Ponds can provide a variety of benefits, such as fire protection, recreation and wildlife habitat.
The following list has been developed as a general guide to building a pond. Although not a comprehensive list, it should be helpful in covering many of the basic questions and items to consider when building a pond.
1. Site Selection If standing water is visible for a long period of time; water-loving plants, like cattails, reed canarygrass or willows are evident; or it is a wetland area, a pond may be feasible.
The Washtenaw County Soil Survey can be used as a guide to determine the suitability of the soils on your site for excavated, groundwater-fed ponds and pond reservoir areas using a well or other water source. Soils information is available from the Conservation District.
If, after looking at the vegetation and checking the soil on your site, you are still uncertain if the site is suitable for a pond, digging a test hole can help give you a better idea if the site will work. See #3 below, for further information. It would also be wise to check on any permits needed for pond construction, before you start a test hole. See #2.
2. Permits Required Before doing any earthwork or excavation, make the following contacts to determine if any permits are needed to construct a pond on your site:
Washtenaw County Soil Erosion Control Program County Service Center 705 N. Zeeb Road, P.O. Box 8645 Ann Arbor MI 48107-8645 Phone: (734) 222-3978 To determine if a permit will be required under the County Soil Erosion & Sedimentation Control Ordinance.
Washtenaw County Water Resources Commissioner County Service Center 705 N. Zeeb Road, P.O. Box 8645 Ann Arbor MI 48107-8645 Phone: (734) 222-6860 To determine if a permit will be required for a pond constructed within 500 feet of a County Drain, or you hope to use a County Drain as a water source.
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) 301 E. Louis Glick Hwy., Jackson MI 49201 Phone: (517) 780-7690
To determine if a permit will be required for a pond constructed in a designated wetland area; within 500 feet of any lake, stream or other water body; or for construction of a dam to create a pond impoundment of 5 or more acres or a head of 5 or more feet.
Remember: it is your responsibility to insure that all required permits have been obtained before proceeding with pond construction.
3. Test Hole Once the status of required permits is known, a test hole can be dug to check further on pond feasibility. Dig the test hole by backhoe or auger, as deep as the proposed pond depth, to determine soil composition and depth of water table. The water level visible in the test hole should not be more than 5 feet from the top of the ground; 2-3 feet is preferable.
Ideally, the test hole should be observed for a full year to see how the water level fluctuates under normal seasonal conditions. Cover or fence the test hole as a safety precaution.
If the test hole reveals deep muck soils, consider a shallow waterfowl pond. Deep muck soils are not stable and steep pond side slopes tend to cave in. In addition, the water is murky and is poor for fish.
4. Who Can Build a Pond? You can build a pond yourself if you have access to, and are capable of operating the proper equipment, usually a drag-line, bulldozer and dump truck. Many excavating contractors have the necessary equipment and have experience in pond construction. They can be very helpful in the feasibility and design of your pond.
Contact 2-3 contractors for pond construction advice and price estimates. Ask about other ponds they have constructed and, if possible, look at several. This will allow you to judge what kind of job you can expect them to do and what the finished product looks like.
A Contractors List, available from the Conservation District, is a starting point in selecting a contractor to dig your pond. This list is not complete, so check your local phone directory and with friends or neighbors who have had ponds built. The District does not endorse or recommend any contractor on the list. It has been prepared for informational purposes only.
5. Design Considerations A. Pond Depth A recreational swimming pond should be 10-15 feet deep. A fish pond should have a water depth of at least 15 feet, 18-20 or more is better to avoid winter and summer oxygen depletion and resulting stress on fish, which leads to poor growth or die-off. Waterfowl ponds should be no deeper than 3-5 feet to accommodate bottom-feeding species.
B. Pond Side Slopes Swimming pond side slopes should be no steeper than 3:1 (3 feet horizontal for each 1 foot vertical), except for designated swimming areas, which should have 8:1 side slopes to allow for gradual entry into the pond. A floating dock can be used in deeper water for diving. Fish pond side slopes should be no steeper than 3:1. Waterfowl ponds should have side slopes no steeper than 4:1.
C. Erosion Control If you are required to obtain a soil erosion control permit for construction (see #2 above), you will have to develop a soil erosion and sedimentation control plan. Following construction, pond banks should be seeded and mulched to permanent, sod-forming grasses to protect them from erosion.
Planting the area surrounding the pond with trees and shrubs should also be done as soon after construction as possible. Trees and shrubs can help with erosion control, privacy screening, space definition, climate control and wildlife habitat establishment.
D. Fire Protection If your pond will be available for fire protection of your home or farmstead, you will need to maintain vehicular access to the pond all year. Refer to the diagram at the bottom of the page on how to make a pond ice plug for providing winter access to water in the pond. Check with your homeowner's insurance agent to see how a pond will effect your insurance premium. Also inform your local fire department of the location of the pond and plug.
E. Beach Design If you want to include a beach area for your pond, listed below are some things to consider. Also see the diagram at the bottom of the page.
Location Select a location for a beach area that will:
Keep the total cubic volume of excavated material low.
Provide good subsoil conditions - clay or sand best.
Have good approaches.
Take advantage of natural scenic or aesthetic characteristics.
The pond should be at least ½ acre in size for a one family swimming beach.
The slope of the beach should be not less than 15:1. A minimum width of 30 feet is recommended.
If sanitary facilities will be present, they should be at least 100 feet from the pond and not subject to surface drainage into the pond.
A wading barrier should be installed to keep small children in shallow water.
Keep debris off the beach to protect swimmers from injury. Provide a waste receptacle near by.
Take water samples to the County Health Department during the swimming season to be sure water is safe for swimming and bodily contact.
A 12-inch layer of sand should be spread over the excavated beach area. If muck or peat in encountered in the proposed beach area, consider moving the beach location where clay, loam or sandy soils are found. It may be costly to excavate all the organic material down to mineral subsoil and require additional sand to develop a beach.
Pea-size gravel can considered as an alternative to sand.
Additional sand can be spread over the beach approach area to provide a play location for children, sun bathing and picnics.
Aquatic plants should be removed at least annually.
Sand should be added to beach area as required.
Landscaping with native trees, shrubs and plants will increase enjoyment of the beach area and can also be used to screen off unsightly views, fences, roads and also create a desirable scenic setting for the beach.
F. Other Considerations Review and download a copy of the USDA publication Ponds-Planning, Design, Construction (PDF file). This is an excellent resource to read before proceeding with plans for construction of a pond. It can help you become more familiar with what is involved in pond construction.
Washtenaw County Conservation District Copyright 2016