Wednesday, May 12, 2004

The constant battle to keep the state Capitol's reflecting pool algae-free is aided by chlorine tablets the size of hockey pucks, shown as light areas on the pool bottom yesterday.

Capitol looking for
fix to pools’ algae problem

Cost estimates for controlling
the scum range up to $6 million

For 35 years, state officials have tried tilapia, scrubbing, mixed oxidants and an ozone treatment to slow the growth of or kill algae in the Capitol pools.

Nothing has worked.

The state Department of Accounting and General Services is going back to square one trying to figure out how to conquer the algae.

"It's an extensive amount of work that is required," said state Comptroller Russ Saito. "The pools need to be completely renovated."

The agency has hired Architects Hawaii Ltd. -- which designed the state Capitol -- to do a study on controlling the algae problem and improving the appearance of the two reflecting pools.

Costs for improvements are estimated at $5 million to $6 million, Saito said.

"Whatever we end up implementing, we want it to be a long-term solution. We don't want to come back in five years and say: 'That didn't work,'" he said.

The department is expected to present the study to lawmakers after it is completed in a couple of months.

Cost and priority of pool improvements will be an issue, said Saito.

"Everyone wants the pool to be made nice. You have to start to question does it have priority over something that will cost as much that will be in people's minds (as) not as aesthetic but more important," he said.

"If this study goes through and if we can afford to do it, we hope to resolve the issue. As long as you have water and you have particles in the water and you have sunshine, you'll have algae," Saito added. "It's a matter of controlling it to an acceptable level. Even in fresh water, you'll have algae."

The water in the pools comes from brackish water wells under the grounds.

The state had unsuccessful attempts in the past to control the algae in the pools since the opening of the Capitol in March 1969:

>> One effort included tilapia that were placed in the pools in 1976 but were removed in 1993 after they worsened the pools' condition.

"They were putting their waste in the water. That's why they got rid of the tilapia," said Saito.

>> Machines in 1998 cleaned the pools by producing chlorine dioxide, ozone and radical oxygen to slow the growth.

>> The last attempt was four years ago when a $90,000 ozone treatment system was installed but the pumps were ineffective in controlling the algae problem.

"The pumps were not circulating the water enough ... They can only push the water out so far and the ozone is only effective when it comes in contact with the algae," said Saito.

Small fixes in the past were efficient but not enough to control the algae problem, said Saito.

"If we do it right, the cost to keep it clean will be as low as we can make it," he said.

Custodial workers from the Central Services Division scrub and siphon off the algae from the pools daily. A number of inmates from the Oahu Community Correctional Center also assist the workers twice a week.

The study is looking into a reverse-osmosis system that will take in brackish water that will be pushed through a membrane to produce fresh water. The study also is looking at improving the circulation in the pools.

"We would essentially beef up the pumping and distribution systems so the water can distribute and inject ozone in the water to keep the algae from building up again," said Saito. "We really need to fix all the distribution systems in the pool before we can have any chance of controlling the algae."

The study also looks into aesthetic improvements that include installation of ceramic tiles on the pools.

"We have several designs we're looking at. Ceramic tile is involved in almost all of them," said Saito, adding that tiles are easier to clean.


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