Pondology news from the waterfront by Tim Matson

(Pond construction by Keith Clifford Contracting, Norwich, Vermont)


How should pond owners respond to the extremes in climate that seem to be our current lot? Here in Vermont, at least throughout a large part of the region where I live (central), it has been a summer of very dry weather. Occasionally interrupted by bouts of cloudburst and windstorm. While to the south and west, floods have hit half a dozen states with record rains. Responding to these weather challenges is best done with some proactive planning.

Drought can be allayed to some degree with provisions for supplementary water. It may even be possible to take advantage of drought to get some pond improvements accomplished. Anticipating floods means making sure the pond structure is set up to deflect big watershed runoff, and absorb and discharge big water with minimum damage.

Flood Preparation

Ponds will endure floods best if their inflow channels are prepared to resist erosion, including stabilizing stone or riprap and landscape fabric. Ponds that lie on flat terrain or anywhere in the way of watershed flooding, may benefit from an upstream berm to deflect flooding. Emergency spillways should be in place to discharge flood water in excess of primary spillway capacity. If the primary spillway is an earthen stream, it should be fortified against flood erosion.

Pond feeder streams often feature a sediment
pool just upstream from the pond, to catch eroding sediment before it affects the pond. After big rains I've seen such pools fill to the top with silt. Keep these pools cleaned out so they are ready for big rains and runoff.

Overcome Dry Weather

When water supply drops, you may want options for supplementary sources. Drilled and dug wells can be used to add to pond supply, if capacity is sufficient. These may be existing wells, or new ones dedicated for the pond. Roof runoff caught in gutters or foundation drains can be piped to the pond, if located above the pond. Springs located in the watershed above the pond can be located and tested for capacity, and where promising dug and piped to the pond.


Terrain above the pond may be tapped to capture runoff for the pond if drainage pipe or ditching is installed. Streams that can be legally sourced and piped to the pond can be a good source of pond water, but intakes should be well built to resist plugging or damage by stream erosion. In some situations, removing trees from a watershed above the pond will release water to the pond.

Take Advantage of Dry Weather

Nature takes but it also gives, and in dry weather what it offers is a good time to do pond cleanouts. With water levels down and inflow reduced or stopped, the pond can be worked on with little or no need for draining, pumping out, or inflow diversion.

Drought can be a good time for machine excavation of sediment buildup, and unwanted pond weeds and invasive vegetation. (See this month's photo of a drought enabled cleanout.) Manual removal of weeds by rake and weed cutter is also easier with the water down. It's a good time for structural repairs and improvements, such as spillway systems, steeper shoreline slopes, dam repairs, beach and dock building, and landscape work.

After being out of print for several years, Landscaping Earth Ponds is back in a 10th anniversary edition, published by Echo Point Press. Out of four books in the Earth Ponds series, this is the only one featuring color photos of ponds and plants. It's a book that connects the dynamics of pond design, maintenance, and function with landscaping, because the pond and its landscape need to coexist in balance. For example, a pond embankment looks like a great place for plants and trees, until you take into account fertilizer runoff, tree roots, leaf drop, invasive plants, etc. The book's examination of the balancing act between pond and landscape makes it unique in the array of pond landscaping books.

September 1, 2016

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