Dead fish are floating in two reflecting pools at the Hawaii State Capitol that are supposed to symbolize the ocean waters surrounding the islands.

It’s the latest in a series of maintenance issues that have arisen since the Capitol was completed in 1969.

The putrid greenish-brown pools often reek. Poor water circulation results in out-of-control algae growth. And they leak.

Capitol Dead fish pond1. 26 april 2016.
Tilapia, including this one, are floating around the Capitol’s murky reflecting pools. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The pools, which draw a mix of salt and fresh water from a well, were never designed to accommodate fish, said Cathy Chin, public information officer for the Department of Accounting and General Services.

But members of the public have brought in fish over the years, she said.

The water is circulated two hours per day, but department officials have not decided what else they can do for the pools, Chin said.

Gov. David Ige’s budget appropriated $1.2 million for the reflecting pools, but it’s estimated that $14.2 million would be needed for a complete renovation, lawmakers say.

Sen. Mike Gabbard, who has long advocated for renovating the pools, said that as long as there is water in the reflecting pools, there will be leakage issues despite $100,000 per year spent on maintenance. Redesigning the pools would save taxpayer dollars, Gabbard said.

A 2004 study estimated $5 million would be needed to fix the pools, but lawmakers believe the only way to permanently stop leakage issues may be to drain the pools altogether. More than a decade later, problems continue to pile up and the pools have yet to be renovated.

Bills related to renovating the pools died in the recent legislative session.

Algae in the pools is a result of stagnant water and direct exposure to sunlight.
Algae in the pools is a result of stagnant water and direct exposure to sunlight. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

House Bill 1988 would have made funding available for a “choreographed water fountain show with light displays and Hawaiian music” to circulate the stagnant water in the pools and bring more tourists to the Capitol district. The bill never got a hearing.

SB 2157, which Gabbard introduced, would have appropriated funding to study new ways of renovating the pools. The bill died in February, giving way to Ige’s budget appropriation, but the Department of Land and Natural Resources and the Department of Accounting and General Services supported the measure.

A dead fish near a pool at the Capitol.
A dead fish near a pool at the Capitol. Courtesy of Will Espero

The Capitol is on the state and national Registers of Historic Places, which require that recognized buildings maintain their defining features in any renovation. Gabbard said the pools can be drained as long as the “water” theme is somehow retained.

A small fountain and taro patch are among the concepts architects have come up with, he said.

Gabbard hopes to introduce similar legislation next year and get more co-sponsors.

“Let’s get everybody together, solve this thing, and quit throwing money down the toilet,” he said.

Sen. Will Espero has worked with Gabbard in an effort to fix the reflecting pools and co-sponsored SB 2157. Compared to other issues tackled during the legislative session, Espero said that fixing the algea-ridden pools took a backseat.

Espero put it politely: “It’s not an attractive color.”

Floating plants that help clean the water are one option he’s considered to control algae growth.

Espero agreed with Gabbard that there are ways to maintain the building’s water theme without actually using water. Tile and rock with a water-like color or design could be used, as well as sculptures of sea animals.

In the meantime, he said the dead fish floating around the Capitol are indicative of a problem that needs to be fixed.

“Until we figure out what we’re going to do with the water feature … we might as well take care of the fish and make certain that they have a livable environment,” Espero said.

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