Progress in pond building over the past fifty years has been brilliant. Once upon a time ponds were built with lumbering Caterpillars sluggishly pushing dirt out of a wet hole to raise a dam, or dug bucket by bucket with draglines, and before that by oxen pulling scoops. Now laser transits determine dam elevations, excavators with 70ft reach dig out basins, and wide track dozers compact the pool, embankment, and shore. Pond building in 1970s Vermont was often an untutored venture with uncertain outcome that's fascinating to reflect on and contrast to modern pond creations.
Back in the day a lot of ponds were built by back-to-the-landers with more enthusiasm than experience. Often, they were built by the local excavator guy in a day or two for about a thousand bucks. Farm ponds had been built since forever and inspired a lot of the new ones.
Why did new coming young folks crave ponds? To supply everything from garden irrigation to fish, skating, wildlife attraction, and skinny dipping. Where did they dig? Usually a wet spot
in a field or marsh (those were the days before wetland permitting requirements), or perhaps a stream, brook, or river, which might offer copious water supplies, and sometimes eventual flooding and burial in sediment. Who knew?
With luck the pond site was near enough the house to be within view, which most folks appreciated for the landscape enhancement effect. Ideally in a southerly direction, the same orientation for solar gain, and a generally favored bearing. Or if the house was built after the pond, the house might be sited to take advantage of the pond view. Either way, a view of the backslope of the dam, especially without a look at the water, wouldn't be considered ideal. Sometimes with an existing house and the wet site at a distance, a pond wound up out of sight.
But better a functioning pond out of view than gazing at a dry hole. Spillways might be natural earthen overflows lined with stone, or pipes, which had a tendency to leak. And so, did many of the ponds, due to porous soil and ledge. As on- the-job skills developed, leaks might be repaired with better pipes or local clay. But low water levels due to slack water supply were harder to fix. Some poor performers had to be filled in.
Despite most shortcomings, many of the new builders worked the problems and polished
pond skills. They added input supply for better water quality, stocked fish, put in a dock, and landscaped with moist soil plants. Slowly but surely a lot of folks became skilled pond meisters.
These days ponds are built with more planning, site search and evaluation, sophisticated equipment, and greater awareness of pond potential for various uses, repairs, and improvement. And bigger budgets. Next month we'll look at the way pond building has evolved, and new directions they may go in the future.
Topics vary from month to month and provide great information when researching where you want to build a pond, or how to keep it clean. Other areas of interest are pond use for more than swimming, and how to keep fish happy in your pond.