news from the waterfront by Tim Matson


With spring and summer 2012 in the wings, I’ve been doing some thinking about a complex category of backyard waters: the second pond. There are several kinds of second ponds. There’s the second home second pond, there’s the second pond that makes a pair with a nearby pond, and there’s the second pond (or third or fourth, etc.) which is the owner’s second experience with pond ownership.

Let’s start with the second home second pond. Now this may be the owner’s first experience with a pond
or not, but the important thing is that the owner lives somewhere else, and has a second home likely in the country, and with it a pond, which I’ll call a second pond.

So what makes a second pond different from a pond you live with full time? You are not there all the time! So what? Well, absentee ownership of a pond has its risks and rewards. The rewards are, hopefully, every time you arrive in the country, you are so happy to see the pond that the first thing you do is dive in! Or encountering ice, skate!

But let’s be realistic and also consider the risks. Let’s assume the pond is already built and functioning reasonably well. First, there’s the issue of fish. Many pond owners like to stock fish, to catch for the table, or for fly casting catch and release, or simply to complete the pond package, so to speak. The problem with absentee ownership is that the fish are often here today, gone tomorrow. (This can happen even with full time pondkeepers.) It all begins with stocking the fish. Will you be there when the fish are stocked? It helps to see that the full count of fish arrive healthy and swim off happily if a bit dazed into their new home. Your hatchery staffer can also offer ideas on fish and pond care on the spot, and general tips on all things fishy. If you can’t be there for delivery, cross your fingers. Fish, especially small fry, are especially vulnerable at first to flying predators, like herons and kingfishers. And bigger fish already in the pond may eat new small ones. Fish should be stocked in temperatures suited to their health. If you find them belly up when you arrive from the city, you’ll have pretty good evidence there was an issue with water quality (oxygen, heat, contamination, etc). Another way fish can disappear is to jump down the overflow pipe or swim out the discharge channel, so take precautions if needed (trash guard, spillway fencing). This can happen to full time pond owners or second ponders alike.

Speaking of fish and pond habitat, I’d like to welcome a new advertiser to Earthponds.com : Harrietta Hills Fish Farm and Pond Products Supplier. Harrietta Hills is a family enterprise with 15 years’ expertise in helping pond owners across the country improve fish and wildlife habitat, monitor and improve water quality, and select from a wide assortment of pond improvement products. (Not to mention selling trout, bass, bluegills, perch, catfish, and minnows to Michigan residents.) Dan Vogler, one of the owners, is president of the Michigan Aquaculture Association and a veteran pond specialist.

I asked Dan for his impressions of what was uppermost in pond owners’ minds these days.“There is a huge emphasis on non-chemical solutions to pond problems and maintenance,” he says. “Aeration, manual control of problem plant growth, habitat improvement.” For those who remember the days when pond owners reached for the copper sulphate and other toxic chemicals when any problem arose, the switch to natural solutions is an encouraging trend.

Dan gets inquiries from across the country, so he offers a broad spectrum of products and potential solutions. “There is no silver bullet for pond water quality. A pond is a complex biological system, each one is unique, so we try to take an integrated broad approach. Ponds are also largely an aesthetic thing, people have different tastes, so we cater to the individual customer.”

Harrietta Hills offers a variety of aeration systems, from fountains and splash systems to diffusers, for electric operation or wind. They offer a range of pond products including bird nesting and feeding products, water safety devices, nuisance animal controls, water testing equipment, non toxic water conditioners, water gardening supplies, and reference materials. Watch for their expanding selection of aquaculture products, which Dan reports is in response to growing interest in fish production for home and business. Click here to check out their website.

As long as we’re on the topic of arranging to be around when the fish arrive, consider the general
challenges of having any work done on the pond when you’re not there. If you’re having repairs done, or something added like a beach or a pier, or even a pond built from scratch, it’s good to be in agreement with the contractor about what you’re aiming to accomplish. Otherwise, when you arrive for the weekend you may not like the look of that new stone in the spillway channel, or the shape of the dam. One of the benefits of our new digital technology is the digital camera. It may be possible to ask your contractor to take daily pictures as he goes along, and send them to you, so you can get a rough idea of what he’s up too. This is good for the contractor, too, because it can be frustrating to explain to a client that he had to change plans for this or that reason, and describe what the revised look is. In my own consulting work, I find myself looking at emailed photos on many jobs.




Sometimes second home owners have a caretaker or neighbor who can look in at the pond while they’re away. This can be especially helpful after a big storm, to confirm that everything is shipshape in the realm of spillways, erosion, etc.

In general a well seasoned pond that’s showed good form over the years will be easier to relax about from a distance than a new pond or one under construction. One of the best insurance policies for a pond, new or old, is a good emergency spillway to handle flood water that exceeds the primary discharge system, or when the primary gets plugged up while the owner is away (beavers, leaves, etc).

There’s another kind of second pond, where you have not just one but two ponds (or more). Dual pond
may involve one main pond and a much smaller upstream sediment pool, designed to catch
eroding sediment before it reaches the main pond. These catch pools can help create better water quality in the lower pond, and make it easier to remove sediment periodically from the small pool rather than go through an elaborate drawdown and dredging of the main pond. Make sure to keep the catch pool periodically cleaned out because when full of silt it can overflow eroded material into the main pond.

Or perhaps you have two large ponds. They may or may not be connected by stream flow. If connected there may be a silt pool effect. That is, if the upper pond receives a stream feed it may be siltier and hold more nutrients than the pond it flows into downstream. The lower pond may be the favored pond for swimming. However I have seen situations where the upper pond has the cleaner water, usually because the lower pond is in a wetland type area trending to marshiness. Anyway, in dual pond situations it is often possible to tweak the ponds so that one or the other benefits from having a sister pond. For instance, the lower pond might be a source of water to be pumped uphill to the upper pond, when needed. Having two ponds also gives the owner the opportunity to do necessary cleanouts or repairs without disabling the total water force. Clean out one pond one year, and continue to use the remaining pond. Next, visa versa.

Finally you may have owned or lived with a pond in the past, and now moved on to your second pond. My second pond was one that I sited and built myself (with the help of a bulldozer artist). I had just moved from a farm with a wonderful fish, swim, skate, irrigation, and sauna pond. And my new place was pondless. In less than three years I had that situation remedied.

I find that a number of my clients are interested in building a new pond or purchasing property with a pond because they had one at a previous location and feel a bit “empty” without it. Sometimes, although it’s a second pond project, it may be their first experience actually building a pond. They know how to enjoy and maintain a pond, but little about creating one. If it’s property with a pond they are evaluating to buy or have recently purchased, they want to know all the pros and cons. When I’m helping someone evaluate a second pond, among the things I will try to determine is the pond history. It can be very useful to know who built the pond; what sort of piping was used (drains can be especially difficult to locate); if any fish were stocked, species, and how well they thrived; water supply issues; and problems, if any. If the pond needs significant work (cleanout, dam or pipe repair, etc.) it might be
calculated into the price in your favor.

A Surprise Pond Story

Okay, enough about second ponds. Here’s a closing pond tale I recently heard from a contractor friend. As they reach retirement age, a couple decides it’s time to sell their country home and move into town. The place is a bit rundown, and to spruce it up they think, hey, let’s build that pond we always talked about but never got around to. It could help make the sale. So they hire an experienced contractor and locate a favorable site, and work up a design and a budget. The contractor says they should get five to seven times the cost of construction when they sell the house with the new pond. So he builds the pond and it’s a beauty. Wonderful new watery view from the house and lovely swimming especially from the new cedar pier, not to mention the safety associated with the fire hydrant they piped in. They showed the ouse a couple of times and got immediate offers.The pond helped win the offers, and also confirmed the contractor’s profit predictions. Then, suddenly, they took the house off the market. They had fallen in love with the pond and decided to stay.

April 15, 2012

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