilities, where cutting-edge technology is used to save ratepayers money.

Drones are helping the Water Authority monitor rights of way, particularly in areas of rugged terrain.

But the potential of drone use is not limited to visual photography of elevated water tanks and surveying remote areas.  Water quality monitoring is another potential application.

Water agencies can use drones with infrared cameras “to monitor water areas remotely at higher spatial resolution than ever before, at low cost and at any time,” Michal Mazur, with Drone Powered Solutions, told Waterworld.com in a recent article about the advances in drone use.

Helix Water District Logo Square

Helix Water District High School Photo Contest Winners Highlight Water in Everyday Life

La Mesa, Calif.—Local high school students were honored for their winning photos at an awards ceremony during Helix Water District’s special board meeting on March 20, 2019. Seventy-four students from four schools entered the annual high school photo contest, highlighting the importance and beauty of water in everyday life.

Helix Water District Logo Square

Helix Water District Approves $8 Million Pay-Down of Pension Liabilities

The Helix Water District Board of Directors approved on February 13, 2019 a one-time, $5 million payment in 2019 and an additional $3 million in payments over the next four years to reduce the district’s unfunded employee pension liabilities.

Helix Water District Logo Square

Helix Water District Launches 2019 Lake Jennings Spring Photo Contest

La Mesa, Calif.—Helix Water District has launched its eighth annual Lake Jennings Spring Photo Contest to share the beauty of its reservoir with the local community. The contest is open to photos taken at Lake Jennings between March 1 and May 31, 2019.

The Helix Water District received rebates of $5,500 from the State of California on each of the six Priuses purchased over the last two years. They average over 75 miles per gallon and the district expects to save an additional $1,000 per vehicle per year in avoided fuel costs. Photo: Courtesy Helix Water District

Helix Water District Is Going Electric

Representatives from the Helix Water District, San Diego Gas & Electric, and the cities of El Cajon, La Mesa and Lemon Grove on September 12 celebrated Helix’s new electric vehicle charging stations in conjunction with National Drive Electric Week and Electric Vehicle Day on September 15.

Helix installed 10 electric vehicle charging stations at the district’s operations center in El Cajon and 10 more at its administration office in La Mesa through SDG&E’s Power Your Drive program, which funded the equipment and installation.

Installing electric vehicle charging stations at its operations center and administration office is the latest cost control initiative undertaken by the Helix Water District. It received rebates of $5,500 from the State of California for each of six Toyota Prius automobiles purchase over the past two years. The vehicles average over 75 miles per gallon. The district expects to save an additional $1,000 per vehicle per year in avoided fuel costs. Integrating electric vehicles into the Helix vehicle fleet will accelerate when hybrid light-duty trucks become available.

But controlling costs isn’t the only motivation for going electric. Helix’s board of directors also wants its district to be part of the solution – to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to the sustainability of the communities it serves and the sustainability of California’s water resources.

The Power Your Drive program is for companies and their employees, and apartment and condominium complexes and their residents, and is part of SDG&E’s commitment to comply with Governor Brown’s goal of having 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles in California by 2025. SDG&E has installed more than 900 electric vehicle charging nozzles to date. The power utility’s goal is to install 3,000 nozzles at about 300 sites throughout San Diego County.

Controlling energy costs a priority for the Helix Water District

Front to back: Helix board president Kathleen Hedberg, Helix director Mark Gracyk, Lemon Grove councilwoman Jennifer Mendoza, Helix director Dan McMillan, El Cajon deputy director of public works Yazmin Arellano, SDG&E electric vehicle customer solutions manager Lianna Rios and La Mesa analyst Jenny Lybeck. Arellano and Lybeck manage their city’s climate action plan. Photo: Courtesy Helix Water District

Front to back: Helix board President Kathleen Hedberg, Helix Director Mark Gracyk, Lemon Grove councilwoman Jennifer Mendoza, Helix director Dan McMillan, El Cajon deputy director of public works Yazmin Arellano, SDG&E electric vehicle customer solutions manager Lianna Rios and La Mesa analyst Jenny Lybeck. Arellano and Lybeck manage their city’s climate action plan. Photo: Courtesy Helix Water District

Energy cost Helix Water District $2.2 million during the past fiscal year, primarily to pump water throughout the agency’s distribution system, which serves 275,000 people in El Cajon, La Mesa, Lemon Grove, Spring Valley and other unincorporated areas of the county.  Controlling energy costs, and their impact on water rates, is a priority for the district.

Helix maintains operations and design standards that reduce its energy demand during peak periods when energy prices are higher, and it purchases energy through the State of California’s Direct Access Program, saving an average of 18 percent on commodity costs. The district continually evaluates opportunities to replace aging infrastructure with energy efficient solutions. Smart building systems at each of the district’s facilities and a solar energy system at its operations center further reduce energy demands and costs.

The East County Water Festival offers a variety of water-themed, interactive activities for adults and children on Sept. 8. Photo: Courtesy Padre Dam MWD.

Celebrate the Future of East County’s Water at Sept. 8 Water Festival

Residents are invited to celebrate water at the East County Water Festival  from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 8 at the East County Advanced Water Purification Demonstration Project Visitor Center in Santee.

This free, fun-filled, water-themed event takes place for the first time this year. Members of the East County community as well as other interested San Diegans are invited to participate in interactive activities for adults and children.

Among the Water Festival’s highlights:

Visitors to the East County Water Festival on Sept. 8 can t, tour the East County Advanced Water Purification Demonstration Facility. Photo: Courtesy Padre Dam MWD

Visitors to the East County Water Festival on Sept. 8 can tour the East County Advanced Water Purification Demonstration Facility. Photo: Courtesy Padre Dam MWD

  • Tour the East County Advanced Water Purification Demonstration Facility to learn about the science of cleaning and purifying wastewater.
  • Enjoy free food and sample iced coffee using purified recycled water.
  • Participate in face-painting, take-home crafts and much more.

The event is hosted by the Padre Dam Municipal Water District. The Advanced Water Purification Program is a regional partnership with Padre Dam, Helix Water District, City of El Cajon and the County of San Diego. To sign up to attend and for location details, go to www.EastCountyAWP.com.

Interactive displays will interest kids of all ages at the East County Water Festival on Sept. 8. Photo: Courtesy Padre Dam MWD

Interactive displays will interest kids of all ages at the East County Water Festival on Sept. 8. Photo: Courtesy Padre Dam MWD

About the East County Advanced Water Purification Program and Padre Dam Municipal Water District

The East County Advanced Water Purification Demonstration Facility treats recycled water to create 100,000 gallons of purified water each day. The facility uses the same state-of-the-art technology that provides water to Disneyland and more than 600,000 Orange County residents. The Advanced Water Purification Program could ultimately produce up to 30 percent of the drinking water for residents in the Padre Dam Municipal Water District and Helix Water District water service areas.

Padre Dam provides water, sewer, recycled water and recreation services to approximately 100,000 residents in East San Diego County, including Santee, El Cajon, Lakeside, Flinn Springs, Harbison Canyon, Blossom Valley, Alpine, Dehesa and Crest. The district currently imports 100 percent of its drinking water supply and treats two million gallons per day of wastewater at its Water Recycling Facility. Go to www.padredam.org for more information.

Follow Padrre Dam Municipal Water District on Facebook or on Twitter @EastCountyAWP

 

 

Helix Water District Logo Square

Helix Water District’s Annual Water Quality Report Now Available For Viewing Online

La Mesa, Calif. – Helix Water District’s Water Quality Report for calendar year 2017 has been published and posted to the district’s website. A Spanish version is also available. The annual Water Quality report contains important information about the source and quality of consumers’ drinking water.

Helix Water District Names Winner of 2018 WaterSmart Landscape Contest

Helix Water District has named Carey Hultgren and Paul Geldbach of La Mesa as the winner of its 2018 WaterSmart Landscape Contest, an annual competition that recognizes outstanding water-wise residential landscapes based on design and overall attractiveness, appropriate plant selection and maintenance, and irrigation methods.

This 1930s Spanish-style home on Dutton Lane sits on a 0.67-acre lot and now uses 40 percent less water than it consumed a few short years ago. Over the two-month billing period ending this April, this home used just 14 units of water. One unit is 748 gallons.

Hultgren and Geldbach purchased the property in 2012 and, at the time, the only landscaping was dead sod, dying trees and a swimming pool. Rather than trying to rehabilitate the thirsty lawn, Hultgren and Geldbach slowly transitioned their property into a colorful, complimentary, and climate-appropriate landscape.

Incredibly, the two completed the design, installation and maintenance of their Spanish oasis on their own. “Yes, it has taken us a long time! But I believe the extra time spent has been worth the money we’ve saved and the pride of ownership we gained in the process.

Free WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Program Jump Starts Winning Project

The new award-winning front yard landscaping. Photo: Courtesy Helix Water District

Hultgren attended the San Diego County Water Authority’s free WaterSmart Landscape Makeover Program in 2015 and within a few months they were ready to break ground. Since then, this do-it-yourself duo has completed a great amount of work.

“We’ve installed 26 water-wise trees and countless drought tolerant plants. We continue to refine and add to the landscape every spare moment we have,” said Hultgren.

The work first involved clearing the land with multiple truckloads of dead plant material and then rebuilding the sun-scorched soil. They hauled in over 40 yards of compost and mulch to provide the new plants with nutrients and help the soil retain moisture.

Next on the list was irrigation for the new plants. Fortunately, the old lawn had an irrigation system. The couple retrofitted the system with efficient rotating nozzles and avoided the expense and labor of installing a completely new system.

Lastly, the couple carefully selected, arranged and installed the colorful, low-water-use plants. Now that the plants are established, Hultgren and Geldbach can turn the irrigation system off from late fall to spring with nothing but the occasional hand-watering in between.

“In fact, we deeply watered the Palo Verdes along the driveway the first year to get their root systems established and we haven’t watered them or the 20 octopus agaves…for about one and a half years! This spring, the trees have thanked us with a spectacular flower show.”

Efforts Pay Off  With Lowered Water Bill, More Colorful Landscape

The pool deck after the renovation.

Hultgren and Geldbach wrote in their contest application that, “It’s gratifying to see that our efforts to conserve water with careful plant selections, irrigation retrofitting and mulch maintenance has been paying off with a lower water bill than some of our neighbors, plus a more colorful landscape.”

As this year’s winners, Hultgren and Geldbach will receive the following prizes – a $250 gift card, a certificate, as well as a WaterSmart Landscape Contest winner’s sign to display in their yard.

Photos of Hultgren’s and Geldbach’s yard will appear in the winners section at landscapecontest.com, along with Helix Water District’s past winners and the winners from other local water agencies. Helix will also feature the couple and their landscape at hwd.com, the district’s own website.

2019 WaterSmart Landscape Contest Submission Information Now Available Online

The 2019 WaterSmart Landscape Contest will begin around January next year and the deadline for submissions will be in late April. Look for information about the 2019 contest at hwd.com, Facebook.com/HelixWater and Twitter at @HelixWater.

Helix Water District is responsible for providing a safe and reliable water supply for more than 275,000 people living in La Mesa, El Cajon, Lemon Grove and parts of Spring Valley, Lakeside and unincorporated San Diego County.