Operations to remove salvinia from Lake Wilson are now going on weekends. City, county and Department of Land and Natural Resources workers were working at the dam site yesterday. Operating the floating crane was crane operator Allen Kaaihue. Lance Kukino was in the boom towing boat.

Lake Wilson project
finally seeing daylight

City and state workers
are encouraged by the
sight of clear water

By Diana Leone

State Division of Aquatic Resources Administrator Bill Devick has received some interesting suggestions over the past few weeks on how to deal with the salvinia problem in Lake Wilson.

Some suggested using imported manatees or water buffaloes to eat it up, or huge sheets of black plastic to kill it from lack of sunlight.

Aside from the fact that manatees are endangered and couldn't be shipped to Hawaii, "we would need a horde of manatees to take care of the salvinia," Devick said with a chuckle. "It would also take a lot of water buffaloes."

Nix on the black plastic, too, Devick said. It would kill the plant, but would also kill the fish by depleting their oxygen source.

As state, city and federal officials knit together a comprehensive plan to curb the water weed salvinia, Lake Wilson is getting attention like never before in its nearly 100-year history.

Tomorrow, Gov. Linda Lingle will travel to the Wahiawa State Freshwater Park to elaborate on the state's efforts to control the fast-growing alien pest.

Governors have never paid that much attention to the lake before, even when it made news for things like downstream flooding, sewage spills or an overgrowth of another environmental pest, the water hyacinth.

The lake is really a reservoir that was built in 1904 by Waialua Sugar Co. to supply its thirsty cane fields. The lake's two forks follow the north and south branches of Kaukonahua Stream, each reaching about three miles from the dam, and its twisting, steep-banked shoreline is about 20 miles, Devick said.

Lake Wilson itself is privately owned, mostly by Castle & Cooke. It still supplies about 14 to 15 million gallons of irrigation water to Dole Hawaii fields. The city dumps about 2 million gallons of treated sewage water into the lake daily.

The city is responsible for the quality of the sewage effluent, which Libby Stoddard, an engineer with the state Clean Water Branch, said is of "excellent quality" as long as the plant is working properly.

The state is only responsible for the fish that live in it and for the state park that provides access to the water and freshwater fishing.

Concern about the health of the fish, and the health of people living nearby if there were a massive fish kill, is what's prompted the cleanup of the lake at an estimated cost of more than $1 million.

Though the lake was built as an irrigation reservoir, people began stocking it with largemouth bass, "as soon as there was enough water," Devick said.

Other nonnative game fish that were present in other Oahu freshwater lakes were introduced and now there are an estimated 500 tons of fish in the lake. About 80 percent of the fish are tilapia and shad and about 20 percent are the favored bass and tucunare species.

Fishing is the only recreational activity allowed on the lake, Devick said. At its peak use in the 1980s, between 6,000 and 8,000 freshwater fishing licenses were issued on Oahu each year.

The lake has beaten back threats of invasive species before. Water hyacinth began spreading and threatening the lake and fishing access in 1997. It took several years, but the alien plant was finally brought under control and the lake has been mostly out of the news until now.

People in Wahiawa aren't real happy about the green carpet that once was the lake that wraps around their town.

"It's terrible," said Helen Alcaide of Waialua, who grew up in Wahiawa. "I always admired the lake, and now I don't. Whoever's taking care of it should have taken care of it in the beginning."

Since Feb. 18, four city and two state workers have been pulling up to 400 cubic yards out of the lake each work day near its Funston Gate. Yesterday morning on the first day of weekend work, they finally saw some clear water on the north fork.

Despite the fact that 99 percent of the lake's surface is still coated with the weed, Honolulu heavy equipment supervisor Kalani Joseph was inspired.

"Since we seen the water this morning, we feel we're doing something."

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