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How to turn a low spot (wetland?) into a natural pond

 
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We just purchased a small farm and have a low spot that is wet most of the year but really grown in with grass. I am afraid it's really a breeding ground for mosquitos. Also the location would be perfect for a pond close-ish to the house which apparently drops insurance rates (fire protection).
How would we go about turning this into a pond? We have a tractor but I doubt this would be sufficient and we need to bring in a contractor to dig at least?!

Here is a picture that shows the low spot (the top right corner):



The picture is looking south-west and the north side of the low spot the land slopes up. The little driveway goes to the barn and has a culvert right where that gate is. I think it's to keep the other side drained as the lawn there get's a bit wet in spring. Not sure what else to provide on information.
 
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We have a similar wet area from a seep spring. You can rent an excavator for digging yourself which is loads of fun and you can limit the damage area to exactly what you want. Although, if you are wanting a large size of pond yo umight be better off hiring someone who knows what they are doing; they will be able to dig twice as quickly. Look at a lot of photos of natural pond, look at Sepp's ponds and create lots of space for insect predators to live. I have several ponds but zero mosquitoes because of the number of frogs that live there. Plan ahead for stocking with fish? or introducing diverse aquatic plants. The more the better.
 
Simone Gar
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Daniel Ray wrote:We have a similar wet area from a seep spring. You can rent an excavator for digging yourself which is loads of fun and you can limit the damage area to exactly what you want. Although, if you are wanting a large size of pond yo umight be better off hiring someone who knows what they are doing; they will be able to dig twice as quickly. Look at a lot of photos of natural pond, look at Sepp's ponds and create lots of space for insect predators to live. I have several ponds but zero mosquitoes because of the number of frogs that live there. Plan ahead for stocking with fish? or introducing diverse aquatic plants. The more the better.



Daniel that's great to hear.  We are exactly thinking that. Modeled after Sepp's ponds with good habitat. This place is already buzzing with frogs which we were super happy to find out as you can imaging. There are some ducks stopping by and i would like to help them too with an island in the middle or something so they can nest and be safer. We have several natural sloughs south of that and I hope we can increase bio diversity there too eventually. Mosquitos are my biggest enemy (apart from the odd bear or cougar sightings). And the hoof rats obviously but they are more after my crops than me.
 
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First thing to do is figure out how long that water stays there. It might be temporary which would indicate that there is not enough clay to hold the water.
 
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As Robert says, first determine if it is water retaining, and if you really want a pond. There is actually some liability with them as well. Since it is opening up the aquifer to potential contamination, there are many laws that do not permit forms of farming to be done near a pond. I am not talking big agriculture here, but something as simple as putting compost on crops and fields nearby. However, if you chose to proceed with the project, the machine to use is actually a bulldozer.

You can use an excavator to hog out the majority of the material in the pond and bring it to the outside, but the pond lining is actually best done with a bulldozer. An excavator bucket has teeth that break into the soil, perfect for digging, but for a pond lining you want a smooth shape and slope. The bulldozers tracks also have larger grousers (bars on the tracks) that help lock in rock and compact the soil. On a dozer these are 3 inches long or so and spaced one per track pad. On an excavator they are 1/2 an inch long and there are 3 of them per track pad. It allows them to cross paved roads, but lacks the ability to let rocks get between the grousers and really lock the pond sides in for stability.

The perfect situation for pond building is an excavator in the 30,000 pound class or higher, with a 3/4 to 1 cubic yard bucket so that you can quickly scoop the inside of the pond out and cast it to the outside. With its 28 foot reach, you can easily build a 60 foot diameter pond without moving material twice. Then you can come in with a bulldozer...a small one is fine...and shape the banks. As I stated before the tracks ensure stability and the smooth cutting edge of the blade gives the pond slope a nice look. It is impossible to flip a bulldozer over so you can do some nice work and make things look great on some steep slopes that no other tractor would work on, much less make look nice. This is huge if the pond loses water in the middle of the summer. You can tell a pond dug only with an excavator then. Ponds dug with an excavator look great when they are full, but as the water leaves, steep sides, pockets and pock marks give the pond an ugly look.

I built a pond about the size you are looking at last year in a couple of days. You can rent an excavator for about $600 a day or $2000 a week in the 30,000 pound range (don't consider anything smaller, it will actually cost you more money), and a bulldozer (John Deere 450 size) for around $450 per day or $1500 per week. The problem with the dual machine usage is that you get charged for delivery and that can really add up. So for that reason, you might just consider renting a bulldozer and being done with it. You will spend more time pushing as you have to get that dirt from the middle to the outside, but it is not as bad as it sounds. As you dig down 1 foot in the middle, you are putting 1 foot on the outer slope, so you are actually making 2 feet of progress!

With renting and equipment, rent the biggest you can afford. It is actually a lot cheaper in the end because so much more can be accomplished faster. For instance a John Deere 850 bulldozer has a capacity of 6.5 cubic yards, yet the next model down, a 700 John Deere is only 3 cubic yards. So one model size is twice the tractor. Yet the 850 John Deere costs $3000 per week and the 700 John Deere $2000 per week. Production wise, the 700 John Deere should be $1500! I have run both and I can tell you the 700 John Deere is pretty small in comparison!

The last thing to remember though is the cost of fuel. It can get high! The 850 John Deere has a 94 gallon fuel tank, and most tractors are designed to use a fuel tank of fuel in an 8 hour day. yes you read that right...so that 850 John Deere blows through nearly 100 gallons of fuel per day...at $2 a gallon that is $200 in fuel alone. Plan for it. But all that aside, if you chose to build a pond, wait until July when it is absolutely the driest out, hopefully the pond is dry, and then rent a John Deere 450 or 550 bulldozer and have fun.

 
Simone Gar
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Location: Alberta, zone 3
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Robert Pavlis wrote:First think to do is figure out how long that water stays there. It might be temporary which would indicate that there is not enough clay to hold the water.



We had one of the driest spring/summers last year. Sloughs all over the area were at a record low. We have seen the place in July and August and the low spot was at least swampy. It didn't turn back to just pasture. The other sloughs too, they were low but never dry. The property holds a lot of water even in dry times.
 
Simone Gar
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Travis Johnson wrote:As Robert says, first determine if it is water retaining, and if you really want a pond. There is actually some liability with them as well. Since it is opening up the aquifer to potential contamination, there are many laws that do not permit forms of farming to be done near a pond. I am not talking big agriculture here, but something as simple as putting compost on crops and fields nearby. However, if you chose to proceed with the project, the machine to use is actually a bulldozer.

You can use an excavator to hog out the majority of the material in the pond and bring it to the outside, but the pond lining is actually best done with a bulldozer. An excavator bucket has teeth that break into the soil, perfect for digging, but for a pond lining you want a smooth shape and slope. The bulldozers tracks also have larger grousers (bars on the tracks) that help lock in rock and compact the soil. On a dozer these are 3 inches long or so and spaced one per track pad. On an excavator they are 1/2 an inch long and there are 3 of them per track pad. It allows them to cross paved roads, but lacks the ability to let rocks get between the grousers and really lock the pond sides in for stability.

The perfect situation for pond building is an excavator in the 30,000 pound class or higher, with a 3/4 to 1 cubic yard bucket so that you can quickly scoop the inside of the pond out and cast it to the outside. With its 28 foot reach, you can easily build a 60 foot diameter pond without moving material twice. Then you can come in with a bulldozer...a small one is fine...and shape the banks. As I stated before the tracks ensure stability and the smooth cutting edge of the blade gives the pond slope a nice look. It is impossible to flip a bulldozer over so you can do some nice work and make things look great on some steep slopes that no other tractor would work on, much less make look nice. This is huge if the pond loses water in the middle of the summer. You can tell a pond dug only with an excavator then. Ponds dug with an excavator look great when they are full, but as the water leaves, steep sides, pockets and pock marks give the pond an ugly look.

I built a pond about the size you are looking at last year in a couple of days. You can rent an excavator for about $600 a day or $2000 a week in the 30,000 pound range (don't consider anything smaller, it will actually cost you more money), and a bulldozer (John Deere 450 size) for around $450 per day or $1500 per week. The problem with the dual machine usage is that you get charged for delivery and that can really add up. So for that reason, you might just consider renting a bulldozer and being done with it. You will spend more time pushing as you have to get that dirt from the middle to the outside, but it is not as bad as it sounds. As you dig down 1 foot in the middle, you are putting 1 foot on the outer slope, so you are actually making 2 feet of progress!

With renting and equipment, rent the biggest you can afford. It is actually a lot cheaper in the end because so much more can be accomplished faster. For instance a John Deere 850 bulldozer has a capacity of 6.5 cubic yards, yet the next model down, a 700 John Deere is only 3 cubic yards. So one model size is twice the tractor. Yet the 850 John Deere costs $3000 per week and the 700 John Deere $2000 per week. Production wise, the 700 John Deere should be $1500! I have run both and I can tell you the 700 John Deere is pretty small in comparison!

The last thing to remember though is the cost of fuel. It can get high! The 850 John Deere has a 94 gallon fuel tank, and most tractors are designed to use a fuel tank of fuel in an 8 hour day. yes you read that right...so that 850 John Deere blows through nearly 100 gallons of fuel per day...at $2 a gallon that is $200 in fuel alone. Plan for it. But all that aside, if you chose to build a pond, wait until July when it is absolutely the driest out, hopefully the pond is dry, and then rent a John Deere 450 or 550 bulldozer and have fun.



Great info. Thanks! I am aware of the permit side of things. I was actually thinking about bringing in one or two organizations (one is doing riparian area work and the other is more on the wildlife side of things) to hopefully support the work and help getting the permits necessary. (If I get them to understand the permaculture aspects!)

I had no idea a bulldozer would be such an essential part. I have only seen them use excavators. As far as I remember Sepp Holzer's people use the excavator bucket to "rock" the pond floor to seal. However, I am no expert so I am not sure what makes more sense. Just learning now.

I am in Canada so I am a bit worried about the price being much higher. Usually rental rates are much higher and I can already tell from your $2 per gallon comment that gas is going to be at least double that. We pay around $1/liter here so closer to $4/gallon.

As I said above the ground is never dry, dry, at least a swamp for sure. Apart from waiting for a 100 year drought maybe.

The big question for me right now is. How do I find a contractor that knows what he is doing? Most residential ponds are done with lots of inputs (liners, pumps, etc.) so definitely not a fit. The other way I was thinking of going is dugouts for cattle. I am not sure what their approach is though. I don't think they use liners but they are usually not built to increase eco systems, rather are hole in the grounds for livestock to drink from if there isn't another water source. So not sure how the design would be different (same?).
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