news from the waterfront by Tim Matson


If you told me a year ago that the Christmas 2015 temperatures in Vermont would be in the 60s, and December would break records for heat, I'd have had a good laugh, especially following the record below-zero winter of the previous year. But as I looked across an ice-free pond this Christmas Eve, the laugh was on me. It was a lesson in the hazards of predictions. At least as far as the weather goes.

But when it comes to the behavior of ponds, I feel confident that as the season starts up in 2016, I will witness a predictable spectrum of issues which has more to do with the timeless character of ponds than my own clairvoyance. Here is a list of my predictions for what will happen in the world of ponds in 2016.

One: Water Quality.

A number of pond owners will find that water quality is disappointing. It might be cloudy, turbid water, or a bloom of one-celled green algae (phytoplankton), or an off color, or globs of filamentatious algae, or invasive rooted plants. Most ponds at one time or another will be afflicted
with such maladies, and there is usually a remedy to be found, or several. The solution is not likely to be found in an overnight cure. Pond owners are advised to accept that they are in it for the long haul, patience is a virtue.

Two: Low Water Level.

Summer is often a time when ponds experience a water level drop. (But not always, it can happen anytime...) This is especially troubling during swimming season, because low water not only reduces the size of the pond, but it may lead to unpleasantly warm temperatures, and plant and algae problems which interfere with swimming. Low water may also trigger fish kills. Low water may be an acceptable result of summer heat and evaporation and reduction of water supply, and owners live with it. But in severe cases, there may be a need for leak detection, additional water, or a liner.


Three: Spillway Problems.

There will be problems with spillways due to leaks or erosion, depending on the spillway type. Many steel pipe spillways are at the end of their lifespan, with corrosion at the inlet and along the length of the discharge pipe. This often leads to leaks and/or a drop in the pond water level. Plastic pipe can also fail due to cracking, etc. Remedies might involve repairs, but more likely either replacement of the system or a switch to another spillway, often a natural earthen
channel. Other spillway problems can involve pipe or channel plugging (debris, beavers, etc.) which may cause flooding.

Four: Fish.

There will be concerns about fish. This might involve fish kills, with some detective work needed to determine the cause: usually water problems or predators. Fish have also been known to escape via pipe or earthen channels. Solutions could include adding water, aeration, gated spillways, or adjusting the stocking rate or species of fish.

Five: New Ponds.

For new ponds in the planning stages there will be questions about siting, possible permitting requirements, and insuring a good supply of water. Design questions will arise about size and shape, spillway system, beach construction, docks and piers, possible decorative stonework, and landscaping. If pervious soil and/or water supply is an issue, the need for a membrane liner may have to be considered. All these questions will need to be discussed with potential contractors, as part of the design process, and contractor selection. And did I mention the budget?

In addition to the above predictions, let me suggest that whether your pond project involves a new pond or one in the planning stages, getting started early is a good idea. Pond work takes time; good, experienced contractors can be a challenge to find; and if permitting is involved, you can add more to the clock. Pond work often happens in late summer when the ground is driest and weather snafus least likely, but if you wait until then to start a project, it probably won't happen until the following year. 

Here's to a splashy 2016!


January 1, 2016


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