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Archive for the ‘Helix Water District’ Category

Helix Water District may close the tap on the El Monte Valley Project

Posted by George J Janczyn on September 4, 2011

This Wednesday September 7 the Helix Water District Board of Directors will consider a staff recommendation to suspend the El Monte Valley Project. The project is a groundwater recharge and recovery operation that would generate 5,000 acre feet of water per year using an advanced recycled water purification process known to water professionals as Indirect Potable Reuse (IPR).

The eastern part of El Monte Valley. El Capitan reservoir and dam are around the bend to the right. The greenery heading down the valley marks the course of the San Diego River. The valley grows considerably wider with distance from the reservoir.

The purification process for potable reuse includes micro-filtration, reverse osmosis, and UV disinfection. San Diego is also developing an IPR project through the Water Purification Demonstration Project at the North City Water Reclamation Plant.

The Helix project has (or had) a lot going for it.

Whereas Helix currently meets 3.3% of its demand for water from local resources, the project would increase that figure to 15%. For all practical purposes, it would create a permanent drought-proof water supply for 15,000 families according to the project’s FAQ — and there would be a corresponding decrease in imported water purchases. Wastewater discharges to the Pacific Ocean would also be reduced.

Another project component would be to mine about 12 million tons of sand from the valley over a 10-year period and sell it to to help fund the project. Much of the sand was deposited by the San Diego River which flows through El Monte Valley west of El Capitan Reservoir. The sand would help ease local shortages of Portland Cement Grade Sand. Upon completion of the mining, the valley would be recontoured and reclamation/restoration plans would be implemented for habitat and recreation purposes.

The staff recommendation to suspend the project (initiated by all four district staff directors and signed off on by General Manager Mark Weston) must have been difficult to decide after the considerable time and resources invested, not the least being preparation of the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that has been underway for more than a year. Still, to put it simply, the project conditions have changed so much that it no longer seems feasible.

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Sand mining dominates EIR public hearing on Helix recycled water project

Posted by George J Janczyn on March 30, 2011

The Helix Water District held a public meeting last night on the final day that comments could be submitted on the scope of an environmental impact report (EIR) for its El Monte Valley project. [correction: today is the final day for comments]

The project involves a sand mining operation to generate income and reshape the valley floor to accept a series of percolation ponds using purified recycled water to augment the groundwater supply and to restore the land with a variety of environmental and recreational improvements.

The meeting, held at the Lakeside Christian Church on El Monte Road, follows the notice of preparation for the EIR held March 8 at the water district’s headquarters in La Mesa. Last year there had been three stakeholders meetings at the church and other community presentations to gather public input on the project prior to the announcement of the EIR preparation.

Many of the comments made at the earlier stakeholders meetings expressed worries about “toilet to tap” water quality issues as well as about the sand mining operation, but this time the number one issue was overwhelmingly sand mining.

It seemed that the Helix district staff already sensed that would be the case because their standard project overview included a new segment with additional slides and descriptions of what the sand mining operation would look like.

After the brief presentation, person after person from the assembly of 25-30 people complained that the sand mining operation would destroy the valley; meanwhile one woman was soliciting people to add their names to a signup sheet for an opposition group that is organizing.

Although the purpose of the meeting was to gather more suggestions for issues that should be covered by the EIR, most people appeared to consider the meeting a forum for protesting the project. Many complained about the negative effect the project would have on the quality of life for valley residents and neighboring areas. Several people sharply criticized the water district saying that it was ramming the project through without allowing sufficient input from stakeholders. Someone from East County Magazine also asked some pointed questions implying that public input had been inadequate.

One man disputed the district’s estimate regarding income flow from the sand operation, saying that in today’s market existing sand businesses in the county can’t find enough customers. He also suggested that imported water is so much less expensive than the purified water that he couldn’t see the justification for it.

There were some variant points raised. One gentleman wondered if water in the percolation ponds would even be able to penetrate into the aquifer since the nearby El Monte Dam and reservoir contains so much water that it probably percolates into the aquifer and creates hydraulic pressure that would prevent any water on the valley surface from penetrating downward.

Another individual raised a related concern, saying that water from the percolation ponds (and injection wells) constantly supplying the aquifer could disrupt or stop the natural flow of groundwater coming into the valley so that the portion of the aquifer that is upstream from the operation would cease its natural flow into the valley and become stagnant and less usable.

One man claimed that a Golden Eagle nest had been discovered near a dairy in the valley which meant that mining operations would not be permissible within at least 4000 feet of that place, at least during nesting season.

Another concern was that power lines for the various support facilities would not only cause aesthetic problems but could be a safety hazard as well, with a request that underground lines be used instead. Also mentioned was the possible negative effect on neighboring homes by wildlife displaced by the project.

Jim Peugh from the Audubon Society spoke briefly to commend the effort to expand recycled water use. Disclaimer: I also spoke briefly about possible misconceptions about water quality and purified recycled water.

While public perception about indirect potable reuse and water quality will no doubt continue to be a delicate topic to address in the future (as it is with the City of San Diego’s recycled water purification project), it would seem that the most difficulty in bringing the El Monte Valley project to fruition will be in satisfactorily addressing the widespread dissatisfaction over sand mining.


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Helix Water District holds public scoping meeting for groundwater recharge IPR project in El Monte Valley

Posted by George J Janczyn on March 9, 2011

El Monte Valley. El Capitan Dam is around the bend a couple of miles.

The Helix Water District held a public meeting yesterday to give notice that it is beginning preparation of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the proposed El Monte Valley Project (or more completely, the El Monte Valley Mining, Reclamation, and Groundwater Recharge Project).

El Monte Valley lies just west of El Capitan Reservoir and dam, with the San Diego River channel running through its length. Beneath the valley is a groundwater aquifer that provides water to the Helix district and many valley residents with wells on their property. The project aims to recharge the aquifer with purified recycled water (aka indirect potable reuse, or IPR) that would be piped in from a facility in Santee and emptied into recharge basins to percolate into the ground. Some injection wells might also be used for the recharge process, which would raise the water table for the slowly depleting aquifer and provide the district with an additional 5 million gallons of water per day.

Other components of the project are a temporary (8-10 years) sand-mining operation that would help pay the cost of the project. Parts of the valley and river channel would then be graded, contoured, and restored for riparian habitat with native plants and trees and recreational features including hiking and equestrian trails.

Yesterday’s “Scoping Meeting” was held as an adjourned board meeting at the district’s La Mesa offices at 7811 University Avenue at 7pm. The primary reason for the meeting was to get feedback from stakeholders and interested persons about topics of concern they would like to have addressed by the EIR.

About 75 people attended this meeting. After a brief overview of the project by Tim Smith, Project Manager, about 14 people spoke on a variety of viewpoints.

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Groundwater dispute between San Diego and Sweetwater Authority

Posted by George J Janczyn on December 8, 2010

Is the City of San Diego’s environmental lawsuit against Sweetwater Authority actually more about asserting water rights in the San Diego Formation aquifer? The lawsuit alleges defects and procedural errors with the Environmental Impact Report (EIR), but a Sweetwater Authority representative told me San Diego is positioning itself to assert its pueblo water rights over the aquifer and perhaps lay claim to work already done by Sweetwater. The staffer made the remark in response to a question I asked during a recent open house at the Reynolds Groundwater Desalination Facility.

If you look at the City’s lawsuit, it does focus attention on the EIR and procedural issues — there’s no mention of pueblo water rights. However, there are definite allusions to claims on the water such as: “The City of San Diego is committed to managing its water rights and the groundwater resources within its jurisdiction…” and “…as an entity with water rights in the Formation, the City has a special interest in managing this important resource…” (page 2 of the lawsuit).

It’s true that San Diego has a “paramount right” to all water within the San Diego River watershed, including the groundwater, based on the City’s pueblo past (the Journal of San Diego History has this background on that business). The question, though, is what about the groundwater in the San Diego Formation aquifer? The issue is much murkier there.

The Sweetwater Authority has been drawing an average of 2,727 af/yr from six existing wells in the Formation since 1999, and now plans to install five additional wells to roughly double the take.

The San Diego Formation aquifer is bisected by four different drainage basins, so rights to its groundwater are hardly clear, and there’s relatively little that is known about how it behaves and is recharged. True, it has been the object of widespread study (see the USGS San Diego Hydrogeology web page and the County Water Authority’s San Diego Formation Aquifer Storage and Recovery studies). Legal claims and project ideas have been made, but the bottom line on the whole situation, as observed by Wes Danskin, Project Chief for the USGS San Diego Hydrogeology Project, is: “What I know is that the science is not well founded yet.”

Certainly any large-scale groundwater withdrawals should be based on thorough scientific understanding of the aquifer and San Diego’s lawsuit credibly addresses potential problems with increased pumping, including overdraft of the aquifer, land subsidence, seawater instrusion, and increased waste brine discharge from the desal plant going into storm drains and ultimately into San Diego Bay.

No doubt San Diego wants some of that Formation water for itself and increased withdrawal by Sweetwater threatens the remaining supply. The lawsuit states “Also, the City informed Sweetwater of a project it intends to construct within 4 to 5 years. Sweetwater chose to ignore this project as well.” For some reason the City seems reluctant to say what that is. When I sent email to PUD’s Arian Collins asking for the name of the specific project, he referred me to Eric Symons. Symons didn’t reply until a week later and then vaguely only to “confirm that it is the San Diego Formation Basin.” I’ve gotten no reply to my followup request to name the specific project.

One can try to guess which project, I suppose: here’s a general San Diego Formation Fact Sheet and a Mission Valley Basin Fact Sheet. The City also has an interest in drawing from groundwater below Balboa Park. However, the Mission Valley site is complicated by the groundwater contamination from the fuel tank farm near Qualcomm Stadium. As for beneath Balboa Park, it appears to be somewhat isolated from Formation groundwater flow so recharge would be a concern, according to Danskin.

Little is known about how the entire San Diego Formation aquifer recharges itself, but it should be safe to say the recharge capability is limited and large-scale withdrawals raise questions about sustainability.

Dec 8, 2010: A copy of San Diego’s complaint is reproduced below. Today I spoke with a clerk at Superior Court who said that Sweetwater has not yet filed a reply brief (the U-T article said today was the deadline for that), but that settlement negotiations are ongoing. A Status Conference has been scheduled for Dec 17. Meanwhile, the clerk also informed me that a NEW lawsuit will be filed on Dec 10, but it is not yet known what party will file that suit.


There’s another area I’ve been looking at that’s potentially linked to the San Diego Formation (it’s certainly in the San Diego River watershed), but it’s playing out a bit differently. The City has a pilot well located near the foot of the dam at El Capitan Reservoir to determine if seepage from the reservoir can be captured. Presumably that groundwater travels through El Monte Valley and is ultimately linked in some way with the San Diego Formation.

Presently many property owners in the El Monte Valley have their own wells drawing groundwater. Theoretically San Diego could exert its pueblo water rights against those wells but probably does not consider their use to be a problem.

As for the consequences of Helix Water District’s plan to develop a 5 mgd groundwater operation with its El Monte Valley IPR Project, I got this statement from Kate Breece, Public Affairs Manager at Helix Water District: The El Monte Valley Project would be a “put and take” project. We would have the right to any water we put into the basin, and we would take out no more than we put in. So, the City would not claim any of that water as belonging to the “watershed.” Our staff works with the City’s staff to make sure we keep them informed of our project.”


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Helix Water District holds stakeholders meeting for El Monte Valley Project

Posted by George J Janczyn on October 13, 2010

Yesterday, the Helix Water District held the second in its series of stakeholder meetings for the El Monte Valley Project at 6:30pm at the Lakeside Christian Church on El Monte Road. The project seeks to recharge the District’s aquifer beneath the valley using treated wastewater purified with the Indirect Potable Reuse (IPR) process–the same process that will be used in San Diego’s Water Purification Demonstration Project. The project will produce enough water to serve approximately 15% of the District’s total water demand.

The District introduced the project plan to valley residents and stakeholders last July 21 and promised to consult with them regularly. In addition, presentations have been made to a variety of groups throughout the county.

In addition to groundwater recharge with IPR water, the Helix plan envisions extensive riverbed restoration with native plants, public recreational space for hiking and equestrian use, and wildlife habitat. A portion of the valley previously zoned for mining will be tapped for sand and gravel which will be sold to help defray project expenses and to help re-contour the riverbed for the restoration.

Yesterday’s stakeholders meeting was to get feedback on the recreational space envisioned for the valley, in particular on design parameters for multi-use trails.

Principal Engineer Tim Smith discussing trail design

Attendees were seated at round tables with 3-7 persons per table. A large map of of the valley showing project components was provided for each table. Everybody was given a copy of initial trail design parameters based on the San Diego County Community Trails Master Plan specifications for rural trails, and they were asked to spend about 25 minutes discussing them and listing issues and concerns. Afterwards, a “captain” selected at each table gave a report on the table’s discussions.

The trail design handout called for multi-use trails on the north and south side of the valley, 6-10 ft. wide, with 2-5 river channel crossings. Trail material would be native soil. The trail would be fenced on the river side, with a slope less than 15%, and would be kept well away from project facilities.

Residents study map with District General Manager Mark Weston (second from the right).

Some issues came up repeatedly: potential conflict between equestrian and biking was a concern; many felt the trail should be wider so that two horses could pass in opposite directions comfortably; restroom facilities, staging areas, and security patrols were other common themes.

One person noted that many equestrian users come to the valley from other locations and they should be considered stakeholders as well. Another worried that planting near the river with riparian vegetation would create spots that could attract transients. Several people wondered who will maintain the trails?

A number of people began raising issues related to the project as a whole. A few people wanted the project to just go away and leave the valley alone. Concern about dust, noise, and traffic during construction was expressed. Someone worried that their property value would decrease because of the project. Many are unhappy that they will no longer be able to use their existing wells for drinking water (due to state regulations) and feel that it’s unfair they will have to purchase water from the District.

The valley is under attack from two sides and we can’t do anything about it, another person complained, saying that the Helix water project reconfigures the valley and riverbed on one hand, and on the other hand the Sunrise Powerlink electrical transmission lines planned for the valley will bring fire danger and visual blight.

In closing remarks, General Manager Mark Weston encouraged people to visit the District website for more details. He also announced that a November field trip is being planned to visit the Orange County advanced water treatment facility that will be the model for the plant to be used for this project. The trip may need to be deferred until early next year, though, unless enough people sign up for the tour.

For more information about the project, here’s the El Monte Valley Project website.

Also here’s my report describing the project and stakeholders meeting in July.


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Helix Water District looks to diversify water supply

Posted by George J Janczyn on July 22, 2010

When it comes to water “trade deficits” (i.e., importing too much water), all of San Diego County’s water agencies know they should be less reliant on distant sources. Depending on which of the 24 water agencies in the county you look at, some 80-90% of their water supplies are imported from Northern California and the Colorado River.

It has been painfully obvious that such a high degree of reliance on distant water sources places the county in a dangerously vulnerable position and our water managers continually struggle to find ways to reduce that dependence. One agency, the Helix Water District — San Diego County’s second-largest water agency — imports water on the higher end of the scale mentioned above, and they may finally get to change that.

Although water conservation efforts inside the Helix district have resulted in a reduction to about 112 gallons per capita per day as of June 2010, and even more is hoped for, conservation alone won’t resolve supply and reliability issues. With that in mind, Helix has announced the beginning of an environmental review process for a new venture, the El Monte Valley Project.

El Monte Valley looking east. El Capitan Dam is around the bend. The ribbon of green trees in the valley center marks the San Diego River Bed. On the right you can make out where the flume used to be (built in the 1880s to bring water 33 miles from Cuyamaca Dam).

El Monte Valley is located in Lakeside just west of El Capitan Dam, north of Lake Jennings, and east from Mapleview St (near where the freeway segment of Highway 67 begins).

The multi-faceted El Monte Valley Project aims to generate an additional 5 million gallons of water per day (that much can supply up to 15,000 families in their service area, which means about 15% of the district’s needs). That’s a big improvement over the 3.3% that local sources now provide.

In addition to producing a supplemental water supply, the Helix plan envisions extensive riverbed restoration with native plants, public recreational space for hiking and equestrian use, and wildlife habitat. A portion of the valley previously zoned for mining will be tapped for sand and gravel which will be sold to help defray project expenses and to help re-contour the riverbed for the restoration.

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San Diego regional water news roundup June 18-23, 2010

Posted by George J Janczyn on June 24, 2010


City looks into earth-friendly solar power / The Coast News“OCEANSIDE — SunEdison presented an overview of a proposed solar photo-voltaic system at a community workshop held June 9. The solar system promises to fuel part of the San Luis Rey Water Reclamation facility at a lower cost and reduce the plant’s carbon footprint.”

Indirect potable reuse: the solution to San Diego’s water crisis [student contest essay] / Voice of San Diego“Purified wastewater is completely safe for drinking and has the potential to alleviate environmental strains and aid in reversing San Diego’s water crisis.”

Helix votes to hike water rates — again / East County Magazine“By a 3-2 vote, Helix Water District’s Board on June 16 voted to increase water rates as recommended by staff. Board members Kathleen Coates Hedberg and De Ana Verbeke opposed the rate hike, while members Richard Smith, John Linden and Chuck Muse voted in favor of raising rates. The rate hike would average 8.8% per household, or an average of $10.06. But higher water users may pay up to 12% more.”

Lutar: Taxpayers support and need Carlsbad desalination project [commentary] / San Diego News Network“As an independent, non-profit organization fighting for the rights of California’s taxpayers, the San Diego County Taxpayers Association believes the Carlsbad Desalination Project is an innovative public-private partnership that protects taxpayers from financial risk while providing a desperately needed new drinking water supply.”

County Water Authority prepares for major quake / 10News“The most recent earthquakes to shake San Diego have raised more awareness of the possibility of a major earthquake hitting southern California, but water officials said they have already begun preparing.”

Water conservation in Calexico to remain until treatment facility is operational / Imperial Valley Press“Water conservation here will remain in effect until technicians finish work on a facility that may not be completed until the end of July, an official said Tuesday. Calexico’s 10 million gallon clarifier was severely damaged during the 7.2-magnitude April 4 earthquake which prompted the call for residents to conserve water.”

Poseidon desal deal? Govt may rescue junk bond project / Surf City Voice“Due to soaring cost estimates and lack of private financing for a proposed 50-million-gallon per day Carlsbad desalination project, a government water agency may negotiate a takeover deal with the project’s developer, Poseidon Resources, Inc.”

Agencies ask Water Authority to save desal project / North County Times“Local cities and water districts are asking the Water Authority to take over their contract with Poseidon Resources Corp., said officials from the nine agencies involved. The Water Authority is scheduled to consider that request at its board meeting Thursday, according to its agenda.”

CA Attorney General’s office threatens lawsuit against Padre Dam after water district defies Native American Heritage Commission, continues construction at site deemed sacred / East County Magazine“Community leaders testify on Viejas’ behalf, ask Padre’s water board to find alternative solution;
Viejas to ask judge on Friday to extend injunction”

More questions about public pensions — at Helix Water [commentary] / La Mesa Today“The Saturday edition of the U/T reported a planned 8.8% hike in water rates for the Helix Water District (HWD). This outrageous action is another instance of our elected representatives putting the well being of public sector employees above their constituents. While the HWD Board asks ratepayers for more money, they continue to pay outrageous benefits to their employees.”


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Water rates comparison in San Diego County

Posted by George J Janczyn on June 19, 2010

One unit = 100 cubic feet (HCF) = 748 gallons.

Chart is from the Helix Water District Water Rate Study published June 2010.

28 units or HCF is considered average domestic home usage for a 2-month billing period. Helix Water District bills per unit, San Diego Water Department bills per HCF. Both measures represent the same amount.

In communities served by the San Diego Water Department, the first 14 HCF used costs $3.293 per HCF; the second 14 HCF is $3.571; and above 28 HCF is $4.009 (current rate will increase in the near future).

In communities served by the Helix Water District, the first 10 units used costs $2.10 per unit, 11-30 units is $2.92; 31 units and above is $3.88 (based on the proposed rate increase).


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