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SPECIAL COVERAGE: Living With Wildfires: San Diego Firestorm 10 Years Later

Helix Project Would Increase San Diego Water Supply

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One water district in San Diego County wants to increase the local water supply by using recycled water.

The proposed recycled-water project is expected to increase water rates for some users. But the Helix Water District expects the local supply to offset higher costs of imported water.

The district wants to use a dry stretch of riverbed on property it owns 14 miles east of La Mesa to produce water.

The proposed project is called the El Monte Valley Mining, Reclamation, and Groundwater Recharge Project.

The plan involves three major elements:

Purifying recycled water and pumping it into the ground; Restoring the riverbed with native plants and creating trails for hiking, mountain biking and horses; and mining the sand, which will be sold to help fund the water and restoration parts of the project.

Helix Water District General Manager Mark Weston said the project is modeled after a similar one in Orange County.

"We create a new restored habitat, we create trails for the valley," said Weston. "We do receive an economic benefit from the sand. And then on top of it we develop this water supply which will serve us not just for a few years, but will be a very, very long-term water supply."

Weston said the recycled water will come from the Santee Water Recycling Facility.

He said the process will produce enough water to supply 15,000 families a year in La Mesa, Lemon Grove and other areas served by the district.

Weston said the estimated $80 million project will be paid for with state, federal and local grants along with money from the mining operation.

He said Helix Water District customers in La Mesa, El Cajon, Lemon Grove, Spring Valley and other areas will see a 3- to 5-percent increase in their water bills to offset the cost of the project.

If an environmental review is approved, it is estimated water will begin flowing from the project in 2014.

The public is invited to weigh in on the proposal at a meeting Tuesday, March 8 at 7 p.m. at the Helix Water District Board Room in La Mesa.

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