Helix continues to evaluate local drinking water project

Courtesy Image. Rendering of East County Advanced Water Purification Project

On Nov. 5, Padre Dam Municipal Water District, city of El Cajon and County of San Diego formed a Joint Powers Authority to serve as the governing body for the East County Advanced Water Purification project. A Helix Water District representative will serve as an ex officio, nonvoting member of the JPA board.

“The JPA board will be focused on the wastewater side of the project. Our role in the project if it moves forward, is on the drinking water side,” said Helix Water District General Manager Carlos Lugo. The proposed project will use advanced water treatment technology to purify the recycled wastewater that the ECAWP JPA will produce which would then be stored in Lake Jennings and treated through Helix’s R.M. Levy Water Treatment Plant.

Helix’s board is still evaluating the district’s participation in the project.

“We’re looking at our participation in this project through three lenses,” said Helix Water District Board President Dan McMillan. “First, we are, and continue to be, a collaborative regional partner to the east county community.  Next, as a water district, supporting efforts that enhance water supply reliability in the region has long been a strategic goal.  And lastly, whatever Helix does, it has to make financial sense for our ratepayers.”

Since 2014, Helix Water District has participated with Padre Dam, the city of El Cajon and the San Diego County Sanitation District to explore the feasibility of the project.  Helix has invested significant board and staff resources, time, energy and efforts in this evaluation. The district has been actively involved in project studies and design work, including a tracer study with Scripps Institution of Oceanography to learn how water moves and mixes in Lake Jennings. 

To date, Helix has invested almost $850,000 in these activities.

In July, Helix’s board approved the district’s participation in an Interim Funding Agreement, which commits each of the four agencies to fund 25 percent of the project’s interim development costs up to $2.4 million for each agency.

Interim development work will continue through early 2021 when each JPA member will make a final decision on the feasibility and their participation in the project.   Currently, Helix continues to negotiate the terms and conditions of a Water Purchase agreement, through which the JPA will deliver annually 8,882 acre-feet of recycled water to Lake Jennings for further treatment and distribution to Helix customers.

Padre Dam Municipal Water District began exploring the East County Advanced Water Purification project to reduce the potential rising costs of its wastewater treatment, find a new, local, drought-proof water supply and to reduce its water purchase costs from the San Diego County Water Authority by 2025.

The $528 million project would recycle daily wastewater flows from Santee, El Cajon, Lakeside, Winter Gardens and Alpine, then purify it through membrane filtration, reverse osmosis and advanced oxidation to produce water that is near-distilled in quality.

The purified water would be piped into Helix’s Lake Jennings, treated at the district’s R.M. Levy Water Treatment Plant and distributed as drinking water.

Helix Water District provides water treatment for much of San Diego’s East County, and water distribution for the 276,000 people in its service area, which includes the cities of El Cajon, La Mesa and Lemon Grove and the Spring Valley and Lakeside communities.