The Pond Saga – Episode 1

August 16, 2013 — Leave a comment
This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series The Pond Saga

When we originally started talking about buying rural land, Leigh’s first request was that there be some water on the property. Actually, the formal petition included a pond, a lake or a stream. It didn’t take long for us to discover what most landowners already knew: water on the property seriously increases the value of land. I guess we were kind of aware of that from the beginning, but I had no idea just how much the price would skyrocket with a little of the wet stuff.

Building a pond on rural land.

The other major issue that we found with creeks, streams and lakes is that they are typically floodplain-adjacent. You can’t imagine how close we came to being stuck with a beautiful 22-acre pasture featuring hundreds of feet of creek bank flowing a mere 100 yards to the main channel of the Coosa River. Of course, the broker didn’t bother to tell us that the entire thing was located deep within the 100-year floodplain. Needless to say, contracts were shredded, and the Lord was thanked for the bullet we dodged. Armed with this knowledge, we decided that a pond might be the best compromise to meet our aquatic ambitions.

The Ant Farm doesn’t have a shimmering lake or river meandering across its borders. What it does have is two small creeks. The east creek is the smaller of the two, and in most places isn’t much bigger than a rain ditch. The west creek is a different story. It is a blue-line creek, which means that it shows up as a blue line on the government’s official topographical maps. That also means that you can’t alter the flow of water in any way without inviting FEMA,  the Army Corps of Engineers, and god knows what other bureaucratic proctologists into your life.

On our first visit to the property, both creeks were raging, and we were in love. What we didn’t realize at the time was that it had rained heavily the night before, and water was still flowing down the northern slopes of the mountain. On later visits we learned that the creek only runs for a day or so after heavy rains. They’re both wet-weather creeks. If the west creek ran year round, I’m pretty sure it would have checked the box for Leigh, but both creeks spend most of their time as mosquito trenches and not babbling brooks.

The Big Mud Hole - a pond site that didn't hold water.My neighbor across the street installed a 1/10th acre pond years ago that he now refers to as the “Big Mud Hole”. It doesn’t hold water and is never filled more than half way. It really is the bane of his existence, which he has to walk past everyday. The cost to remove the pond is so high, he’s just stuck with it. That has become my biggest pond-related fear.

So to combat my fear I began reading about ponds, and quickly determined that I needed expert help. There are so many factors including soil type, watershed, spillways, water table, dam type, etc. If you’ll pardon the expression, this was getting a bit out of my depth. And so the saga began…

Pond Ho!

I called around asking who was the best, and I kept hearing one name. Let’s call him Pond Dude. I called Pond Dude up, and he was happy to help. I was shocked at how reasonable his rate was and felt like this train was really moving. He had me send over the satellite imagery, topos and everything I had, so he could take a look. The next day I received an email detailing a 2-acre pond concept, complete with a dam location and everything. Things were looking good. We started planning a site visit, and then I made a comment that brought everything to a screeching halt…

Pond No!

In all my research I’ve learned a lot of things I never thought I would want to know. During my due diligence for the property I spent time studying the soil type maps from the US Geological Survey. I know the three major soil profiles on my property intimately, which I am sure will one day guarantee me an invitation to the very best parties. While wrapping up the plans for our site visit, I just happened to mention the profile of the soil in the proposed pond area.

“Minvale?!?!? That’s chert rock. Naw, that pond ain’t never gonna’ hold water.”

As luck would have it, the USGS maps showed that our soil was perfectly suited… for drainage.

Leigh was devastated, and I started working on Plan B. Pond Dude explained that the soil maps are created on a large scale, and it might be possible that inclusions of other soil types could exist on the property. He recommended that I enlist the soil scientists at the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), a government agency that assists taxpayers with such dilemmas, to dig a core and determine exactly what soil we were dealing with.

In the weeks that followed I received the official government run-around. Phone calls were made. Phone calls were not returned. Promises were made. Promises were not kept. Your tax dollars at work. You know the drill. Don’t get me started.

Finally, after a two-month game of one-man phone tag, I’d had enough. I dumped the public servants for the private sector, and the very next day I was on-site with the Soil Dude taking the appropriate samples. I guess the system works.

Pond Go!

Pond Dude’s report contained a glimmer of hope. There was a substantial amount of the right kind of clay in the top two feet, which is unusual for my soil type. He explained a method whereby we could extract the top layer of soil, dig the pond, and then return the clay-heavy soil to the pond bed as a seal. A 1/4- to 1/2-acre pond might just be feasible. Spirits ran high as we all envisioned ducks waddling, fish jumping and children splashing in cool clear water. This was the first good news we had received since the beginning of the Pond Saga.

I eagerly sent the report to Pond Dude and prepared for a site visit to mark the dam location. We were rolling again.

Pond Whoa!

Not so fast. While the discovery of the clay content of the soil improved our chances, the odds were still marginal at best. I asked Pond Dude to quantify it, and he gave me a 60% chance the pond would hold water. That means there is a 40% chance it won’t. Ugh! I would never roll into Vegas and throw down $12k on black, and the odds for the pond didn’t look much better. While Pond Dude wasn’t too optimistic, he still hadn’t given up all hope. Somewhere along the way I mentioned that the excavators were on-site. His next suggestion was to have them dig an eight foot deep pit, so we could examine the soil strata.

That’s where we are today. There’s still a slim chance that the pond will happen, but at this point I’m not too hopeful. We’ve seen a lot of ups and downs on this quest, and it seems like it was just doomed from the beginning. In a few weeks we’ll have the pit dug, and Pond Dude will take a final look at the prospects. With some luck we’ll get a green light, but I’m not taking any chances on ending up with a Big Mud Hole of my own.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with building a pond. I’ll take any advice I can get…

 

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Ken

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