A Covid-19 news story about real estate in rural New England reported that sales to city folks were up dramatically, with buyers snapping up properties sight unseen. Covid flight, you might call it.
That story got me wondering how many properties include a pond, and if the buyers are asking the right questions about pond conditions to judge its value and possible need for work.
Some time back I wrote a piece called "How to Buy a Used Pond" which appears in
Many of the suggestions in that chapter can also be applied to buyers of ponds unseen, prompting smart questions to ask long distance, even if it's not possible to check out the pond first hand.
What follows is Part Two of the two-parter of that chapter; the complete version can be found in the Earth Ponds book mentioned above, offered in the Books section of this website.
How to Buy a Used Pond, Part Two
Check out the shore area around the pond. The slope into the water should be roughly 2:1 or 3:1, except perhaps in shallower beach areas. Shallow slopes are almost certain to nurture weeds and algae; excessively steep slopes can erode. It's important to know the pond depth throughout the basin. Areas shallower than four or five feet will encourage weeds and algae. Depths greater than six or seven feet are preferred. Occasionally prospective buyers interested in confirming pond depths take out a boat and use a weighted marked string or rod for measuring.
Inflows, particularly year-round streams running into the pond, are likely to carry in silt, reducing depth and nurturing weeds. Examine the inflow area to determine if silt removal is necessary. Springs feeding the pond from uphill areas sometimes erode shoreland. Is this a problem that may need repair? Sometimes drainage ditches and piping are necessary to correct erosion. If the pond is fed by a pipe from a nearby stream or other source, be sure the feed is maintained to prevent plugging. Inflows carrying in sediment can often be remedied by excavating a small silt pocket in the stream, near the pond.
Trees growing up around older ponds can threaten the integrity of an embankment, and it may be necessary to remove them. Roots boring into the dam seeking water can
trigger leaks. Moreover, the closer the trees, the more leaves and needles will wind up in the water, adding to the nutrient load and potential algae problem.
The watershed that drains into the pond should be free of contaminants and nutrients, whether from livestock, septic systems, or other sources. For example, how near is the pond to public roads? It's not helpful to have road salt leaching into the pond basin, or debris kicked up by snowplows or road graders. Ditches, berms, or fence barriers can help deflect such roadside contamination. If you plan to raise fish, it might be wise to check the water quality with a test kit to determine pH and other levels. Water temperature will also affect fish health.
It's helpful to know the history of a pond. I've been called in on projects where
basin drainage was a priority, yet the owner didn't recall if the pond included a drain. In older ponds it's not unusual for sediment to cover the drainpipe at the bottom. Perhaps the owner knows there is a drain, but not what mechanism controls it.
Sometimes drain plugs and caps jam and need a nudge to open up.
Discuss the background of the pond with the owners. Knowing when the pond was built will help determine if a clean-out is called for. It's not unusual for a pond to need a drawdown and clean-out every ten years or so, but clean-out intervals can be much longer. In all likelihood, a pond used for livestock watering will have eroded banks and a high nutrient load, which translates into repairs if the aim is to transform it into a decent swimming pond. I've seen ponds used as reflecting pools, surrounded by decorative plants and shrubs, where chemicals were used regularly to control algae. I'd be hesitant to let livestock drink from such a pond without testing the pond for chemical residues. Perhaps a plastic liner or chemical sealant was used to leakproof the pond. Dredging such a pond would damage the seal.
Next, find out what variety of fish was stocked. There's no point in pouring a batch of small trout fry into a pond full of larger trout or bass, which could gobble them up.
Ask how well the pond held water during dry summer months. That way you won't be surprised to find the water level dropping during a similar stretch of weather, and you'll be prepared to take corrective action, if necessary. Find out about beavers and other pond critters. If the pond has been troubled by beavers building dams or muskrats burrowing into the basin, you may have to carry on the struggle to fend them off.
The name of the original pond builder can be helpful if trouble surfaces. If low water levels plague a pond, it helps to know what kind of soils are in the basin or embankment, and whether test pits were dug prior to construction. Low water levels may result from construction flaws or lack of water, or both. Knowing how the pond was built helps diagnose the problem. Was the dam built with a core trench packed with clay at the foundation? Was the dam foundation stripped of topsoil? If not, begin looking for the source of the leakage in the dam itself. On the other hand, a lack of test pits, or test pits dug in wet weather creating a false impression of good ground water, could indicate that the pond was built without sufficient on-site water. Often the pond builder is the only one who knows these details.
What of a pond troubled by off-color runoff leaching into the basin? Perhaps during construction trees were buried in the banks around the pond and are now decaying, producing the tainted seepage. Was there an old shop, garage, or source of chemicals upstream? A barn? These could be adding contaminants or nutrients to the pond. The better you know a pond's history, the better you can care for it.
For your own peace of mind, it's reassuring to know that a pond can supply the water needed to extinguish a fire, particularly if a dry hydrant has been installed. Moreover, depending on where you live, fire insurance premiums may be discounted because of a pond. Be sure hydrant inlets have not silted over.
Finally, it's important to mesh a pond's natural attributes with your plans for use. Consider how you plan to use the pond, and measure the pond's corresponding qualifications. A small pond might be fine for agricultural irrigation but, because of dramatic drops in water level during pumping, be a poor medium for raising fish.
Conversely, a pond set up for fish culture may not have enough surplus water to supply irrigation or hydro power needs. A pond used to raise waterfowl may not be very appetizing for swimmers. Often, however, a pond can serve many overlapping functions simultaneously. A general-purpose recreation pond is usually fine for swimming, skating, backyard garden irrigation, and raising some fish, along with the capacity to attract wildlife and afford fire protection.
Aside from conforming to good construction and aquaculture standards, pond appearance is really a matter of taste. Landscaping options range from a hands-off wild look to elaborate floral plantings, fountains, and pink flamingos. Location is one thing you can't change, but don't let anyone tell you that the best pond must lie in full view of the house. Indeed, a living room view of your own private waterfront has a magical ambience, but a pond in the woods has another charm. It magnetizes animals that might be timid about appearing near a human habitat. A friend of mine recalls an Indian summer day she spent swimming and relaxing beside her secluded pond. As she sat on the bank, a buck crashed out of the woods, leapt into the pond, and swam across. He stepped out on the other side, shook himself off, and kept running. Close encounters like that are worth a hike through the brush.
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.