When Ponds Go Bust

October 2018

Sometimes ponds go bust. All the hopes and heroic efforts in the world may not be enough to overcome a poor site, broken down structure, water supply shortage, permitting obstacles, or just plain old age.

Sometimes ponds fail due to neglect. Trees have been allowed to grow on the dam to the point it won't hold water.

Perhaps the pond has filled with sediment, and for one reason or another it can't be cleaned out. No equipment access, too expensive, etc.

The water supply may be reduced for any number of reasons, and the pond doesn't fill.

Zoning restrictions or natural resource regulations won't allow pond construction or repairs.

Costs for initial construction or pond repair exceed budget.

When a prospective pond site flunks soil or water supply tests, it's usually pretty easy to shake it off, and move on to other projects. But when an existing ponds fails, what to do?

For an embankment pond, material dug from the basin to build the dam can be pushed back into the pond and graded off. Some extra material may be needed to finish the transition back to terra firma. If it's a soggy site, drainage may be needed to keep the area dry. An excavated pond may be more challenging to refill. Material from the dig may have been widely spread, worked into the landscape, or even trucked off site. You may need to bring in more material for fill, or find some on the property. 

Sometimes when ponds fail, you can turn lemons into lemonade. I saw one epic fail refilled and turned into an apple orchard. Another had a good feed from a stream but wouldn't hold water. So the pond was deleted and an attractive meandering stream landscaped to run through the property.

I can't count the number of times I've visited prospective pond sites where there may once have been a pond. It's certainly true that if a pond is neglected long enough it's likely to turn into something quite different. A marshy bog or wetland, or a field too wet to mow.

In fact gone-by ponds are the nationwide legacy of beavers whose abandoned ponds became the fertile fields and forests of future human successors. So when a pond fails it may ease the pain to look at it not like a failure at all, but just another step in the evolution of the landscape.

I do find that in many cases of pond flops, the property includes a stream or brook. Here is a potentially good fallback location for a water feature. Sometimes you'll find stream pools deep enough for cooling off on a hot summer day, and with a few added rocks for a loose dam, your "pond." With some selective clearing and planting and creative landscaping a stream may be as delightful as a pond.

For those who refuse to give up on the pond dream, it is possible to use a membrane liner to hold water virtually anywhere you can dig (or blast) a hole. Or, as I suggest to many frustrated clients, you could always build a swimming pool. But you'll have to forget the trout. 

Read More Pondologies

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.