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Helix Water District Reduces Plant Upgrade Costs

When the Helix Water District received contractor estimates as high as $3.5 million to upgrade the R.M. Levy Water Treatment Plant’s ozone power supply units and generators, it decided to perform the upgrade in-house.

With Suez Water Technologies provided engineering and equipment, Helix employees incorporated new technology and innovative installation practices. The proof of concept pilot project proved the feasibility of the new approach, and a full retrofit is now planned. The estimated upgrade costs to complete the full project is $1.1 million – an approximately 70% cost savings. The upgrade will extend the life of the power supply units and generators at least 15 years.

A Helix staff member installs parts in the ozone generator. Photo: Helix Water District

Helix Water District Reduces Plant Upgrade Costs

When the Helix Water District received contractor estimates as high as $3.5 million to upgrade the R.M. Levy Water Treatment Plant’s ozone power supply units and generators, it decided to perform the upgrade in-house.

With Suez Water Technologies provided engineering and equipment, Helix employees incorporated new technology and innovative installation practices. The proof of concept pilot project proved the feasibility of the new approach, and a full retrofit is now planned. The estimated upgrade costs to complete the full project is $1.1 million – an approximately 70% cost savings. The upgrade will extend the life of the power supply units and generators at least 15 years.

Reducing upgrade costs saves ratepayers

“The ozone project is our latest example of cost-effective local government,” said Brian Olney, Helix Water District director of water quality and system operations. “In early 2020, Helix staff also standardized the design, hardware, and software of the motor control centers in the district’s 25 pump stations, and that project also saved our customers money, and created long-term operating, maintenance and purchasing efficiencies.”

Ozone treatment provides safe and reliable water to East County

The ozone generator at Helix Water District’s R.M. Levy Water Treatment Plant in Lakeside. Photo: Helix Water District

The ozone generator at Helix Water District’s R.M. Levy Water Treatment Plant in Lakeside. Photo: Helix Water District

The water treatment process at the R.M. Levy Water Treatment plant begins with the removal of dirt and other material suspended in the water. Ozone is then used to inactivate or destroy any organisms in the water. Ozone offers important advantages over chlorine:

  • Ozone destroys or inactivates a wide range of organisms in the water
  • Ozone needs little contact time with the water to be effective
  • Ozone produces fewer potentially harmful disinfection byproducts than other disinfectants
  • Ozone removes most of the smell and taste issues people associate with tap water
Helix’s ozone project team (pre-pandemic) in front of the rebuilt power supply unit.

Helix Water District’s ozone project team (pre-pandemic) in front of the rebuilt power supply unit. Photo: Helix Water District

Ozone is naturally unstable at normal atmospheric conditions, which is why Helix needs ozone generators to produce it on site. The high voltage generators break down oxygen molecules (O2) and form ozone (O3). The ozone molecules are then diffused in a contact chamber and bubble up through the water to destroy any organisms present.

After ozonation, Helix Water District filters the water and adds a dose of chloramines — chlorine and ammonia — to maintain water quality throughout its 737 miles of water distribution pipelines. The treatment process is managed by a team of highly trained plant operators who conduct 200 water quality tests per day. Chemists and biologists test water samples from both the plant and the distribution system as well.

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.”

Helix Water District Logo Square officers for 2021

Regional Collaboration on Water Purification Project Expands Local, Drought-Proof Supply of Drinking Water

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, 2020.

East County Advanced Water Purification Joint Powers Authority JPA Logo

East County Advanced Water Purification Program Moves Forward

May 22, 2020, Santee, CA – The East County Advanced Water Purification (AWP) Joint Powers Authority (JPA) Board of Directors unanimously approved water and wastewater service agreements this week, moving this significant drinking water project one-step closer to reality. These water and wastewater agreements are critical to the JPA’s eligibility for key Program financing opportunities.

History of Helix Water District on Tap Jan. 25

More than 130 years of local history will be shared as part of the Helix Water District’s behind-the-scenes “Water Talk” this month.

Helix customers will hear from the jurisdiction’s personnel how the need for a robust water infrastructure played in the development of East County and how the water district was formed in 1889 to meet that need.