We have HOA clients with ponds that were in place before the HOA was formed and ponds that were created by the developer for fishing, irrigation, wildlife, and water runoff. What all ponds have in common is they almost all require regular maintenance, even if the pond is doing no more than enhancing the appearance of the HOA. Pond monitoring or maintenance can involve inspecting different areas of the pond on a routine basis for drainage, erosion, water quality decline, weed control and possible wildlife damage.
Pond Drains and Pond Spillways
One of the most vital aspects of any pond is the drain or spillway. The spillway allows excess water to exit the pond in a controlled manner which prevents damage to the pond and surrounding property. In our part of the country all ponds require some type of spillway, yet many ponds have blocked or insufficient spillways. In some ponds, the spillway could just be a grassy dip in one corner of the pond. More recently constructed ponds can use pipes to collect and drain water to the base of a dam or drain the water into a catch basin. Spillways and emergency spillways must always be kept clear and free of water restricting vegetation.
Pond Bank Erosion
Erosion around a pond can be a very serious matter for an HOA along with the properties bordering the HOA. A heavy rain or flash flood can magnify a small erosion problem into a large problem. Pond shorelines void of vegetation can erode to cause muddy water and silt buildup. The dam or catch basin and the shoreline should be checked at least once a year. Soggy ground around the bottom of the dam, muddy water seeping through the dam, soil eroding off the dam and washouts should be looked for and are indicators of issues that need to be addressed.
Grass is an effective and sometimes permanent solution to most erosion. If eroded areas are discovered, these areas should be filled and reseeded or resodded. The roots of the grass once established, will stabilize the soil and prevent further erosion. If it is not clear where the eroded soil is coming from, this may be a job for a professional pond maintenance company. If dam stability is in question an engineer may need to be consulted to find a solution to the erosion.
To measure pond water clarity a black-and-white disk called a Secchi disk is used. The Secchi disk is lowered into the pond until it disappears from view and the depth of disappearance is a measure of water clarity. Several feet of visibility is generally reasonable and an indication of a healthy and balanced pond. Healthy pond water will have color variations from light green to a dark brown color.
Shore erosion, algae, plankton, and silty runoff entering the pond are the major causes of poor pond water clarity. To possibly help determine the cause of poor water clarity, fill a clear glass jar with pond water and view it under a bright light. Algae or plankton will appear as green flecks or tiny moving organisms. A siltation problem is present when after 48 hours all the matter settles in the bottom of the jar.
Clarity issues can also result from the breakdown of vegetation or algal blooms, sometimes referred to as red tides, and are caused by nutrient runoff. These problem nutrients are usually nitrogen and phosphorus, which can come from fertilizer, septic systems, and animal waste. All attempts should be made to keep areas supplying a pond free of these nutrient sources. If this runoff cannot be avoided, one method, called a settling pond, may solve this problem. A settling pond is an area upstream from the pond to catch, retain, and produce a controlled breakdown of nutrients. A settling pond is generally constructed as a shallow point or swale, with thick grass or even reeds to capture as much nutrient runoff as possible. Settling pond areas are generally 5% to 15% of the size of the entire main pond to accommodate the runoff. If a settling pond area does not resolve the clarity issues there are chemical solutions that can be utilized.
Wildlife such as muskrats and beavers can do damage and cause other issues that negatively affect a pond. Muskrats can create stability problems by burrowing holes in pond dams and burrowing holes elsewhere around the pond resulting in erosion. When muskrats are burrowing into a dam, the affected area on the pond dam needs to be covered, above and below the shoreline, with rocks or with a metal fencing mesh.
Beavers can block pond spillways and pipes with limbs and mud. These blockages can result in pond levels rising and flooding the areas around the pond. Explosives many times have to be used to remove these blockages. Dealing with or removing muskrats or beavers generally requires a licensed contractor who specializes in wildlife control.
Pond plants/weeds provide a great many benefits to a pond. Plants can promote fish habitats, oxygenation, and most importantly erosion control. If excessive plant growth begins to interfere with the operation of the pond it must be dealt with before it causes damage. Being familiar with the various plants in a pond and determining the issues at hand, many times are best determined by pond maintenance contractors.
There are various methods used for pond weed control. However, before any of these methods are employed, it must be determined if excess nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, are entering the pond and if this is a factor that must be controlled before implementing weed control. These excessive nutrients may be the cause of the undue plant growth.
Once cause is determined, the treatment could be as simple as raking algae off the surface or adding a new breed of fish to consume excess weed matter. Surface floating weeds and floating algae masses can be removed with a skimmer or rake. Issues below the surface can be dealt with by physically removing plants by hand or possibly by introducing a fish called a Grass Carp also known as a White Amour that consumes aquatic plants. In winter months, ponds can also be partially drained without negatively affecting wildlife.
Seeking quick remedies for pond plant problems is never advisable. Aquatic herbicides are available and should only be used in extreme situations. The disadvantages of the chemical treatment options are the higher cost, higher risks of deoxygenating, and could lead to needing permits, and in certain cases having to obtain permission from multiple government agencies.
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