Nearing the end of the summer season, here's a look back at some of the sights and signifiers I saw during my travels among ponds old and new.
Let's start at the horse ranch I visited a while back, where steer roping was practiced next to a pond perfect for riders cooling off after a hot day in the saddle. That's riders, not horses. (The horses had an outdoor shower stall all their own.) Now if this were the Ponderosa, maybe the horses could have enjoyed a swim too, but being a modern pond with a plastic liner, horsing about in there would have cut the liner to shreds.
Which reminds me of another cautionary horse pond tale. A few years back I found myself looking into an empty pond, trying to figure out what the problem was. It soon became clear that the pond had been built on top of leaky ledgerock, as well as in a site without much natural ground water or runoff. So we talked about how to remedy those deficits -- clay or plastic liner, perhaps; gather more water off the hillside above the pond (including eves drop foundation drains around the house to catch roof runoff). And keep the horse out of the pond! Turns out the equestrienne of the house had ridden her thoroughbred into the pond a while back and ko'd the standpipe, cracking the plastic. Not only did the standpipe look like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, it leaked. So if you're going to cool off your horse in the pond, make sure it's an old fashioned swimming hole with a earthen pondbed, and no vulnerable piping.
Speaking of cooling off, I visited a few pond beaches this summer where folks were not using the traditional washed masonry sand I usually recommend. At one pond, the builder was also an accomplished stoneworker who owned a quarry. And instead of regular sand, he had covered the beach with granite rubble. The advantage? The weight of the grittier stone particles resists erosion better than fine sand, and over fifteen or twenty years there had been little washing away of the beach into the pond. A bit tough on the feet, but you could think of it as a new form of reflexology. At another pond beach, I found that instead of masonry sand, the owners used concrete sand, which again has grittier particles that resist being rain-washed into the pond.
But at my place the beach is still masonry sand, and I prefer its soft texture enough to justify having to add a pickup load every few years. In fact, as the sand slides slowly into the pond it enlarges the coverage over the muddy bottom, which helps suppress the growth of unwanted aquatic vegetation. Much better for sand castles, too. As for grits, I prefer them cooked and with lots of butter.
In the New Pond department, I worked with a Canadian land owner who is building a house designed to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. The house uses geothermal energy for heating and cooling. Well water circulates through a heat exchange system, which extracts heating or cooling energy from the water, depending on the season. After yielding its temperature altering BTUs, the well water is discharged by pipe back into the environment. But rather than simply channel the water away, the plan is to pipe the water into a pond. How to design and use the pond is the challenge, with an emphasis on making it part of a self-sufficient family farm. Fish? Farm irrigation? Skating? Landscape feature? Fire protection? They're all possibilities for this pioneering green pond design.
As the climate heats up, as the population (read pollution and erosion) increases, and as it becomes more challenging to find good pond sites, I'm seeing more ponds, old and new, using aeration devices to improve water quality (especially liner ponds). Splash surface aerators, fountains, submerged bubblers, and waterfalls are helping to raise dissolved oxygen levels, and hence the natural decomposition of unwanted nutrients, which in turn discourages pond weeds and algae. Better for swimmers, and often crucial in fish raising operations.
Keep in mind that if you're going to run an electric pump air compressor on shore, there may be a noise issue with the motor. Since these systems are often recommended to run 24/7, consider locating the pump far enough from the pond, and possibly in a sound buffering enclosure, so you won't need ear muffs at the shore. Check out wind powered aerators to conserve electricity and the fossil fuels that produce it, and reduce noise.
Another trend on the rise is the use of silt pools. I'm not sure whether it's because of the increase in explosive downpours in this new weather trend we're catching, or simply that more pond builders are wising up to the effectiveness of sediment catchments in pond feed streams. Anyway, whether it's a seasonal flow or a continuous stream feeding a pond, a silt pool is often necessary if you don't want your pond to fill up with dirt.
Swampy silt pools look better when you add a nesting box for ducks.
Now it's a wildlife refuge.
I saw one old pond that had been recently dredged out and looked brand new. The only hangup was that although an impressive silt pool had been installed on the far side of a upslope berm, the stream leading to the silt pool and pond had also been cleaned out, without any erosion control stone, fabric, or vegetation. All it took was one six inch cloudburst to fill the silt pool with stream erosion right to the overflow pipe, and the pond turned brown and took a big shot of sediment. Remember that a silt pool by itself may not be effective without attention to the feeder stream.
Here's another silt pool note. By the end of the summer the situation is reversed, and we're in a drought. The silt pool I'm visiting is stagnant, covered with algae and trapped debris. No big disaster because as soon as the rains come it should clean up nicely. In fact, the swampy silt pool doesn't look bad at all. Why? Because as you look at the silt pool from the pond shore, your eye is drawn to the far end of the pool where there's an attractive wood duck box on a wooden post. It does a nice job of suggesting that this somewhat funky looking swamp pool is actually a wetland wildlife refuge. And maybe it is.
Ok, one last story, and a sad one at that, but with an interesting lesson. For a lot of people, the U.S. economy is not a happy situation. Older folks on fixed income are among the hardest hit. Along with high health care and fuel costs, property taxes can be punishing, especially where affluent out-of-state newcomers are pushing up real estate values. In one nearby town, a senior couple got such a big property tax increase they feared they might have to move -- unless they could somehow lower their tax bill. They decided that one source of their high valuation was a trio of fish ponds they'd built years ago. So they hired a bulldozer operator to fill them in. News of the pond demolition got around, and it became a feature story in the local paper. When the reporter made a few calls to fill in the facts, he found that the couple wasn't being taxed for the ponds at all. They'd simply heard a rumor, panicked, and now had three piles of dirt in the yard. And a bulldozer bill. Not to mention the fleeing frogs. So their taxes won't go down, but the resale value of their place sure will.
The moral of the story? Before you get too addled, bang in a big sign next to your pond:
FILL IN OVER MY DEAD BODY