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Site Location for Ornamental Ponds

By Conrad Kleinholz

Ornamental ponds are long term fixtures. They may be remodeled or enlarged, but plan on at least a 10-year lifespan. You may want your pond in a secluded nook. Others may prefer to view the pond from at least one room of their house. If a window view is desirable, use the preferred window to help choose an advantageous pond site. If you choose the street side of your house as the pond site, be aware of the potential for uninvited viewers or vandals.

Ponds should be located so they do not interfere with surface water drainage. Neither storm runoff, water drainage from pond maintenance nor complete pond draining should flow toward structural foundations of buildings, driveways, swimming pools, or other landscaping. However, with proper planning, you can use waste water from your pond to irrigate trees or other landscape plantings. Take special care that water does not pool in any utility easements. Neighborly relationships may suffer if construction of your pond, or water drained from your pond, causes unwanted water flow or pooling on adjoining property.

To find the best location for your pond, try making a model of your yard. Make a scale-sized map with trees, driveways, etc. Then use tracing paper overlain on the scale map to draw possible pond shapes and sizes to fit available space.

Make cutouts of promising pond configurations and place them on the map for consideration. The pond should have access to utilities, including water, electricity, and sewage (if you plan or are required to flush water from your pond directly to the municipal sewer system). At the same time, the pond should not cover or encroach upon utilities and rights of way (including sewer, electricity, natural gas, telephone and water). Avoid costly damage and disruption of utility services by contacting your local utility locating company for assistance before you begin digging a pond.

Ponds require maintenance, so plan access from all sides. Allow extra room for walkways, pond and yard equipment, and net handles. Some koi nets have handles up to 9 ft long. The pond model should include any planned streams, waterfalls, accent landscaping, and filtration systems. Streams will require an additional 1-3 feet on each side for liner burial and landscaping. To establish and maintain vegetation, waterfall side and end slopes should be no steeper than 3:1. So, for each vertical foot of the waterfall, add 6 ft (3 ft per side) to the waterfall width. Filtration systems can be accommodated in areas of 10-50 ft2. If you want additional plant beds or bogs as filter components, more space may be required. For more information, see ‘Plants as Filters’.

When you plan the pond location, remember to include room for filtration system plumbing. Filters can be operated as either gravity or pumped systems. Gravity systems are located below the pond elevation and deliver water to the filter without pumping, but require pumping to return water to the pond. Pumped systems require pumps to deliver water to filtration, and the water returns to the pond by pump flow or gravity. For planning purposes, the differences are that gravity flow systems may require burial of the filter system, or that the filter be placed downhill of the pond if the pond location is on a slope. If you plan for a gravity filtration system, make sure the filter is not so far below the pond that the pond will completely drain if the filter pump is not operating. Gravity systems have the stated advantage of placing any pumps behind the filtration system. When the pumps are behind the filters, it provides a better opportunity to capture solids before they are disrupted by passage through pump impellers. In theory, gravity filtration systems should be more efficient at solids removal. However, fish wastes are not compact solids, and most of the particulate material in ornamental ponds will be in the form of suspended plant materials, usually clumps of algae. Algal cell volume is much smaller than the impeller clearance in water pumps. Algal removal usually occurs through settling or by attachment to the biofilm on filter media. Regardless of the filtration system chosen, make it as close to the pond as feasible to avoid water velocity loss from friction or accumulation of materials within the piping.

Water gardens should be situated to allow at least 6 hours of full sunlight daily. Adequate sunlight is required for plants such as lilies and cattails to grow well, and to prolong the life of leaves and shoots. Healthy plants shed fewer leaves and stems, and reduce loading on filtration systems, both from solids and by solubilization of nutrients during decay. Fish ponds can be located in areas with shade or indirect sunlight, or can be made deeper to reduce growth of nuisance algae; however, excessive shade may prohibit use of many ornamental plants.

            Sunlight also promotes growth of periphyton. Periphyton is a green to reddish brown film of algae and bacteria that grows on any stable surface in the pond. Periphyton use dissolved nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) from fish waste and fish food as nutrients. In turn, periphyton is eaten by aquatic insect larvae in the pond; and both goldfish and koi graze on periphyton and its associated insect larvae. In well-managed ornamental ponds, periphyton growth will promote water clarity by using nutrients otherwise used by phytoplankton and eliminate the need to feed diets containing carotenoid pigments for color enhancement of the fish. Phytoplankton are microscopic, suspended or floating algae that give the water a green or blue-green tint. Nuisance phytoplankton occur when feed input exceeds filtration capacity to remove the nutrients. Water transparency is reduced and dead algal cells may cause surface scum or foam.

 If possible, ponds should not be placed next to trees. Trees adjacent to ponds will increasingly shade the pond as they grow. Tannins released from decaying oak leaves can stain pond water a dark


Periphyton on liner

tea or coffee color, and both oak leaves and  pine needles can lower pH of the water. Pond construction can damage tree roots and cause shedding of leaves and limbs into the pond or even kill the tree(s). Leaves, flowers and seeds that fall in the pond must be removed

before they enter the water pump. Reduced water flow can damage or ruin the water pump. Regrowth of tree roots can also damage or destroy the pond liner.




Pond with overhanging tree limbs


 In some municipalities, building a pond may require a construction permit or a zoning variance. The requirements may be triggered by pond area or depth. Make sure to check with your city code enforcement office while planning your pond. If your pond is planned for the street side of your property, you must know the property boundaries, and make sure the pond is outside the right of way, which may be twenty feet or more from the property line. The street curb or sidewalk may not be the right of way boundary. Other municipal or utility easements may be located on your property and restrict pond locations. Easement locations are noted on property deeds, mortgages and abstracts.




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