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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.

For The West’s Drinking Water, Wildfire Concerns Linger Long After Smoke Clears

For many communities in the West, the water that flows out of kitchen faucets and bathroom showerheads starts high up in the mountains, as snowpack tucked under canopies of spruce and pine trees.

Another Agency Wrestles With a Weighted Voting Structure

How should power over water decisions in San Diego be divided?

Should the city of San Diego, which represents almost 40 percent of the region’s water consumers, have the most sway?

Or should smaller cities be on equal footing when the outcome of a decision could harm towns with less people and money?

That is the question facing San Diego County Water Authority once again, after the latest vote over a $5 billion duplicate pipeline to the Colorado River. Directors voted down spending $1.7 million more to study the project further, in raw numbers. Twenty of the agency’s 36 directors said no to the pipeline, and 14 said yes.

San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors Chair Jim Madaffer-primary-View from the Chair

Threat Emerges to Reduce Water Supply Reliability, Fracture Region

Thank you for your support over the past two years. It’s been an honor to serve as the chair of the Water Authority’s Board of Directors. While some may not realize it, this 36-member Board plays a critical role in sustaining San Diego County’s quality of life and economy.

And I’m pleased to say that this Board engages in the difficult discussions and decisions to make sure our children and grandchildren enjoy the same safe and secure water supplies that we enjoy today. Unfortunately, it’s also true that efforts are underway that would undermine decades of successful planning that has served our county well from Fallbrook to San Ysidro.

This week, the Water Authority filed a formal response to address a proposal by the Fallbrook and Rainbow water districts to detach from the Water Authority and annex into Eastern Municipal Water District in Riverside County. These proposals would increase costs for water ratepayers in San Diego County, reduce the county’s voting power, and decrease water supply reliability for farms and residents.

Our detailed filing with the San Diego Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) spells out how the Fallbrook and Rainbow detachment proposals contain significant areas of misleading or incomplete information that must be addressed before LAFCO and all of the interested parties countywide can understand the full scope of impacts that would be created by detachment. The LAFCO process is expected to take at least another year.

As proposed by Fallbrook and Rainbow, the detachments would allow Fallbrook and Rainbow to avoid paying for water supplies and infrastructure that have been developed in collaboration with those agencies and are currently being used by those agencies to meet their customers’ needs. Abandoning those cost obligations would force other ratepayers countywide to cover their portion of the bills already incurred for decades of investments in supply reliability.

Our agency’s analysis shows that detachment, as proposed, would reduce water reliability and increase risk for Rainbow and Fallbrook customers, create environmental impacts that haven’t been studied, and impair the successful long-term planning efforts that have served our county well. And it would give Riverside County water agencies more control over San Diego County’s water future, including water rate and property tax impacts. The Water Authority’s formal response to the Fallbrook/Rainbow reorganization proposals and related documents are at www.sdcwa.org/lafco-reorganization.

It’s critical that LAFCO and all the interested parties across San Diego County take the time to address the full scope of consequences created by these unprecedented proposals so we avoid unintended harm to our region. The Water Authority, its member agencies and regional planning agencies such as SANDAG have worked together for more than 75 years to provide this region with safe and reliable water supplies. Trying to turn back the clock now is a costly, difficult process with numerous impacts to Fallbrook and Rainbow customers and across the region.

As we transition to the new Board leadership in October, I trust that you will give incoming Chair Gary Croucher and Vice Chair Christy Guerin the same support that you’ve given to me over the past two years. And don’t forget that whatever the challenges, San Diego County is stronger together.

View From The Chair represents the viewpoints of Jim Madaffer, Chair of the San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors.

Water Agencies Plan to Abandon Costs, Reduce Supply Reliability

Analysis released today shows that proposals by the Fallbrook and Rainbow water districts to leave the San Diego County Water Authority and annex into the Eastern Municipal Water District in Riverside County would increase costs for water ratepayers in San Diego County, reduce the county’s voting power, and decrease water supply reliability for farms and residents.

Numerous financial, environmental and legal issues that affect property owners and water users across San Diego County are analyzed in the Water Authority’s formal response to the reorganization proposals filed today with the San Diego County Local Agency Formation Commission, known as LAFCO.

Pure Water Oceanside-US EPA loan-Water Recycling

Pure Water Oceanside Recycling Project Gets $69 Million EPA Loan

The Pure Water Oceanside project is getting a $69 million loan from the U.S. EPA that will finance nearly half of the project’s construction cost.

EPA officials announced the loan at an event today in Oceanside attended by federal, regional and local officials.

The innovative water reuse project will purify recycled water to create a new source of high-quality drinking water that is clean, safe, drought-proof and sustainable. It also will benefit the environment by reducing discharges into the Pacific Ocean. Construction and operation of the plant is expected to create 622 jobs.

Scheduled to be completed in 2022, Pure Water Oceanside will be the first operating advanced water purification facility in San Diego County. The project will provide more than 32% of the City of Oceanside’s water supply, or 3 to 5 million gallons per day.

Sustainability, drought-proof water supply

“The City of Oceanside is proud to be a leader in sustainability and water reliability,” said Oceanside Mayor Peter Weiss. “Pure Water Oceanside marks the next big step for our City as the project will safeguard against drought, reduce our dependence on imported water, and create an exceptionally pure drinking water supply.”

“I appreciate the U.S. EPA in their funding support as it is a critical aspect for Oceanside’s ability to continue to improve our local water supplies while minimizing our impact to our ratepayers,” said Weiss.

Loan supports infrastructure investments

“At the City of Oceanside, we are focused not only on today, but also are committed to planning for tomorrow to ensure future generations will have access to high-quality drinking water,” said Oceanside Water Utilities Director Cari Dale. “This loan will be instrumental in moving our Pure Water Oceanside project forward to completion and aligns with our long-term goal to have 50% of our city’s water supply be locally sourced by 2030.”

The Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) loan to help finance the Pure Water Oceanside Project comes at a critical time, as the federal government, EPA, and water industry work to offset the public health and financial impacts of COVID-19.

The Pure Water Oceanside project is estimated to cost $158 million, and the WIFIA loan will finance nearly half of that cost, according to the EPA. The remaining project funds will come from a combination of grants, water system revenue backed obligations, and system funds.

“EPA’s support for this project illustrates two agency priorities as we work to meet 21st century water demands — reusing the water that we have and revamping our nation’s water infrastructure,” said EPA Assistant Administrator for Water David Ross. “With WIFIA’s support, Pure Water Oceanside will be a landmark project as EPA looks to foster additional innovative water reuse strategies and infrastructure investments across the country.”

Pure Water Oceanside-EPA Loan-Water Recycling

“I am proud and excited for the City of Oceanside and everyone who has worked so hard on the Pure Water Oceanside project,” said Congressman Mike Levin, who represents north San Diego County. “Now more than ever, it’s critically important that we diversify our water supply. Thanks to Pure Water Oceanside, the City of Oceanside, and this EPA loan, we are one step closer to achieving that independence. This is an extraordinary milestone and will make a huge difference for countless families in North County.”

National Water Reuse Action Plan

The water reuse benefits of the project highlight commitments made under the National Water Reuse Action Plan—a collaborative effort and the first initiative of its magnitude aimed at strengthening the sustainability, security and resilience of our nation’s water resources. The Action Plan frames the business case that water reuse is a viable and growing means of supporting our economy and improving the availability of freshwater for farmers, industry, communities, and ecosystems.

“By improving water infrastructure, we are improving the quality of life and public health in our communities,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator John Busterud. “Through the WIFIA loan program, EPA is happy to support the Pure Water Oceanside Project in ensuring access to clean and safe drinking water for decades to come.”

Environment Report: Why Your Water Bill Might Spike

San Diego’s water utility is preparing to absorb a five percent spike in rates this year despite cries from elected officials to freeze costs during a global pandemic.

Why? The blame often gets passed up the proverbial pipeline.

About three-quarters of San Diego’s drinking water comes from the Colorado River via pipes and aqueducts controlled by the Metropolitan Water District, based in Los Angeles. Since it controls much of the lifeline, it’s often blamed for an increase in rates and that’s partially what happened this year.

San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors Chair Jim Madaffer-primary-View from the Chair

Charting a Long-Term Water Strategy for San Diego County

During my nearly two years as chair of the Water Authority’s Board of Directors, I have seen firsthand the regional benefits of decisions made by our predecessors to secure water supply reliability. I cannot count the number of times I have been thankful for all the board members, regional stakeholders, staff and supporters in decades past who wrestled with challenges and made tough decisions to invest in big ideas and projects. From water supplies and water storage to pipelines and water treatment, these decisions have resulted in water supply security for our region.

While the prudent plans of the past benefit current and future generations, we must continually grapple with the uncertainties of the future given the decades-long lead time for major infrastructure projects. One of my mantras as Board chair has been to focus not just on today, but the next 25, 50, and even 75 years. We know that new infrastructure investments will be necessary, and they take time to plan and build. The challenge is how best to balance the costs, benefits, and uncertainties.

Regional Conveyance System

That’s why more than a year ago, our Board authorized a technical feasibility study to look at whether building our own conveyance system to transport our locally controlled regional water supplies from the Colorado River Quantification Settlement Agreement (Imperial Valley) could be cost-competitive with other options. The initial findings, released in June, confirm that is the case and offer a preview of what would be needed to build a conveyance system for meeting the region’s long-term water needs.

In coming months, the Board will decide whether to move the study to the next phase. This next phase will look in-depth on financing and costs – and more importantly mutually beneficial partnerships designed to reduce costs of improving regional water management. These partnerships might include joint ventures with Water Authority member agencies, the Imperial Irrigation District, Mexico, agriculture, the State of California through its Salton Sea Management Plan, tribal governments, renewable energy developers, public-private partnerships and more.

Currently, Water Authority staff is reviewing a second independent analysis of the June study, sponsored by some of the Water Authority’s member agencies. It is vitally important that we take the time to digest new information and different perspectives, and perhaps incorporate their suggestions in the next phase of our study, especially as we look toward a project of this size and magnitude that will be paid for over many generations.

Even after reviewing the voluminous data, I expect that there will be a variety of opinions about how to proceed. We all recognize that it is inherently difficult to forecast both costs and benefits over several decades for this project or any other, which is why we have taken measured steps.  Should the study move to the next stage, the process will include many future off-ramps for the Board in case better alternatives emerge.

At every stage, our Board should be committed to a thoughtful, fulsome assessment, never shying away from the need to cooperatively, collectively and civilly engage on these important questions with real benefits – and perhaps consequences – for our children and grandchildren. This is fundamental to the civic process, and critical to charting our region’s course as we have been doing for more than 75 years at the Water Authority.

View From The Chair represents the viewpoints of Jim Madaffer, Chair of the San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors.
San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors Chair Jim Madaffer-primary-View from the Chair

Good News: Hundreds of Millions of Dollars Approved for Local Water Projects

I’m pleased to share some good news for our region. You will recall the Water Authority was recently awarded $15 million in state grants for several water supply projects throughout the county. Earlier this week, we also secured approval of more than $115 million for local water supply projects in San Diego County through the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. That brings the total to nearly $500 million since we successfully challenged in court MWD’s imposition of an illegal contract clause barring our region’s participation in MWD’s funding program. Unlike state grants, MWD’s program is funded by its member agencies, including the Water Authority, in the water rates and charges we pay to MWD.

Kudos to our member agencies for their strong applications and to MWD’s Board of Directors for approving them. It is an affirmation of our ongoing efforts to collaborate with MWD and to address shared challenges.

Local water projects, along with the Water Authority regional supplies, are key components of our region’s long-term supply reliability strategy. A few months ago, we worked with Fallbrook Public Utility District, the City of San Diego and the City of Oceanside to secure MWD program funding for their projects.

The two most recent successes are:

  • Up to $91.8 million was awarded to the East County Advanced Water Treatment Plant. It will meet up to 30% of East County’s drinking water demands (approx. 13,000 acre-feet of water per year) and eliminate the discharge of 15 million gallons of partially treated wastewater into the Pacific Ocean.
  • Up to $23.4 million was awarded to the Membrane Filtration Reverse Osmosis Facility in the City of Escondido, which will provide up to 3,280 acre-feet per year of advanced treated recycled water to irrigate farmland.

Now that San Diego County agencies can compete for – and win – Local Resources Program funding, the Water Authority is taking actions in court to voluntarily dismiss certain related legal claims against MWD. We hope to soon have prompt resolution of our remaining litigation issues, and to work with the other MWD member agencies to create a strategic plan, a financing plan and a rate structure that are fair to ratepayers across Southern California.

View From The Chair represents the viewpoints of Jim Madaffer, Chair of the San Diego County Water Authority Board of Directors.

Pipelines Assessed in Record Time with Latest Technology

The San Diego County Water Authority’s asset management team recently celebrated the completion of a comprehensive condition assessment of more than 27 miles of the agency’s oldest pipelines. The assessment was performed in record time over just 16 months.