Yancey Roy Staff writer
Section: LOCAL,  Page: B2

Date: Monday, June 24, 1991

A pioneering move by the city has saved thousands of fish from dying in Washington Park Lake, the state's wildlife pathologist said Sunday.

The city used compressors to pump air into the oxygen-deprived pond all weekend, which effectively cleaned the water and raised oxygen levels to 50 times the level last week. "I've never seen a body of water five acres in size turn over like this," said Ward Stone, a pathologist for the Department of Environmental Conservation. "I'm elated."

On Wednesday, city officials found hundreds of fish dead - suffocated from lack of oxygen - and many others gasping for air near the surface. Tests by Stone indicated there was almost no oxygen in the lake, threatening the existence of all the remaining fish.

"There's no question they would've died within hours," Stone said.

Pressed for an immediate solution, Stone, at the suggestion of a city worker, tried the compressors. A 200-foot-long pipe was attached to two compressors and dropped into the lake. The idea was to literally pump air into the water in much the same way an aerator does in a fishtank.

It worked.

"On Wednesday, there was one- tenth part per million of oxygen ... today it's five per million," Stone said.

Stone said the compressors would run all day today

and would be shut off this evening for more testing.

Joe Arabski, the city's watershed forester, is being cautious. "We'll have to see, but so far so good," he said.

That wasn't the case last week.

On June 17, the city put copper sulfate, a herbicide, in the lake to kill algae. Fish came floating up two days later. Others struggled for air.

Ward said: "You had shiners and bass, which feed on shiners, next to each other gasping for oxygen ... Prey and predator next to each other without paying any attention."

The lake had been stocked with 300 pounds of fish in the spring, including bass, pike, bullheads, bluegills and perch. Besides the fish, officials were also worried that the bacteria would cause botulism, a poison, to develop in the mud, threatening the ducks that populate the lake.

As oxygen levels increased, the water cleared up and the fish's behavior became normal, Stone said.

Arabski maintains that bacteria feeding on the algae used up the oxygen, rather than the copper sulfate. Stone agreed, but added that the herbicide probably sped up the action of the bacteria.

"I don't believe the city misapplied the copper sulfate," Stone said. "But next time, maybe they should check the oxygen levels first."

Stone said the city could avoid such problems by putting fountains, to act as aerators, in the lake. "This could be environmentally sound and esthically pleasing," he said.

Using compressors in such a way has never been done before, as far as Stone knows. He hopes the experiment might become a bellweather for such future crises.

"A lot of people called me up, complaining about the city killing the fish," Stone said. "And yeah, they put the herbicide in the water. But Albany deserves a lot of praise for taking the action it did."