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Before Renovating A Pond Dig Into These Thoughts

One of the first things a proud, new landowner wants to do is improve pond productivity.  In his book, Perfect Pond…Want One?, Pond Boss Bob Lusk reminds there are no quick solutions to old problems.  What took years to develop can take months, maybe thousands of dollars to correct.  Before hastily unloading equipment and rushing to work, consider these important points.

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Renovation requires moving large amounts of dirt and sediment. Don’t start digging without a plan. Equipment time adds up fast.

Why do I want to renovate?  To improve fishing or increase depth for more water capacity?  Do I want to enlarge surface acreage?  Will that mean raising the dam?  Do I have too much shallow water?  Does wind and wave action keep water turbid?  Do I simply want to rearrange bottom dirt for better fish habitat or will that risk penetrating the soil basin and create seepage?

For best answers, ponder these thoughts:

Fact – When removing silt, the slick, black material from the bottom is often thick and gooey like chocolate pudding.  It must be moved at least twice.  Once to extract from the pond, second to haul or spread away from the site.  In any state, moving the same dirt twice with heavy equipment can be time consuming and expensive.

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Dozers or track hoes dredge silt from the bottom. Front end loaders spread nearby to dry and recycle.

Fact – Silt only dries as deep as wind and evaporation allow, usually no more than 18-inches.  An apparent dry surface may sit for years, cracking in the sun, while just below ground may be dripping with moisture.

Fact –  Contrary to popular belief, silt is not nearly as high in soil nutrients as rich material from backyard compost heaps.  Soil from a pond bottom is seldom fertile unless mixed with good topsoil. When dry, it’s grainy, almost powdery, loose dirt which shrinks.  Add water, the stuff swells and turns back into that slick, nasty pudding you wanted to eliminate.

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A portion of sediment that accumulated in this pond over 30-years.

Fact –  Heavy equipment is more efficient moving regular dirt than bottom silt. Translation?  It’s cheaper to move and tailor good clays and loams than attempting the same work with stacks of sediment.

Fact –  Any time you can go up rather than down, you are saving substantial amounts of money. If you are on a tight budget, consider raising the dam by working new dirt into the top, rather than increasing depth by digging.

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Dredged material can take months to dry.

Fact –  It usually costs less to build a new pond than renovate an old one.  By the time you pay to move the same soil two or three times away from an old pond, it often costs less to build a brand new one on a different watershed.  Plus, you get a new pond instead of a cleaned-out old one.

The reason you are exploring options to renovate is because your pond did what ponds do.  It grew old, no matter the time frame.  You see, when a pond is first built, it begins a different life.  Ponds are constructed to impound water, become a habitat, then shrink.  Loose soils invade from above, infiltrate the pond, and seek to fill low voids.  Eventually, a pond loses water volume capacity as dirt moves in, then upper reaches and edges become more of a wetland.  As time goes by, more area becomes wetland. Given enough time, that beautiful pond of years ago becomes a swamp, then reverts to dry land.  That’s the life of a pond.  The period of time to go from pond to land may be 25 to 150-years, depending on the site and what influences it.

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Walking into a heavily silted pond can resemble wading in a vat of chocolate pudding.

Renovating a pond may test your patience as well as your pocketbook, but done properly, the payoff comes when you start enjoying the view or catching quality fish from a healthier environment.  After all, you are buying your pond a new lease on life.

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