Some UCSB students were surprised this year by the appearance of Storke Plaza’s new Pond Restoration Project. The pond, whose previous incarnations include a seagull birdbath and the world’s largest ashtray, is now inhabited by a variety of fish and aquatic plants.

The recent transformation of the Storke Plaza reflecting pool was due to the corrosion of the mechanical system and pipes under the pool, said Jon Cook, UCSB associate director of physical facilities.

“The reason to turn the reflecting pool into an aquatic pond came as a practical decision,” Cook said. “There was an expressed desire by the campus to retain the original intent of the reflecting pond to highlight Storke Tower and be the major feature of the Storke Plaza.”

David Gonzales, associate vice chancellor of physical facilities, said that to renovate the reflecting pool as an operating fountain like it was before would cost $50,000. He said some of the necessary repairs would include trenching and replacing pipes under the pool and repairing the pumps in the pump vault under the University Art Museum Plaza. Gonzales said the new pond cost about $23,000 to install.

Signs posted around the pond say that it is designed to be a self-sustaining ecosystem, without filtration by a mechanical pump, a method which provides “an environmentally sensitive solution and energy savings.” According to the signs, the plants and fish living in the pond “provide a biological balance within an aquatic environment.”

While the signs state that a biofiltration system has been installed, Mike Cavalletto of Santa Barbara Ponds, the company that assembled the pond, said the process that makes the pond self-sustaining is not a filtration system per se.

“Instead of a mechanical pump, the plants pull nutrients out of the water [as fertilizers],” Cavalletto said. The nutrients are extracted from the wastes produced by the fish and other natural bacteria living in the pond.

Biofiltration is a process generally used for air and water purification, rather than an ecosystemic process. Biofiltration is the process of removing and oxidizing compounds from contaminated air using microorganisms. The process was originally used to treat wastewater from chemical manufacturing facilities, solid waste processing plants, composting operations and rendering plants.

The Storke Plaza pond might be able to feed itself, but it can’t clean itself. It still relies on human assistance to stay clean.

Gabriel Gomez and Francisco Gama of Santa Barbara Ponds have been doing regular maintenance on the pond since its completion late last spring. They said that without a mechanical filtration system, the pool must be cleaned out at least every week and sometimes more often than that.

“If we don’t clean every week, in a month it would be a big mess,” Gomez said.

Regular maintenance on the pond includes sweeping the bottom with a vacuum pump, cleaning out excess accumulated algae and refilling the water. The kannas plants, which grow very fast, also need to be cut back regularly, Gomez said. Dichlor salt is added to reduce the amount of chlorine in the water to levels that will not harm the fish or the plants.

Gonzales said the regular maintenance on the pond will cost about $15,000 annually.

While maintenance of the new pond may seem extensive, Tye Simpson, director of campus planning and design, said the Storke reflecting pool with a fountain in it required just as much.

“It wasn’t a recirculating system,” Simpson said. “We had to pump in fresh water to clean it. Recirculating water was a problem [with] students who had lots of fun putting material in the water.”

Maintenance on the reflecting pool also included adding pool sanitizing chemicals and cleaning up after birds.

The landscape staff of the Physical Facilities, Grounds and Custodial Services Dept. designed the pond restoration project. Santa Barbara Ponds, a Carpinteria-based company specializing in pond construction and maintenance, installed the pond.

David Inouye, assistant engineer and one of the landscape architects who designed the pond, said the pond is stocked with mosquitofish that feed off of mosquito larvae.

“These [fish] reproduce like rabbits,” Cavalletto said. “There won’t be any larvae in [the pond] at all.”

Gonzales said he was very pleased with the final result.

“People have really respected the beauty of it,” Gonzales said. “And the birds don’t like it.”