Saturday, May 29, 1999

Tilapia hard to beat

Pool planner says a move
to cut Capitol costs could send
inmates into battle
with algae

By Craig Gima


Prison labor and an organism that eats algae may cut in half the $74,200 annual cost of cleaning the reflecting pools around the state Capitol.

In January, Gov. Ben Cayetano ordered state Comptroller Raymond Sato to come up with a cheaper way of controlling the decades-old problem of algae in the pools. A Star-Bulletin story in December revealed that state spending on the algae problem had more than doubled from the $31,000 a year spent when algae-eating tilapia lived in the pools.

Sato said he has ruled out putting fish back into the pools because it would be too difficult to get a clean-water permit to dump water containing fish manure into the ocean.

"You put fish in there, you have all kinds of problems," he said. "You can't dump it in the storm drain. You can't do this. You can't do that."

Using prison inmates to clean the pools and a product called Biozyme will cut the state's cost to less than $36,000 a year, Sato said.

"Everything else is real expensive," he added.

The current contracts to clean the pool and for two machines called mixed-oxidant generators that are supposed to help kill the algae expire June 30.

By then the state hopes to have the permit required to dump water with the algae-eating organism into the storm drains. Sato does not think getting the permit will be a problem because the organism is harmless to the environment, he said.

Sato explained that the inmates will be used to circulate the organism in the pools, then they will return the following week to vacuum and pump the dead algae out of the pools.

He is also looking at drilling a new well to a freshwater source near Iolani Palace. The pools are now filled with brackish water that has lots of nutrients the algae thrive on. The cost of drilling the well should be less than $4,000 and the algae shouldn't grow as fast in fresh water, Sato said.

Algae has been a problem at the reflecting pools since the Capitol was built.

State Sen. Rod Tam (D, Pauoa) suggested the state fill in the pools to make a garden, but Sato said that's out of the question.

"We have to keep the reflecting pond there," Sato said. "It's part of the historical background of this Capitol in that the water represents the ocean and the Capitol building itself represents the islands."

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