Last Updated: 1/28/14
Problems with my large 1800 gallon pond follow. By writing about these, I hope that others can avoid similar problems. This is some heavy (and sometimes confusing) reading!
There are many things I would like to change in the design of my pond and many problems that I have encountered. Because the pond is done, it would be too difficult for me alone to change. I had a landscape company who had built ponds before build my pond for about $7000 (including my costs for liner, pump, electrician, plants, and fish). Many of the problems were due to miscommunication between the designer and work men and between the designer and I. There were also things that I did not consider at the time and now wish that I had. It would be better to build the pond yourself but I was incapable of hauling dirt and stones (took three men!) and could not do the physical labor. So here are some of the things I wish I could change or fix. Perhaps after reading these, I can save some heartache for any potential builders of large ponds. Plus, I like to complain! See the pond pictures page to see some of what I speak about.
On 11/25/06, someone posted their own list of pond problems which you can read on my forum.
1. The pond was supposed to be 3200 gallons as in the blueprint. The workers made an error. They measured the inside of the water area in the blueprint and used that as the outside of the rocks. Huge slabs of Pennsylvania fieldstone rest from surface level to down to about two feet. The water comes half way up the stones. Thus, this method effectively hides the liner and allows for a lot of water loss before the liner would show. Due to the measurement error, the pond actually is about 1700-1800 gallons by my calculation. I should have measured the pond myself. I did make the workers measure it twice but, as I said, they used the inside on the blueprint as the outside on the actual pond. They lost about 1-2 feet in all directions (sides and depth which really reduced the volume).
2. Due to a similar problem as Number 1, the workers measured the depth from the top of the ground level. The problem is that the water stays about a foot below ground level when totally full due to an overflow. Thus, my pond lost about 10 inches in depth. The deep end, for goldfish and koi to overwinter in, went from the blueprint depth of three feet (which was the minimum for which I was striving) to only 2'2". This was one of the most upsetting mistakes since depth is very important for my koi. Fortunately, my fish seem to have overwintered well enough for the first three winters but I have lost a few koi in winter.
3. Even though the pond was only about half as big as the blueprint, there was nothing written about depth or volume in the contract. It merely stated five days of labor, so much fieldstone, etc. Since they used the same amount of supplies and work, I was charged full price. The lesson: Include volume and depth desired in any contracts.
4. Even though the waterfall area is part of the main pond's liner (thanks to their making the pond half as big as planned), it still leaks at the top. Some large boulders (no way I can move them) get wet and water runs back into the mulch and dirt. Total water loss for all reasons (evaporation, splashing, backrunning, etc.) runs about an inch a week, two inches during drought or really hot weather. During winter, the loss is not noticeable. Pay extra attention to areas where water returns to a pond for possible future leaks.
5. Because the waterfall area and some of the walls were built on compacted dirt, the rocks have settled. This has resulted in dirt coming in, gaps where liner is easily seen, and major diversion of the waterfall's paths. I am not sure how one would prevent this. A backhoe compacted the dirt well. I am afraid that one day the whole waterfall will collapse and rip a hole in the liner. The spill rock must weigh a ton, literally. The rocks that were siliconed at the top to the biofilter have collapsed to almost 1.5 feet lower. I cannot find enough rocks to shove in all the gaps and holes. In May 1998, I bought almost $300 (1.5 ton) of rock to fill in the gaps. By 1999, the waterfall needs to be built back up again. I rebuilt the area around the biofilter in early 2000 again. At least the biobilter at the top does not settle since it was put on solid ground with loose dirt around it. The poor main waterfall which used to literally gush over the edge and splash water drops many feet into the pond, is now just a trickle that runs back on the rocks. This is due mostly to the movement of the rocks which diverted the flow behind them but also may be due to the pump warring out or the enormous back pressure created by the floss intake and upflow biofilter (bioballs and lava rock). Anyway the lesson is: heavy rocks will move over time.
6. With every hard rain, dirt and mulch enter the pond. This used to result in another (minor) algae bloom (for some reason, it no longer effects the pond). Aside from building the pond level above ground level, I do not know how to prevent this either. The liner was brought up to ground level by the workers and held in place with the boulders. We dug out the high side of the pond some (the workers did a poor job at that spot), added a small liner, a rock wall, and built it up with rocks at the spot that put the most dirt into the pond. This seems to help.
7. The overflow was set too low. I cannot adjust it myself without making it worse. The pond could hold another two to four inches easily. The water level is about a foot below the top of the liner and ground level. In January of 1999, the pond was frozen solid at the overflow. We got a lot of snow, rain, and sleet. Because the overflow was frozen, the pond level was a few inches higher than I had ever seen it. With all the excess wall height, this was not a problem. The overflow thaws off and on to let the excess out. In 2000, there was snow so deep that one could not even tell a pond was there (the de-icer even froze under!). Actually, having a low overflow as I do prevents snow and ice from overflowing the pond completely. It also keeps raccoons and herons from successfully eating the fish.
8. When water flows out the overflow, it does not follow the stream bed! The workers apparently never tested it. The water just flows into the mulch. The stream bed is virtually useless (although a thistle found it quite pleasant in 2000).
9. I wanted a stream bed that went to the edge of the woods, an overflow pond after the outlet, and a bridge. The workers suggested against this because I would need more liner, mosquitos would breed, and a bridge would look stupid respectively. Do not let other people tell you what you want in your own pond!! I should have had them do it as I wanted. Granted, the stream and overflow pond would usually be dry, but it would look better than the short, wide pile of river rock and mud slop at the end of it that I got instead. We planted excess sweet flag and other plants in the mud. In 1999, I finally got my bridge, on my new 153 gallon pond that I designed and made my brother dig.
10. The pond's pump is connected to the biofilter/waterfall by 1.25" PVC flexible tubing. It is buried 1-4 feet under the waterfall mound. It is now partially clogged but not really enough to impede flow which is lucky. If it ever needed replacement, a ton of rocks and dirt would have to be dug up and lots of plants torn out. The same goes for a PVC drain coming out of the biofilter. All parts that might need servicing should be accessible. I tried running a tube with brush attached through the tubing in March, 1998, but there are apparently buried nearly 90 degree turns in the tubing to add to my complaints. I got the tubing through but the brush only goes in an inch so we had to pull it back out. Even so, the tubing dislodged a lot of black crud and the waterfall speed increased afterwards. I now clean the tubing a few times a year with a plain tube and do not pull it through all the way. Any suggestions on how to clean this PVC tubing are most welcomed! Also, this 1.25" PVC flexible tubing kept popping off the pump head. I discovered it also had a hole about 1" from the beginning. I finally gave in on 5/28/00 and cut the last inch off the tubing that was crooked. The workers did not know how to cut straight which is why it always popped off. It is not fun to go swimming in hip waders to fix it when I am late for work. Of course, the cut tubing no longer fit! So, I jammed it on a whole 2 mm or something and secured it with a stainless steel hose clamp. So far, so good.
11. If the liner needed replacing, it would take two weeks. One week to move like 20 tons of fieldstone and tons of dirt to get to the liner. Mulch and plants would have to be moved as well as hundreds of plants and animals who would need pools for weeks. I hope that never happens! Note that this complaint would hold for anyone with a big pond. There is no way around it!
12. The workers chose to put pea gravel and river rock in the bottom of the shallow parts (about 40%). This is good for aesthetics, koi rooting, and bug hiding. It is not so good after you think about it. I cannot vacuum these areas. Worst of all, I have to walk on the stones to get into the pond and service the filters and plants. I have felt down to the liner. Small rocks are already embedded in the liner. How long before a hole is punched? How will I know where the hole is? I cannot see the liner, just rocks. As an added problem, I often slip and almost fall over since it is hard to walk on an inch of large pea gravel when you cannot see beyond an inch in the water (during algae season). Even when the water cleared, it was still a hard walk. In 2000, I fell in many times while in there in my bathing suit (the algae is slick) and let me tell you, it is not fun to land on rocks. My wonderful koi knocked a lot of the pea gravel out of my submerged plant pots in the deep end so pea gravel is everywhere.
13. Because the pump tubing is embedded under ground, there is no way for me to add a leaf skimmer and/or UV sterilizer which I now very much would like to have the option to add. Prepare for future purchases when building the pond.
14. Within the pond, there are two basic areas of the pond floor. The shallow area is a slow slope from shallow down to the waterlily pots. That is fine. Then, there is about a 1.5 foot wide area where the water drops down another foot. That is not good! That is where I usually fall in. That is an inconvenience in a bathing suit but a disaster in winter with hip waders! The drop off should have been a step down (close to vertical but not 100% vertical). The way the floor is, I have to do a split to go into the deep section. Try doing a split on slimy algae!
15. Around the edges of the pond, there is a shear drop of about a foot. This is great in keeping out herons, raccoons, cats, and other predators. It is bad though in some ways. Birds NEVER drink or bathe in my pond except when it is frozen (go figure?, they use the openings from the waterfall and de-icer). Newly morphed tree frogs and toads cannot get out very easily. If a larger bird or mammal fell in, it would not be able to get out. At least two birds have been found dead in the water in warm months so far (probably fledglings). Despite the cliff, the deer occasionally drink from the pond and eat lots of parrot feather and water celery. They sometimes put their hooves into the pond. Luckily, the shallow areas are a tangle of plants and pea gravel so the liner should not get a hole in it. On 9/20/00, a full-grown fawn tried to walk across the leaf net and fell in! He did not harm anything except for putting a hand-size hole in the net!
16. You cannot see the pond life well since the water is a foot below ground level. You have to squat and squint. There is not much sure footing around the pond either. Of course, if you tell visitors to stay off the rocks near the water, they of course, do the opposite. I have come thisclose to falling into the pond myself.
17. A big problem is this. The pump is situated where the water is 1.5 feet from the ground. I cannot remove it or the filter around it for cleaning without getting in at the other end of the pond. I have to put on my swimsuit or hip waders if it is cold, get wet to my waist, get my arms and face all wet, no matter how cold the water, just to clean the pump. I have been doing this every week! The pump should be placed so that it can be easily cleaned. Due to the large cliff there, it is also impossible for me to remove the pump with filter without another person to pull it out from above. I can hear the moans now when I ask someone to help me.
18. The pump was also placed right next to the waterfall. Thus, the shallow end sort of stagnates. I wanted the pump at the other end but the workers said no since the tubing and plug would have to be a lot longer, the pump could not be as deep, and the pump would have to pump harder. I guess they were right for once. Nah, I have changed my mind. They should have dug a 2 foot pit in the bog area and put the pump there. It would have been serviceable from outside the pond plus the pond could never be pumped even close to dry! The tubing should have been right under the surface and a UV sterilizer in line too if I ever wanted one (I do not now). Well, if the pond ever needs to be rebuilt and/or I ever make any money, then I will have it done like that. I added another filter system (a Cyprio planter filter with a 700 gph pump) to the shallow end that runs only in the summer to keep the shallow end from stagnating but it does disturb the marginals quite a bit.
19. The workers did not provide for any mechanical or chemical filtration. Mechanical filtration is very much needed. I surrounded the pump with floss in a plant basket with holes. This needs cleanly weekly in warm months and gets very dirty. I had to add another filter since the water was horribly dirty. A Cyprio plant filter at the other end of the pond clogs every few weeks. Neither of my systems are sufficient for mechanical filtration although the bioballs/biothings in both trap a lot of black gold (that is pond slime) full of bloodworms and leeches!
20. Then, there is the proverbial, there is not enough room! The pond should be bigger! It was supposed to be almost twice as big (it was!)!! If it is ever redone, it will be made bigger. That would be some undertaking!! Anyone want to help? : -)
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