Photo from, 2021

Strategies to keep ponds and streams clean and safe

When producers think about tackling all that needs to be fixed, managed, maintained and monitored on their farms, their water supply may fall to the bottom of the list. Though ponds, springs and streams are valued resources, they may not be getting the routine care they need. “Water resources, ponds and streams have a vulnerability that we don’t think about,” Marley Beem, Ph.D., Associate Extension Specialist with Oklahoma State University, said. 

Though a highly valued resource, water can be easily contaminated. Producers who educate themselves on proper water management, can hopefully avoid big issues in the future. 

“The more we know, the better stewards we can be,” Beem stated. “And the better we will be able to protect what we have and not looking at some sort of problem that is expensive to fix or is unfixable.” Good water resource management starts with monitoring different aspects of the pond or stream. 

Manage Plant Population

One of the biggest problems in ponds is excess aquatic plant growth. Aquatic biologists recommend 20 to 30 percent plant coverage in a pond. Plant coverage benefits fish and provides protection against wave erosion for windswept ponds.

However, an overabundance of aquatic plants can cause problems. Experts recommend taking immediate action if plants start to take over the water source. “Once it gets to a point that a majority of the pond gets covered up, it is difficult to use herbicides or other means to correct it,” Beem stated. “So, we rather have people notice a problem is coming on, that it’s growing more than it did last year and then to seek advice.”

When treatment is necessary, pond owners need to match the identity of the plant with specific herbicides. Local extension agents and Natural Resources Conservation Service representatives are available to answer questions .

Maintain Vegetation Near Water Sources

Dams and spillways are vulnerable to erosion, and the should be inspected on a regular basis to monitor for problems. The faces of dams and spillways should have good plant cover and deep-rooted grass in order to protect against erosion. 

Problems with erosion typically start in a spillway after an overflow event. Beem recommends fixing the erosion issue as soon as possible so the headcut doesn’t develop into something major.

In addition, experts state that trees on dams can be an issue. If pond owners already have trees on a dam, they may want to seek expert advice on whether the trees can be safely removed. “Often times you can consider removing a moderately sized tree at least, if you grub out the root stump, major roots and pack it with clay soil in successive layers that are compacted,” Beem stated.

Pond owners should consider consulting with a NRCS representative or another expert to get an assessment of their particular situation. Removing large trees with deep roots can be tricky. Also, incorporating routine maintenance to ensure the dam stays free of small trees and woody vegetation, will help keep the pond in good condition. 

In regards to streams, it is important to be cautious about removing trees and woody vegetation alongside the stream. The root systems from trees and shrubs on stream banks help prevent the soil from eroding as the water flows in the channel. 

If landowners remove too much or all of the woody vegetation, then undercutting or collapsing can occur on the stream banks. “In most cases, if you live alongside a stream you need to appreciate and value those trees and shrubs and leave a good healthy width of them in place,” Beem advised. “Otherwise, you get into high cut banks collapsing, and taking away some of your land.” 

Monitor for Signs of Beavers

Beavers burrow the entrance of their dens underwater in the side of pond dams. “Beavers tend to get those burrows up in the higher parts of the dam. It is possible you could have a collapse of a den that could lead to a failure of the dam, as water comes across the top of the dam,” Beem explained. “Or it might intersect with some tree roots and you might have some leakage start some internal erosion that could cause a dam blow out.” 

Landowners should watch for signs of beaver activity around their ponds. 

Protect Groundwater

There are steps homeowners can take to ensure their groundwater stays clean. For property owners with a well, experts recommend never storing chemicals in a wellhouse. In addition, experts recommend creating an exclusion zone around the well. The depth of the well and the porousness of the soil dictates how far away from the well homeowners should keep from applying herbicides or other chemicals. 

Scheduling maintenance of septic systems may also fend off future problems. Septic systems need to be pumped out occasionally in order to prevent solids from clogging the system’s lateral lines.


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