Sunday, June 27, 2004

Die, scum, die!

When we asked for suggestions about how to get rid of the pond scum (OK, algae) at the Capitol, we not only created an irresistible political joke -- we also hit one of our readers' hot buttons. We had no idea that so many of you were concerned about fixing the slime problem in the Capitol ponds. We heard from pool guys, koi pond keepers, gardeners, biologists and other experts and non-experts from all walks of island life. We don't have room for all the responses, so we eliminated some duplicate suggestions and most of the anonymous replies.

Johnnie-Mae L. Perry of Waianae points out, "The water that surrounds the square building on Beretania signifies the Pacific Ocean" around our islands. "Only the experts in ocean science and/or aquaculture may know a solution. Too much money has been spent already to find a remedy."

Good point, Johnnie-Mae. But we've included non-expert opinions anyway. You never know where the answer lies until you scrape it off the bottom of the moat.

>> Cultivating the pond area into a beautiful landscaped area with trees and well-groomed shrubs should enhance the appearance. I do realize that at night, it will be another problem, with vagrants loitering and sleeping in that part of downtown.

A solution: water sprinklers automatically turned on at night and motion detector floodlights installed in certain areas.

--Roy Kimura

>> Interesting you ask, as I was just walking by the Capitol ponds and thinking what a shame they had been abandoned.

I wondered to myself if the maintenance crew knew about the century-old solution of barley hay. When our new 10,000-gallon koi pond started to grow massive amounts of long strands of green algae, I was besides myself hunting for a solution. I stumbled onto an English Web site that swore if you threw a bale of barley hay in a pond, in a couple of months the algae would disappear. The bigger the pond, the more hay required. As I pondered how I would get barley hay in Hawaii, our pond supplier started to sell filters with barley hay woven in. It took a couple of months to clear the pond, but the water was beautiful even during the hot summer months.

Years after successfully installing the filters and eliminating all string algae, I found out the basic science of how this works. Apparently, after the barley hay decomposes for a couple of months it starts emitting sodium chloride. This chloride permeates the water throughout the pond and prevents the algae walls from forming, cutting short the algae's growth cycle.

--Joyce M. Brown

>> It would be a shame to remove water from the design of the Capitol. However, the large areas of the pools could be filled in with large pebbles and four fountains constructed. This water would be in smaller amounts and constantly circulating so the problem would be resolved.

--Marilyn Lee

>> If the state can't afford to keep the ponds clean (which would be preferable), drain the ponds and fill them with beach sand.

--Mark Marziale

>> Three ideas:

>> Replace the pond with sand to continue the representation of the Capitol as a Hawaiian island.

>> Make it a garden of indigenous plants and plants that have played a role in history (a section to replace the Dole pineapple garden, which has been moved to who knows where in Kunia).

>> Make it a bus stop after requiring all state legislators to take the bus to work so they can understand that we actually lack a viable mass transit system and how ineffective the proposed Bus Rapid Transit will be.

--Jeffrey Esmond

>> Several years ago, while on the judging committee for the Building Industry Association's Parade of Homes, we visited an entry on the North Shore. It was a condo on the beach that had a saltwater swimming pool. They explained that all they did for maintenance was to throw small amounts of rock salt into the water. Salt is sodium chloride and the release of the chlorine in the salt kept the pool algae free. They used special pumps that wouldn't corrode from the salt water

--Craig Y. Watase
Mark Development, Inc.
2002 president, Building Industry Association-Hawaii

>> First, consult the experts, then put the job out to bid. Second, eliminate the highest and lowest bidders. Third, select a middle bid. We could then offer the space to any nonprofit organization or individual that might want to raise carp in the ponds.

The colorful carps would add a bit of uniqueness to the Capitol.

--Alvin Wong

>> The "Capitol Scum Pond" has got to go. Instead, how about turning the pond into a native plant showcase? What better way to showcase Hawaii than with a native plant garden with pathways for everyone to see up close what is growing there? Name signs would identify the plants, and I'll bet we could even get students to take care of the garden as part of their class curriculum. Maybe a taro planting could be included.

Anything is better then a mosquito factory.

--Al Aliment

>> You have to only have a proper system of pumps and treatment to have an algae free pool. Successful water treatment is done every day in pools and fountains around the world. The problems with these pools are the state does not want to spend the proper amount of money to fix the problem. Doing it on the cheap has not and will not work.

--Steve Kaiser
Kerzner International
Plantation, Fla.

>> My father started using a pump that filters the water through an ultraviolet light to kill the algae. It is amazing how clear the water remains. Now you can clearly see the fish and the bottom of the pond. I found a Web site that describes this process:

--Denise Akamine

>> Ponds full of icky green stuff makes me wonder if they're potential breeding grounds for mosquito larvae, as in West Nile Virus. I would say, get rid of the ponds and replace them with an urban forest.

--Josephine Keliipio

>> Grow Chinese lilies or lotus.

The roots will grow on the green scum.

The leaves will cover up the the dirty water.

The beautiful flowers will enhance the Capitol's look.

Hawaii is a mixed plate state.

Let East meet West!

--Lillian Hong

>> The simplest solution might be to fill the pools with fresh water and put some sucker fish in to keep the algae down. Unlike snails, the sucker fish are generally nocturnal and, given a place to hide, will not be visible most of the day. Given the size of the ponds, the filtration needed for a couple sucker fish would be minimal and would probably cost less than $100 per pool. I have a small pond at my house with one sucker fish and it stays really clean. It may sound too simple, but often the simplest solution is the best.

--Pete Drevnick

>> Apparently at the Honolulu Zoo they use something called Effective Microorganisms (EM) to cut down on the amount of algae and other animal-related wastes in the hippo tank. They have been successfully using EM for quite some time. The use of EM at the zoo is documented at (Just click on "Applications of EM at the Zoological Gardens.") Not only is the zoo using EM in the hippo tank but in moats of water pumped from underground (sounds suspiciously like the water around the Capitol.)

--Kim Young

>> The Capitol building has always struck me as being somewhat cold and impersonal. The ponds should be converted to tree- and tent-covered areas where human social interaction is encouraged, say a food court or an amphitheater or even a "soap box" where we ordinary, unelected citizens can spout off to our heart's content. It need not be confined to the ponds; there's a decent lawn with space to spare separating the Capitol from Iolani Palace.

If the Capitol represents the island origins of Hawaii, then perhaps some smart designer can figure out how to incorporate the canoe -- or the Boeing 747 -- into the motif.

--James Ko

>> My suggestion is to replace the ponds around the Capitol by filling, bringing it up to the surrounding lawn level and place nonskid tiles to simulate the water effect.

--Janet Yoda

>> Definitely no additional money should be spent on temporary fixes to the ponds. I believe the ponds should be removed and replaced with a nice "Hawaiian" garden. It would be a permanent fix; a garden with small waterfalls and streams that could easily be controlled and maintained, that would more reflect "Hawaiiana."

I'm referring to something like what's been built along Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki, with more greenery (low-growing plants and bushes). They could have areas with low-maintenance flowering plants along the walkways, which could be so beautiful. I believe this change would bring about a great improvement to the well-being and productivity of our Legislature (hopefully??). Just walking by those scummy ponds every time they meet puts our lawmakers in a negative mood.


The rest of the submissions were from readers who neglected to tell us their names.

>> The ponds symbolize Hawaii's ocean heritage, the water that surrounds us and so on. Changing it to something other than a water feature would detract from that symbolism.

I would contact the University of Hawaii's engineering program as well as biology department and figure out a way to build a filtration system. The students could do it as a community service project. I would ask the botany department about the best types of foliage to place in the water, given the sunlight and other environmental conditions. They could provide oxygen to the water as well as shade.

I would put koi and other freshwater fish into the pond. With a new filtration system, plants and proper aeration of the water, the fish could do well and serve as an attraction for both locals and tourists alike.

Finally, I would purchase a couple of dozen of those fountains people use for their home ponds, the ones that spray a cone-shaped fountain of water. These could be hooked up to the conduits already running in the water to operate the lights. These would add to the movement and aeration of the water as well as be aesthetically pleasing.

>> Try bleach or kim chi!

>> How about making natural chlorine from salt? More cheep den real chlorine an da buggah keeps da watah clean, several companies offer the equipment to do the job, all you gotta do is add rock salt.

>> Apply "Effective Micro-organisms" (

The Honolulu Zoo applied this product to their hippo waste catchment basin and reduced their cleaning requirements dramatically.

Reorganize the Legislature to a unicameral body.

And crown Sammy Amalu king!

>> Since the local television and radio stations decided they don't need them, why don't we hire the journalists who used to cover the county and state government beats and these folks could augment the crew from OCCC scrubbing the ponds.

>> Surround the state Capitol with lava rocks.

>> How about putting catfish in there?


The ponds at the state Capitol symbolize the waters surrounded our state. What does it say about Hawaii if the pond water is infested with stinky algae?

To kill it, give it
what it hates: filtered
water and circulation

Having been responsible for the design and construction of a multitude of lakes, ponds, fountains and swimming pools for 20 years, I have learned a lot about the problem you referred to as "icky green stuff."

Algae is a microscopic plant that grows in water. It requires two elements to grow: nutrients (such as nitrogen and phosphorus compounds) and sunlight.

Ground water, such as the brackish well water used in the Capitol ponds, often contains sufficient nutrients to support algal growth because its source is runoff that contains commercial fertilizers, decaying organic material and animal droppings, all good sources of nitrogen and phosphorus compounds.

Add Hawaiian sunshine and voila -- algae begins to grow.

Ever since the first decorative ponds were built in ancient China, caretakers have battled the growth of algae. Dozens of cures have been proposed, many bordering on witchcraft.

Algae suspended in the water can be removed by simple filtration, provided all water in the pond can be passed through filters at a sufficient rate.

Some have tried herbivorous fish to fight algae. The problem with this approach is that well-fed fish urinate and defecate and thus add to the nutrient levels, hence the rate of algae growth. Grass carp, used in many Hawaii golf course ponds, don't do well in the brackish water in the Capitol ponds. Tilapia fish controlled the algae, but they created other problems because of their habit of building unsightly nests for their eggs.

Among many examples of "witchcraft" remedies was a move to treat the pond water with ozone. Used correctly, ozone treatment can be an effective disinfectant and algaecide. However, if sufficient ozone were introduced into the pond system to kill not only the waterborne algae but also the algae covering the pond bottom and sides, the excess gas would create an extremely toxic atmosphere throughout the Capitol rotunda. (Perhaps that is a way to deal with the other "Capitol scum" problem you referred to in your original call for brainstorms.)

So far I have said what won't work. So what will? There is only one sure method of preventing algae growth: chemicals.

But dumping in chlorine tablets, as is being done now, while it might control some of the growth, makes for an unsightly situation and won't do the full job.

The answer lies in a complete rework of the water system. A new system should: provide adequate water circulation throughout all areas of the ponds; provide a filtration means whereby all water in the ponds get filtered periodically; and provide for automatic and controlled introduction of an oxidizer, such as swimming pool chlorine, so as to maintain an adequate level of free chlorine in every gallon of water in the pond system. The revamped water system should have provisions for automatic removal of surface debris, as well as suction connections for periodic vacuuming of all pool bottom surfaces.

The scum will disappear and the pools will be easily maintainable.

Now, about that election ...

Richard A. Heaton of Kaneohe is a professional engineer.




The city owns a large, underground facility at Fort Barrette in Kapolei that is sitting empty. What could it be used for? Some sort of archive? A place to stash gigantic holiday decorations? A temporary storage site for Evan Dobelle’s ego?

Send your ideas -- include your name, address and phone number -- by July 16 to:

Or by mail:
c/o Nancy Christenson
500 Ala Moana
7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210
Honolulu, Hawaii 96813

Or by fax:
c/o Nancy Christenson


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