Grit Blogs > The Daily Commute

Pond Renovation Part 1: Determining the need

By Hank Will, Editor-in-Chief

Tags: ponds, water, dams, excavators, farms,

Read part 2 of this pond renovation story here. 

Read part 3 of this pond renovation story here. 

The corrugated pipe is the main cause of leaking for this pond.

We have several old human-made ponds on our Osage County farm. All hold water for part of the year, a couple of the ponds hold water year round; all leak considerably. Since water is a valuable resource in our part of Kansas, where the rural water supply is maxed out and a potable well needs to go down about 300 feet, we decided to invest in renovating at least two of our ponds. The first is our largest. It was formed by damming the deepest, steepest draw on the property around 40 years ago.

Since that pond has been surrounded by grassland for its entire life, it isn’t silted in too badly so our pond renovation won’t include dredging. This pond (Kate calls it draw pond) has maintained a level about 3 feet below the top of its drain pipe for the past couple of years. We determined that at least part of the problem relates to the corrugated drain pipe’s rotting away below ground … inside the dam. The other issue relates to the 30-year-old trees growing on the dam’s downstream face. Roots penetrate the dam and provide channels for seepage.

Big Caterpillar machines make pond renovation a breeze.

Since renovating this pond required moving a lot of dirt and trees, we hired a professional for the job. Pond renovation such as this requires heavy equipment in the form of bulldozers and track loaders … machines that weigh in the vicinity of 55,000 to 60,000 pounds each. They don’t come cheap, but they get the work done incredibly quickly, so the overall expense isn’t bad. And since it takes some effort to get the machines to your place, it doesn’t hurt to have several pond renovation projects on tap.   

If you have ponds that need renovating, be sure to shop around for a knowledgeable excavator. We learned that the reason our other ponds leak is because they weren’t built correctly. I will write more on that after we get this pond renovation completed.


Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .

6/7/2015 9:35:14 AM

When I bought the property I now own, the pond had no issue holding water. I decided I wanted to stock the pond with fish, so before doing so I had it dredged. Since the dredging (and stocking) every fish bellied up and the pond no longer holds water. I have found the leak behind the damn, what can I do do solve this issue?

hank will_2
1/22/2009 10:01:01 AM

Hey Paul -- Since we are grass farmers, we don't have any problem storing water in the ground (the earth literally inhales it), but with the exception of a single spring box, we let the pastures and meadows have it all. Our CRP ground is terraced and we have a large grass waterway that drains the west slopes of the terraces ... the east slopes converge on various draws that feed several small ponds. So when we get a rapid spring thaw and/or 2-inch plus rain in 3 hours, we capture some of the inevitable sheet flow in the ponds. the grass waterways and terraces slow the flow though, so we percolate quite a bit of the moisture and it gets stored in the subsoil, which has been saturated the past couple of years. Grasslands are the lungs of the Midwest ... we like to keep them healthy. Since grazing animals are an important component of keeping grasslands healthy and actually increase their already substantial ability to sequester carbon, we use the ponds for stock water (we pump out of them) and recreation, principally. Thanks. Hank

paul gardener
1/21/2009 4:32:03 PM

Hank, have you looked into any of the permaculture methods of water retention on your land that can work in conjunction with your ponds. Ideas like Swales, and using the natural contours of your land to store water IN the soil in addition to in the ponds? There are some incredible ideas out there. P~