LIHUE — Visitors and locals frequent Morgan’s Ponds at Lydgate Park in Wailua every day.
After all, this nearly 50-year-old man-made oceanfront swimming pool is about as safe as it gets without sacrificing any inch of the beauty Kauai has to offer.
But it takes thousands of volunteer-hours to keep the ponds clean. And two years ago, a county-contracted repair work gone wrong added additional clean-up work for the Friends of Kamalani and Lydgate Park, a group of volunteers who clean the beach park every first Saturday of the month.
“We know that this has been a vexing problem, and public opinion is such that we’ve got to try and solve it, and we are trying to solve it,” John Lydgate told the Kauai County Council at a meeting this week. “We need your help and cooperation and the partnership between the county and the mayor and the public.”
The park was named after Lydgate’s grandfather in 1924, whose work in preserving a heiau and petroglyphs at Wailua River prompted the foundation in 1914 of the Kauai Historical Society.
Morgan’s Ponds — a keiki pond and a larger one — were built in 1964, after an idea from Albert Morgan, he said.
Two years ago, the main pond was at its shallowest condition ever, with its original depth of 12 feet reduced to 5 feet. Additionally, many of the boulders making up the breakwall had fallen into the pond.
The Friends of Kamalani and Lydgate Park asked the county for help restoring the breakwall and the pond’s original depth. Consultant Oceanit developed a plan for the work and Goodfellows was contracted to do the job.
But as Lydgate said, “no good deeds go unpunished.”
And this one wasn’t.
The job was finished in the spring of 2011. For several months following the repairs, the turbidity in the pond increased, downgrading the once-clear water and reducing the visibility to less than 3 feet. Then, just as the water was clearing, Kauai was battered by heavy rains and flooding in March 2012, which brought more debris into the ponds.
Tommy Noyes, general coordinator for the Friends of Kamalani and Lydgate Park, said after the breakwall repairs and excavation were finished, the sand settled down right away, and a thick layer of silt settled on top of the sand.
“It was like chocolate pudding, you could stick your arm in it all the way up to the shoulder, straight down,” he said.
Lydgate, a volunteer and coordinator with the Friends of Kamalani and Lydgate Park, said when the sugar plantations went “belly up,” the Wailua Watershed was not maintained and became the root of the problem.
“For 20 years, we’re wresting with it,” he said.
Organic debris, specially from invasive albizia trees, make their way to Wailua River. During heavy rains, much of debris are flushed out of river into Wailua Bay, and somehow they make their way into the ponds, south of the bay.
“This is a very important turning point for us, because crisis is also a turning point of opportunity,” Lydgate said.
The biggest problem, he added, is the debris — “this rotting, stinking, smelly wood at the bottom of the pond.”
“People come as visitors and they want to snorkel and they want to have a clean debris-free place for their children to play and snorkel,” Lydgate said. “And it’s our duty to try to do that.”
Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura told Derrick Elfalan, coastal engineer at Oceanit, she was interested in the long term solution.
“It makes a lot sense to remove the debris,” she said. “One of my questions is, what is the cost of doing that?”
Elfalan said he didn’t have the cost — the next phase will include preparing plans and cost estimates for a corrective action.
He said Oceanit was hired to look at the condition of the pond to see if it had improved, addressing some of the problems that had occurred from the original 2011 dredging, but mainly was to do an assessment of the storm debris and material that had washed into the pond after the March 2012 storm.
“Basically what we found is, from that particular storm, the source of material — twigs, silt, large branches — is from Wailua River,” he said.
“We would certainly like to see a plan in place to deal with the next inundation — It’s going to happen,” Noyes said.
An incident action plan, he said, would include removing storm-brought debris out of the pond as soon as possible to avoid them becoming waterlogged and settling on the bottom.
Since September 2012, the volunteers removed an estimated 20 tons of mulch and muck from the pond by using three methods: Hand picking, using a drag net and pumping out silt through an ingenious makeshift airlift pump, Noyes said.
Lately, they have been taking small amounts of clean beach sand and depositing them on top of the debris laying in the center of the pond.
Despite the benefits of depositing the sand slowly into the center of the pond — it’s cheap, there’s no need for machines, it can be done by few people and there is minimal impact — there are some drawbacks, Noyes said.
The layers of sand can be thin and spotty; the lack of a geo-textile material causes the sand to mix with the silt; and the practice decreases the pond’s depth, he said.
Besides recommending an inundation removal plan and a beach groomer, Noyes said, the Friends of Kamalani and Lydgate Park endorses a professional installation of a biodegradable membrane on top of the debris and covering it with sand, and the introduction of a fish habitat in the pond to increase biodiversity.
“Twenty two years ago, we founded Friends of Kamalani and Lydgate Park and this group has become a remarkable group,” Kauai County Councilman Tim Bynum said during an update of the ponds’ condition Wednesday morning.
This is the same group, he said, who built Kamalani Playground and developed Lydgate Park’s master plan.
The volunteers’ efforts at the pond, while remarkable, have diverted them from other projects, Bynum said.
The park has artwork from 5,000 children from three generations, according to Bynum. But because the volunteers have become the “maintenance backbone of Lydgate Park,” with assistance from the county Parks and Recreation Department, other enhancement projects have stalled, he said.
“This partnership is awesome but we can’t rely on volunteers to deal with this forever,” Bynum said.
Noyes said to join them Oct. 26 for the national Make a Difference Day.