By Patrick Simmsgeiger, Founder of DWI
What would you call the body of water you have on your property? How would you label it? Some call theirs a lake; some call theirs a pond; while others call theirs a downright pain in the butt. Oftentimes property owners build a natural pond or lake in place of a chlorinated feature thinking that because natural lakes and ponds seem fare well without any attention, their water feature will as well. Unfortunately, this idea does not hold true for either bodies of water. How do you react when your natural, peaceful waterscape takes a turn for the worse? Let’s say your water feature has strange, slimy globs of green stuff covering the surface, huge mats of bizarre grass are floating up from the bottom, the water is pea soup green, two pumps have ceased functioning (the one remaining pump is making strange noises), and the waterfall has slowed to a trickle. The problems seem like a slippery slope (almost as slippery as that green goo you’re pulling out of the water!); one problem hits, then another and another. First comes shock, then the frantic search for competent advice, followed by confusion and frustration at the cluster of conflicting suggestions and recommendation for a course of action. Eventually, anger takes hold as the causes, solutions, methods of prevention and the cost of replacement and all of the above begin to sink in. So what was the correct answer? How should the entire situation have been dealt with to prevent you from sinking those thousands of dollars in repair into that money-water-pit in the backyard? The correct solution would have been a course of action preventing the problem in the first place. Allowing a lake or pond to reach a point where maintenance must be preformed is an unfortunate way some maintenance companies choose to conduct their business. This type of maintenance is called deferred maintenance. By definition alone, the term deferred maintenance means a property owner has allowed a property to deteriorate by putting off needed maintenance and/ or repairs. Yes, this saves money, but the longer maintenance is deferred, the more the value of the property dwindles and the more costly it is to repair. Nowhere, in any dictionary is deferred maintenance defined in a positive light. It is defined as allowing a property to deteriorate by postponing sensible but non-essential repairs, having needed repairs that have not been performed (subsequently declining the property’s value), or preforming maintenance long after it should have been preformed. In short, the term “deferred maintenance” is really a politically correct way to say “I don’t want to spend the money to properly care for this water feature”. Regular aquascape maintenance, just like landscape maintenance, is necessary. In order to avoid those costly pitfalls, budget planning and maintenance scheduling should be requested from your lake, pond, or stream maintenance provider. Ideally, you would have already hired a company with a good background, proven track record, and references you’ve confirmed. Hiring a company with a trustworthy reputation and portfolio means you are on the road to fully enjoying your ornamental water feature and are ready to learn the proper care and feeding of aquascape. So what should the focus of these fabulous company you’ve hired be? The five most vital areas of focus that an appropriate waterscape company would direct their attention to are maintenance of the aeration, filtration, pump maintenance, aquatic plant life, the condition, and symbiosis of the water itself, andpest control. As the owner of the water feature, it is equally important that you educate your self on exactly what these five steps entail to further understand how your lake maintenance company will be caring for your aquatic ecosystem.
The benefits of aeration cannot be stressed enough. The better the aeration the less problems you’ll have with water quality, fish kill, algae, and all those other pesky little nuisances. A lake should “turn over” (that is, fully circulate) a minimum of one time in a 24-hour period. Bottom bubblers (air diffusion systems) are preferable as the water is moved from the bottom to the top, which greatly benefits the preservation of water quality, and keeps appropriate oxygen levels for plant and fish life sustained. Additionally, waterfalls can be a good supplementary source of aeration while the soothing qualities of the sound provide an additional aesthetic benefit. Both these systems can be taken care of during regular lake maintenance.
Filtration is essential to the health of a lake, stream, or pond. Filters for a pool are cleaning two to three times per week and, subsequently, the filters on a natural waterscape should ideally be checked daily. These bodies of water are a catchall to every flying, floating, drifting and rolling thing, including (never could figure this one out) humans and their propensity to throw garbage into a body of water. Obviously, if the water system is not subjected to a plethora of dropping and debris, the filters can be checked and cleaned less frequently. Performing this maintenance regularly will prevent a host of other problems like pumps getting jammed with and the subsequent burning or pumps, restricted water flow, or clogging of impellors.
Here’s the part I know all of you will love. . . yes, someone will have to get out there and get physical. Nets should be used to remove the leaves, twigs, buds, grass, branches, and other debris that fall into your waterscape. This physical removal should be done whenever the debris is noticed. This will assist in keeping the water clear and ecologically balanced. The degradation of debris left in the water is not beneficial to the water quality or appearance, will contribute to the amount of bottom sludge and is not good for the oxygen level. A good rule to follow: this season’s droppings will contribute to next year’s problematic algae.
Part and parcel of this maintenance package is the trimming and treatment of aquatic plants, weeds, or algae. If you maintain control over the plants they will be of great benefit to your water feature. There are some plants that, in addition to being nice to look at, actually help your water feature. But if these plants are allowed to grow out of control they will choke your system, reduce the amount of oxygen in the water and, if unchecked growth continues, will eventually kill your water feature. Then algae appears in all of its glory.
Algae come in various forms. There is Planktonic (free-floating) commonly described as “pea soup”; Filamentous (string algae) start on the bottom and edges and frequently float to the surface in green ugly mats; Attached-erect often mistaken for rooted aquatic plants, the most common being Chara.
To prevent excessive algae growth one must try to reduce or prevent the introduction of contaminants from rain runoff, or trimming, or street runoff, or waterfowl as these elements provide the nutrients that help algae to grow exponentially, thereby destroying the healthy balance and clarity of your feature.
Following are some suggestions to reduce some contaminants:
- Animal waste- Move the animal’s pen, sleeping quarters, feeding area, etc. to a location away from the water.
- Fertilizers- Stop the use of lawn and garden fertilizers within 100′ of your water feature or reroute the runoff from your lawn and garden to a location away from your water feature.
- Debris- Keep the trees and vegetation close to your lake or pond closely trimmed. Do NOT allow the cuttings and debris to fall into your water feature.
- Aquatic plants- Trim back the plants when they start to take over more of the water feature than you prefer. Pull and cut back plants to the area you desire.
- Algae- Manually remove or “rake” the surface floating algae. Treat the remaining algae with products that are safe for the water, the fish, the waterfowl, and the environment.
All of these measures will help immensely in controlling the amount of contaminants that enter your feature only to encourage the excessive growth of algae. As you might have guessed, physical maintenance plays a big part in whether your aquatic environment is a source of enjoyment or a source of frustration.
Introduce beneficial fish to the waterscape. A few suggestions would be: mosquito fish (they cost nothing and alleviate those West Nile virus fears); algae eating fish, life the common Grass Carp, Otto, Siamese Algae Eater, Pingi Logsucker, or Twig Catfish. Remember, when the algae supply gets thin the algae eater’s diet must be supplemented through pellets and other food sources! Also you might want to add invertebrates to the mix: Crayfish, Apple Snails, Dragonflies, etc. But care should be exercised as some are exotic or illegal or harmful to your feature needless to say, the fish and invertebrates should be indigenous.
Introduce aquatic plants to the water. Chara, for example, can be a nuisance weed but is very beneficial for the water clarity and quality. Just keep it under control and you’ll be pleased with the results. Other plants such as Water Lilies, Water Irises, Water Hyacinth, Pennywort, Water Hyssop, Cattails, etc. are beneficial for the eye and the aesthetics. Again, maintain control of the growth!
Lastly, if you have what you consider to be a pest. Find out exactly what this pest is and is it truly a pest? How can it be controlled or eradicated? For example: midge flies. In the case of midge flies throwing Strike® pellets onto the water’s surface will eliminate them. Or do you have problems with mosquitoes, aquatic weeds, waterfowl, or algae? Some pests can be physically removed; others need to be eliminated through the use of chemicals; others are protected by state, county, or city law.
Cleaning your lake or pond consists of the following:
- Draining the water feature, which may, or may not, require a State, County and/ or City permit.
- Preserving any of the flora and fauna that have established themselves.
- Removing the accumulated sludge from the bottom of the feature.
- Transferring sludge to an approved, designated area to dry.
- Allowing sufficient time for sludge to dry. Disposal or recycling sludge.
- Repairing any visible cracks or leaks in the lining of the feature.
- Refilling the feature.
- Checking all the structures, equipment, electrical, and plumbing to see that they are functioning as they should.
- Treating the water to clarify, to retard algae growth, to bring the feature to a more natural appearing color, and to restore the biological balance.
A thorough cleaning such as the one in the above description need only be performed once every five to ten years. The five to ten year range is given due to varying factors, such as: the size of the feature as the smaller the feature, the more frequent the cleaning; the amount (and type) of runoff the feature catches; the droppings and debris from vegetation in the area; the number of water fowl that live in and use the feature and the overall care of the feature.
You can judge for yourself when a thorough cleaning is needed by measuring the amount of sludge on the bottom relative to the depth of water about the sludge. We have seen features that have two feet of sludge and six inches of water. I think you’ll all agree that is not a state anyone would like to see or smell.
On occasion, even the most beautiful water feature is going to have one or more of these problems. Even when serviced, things do break. Freak weather, power outages, and unusual runoff contaminants will affect your feature. But, if regularly scheduled maintenance is performed you won’t find yourself spending a small fortune on purchasing new pumps, compressors, liners, shoreline borders, or aerators all at the same time. These devices will still function as intended if regular maintenance is performed.
We’ve known properties to accept “deferred maintenance” for such an extended period of time everything having to do with the efficient and proper running of their aquatic environment needed replacement at the same time. The property owners had to take out a large loan to buy all new sump pumps, pump vault covers, 5hp pumps, electrical wiring and junction boxes, etc. This cost the homeowners tens of thousands of dollars. Had regular maintenance and proper budgeting practicing been in effect all of this expensive repair could have been prevented. The moral to the story? Perform regular maintenance on your waterscapes, its pumps, compressors, electrical, and all other equipment that works together to keep your aquascape up and running and your lake, stream, or pond will bring you far more pleasure than pain.