Small Green Frog Pond Q & A Small Dragonfly

The subject of building and maintaining ponds can be very confusing.  Some of the concepts are just plain difficult, no two sites are the same, and there is a lot of bad information "floating" around out there.   In the case of bad information most people mean well, but end up giving bad advice simply because they don't understand ponds in enough detail.  In other cases, things have changed since they got their information and what was right at the time doesn't apply now.  This is especially true in the area of permits.

What I've done is list the most common questions that folks have asked over the years along with my answers.  I hope that you find this helpful.

Bruce Wachholz
Cedar Creek Consulting

Pond Planning

Q:  Why would I need a pond plan/pond design?

A:   The best example I can give you is that a pond design is to a pond as a house design is to a house.   Every home site is different and everyone wants something a little different in a house.  Some folks want to entertain and need several large rooms, others are really into cooking and want a gourmet kitchen, others might want a special play area for children.  If you are looking for certain features and characteristics in a pond they need to be designed in just as you would design features into a house.  The pond plan also allows you to "see" your pond before you actually begin digging it.   This allows you to make changes *before* you start construction and allows you to work more effectively with your contractor during the construction.

Q:  Don't you just have to dig a hole to get a pond? 

A:  If that was the case, I would be out of work!  You need the correct soil type and a source of water to have a successful pond.  Site evaluation is one of the many services that I provide to a landowner.  The site evaluation tells us right from the start if we should even consider a pond on the site.  Then if the site evaluation is positive, we need to check on permits and design the pond to your specifications.  Once we have all that done, we can "dig a hole" and have a pond!

Q:  Can't I just get a contractor to come in to build my pond?

A:   Yes and no.   Some contractors will not do a pond without a pond plan - others will jump right in without a plan.  One question to ask yourself is do you know what you will have when the contractor is done if you don't have a plan - size, depth, location, slopes, berms, spillways, dams, where the spoil material will be spread, and so on.


Q:  I heard that it is impossible to get a permit to put in a pond? 

A:  There is more "mis-information" floating around about permits than you can imagine.  In some cases you don't even need a permit!  There are other cases when a site is in the flood plain or in a critical wetland area where you may not be able to get a permit.  Most sites sit somewhere between not needing a permit and the impossible.  This is where I come in.  The very first thing that we do (after checking to see if you have the correct soils and water) is check out the permits required.

The DNR is working to protect the interests of all citizens of the state and they are most often very receptive to a well thought out pond design that takes into consideration all of the ecological effects of the area.

Q:  What about permits?  How do I know what I need, how do I get them, and how much do they cost?

A:   You will probably need at least one permit for your project.  For example, in Dane County, an Erosion Control Permit (ECP) is needed for almost all pond projects.  The documents that you will need to get that permit are part of your pond design.  I can advise you on other permits that you will or won't need as well.  The permitting process can be one of the most confusing aspects of putting in a pond and one that I will be happy to help you with.

I can assist you in the permit application process by completing the permit application for you and sending it in to the DNR as your representative. Much of the work in doing the permit application is used in the final design of the pond, so it is not really "extra" work. Most pond permit applications in Wisconsin cost $300.


Q:  I'd like to have fish in my pond.  How deep should my pond be - where do I get the fish for stocking - what kind of fish should I put in - how many?

A:   All good questions and all things that would be included as part of your pond plan if you are interested in fishing in your pond.

Q:  A friend of mine told me not to bother putting fish in a pond.  He says that they'll never get big and that they'll die out in winter - is this true?

A:   No.   The issues of stunted fish and winterkill are the two biggest concerns to landowners with fish ponds.  The potential problem with stunted fish can be solved by stocking the "right" fish in the "right" numbers.  The winterkill problem is solved by the design of the pond.  There has been considerable research done on fish ponds and I have spent literally hundreds of hours finding and then pouring over that information.  If you want to have fish in your pond we'll include it in the design of the pond and I'll give you complete information on stocking and fish management.


Q:  Could your services actually save me money? 

A:  Yes indeed.   Let me give you several examples.

In one case a landowner proceeded with a pond without a plan.  Once the pond was built it was discovered that one of the berms was too low and a berm was missing in one area.  As the pond filled, it began to spill out over the low berm area AND the owner had a problem with runoff water coming into the pond carrying large amounts of silt.  The cost to get a contractor in to "finish" the pond was over $600 and the area was torn up for a second time after the owner did the original seeding.  A good pond design would have prevented this additional expense and time expenditure for reseeding.

Another landowner put in a small beach area.  Because of incorrect construction the beach quickly became a muddy area that no one liked to use for swimming.   The original cost of the materials for the beach area was $300.  In order to correct the problem the pond had to be pumped down and a contractor had to be brought in at a cost of $500.  Then the beach had to be rebuilt.  The cost of the beach design section in an average pond plan is only about $50.

In another case, I did a pond design and the landowner put the job out for bids.  The bids ranged from $5,000 to $14,000!  I helped the landowner choose the contractor and explained the reason for the difference in the bids.

Q:  I've heard that there are programs that will cost share pond construction?

A:   This is another "Yes/No" answer.  The various cost sharing programs change from year to year.  In  recent years there has been some funding for cost sharing on shallow water ponds and wetland restorations.  For these types of projects I will direct you to the government offices that can help you out.  There is no cost sharing or design help available for deeper water ponds (over 1 to 2 feet in depth) and that's where I come in.

Q:  What are your credentials?

A:   I have a Bachelors degree in Biology and Engineering; I have 4 ponds that I have built on my farm; and I have spent hundreds of hours researching all aspects of pond design, construction, and use.  One thing that I can tell you is that my second pond was better than my first, the third was better than my second, and so on.  I have the experience in building my ponds and the designs that I have done for other landowners and that's what I bring to your project.

Q:  Are there special things that can be done in designing a pond to minimize problems with weeds and algae?

A:  Yes there are.   Depending on what you are looking for in your pond we can design for minimal weeds and algae growth.  If you are planning a pond for waterfowl, we would design for aquatic vegetation.  If you are planning more of an open water pond, we would design a pond that would have minimal aquatic vegetation.

There is no pond design that will prevent weeds and algae, so we sometimes have to use certain measures to control the growth of what can be problem plants.  Some of the options that we have are physical removal, light blocking dyes, herbicides, and vegetation consuming fish.

Q:  I've heard that aeration will take care of any algae problems - is that true?

A:  I've seen and heard that too and it's simply not true. I wish aeration was the "silver bullet" when it comes to algae control, but it's not. I have seen ponds where the aeration system is almost obscured by algae! Aeration has its place in water quality management for your pond. We design aeration systems and can explain what to expect for your investment in a system. If you are moderately "handy" you can install your own system from our design.

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