The Majesty of Water
By Bob Lusk
Submerge yourself into the depths of a discussion of the world’s most important compound…H Two Oh. Oh, sure, oil is a big deal…but water is bigger. When oil goes away we have a transportation nightmare. If water goes away, we die. Ah, but not to worry too much. When oil is used, it’s gone. Water has been recycled for eons. Our job is to expedite that recycle thing.
Permit this indulgence, please, as we delve into some of the philosophical, spiritual, emotional, and physical aspects of this magical substance.
Water is simply astonishing.
It fills your ponds and lakes…and then it leaves. It hydrates your body. It’s a vehicle to bring nourishment to our plants and a place for our fish to live. Planet Earth’s surface is 70% covered with water. 97% of that water is salty.
It soothes our souls. There’s just something fundamentally essential about being around water, which brings peace and adds joy to our lives. The babbling of a brook, the patter of raindrops on a metal roof, the soothing, interrupted droning of waves as they relieve themselves of energy when imploding on shore as we relax on the beach.
Philosophically, H2O has been the subject of celebration, of disputes, and war. Cities were built around it. Not many years ago, the state of Georgia thought about suing the state of Florida about a river boundary…because Georgia needed more water in the midst of a drought. Then, it rained and all was well.
Spiritually, being around water, admiring its resilience from a shoreline or wrapped in its warm summer wetness beneath the surface, allows one’s mind to reflect on the essence of who we are and what we believe.
Jesus turned water into wine. So does Napa Valley…but with a different process.
There are so many elements to understand about water to help us become better pondmeisters.
Water defies gravity. We borrow it…remember that. When water enters your pond, it’s there temporarily. Your job is to be the best steward you can be by treating it with respect. Be thoughtful about what you put into it. Water accepts plenty and rejects little. When it rejects something ugly, it does it in a sly way…by depositing it in the body of a fish, or an animal which drinks it, or a bird which drinks or eats a fish…or a human that consumes it.
Water follows the path of least resistance via lateral movement through soils, seepage through your dam, and by being taken up by plants and animals. If these processes stand in its way, water vaporizes into dry air or evaporates into the clouds where it can move on to another temporary location. We use water…and it uses us.
Scientists call water the “universal solvent,” meaning that anything that can, will dissolve into it. Metals, minerals, gasses, organic matter…many, many compounds dissolve into water. Alka-Seltzer, grass clippings, oxygen, some parts of your car, and fish food will dissolve into water, given enough time.
Water can become polluted and then, for the most part, become cleansed. Every time I drive past a city sewer treatment plant, I chuckle. City uses water, sends it to a sewage treatment plant where the solids are settled, gasses are released through aeration, total dissolved solids are diminished to legal limits and the water is flushed down the creek to a river, where it’s sent downstream for someone else to drink. When water is exposed to the atmosphere, to riparian and aquatic plants, and different soils and minerals, it changes. Nutrients are recycled, new compounds are dissolved and others are taken up by plants or released into the atmosphere. Nature plays a significant role in cleansing water. A mature willow tree can transpire a hundred gallons of water into the atmosphere on a hot summer day. One hundred gallons of water…per day.
Here are a few more interesting facts about water. It weighs the most at 39O F. Weigh a gallon of water at 39O and it will be heavier than water at any other temperature. Think about how significant that fact is. At 32O, water becomes ice. Ice floats. If the water beneath ice were 32O or colder, it too would be ice. That means ice insulates northern ponds from the exceptionally frigid winter temperatures. Water beneath ice in northern ponds typically hovers around 40O F. That’s considerably warmer than some ponds in the south during those cold winter days…those ponds which don’t freeze can have water temperatures hovering just above the freezing mark during spans of the winter. That’s a bit ironic, wouldn’t you say? Water in Alabama colder than water in Minnesota on the coldest winter day?
But, water has its other mysteries, too. As our pond water begins its annual warming trend each spring, another fascinating thing happens. As water warms into the 50’s, then 60’s and pushes toward the 70’s, the heat from sunshine, aided by spring breezes, tries to push this new heat downward into the water column. The water resists, especially since cooler water is heavier. Warm water moves upward and expands…it becomes less heavy. What happens in nature is a ‘layer-cake’ effect, where your pond stratifies. Warm, productive water at the surface loses its ability to connect with water beneath. Temperature stratification occurs. Remember, as a kid, when you swam in a pond and you felt that cold water near your feet? We thought it was cold spring water, but the truth is, most of the time, that layer of cold water sat beneath the “thermocline”…that zone which separates the warm, vibrant layer of water from the colder, deeper water. With stratification, that cool, lower layer doesn’t mingle at the surface and it quickly becomes devoid of oxygen. If water doesn’t contact the atmosphere, it struggles to replace its oxygen. As that cold layer sits beneath the warm layers, natural occurrences of decomposition of organic matter take up the limited amounts of oxygen and the deeper water basically becomes stagnant. When a summer storm passes through, dumps some hail into that top layer, or the temperature drops due to a late summer cool snap, don’t be surprised to see your pond “turn over”…meaning that the top layer cools off to the temperature beneath. When that happens, there’s a mixing of the two layers of water. That’s a “turn over.”
That fact is a basic premise behind the recommendation to aerate your pond. Aeration mixes water vertically, effectively diminishing or eliminating stratification and giving water the opportunity to do what it does best, move and cleanse itself. Nature tries to mix water, but can only offer horizontal movement via the wind. That’s where waves come in. Waves move across a lake, hit the shore and then turn under, heading the opposite direction.
These fascinating facts about water can be used in your favor, if you understand them. But, in order to truly understand the majesty of water, it’s wise to understand how water can use its power against you. Think of the physical power of water, especially as it moves. Think of floods and the power water has to move large objects. Think about the forces which occur when water saturates soils to the point of mudslides. Think about the fact that water can dissolve so much matter that it can have a negative impact on your enjoyment…and the health of your pond.
I can’t tell you how many phone calls our office has received over the years from heart-broken pondmeisters, calling to tell us their precious fish had died. Rarely is it the fish’s fault. Almost in every case, there are water quality issues where too much of the wrong things are temporarily dissolved into the water and the water simply rebels. Over-feeding, too much fertilizer, too much organic buildup, too many plants, or too many fish can cause water quality to deteriorate…the water pitches a fit and fish die. Then, the water does what water does and cleans itself where it can once again support life.
People build dams to impound water and design spillways to offer the orderly release of excess water. People design habitat within the confines of ponds and lakes so water can do its best job to help us achieve goals with our fish and plants and the enjoyment of all these wondrous natural happenings.
This enjoyment can be enhanced as we reach a better understanding of the vehicle itself. Water is a force, it is a compound. It’s spiritual, philosophical…and it’s completely essential. It nurtures and it kills. It repeats its cycles, over and over.
We tend to take it for granted…especially those of us fortunate enough to have some of it.
Please take a minute and raise a toast to the most important compound on Earth…that valuable resource we know and use every day.
Bob Lusk is in his 34th year as a private fisheries biologist, traveling the nation helping people design, build, stock and manage private fishing lakes. He’s also the editor of Pond Boss magazine, the nation’s leading journal about pond management. Contact Bob at [email protected]