To close out 2021, let's look back at the year's highlights and lowlights, and forward to some pond predictions. It's been a remarkable year of weird weather, plague (never did I dream I'd be writing that), and extraordinary pond demands. Live and learn, or else.
Start with the weather. By itself the weather caused enough stress on pond work to make it a challenging year, regardless of other problems.
My focus is mostly the east, where 2020 ended in a drought, so water tables were still low at the start of the 2021. That meant many ponds had water quality problems like algae, weeds, poor clarity, fish stress, low water levels, and low water supply. So 2021 began with owners looking for supplementary water, often a good remedy for such problems.
Going after more water led pond owners in several directions. Some people looked at their watershed for more water supply. Were there springs to develop uphill to gravity feed to the pond? Spring detection might involve visual inspection for wet areas, and dowsing. Also to consider might be drainage systems like ditching and perforated pipe to get more efficient ground water delivery to the pond.
Another option was well water. Perhaps an existing well with sufficient supply could be tapped with a line to the pond. Sometimes a good household well was enough. Sometimes a second pump was installed in the well to reduce the load on the house pump. A timer was often used to regulate the amount of pond water feed, to prevent over taxing the well.
If an existing well didn't have enough capacity, a new well might be drilled (although wells don't come with supply guarantees, so good prep work is required, like dowsing).
Another way to get more water is roof catch. Roof runoff from homes and outbuildings is piped to the pond, most efficiently when the structures are uphill of the pond.
Sometimes nearby streams are tapped, but care should be taken to make sure state resource regulations aren't violated. Ideally stream water is piped downhill to the pond, although in some cases pumping is used.
One more approach to improving pond water is to conserve existent water. If the pond has leakage due to anything from poor construction to pervious soil, aging, and more, stop or reduce the leaks.
So, prompted by the drought of 2020, adding water supply was often a project for 2021. Additional water can make a big difference in pond performance. Algae and weeds are discouraged, water quality improves, fish do better, and recreation and swimming improves.
But there's one catch. After all that work and expense to add water, what if the drought ends? What if in fact, just the opposite happens: big rains.
That's just what happened this year. We've gone from drought to flood. How big is the difference? A year ago my pond was often two feet below designed waterlevel, the water was stagnant, and there was a plankton bloom opaque as cappuchino. Unswimmable. My well was also low, so low the intake line was sucking air and sediment.
Now this year the pond has been full and overflowing, and swimming was tops all summer. I've lived here long enough to know that like Mark Twain said, if you don't like the weather in New England, wait a minute. So I didn't invest in new water supplies, or aeration (another way to improve water quality spoiled by low water supply). I went down the road to a bigger lake with better water quality, for swimming and kyacking.
So I waited, and by golly it did rain. I should be happy, right? I am, with some caveats. The rain many of us wished for turned out to be too much of a good thing. Here, it meant a full pond and fine swimming. All good.
But for a lot of people in the pond business, all that rain put the brakes on building and cleanouts. It was simply too wet to work. Dirt work is one thing, trying to excavate and shape mud quite another. Not to mention moving machinery around pond shores, tearing up topsoil and sod in the process. Not much fun for soaking workers, either. One contractor I talked to said he never had more than two rain free days all summer. He said delays meant he was booked two years out on pond projects.
One ray of sunshine in this is that for pond owners with no need for repairs or cleanouts, despite some rain, it was a fine year for ponds.
But back to reality. At the same time the weather was putting a spanner in pond construction, demand for pond work was up. Way up. The reason: Covid.
There's been a flood (yup) of newcomers in the northeast. They're escaping Covid,
and Covid related issues (downsizing, layoffs, etc.) Leaving cities, buying up rural real estate. Buying existing homes more than building new because of construction supply and worker shortages. Homes with ponds are at a premium. The market is so hot people are buying places on line, without setting foot in the door. Bidding wars.
The problem is that if you discover a pond that needs work, or you want to build one from scratch, demand exceeds labor supply. A number of contractors I work with are booked years out. They don't return calls. It's not only that there's more work than they're set up for, but their worker reservoir has shrunk. It seems to be a nationwide problem: a lot of workers are quitting. Retiring. Got sick, or don't want to work in Covid risky setting. Aging out. Bottom line, you can't satisfy increasing pond demand with shrinking worker supply. I mentioned supply shortages too, right? That's where we're at now.
So what do I tell clients who want to build or rejuvenate a pond? Be persistent, be creative.
Use the internet to track down pond contractors, and get in touch. Often you'll find that phoning works better than email. Be persistent, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Ask around your neighborhood for pond worker leads. Look at ponds and ask who built them. Try the town clerk, the state extension service. The fire department often knows who built and maintains fire ponds. Ski resports, golf courses, fish hatcheries all have ponds. Be a pond detective. And be prepared to be put on a waiting list that might be months, years long. In fact, get on more than one wait list.
Nevertheless, looking into my crystal ball, I see a bright future for ponds, new and old. Easy call. Ponds have been popular for centuries, eons, and there's no reason they'll go out of favor. They work for food production, irrigation, recreation, landscaping, fire protection, wildlife habitat, sport fishing, and the list goes on.
For current trends, I see strong interest in existing ponds to go with the houses rural newcomers buy. Houses with ponds will be at a premium. Because these ponds may be in need of repair, either the work will get done, or if delayed due to construction holdups, new owners may want to improve water quality with aeration, bacteria, perhaps improved water supply. Rakes and nets for weed control will be in demand. There will be requests for fish stocking to go with new pond purchases.
Younger folks may recognize an opportunity to add pond building to their landscaping and construction skill sets. Retiring pond builders are going to need replacement.
Thoreau's Walden will find a new audience. No pond owner's library will be complete without the Concord writer's masterpiece of pondology:
“Look at a pond no more miraculous than any other pond in the world, which is to say infinitely miraculous, look at your own ponds whatever shape they take … look deeply.”
Welcome winter with this cool short animation.
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