By Patrick Simmsgeiger, Founder of DWI
UNDERSTANDING THE BASICS OF WATER
When considering water in its role within your lake or water feature, it is important to know your facts. It is unrealistic to view water as a purely aesthetic entity without understanding its properties. It is necessary to know the basic facts about man-made lakes, streams, or ponds in order to understand the need for a proper water management professional and/ or system.
Water is a liquid made up of hydrogen and oxygen. In its pure state it is only that. In its usual state it is the vehicle for a myriad of dissolved or suspended elements making their way into lakes, streams, or ponds through run off, illegal dumping, and other natural events.
Phosphates, nitrogen, organic materials, oils, and minute plant life can bond together to create food for algae, slime on the water’s surface, unsightly nuisance odor causing algae, etc. There are pluses and minuses to these elements. As organisms die they become nutrients for other aquatic organisms, which can cause self-perpetuating problems.
Highly fertilized turf around lakes, streams, or ponds can cause detrimental effects due to run-off. Grass, clippings, and wind-blown debris find a “home” in the water features thus contributing to an unbalanced pH reading, rapid growth of nuisance weeds, and algae, odors, unsightliness, and an aquatic environment that has lost it’s aesthetic appeal.
As all superintendents know protecting your water feature is more challenging when it is inherent and totally exposed to the elements. When contaminants enter a man-made lake or pond contained within its gummite, cement, or other “unnatural” basin, there is no natural ecosystem place to set forth the equilibrium that causes natural lakes and streams to maintain a balance thereby thriving. Nature is not in place to fight back against man-made contaminants.
OVERVIEW OF TOOLS
In place of natural counterbalances, we use products, experience and knowledge to combat the common problems of contaminants, pollution, algae, weeds, odor, and an unsightly appearance. A variety of methods are used in order to mimic the natural balance.
Water treatment products are used. Products such as chlorine, enzymes, chelated copper sulfate penta hydrate, and alum are among some of the products used in the treatment of algae and sludge. Flocculants are used to clarify and colorants are used to shade bodies of water in a more natural blue. All of these are more used to retard the growth of algae, slow down the progression of biological contamination, clear up murky water, and bring to your feature to a natural appearing blue color.
Clarifiers (flocculants which are like magnets) are used to remove the suspended silt, some types of algae, dead organic matter, and dust. They “latch” onto these floating and/ or suspended particles and overnight will cause them to drop to the bottom of your aquatic environment.
Dyes, while coloring your water feature and making it more pleasing to the eye can also retard the growth of algae and aquatic plants, which need sunlight to grow as they block some of the UV rays. Without sunlight, plants can’t produce chlorophyll, which means carbohydrates, the food needed by plants to grow, are not produced. Used properly, dyes are not a threat to fish or humans.
A highly refined double chelated copper sulfate penta hydrate (which is still the most effective product for controlling algae) is used to gain control of various types of algae. This product, when used according to directions, will not harm fish or aquatic plant life, will retard and help you to gain control over unsightly algae and will enable you to attend to more important matters than complaints pertaining to the water quality. Again, when used properly this product is environmentally friendly and will not raise copper levels in the water. We also recommend that once the algae is at the level of control desired you make use of a biological to keep the sludge reduced. Note: Copper sulfate has received a very bad reputation of late due to its misuse and subsequent adverse effect on the aquatic environment. But, when you use a double chelated copper, you are using the safest and gentlest of the copper products.
The pH (acidity and alkalinity) is monitored and manipulated to ensure the man-made water feature is as close to “natural” as possible.
Good filters are aeration are essential to helping to retard the growth of algae and the proper oxygenation of your water feature. The size and layout of your water feature should be factored into the decision regarding the number, position, and sizes of the aeration and filtration systems.
Approximately every five (5) years, sometimes longer, it is wise to drain the water feature, remove and dispose of the sludge (after testing determines it is legal to dispose of) them to refill your water feature with fresh water.
Algae is a simple plant, with names you might recognize such as planktonic, filamentous, macrophytic, pithophora, spirogyra, and chara (to name a few). Algae clogs streams, filters, pumps, and aeration, makes your water feature look and smell unappealing and can choke the life out of an improperly treated aquatic environment.
When controlled one of algae’s many functions is to help maintain the natural balance of life cycles. Algae will also provide safety zone or, depending on the type of algae, a habitat for fish. As we humans have disrupted the natural order of things by creating man-made lakes, treating them improperly, or totally eradicating all aquatic plant life these single-celled organisms and other nuisance plants consider this an open invitation to linger and multiply or completely die off (in essence killing your water feature). Balance is the vital key to a thriving and appealing aquatic environment.
Algae is also one of the main points of contention of superintendents and homeowners. This is why it is so important to use a reputable aquatic maintenance company who will bring all elements of treatment to the table and wholly treat, repair, and eliminate problems. Aeration, filtration, physical maintenance, biological conditioning, and pest prevention are the ingredients needed for a aesthetically pleasing, flourishing aquatic feature. Combining all of these components your aquatic environment will truly be something to be proud of and a source of enjoyment to golfers, residents, visitors, and superintendents alike.
Algae is selectively to mild concentrations of copper sulfate in bodies of water. The effectiveness of algaecides depends upon the ability of the copper to reach and stay in the vicinity of the algae. As previously stated, chelated copper algaecides are notably more effective.
Once the copper has “killed” the algae, there must be adequate oxygen in the water to permit rapid decomposition of the algae as bacteria assists in decomposition. When oxygen is lacking in the water, the bacteria’s ability to break the algae down is restricted. (Anaerobic bacteria can continue to break the algae down, but in the process they release a detectable, sulfur gas.)
Aeration and circulation will improve the oxygen content of the lake water. Beneficial bacteria are commercially available to provide reinforcements for your lake’s bacteria. However, they will require oxygen too in order to do their job.
Finally, algae, needs light to carry out photosynthesis, which enables them to grow and reproduce. Dyes can be mixed with the lake water to shade out sunlight and to rob the algae of their ability to carry on photosynthesis.
Double chelated algae control products used properly are not harmful to beneficial bacteria, water fowl, plant life, or fish.
Weeds are another natural byproduct of an aquatic ecosystem. Chemical methods of weed control are more practical and cost effective than weed removal or mechanical harvesting as these methods employ the use of equipment and extra manpower. Chemical treatments are handled by a professional, in a relatively short amount of time, when applied on a regular basis.
Chemicals used in algae and weed control have to be approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and your state environmental agency. They must be applied by a licensed, certified applicator that has been trained in weed identification, proper use, and ability to determine the appropriate dose for a particular lake (or an applicator working under the license of this person).
Foam caused by soaps and dead organic material can also be a problem. De-foamers and bacterial de-clarifiers are common combatants to foam but chlorine may reduce their effectiveness. Circulation and filtration, when properly maintained and run on a frequent basis to permit sufficient oxygenation and the filtration process, can lower the amount of foam and floating debris.
From fish decomposition to the heat of summer, each season brings its own unique brand of hazards to a lake and or water feature. It is important to be aware of the new set of problems each change of weather brings.
Fall, in one word, speaks for itself. Falling leaves, falling bark, new growth, bringing with it trimmings, and clippings being dumped into the water feature all of which contributes to unbalance and overload once your beautiful aquatic environment. This means more work for anyone maintaining your water features.
Winter usually brings blessed relief from algae, but also brings run-off from rain (rainfall contains a surprising amount of nitrogen picked up from the atmosphere. Runoff caused by rainfall also moves fertilizers and debris from the watershed into the lake. Rainfall can also change the chemical balance (pH) of water bodies), overflowing drains, over watered landscape, fish kills (due to lack of oxygen) and decaying matter, thereby overloading the water feature with phosphorus, nitrogen, nutrients, and fertilizers. The process of biodegradation slows dramatically during winter months.
Spring brings the thaw, which also brings run-off coupled with debris and dirt and starts to heat up your water feature bringing with that glorious sun a bit of algae bloom and murky water. Lake health can depend upon springtime renovation. The goal of springtime renovation is to bring equilibrium back to the water feature before the high summer temperatures hit resulting in the rapid growth of algae and aquatic weeds.
Summertime, which brings to mind fun at the lake, beach, or golf course, also brings in a host of problems. The heat from the sun starts that wonderful process known as photosynthesis and gives a raging jump start to start algae growth and nuisance aquatic weeds. In some cases aquatic weeds, diatoms and Lyngbia will grow where they have never been seen or grown before. Your once beautiful aquatic environment will now be covered with algae of all types. This algae will look unsightly, smell bad, bring fear into the hearts of swimmers, and all but engulf the golf balls your golfers are attempting to retrieve. Your maintenance crew will tire more quickly (when in extremely high temperatures) and sometimes feel as if that invasive algae is winning the battle while all their concerted efforts are falling by the wayside. But, fear not the battle can and will be won. The season will end and the cycle of seasons, replete with their own problems, will begin again.
Just remember, your aquatic specialist knows about these seasonal idiosyncrasies and how to treat them. The applicator’s goal is to bring balance and beauty to your water features and keep the “heat” off you. They are devoted to the beautification of your aquatic environment and desire to keep it attractive on a year round basis.
ALL OF THIS KNOWLEDGE IS GREAT BUT… WHAT IF YOU ALREADY HAVE AN UNSIGHTLY LAKE, STREAM, OR POND?
Once aquatic plants gain a foothold, they are harder to control for a number of reasons. There are all kinds of tools but none are a solution within themselves. The best approach is to hire a specialist who will work with you to restore a natural balance to the lake.
You will want to: provide aeration circulation, good filtration, manage nutrient levels, schedule regular physical maintenance, biologically condition through the use of products, plants, fish, and invertebrates, establish and introduce a proper balance of fish species, perform pest control and adjust the suspended solids and organic content with the use of equipment and registered chemicals.
The trick is not to create a new problem by overloading one side of the equation. Nature is complex. You have to stay close to every job to really appreciate what it takes to avoid an aquatic imbalance. That’s why aquatic management is more complicated than it appears. Each individual water feature requires its own customized treatment program.
When looking for assistance with aquatic maintenance, first determine whether the individual is licensed by your state and possesses all the required applicator’s licenses and certification. Second, ask for proof of Worker’s Compensation and General Liability coverage (including performance bonds for large, complex jobs). Finally, ask for and check current and past references. Focus on job performance feedback at the time you invest now save you frustration and extra work later.
This is why there are aquatic maintenance specialists. We aren’t cleaning pools; we are establishing and maintaining a delicate natural balance and bringing the aesthetic appearance of your highly visible bodies of water to an appearance above and beyond your expectations.
Finally, regular attention is a must! Neglect is the worst enemy of water features. Maintenance is required regardless of the amount of use of your water feature gets and understanding the unique properties of your water feature will go a long way toward maintaining the beauty of your aquatic environment.