Pros and Cons of Building a Pond
Consider the Facets of a Homemade Fish Pond Before Digging
By Joe Cadieux of midwestponds.com – So, you’re considering building a pond. Well, there are few things to think about before heading into a project of this nature. In this article, I hope to enlighten potential pond owners to the benefits and pitfalls of adopting an aquatic resource to love and cherish forever more.
Attract Wildlife to Your Property:
All life as we know it needs water to survive. Building a pond (especially in areas where there are few water resources) guarantees an increase in wildlife traffic through your property. Keep in mind all beasts will consider themselves welcome, including overland critters and fowl.
Raise Fish for Sport and Food:
A big part of a stable aquatic ecosystem is the fish that live within its depths. Raising and maintaining a good fishery helps manage the pond and provides a fun and nutritious resource for you and yours. Fisheries in small ponds must be harvested to remain stable. So, throw a few on the grill (or fertilize a tree) every now and then to keep the pond’s fish population at levels ideal for the size of the resource. Ponds can be managed either for a large number of small fish or a much smaller number of large fish. Your pond can only provide so much food and other resources, so it’s up to you to find the optimum balance of fish biomass vs. space/forage.
Ponds are Pretty and Valuable:
Ponds can be rustic and natural, or cultured and formal. Water adds an aesthetic that few other landscaping choices can provide. Water has fascinated mankind for millennia, and there are few things we as a species value as a life-sustaining resource more than good, clean water. Who doesn’t like hanging out at the pond with a beverage and some friends to watch a sunset?
By the way, a beautiful pond can increase property value of your homesteading land by 10-15 percent.
Ponds are Useful:
If you own a farm, ponds can be used for watering livestock and crops/gardens. Ponds can also be used as a heat sink for large structure HVAC systems, de-watering, runoff control and storm water retention. Ponds are as versatile as their design allows them to be.
Ponds are Fun:
This one is easy … Fishing, swimming, lounging about, wildlife viewing (with the occasional wildlife harvest if you are so inclined). There are boundless opportunities for recreation and leisure with pond ownership.
Let us not forget about winter. If you live in an area (as I do) where ice and snow is a way of life for us for half the year, there’s fun to be had here, too. Ice fishing and skating (I prefer ice hockey) on your pond gets you outside during the winter months, because we all need a little vitamin D during these times. If you are aerating your pond (and you SHOULD be aerating your pond) you are providing a fantastic wildlife asset for a time of the year when open water is rare in these parts. An open hole, contiguous with the shore, will bring in multitudes of critters. Species that are too shy to come out during the summer months will appear with regularity, so keep your binoculars handy.
Most of the cons of pond ownership relate to cost. Building a pond is expensive initially and requires upkeep.
Ponds require maintenance. Cleaning up debris and the occasional dead fish (among other tasks) are not insignificant responsibilities. Ponds obviously require more work than vacant land or even lawns, so know that at the bare minimum, you will be doing something to the pond twice a month to maintain a good healthy system.
Small ponds of less than 2-3 acres in size cannot take care of themselves. You will be required to fend off Mother Nature’s attempts at filling in the pond. Be diligent about noticing the indicators of an aging aquatic system. (I have several articles specifically on the subject of pond maintenance on the Water’s Edge blog.)
You will need a stock of pond products ($$$) and tools ($$$) to keep the pond looking nice. Some of the tasks will be fairly arduous in nature. For instance, an average algae treatment, performed by a certified applicator firm for a ½ acre pond, costs around $400-$500. I strongly encourage the use of natural products like bacteria and enzymes instead of chemical pesticides. Sometimes, however, small chemical treatments are necessary to get a pond to a state where you can maintain it naturally.
Digging the Pond:
Excavating a pond correctly is expensive. Every contractor with a backhoe thinks they are skilled at building a pond. Well I’m here to tell you they are not. In fact, most are truly bad at it. Be sure to interview a prospective excavator and go see some of the work they have done. I have pointers on digging a pond in another article at midwestponds.com.
If you are looking to get the most out of your initial capital expenditure, planning ahead is a must. It is not uncommon to have to spend $25-75K on site prep, pond excavation, and final landscaping for building a pond one quarter to one third acre in size. How your pond is constructed matters. Poor farm pond design will lead to higher maintenance costs and poor longevity overall for your pond system.
Bringing in wildlife is an overall positive aspect of pond ownership. Alas, not all critters are beneficial to the pond system. These nuisance creatures can damage the system and/or be detrimental to the pond ecosystem.
Here are a few to look out for:
• Muskrat: These large rodents show up to munch on your aquatic plants and stay to collapse banks and tunnel into your lawn. They can be discouraged by installing rock (rip rap) along your shoreline, but that is quite expensive.
• Canada Geese: These vermin of the sky are vile, useless creatures that are not ever welcome to the pond. Adult geese can poo 2 lbs. per day, they are loud and aggressive, and they eat too much and can wreck aquatic plantings.
• Mink and Otter: These members of the weasel family are superb fishermen and can eradicate all those fish you have raised from tiny fingerlings. I have witnessed 2-acre ponds relieved of their fish populations by an overzealous otter.
These critters are difficult to trap or discourage, and if left to their own devices, they will degrade your pond ecosystem. Once the damage is done, it is always a long expensive road back to normalcy. Most of the time, this process takes years to accomplish.
Each of these issues to building a pond, both pro and con, deserve way more time than I have dedicated to them here. I will explore more of these in future posts, so please look to my Water’s Edge Blog for more info. Further, I will be delving into more topics about the wild world of pond ownership in the near future. Stay tuned!
Joe Cadieux is the Senior Biologist for Midwestponds.com. Midwestponds was started to provide the products and advice needed to build and maintain water gardens and large ponds as naturally as possible. Joe consults and manages many lakes and ponds throughout southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois. He also takes special pleasure as a judge at the University School of Milwaukee’s Spring Science Fair.
Joe is a freshwater biologist with two degrees in fisheries/limnology and biology from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He has 13+ years of experience in managing fresh water resources in the Midwest. He believes in integrated resource management as a tool to keep lakes and ponds happy and healthy. If the ecosystem is stable and balanced from the microbes on up to the fish and end users, a pond is a perfect resource for you and your family.
Joe grew up fishing, hunting, and camping with his family in the Midwest. At home he helped out on the hobby farm with the chickens, rabbits, and goats … and one goose (Gracie). Joe credits his father and his 6th grade science teacher for instilling the love of the outdoors and of course … SCIENCE!