Brian Olney, a Santee native with nearly 30 years in the water industry, has been named the new general manager at the Helix Water District, the agency that provides water to more than 250,000 customers in San Diego’s East County.
Olney, 49, last November was promoted to assistant general manager of the Helix Water District, and had been director of Water Quality and System Operations at Helix since 2016.
Olney, who will take over for Carlos Lugo, who is retiring, effective Sept. 1, said his short-term goals include working internally at Helix to reinforce the nonprofit agency’ values, goals and objectives.
“It is important to get in front of staff to reassure them we are moving in the right direction and to put myself out in front them so they know we are all on the same page,” he said.
Olney said it was a biology class at Santana High School that opened his eyes to a future in the business of water. A summer construction job furthered his introduction to water.
“I quickly realized how rewarding it was and embraced the public service aspect,” he said. “It is truly enjoyable to meet customers and explain what we do or help them through an issue. I will also be working to connect with all the agencies we work with to reinforce the strong working relationships we have established with them. It is a good time to check in with them and see if any adjustments are needed.”
Olney attended Grossmont and Palomar community colleges, where he earned an associate’s degree in water science technology. His bachelor’s and master’s degrees in public administration came from San Diego State.
Olney worked in field operations for Lakeside Water District and as a water system operator for Otay Water District before joining Helix in 2000 as a water treatment plant operator. Today, Olney maintains grade 5 certifications from the State of California in water treatment and water distribution.
“Brian’s experience spans system operations, water treatment plant operations and maintenance, water distribution and construction,” said Helix Board President Kathleen Hedberg, who has been a board member for 16 years.
“He’s been a member of the executive team since 2016 and he is extremely knowledgeable about local and regional water issues and making sure that the water is safe and at a good price for our customers,” Hedberg added. “Brian is a leader and will make a smooth transition into the general manager role.”
Lugo was the district’s general manager for 10 years. The board is set to honor him at its Aug. 17 public meeting.
Hedberg said that Lugo has been a favorite with other water agency leaders as well as with Helix employees. She said she expects Olney to step into Lugo’s role without a hitch.
“Brian has the same compassion and passion for Helix and working with everyone,” she said. “After he was appointed assistant GM this past year, we moved some other people around and that gave Carlos a chance to do some one-on-one mentoring with Brian to make sure he’s ready and up for the job.”
Olney said longer-term items on his radar include continuing work to implement the East County Advanced Water Purification project, housed by the Padre Dam Municipal Water District in Santee, but in which Helix as well as the city of El Cajon and San Diego County have stakes.
Helix has projects to complete over the next couple of years and we will continue to work closely with the East County Advanced Purification JPIA to develop permits and operations plans.
“This is an important project for East County,” Olney said. “The public expects it to be implemented correctly so adequate resources must continue to be applied to ensure success.”
Olney said other issues on his mind include monitoring long-term impacts of drought on the district’s imported supply, saying “it will be critical.”
“Possible long-term cutbacks could be very impactful to our region,” he said. “Helix will remain actively engaged with San Diego County Water Authority on issues surrounding the Colorado River and State Water Project deliveries.”
Olney said that Helix also plans to monitor regulations impacting Helix such as from the Air Resources Control Board on the electrification of the agency’s fleets.
Helix Water District was formed in 1913 and, today, operates a regional water treatment plant serving four public water utilities and a water distribution system serving more than 275,000 people in La Mesa, El Cajon, Lemon Grove and parts of Spring Valley, Lakeside and unincorporated San Diego County.
Helix Water District
GENERAL MANAGER: Brian Olney
HEADQUARTERS: La Mesa
BUSINESS: Not-for-profit water provider
NOTABLE: New GM Brian Olney takes the spot of Carlos Lugo, who had been Helix’s top leader for 10 years.