Plumbing Neptune’s depths at Hearst Castle

Divers look for source of ongoing leak problems at fabled Hearst Castle pool

ktanner@thetribunenews.comOctober 30, 2013 

Four divers slid below the 58-degree water in Hearst Castle’s iconic outdoor Neptune Pool this week, looking for cracked tiles and other reasons why the pool is losing between 3,000 and 5,000 gallons of water a day.

Any leaks can damage the structure of the massive, above-ground concrete pool, according to Nick Franco, State Parks district superintendent. That’s why State Parks authorized spending $250,000 to assess problems in the 345,000-gallon pool.

Evaporation causes some loss from the large water surface on the 95-foot-by-104-foot pool built in the 1920s. But leaks from the historic pool are a serious problem, especially during a drought year, Franco said. Some repairs were done to the empty pool in 2006 and 2007, but this underwater work is more detailed.

The San Simeon estate and visitor center use water from two Pine Mountain springs shared with Hearst Ranch.

The task list for the State Parks dive team members from Orange County and Santa Cruz included:

• Locate by sight and touch any crack or problem in the Vermont marble tile, grout lines, ladders, grates, drains, pipes and other features. They ran their hands along every single tile, according to diver Ken Kramer.

• Verify each leak by injecting harmless dye into the crack or flaw. An active leak would suck the dye down into the tile, Kramer said.

• Document what they found with markings, notes, precise measurements, photos and underwater video.

• Relay every find in real time to onsite members of a management team that’s preparing an official report on the problem.

That summary of damages, repair options and the estimated cost of each option is due by March, Franco said. State officials then will review the summary and recommend which fixes to fund.

An early estimate this year put repair costs at $10 million in voter-approved state bond funds for two major deferred-maintenance projects at the Castle: fixing the pool and replacing/repairing the red Spanish tile on the 60,645-square-foot La Casa Grande main house.

By Tuesday morning, divers had already located some major leaks, including a 1⁄8-inch crack near the pool’s southeast corner, below the Cassou swan statue, Museum Director Hoyt Fields said, plus a “huge crack on the wall by one of the marble ladders.”

The divers also found about $1 in coins in the upper reflecting pond, perhaps tossed there by wish-making visitors.

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