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To maintain an environmentally sound pond, Jim Skorulski, an agronomist with the USGA Green Section, suggests the prevention of nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) from entering the pond system. This is done by managing clippings, using buffers, preventing fertilizer applications and redirecting drain tiles if possible.

“Secondly, oxygenate the water column to improve water quality and support microbial activity and help reduce nutrient availability,” Skorulski says. “Third, remove nutrient sources or make nutrients unavailable to algae and plants in the pond, i.e. dredging sediments, using alum and other products that bind with nutrients. Fourth (not in importance), deepen the water column. Shallow ponds will always be problematic in regards to aquatic plants and algae.”

When coming up with a maintenance plan, many superintendents turn to pond specialists, such as David Ellison, aquatic biologist and regional director with SOLitude Lake Management, based in Virginia Beach, Va., who provides lake, pond and fisheries management services, consulting, and aquatic products nationwide.

Ellison agrees nutrient management should be the main focus when searching for best practices.

“Preventative measures such as aerating the waterbody and establishing beneficial vegetation and pond buffers to reduce nutrient loading are highly beneficial to overall pond health,” Ellison says. “These measures will often help in the uptake of nutrients and can help limit the amount of pesticides required for algae and aquatic weed control. Professional assessment will often allow for the staff at SOLitude to provide a prescription for the lake or pond to target the specific plant species in need of control.”

Treat the source of a pond’s problems and not the symptoms of the problem, says Doug Hicks, President and CEO of Koenders Water Solutions.

“With proper prevention, treatment and maintenance, your pond will be clean and clear without the use of chemicals,” he says. “Natural pond maintenance means your pond will become easier and less costly to treat every year. It also means that you will be reducing your nutrient pollution contribution to today’s fresh water environmental challenges.”

The biggest mistake Vincent Dodge says his colleagues make is reacting to problems instead of proactively preventing them from happening.

“Instead of controlling the golf course, the golf course controls them,” says Dodge, CGCS at The Wilderness at Fortune Bay in Lake Vermilion, Minn. “A successful superintendent takes measures to control or limit an issue before the issue becomes a problem.”

Take an algae-infested pond as an example, Dodge says. The quick and reactive solution is to contact a chemical sales rep to ask what’s available to eliminate algae and then apply it.

“The proactive solution is to ask yourself why is there an algae problem in the first place,” he says. “Too much phosphorus fertilizer? Poor aeration in the lake? Is the lake too shallow or is the water circulation poor? Figure out what the actual cause of the problem is and take the appropriate measures. Adjust your fertilizer program, add an aerator to the lake, and dredge the lake to make it deeper or add a bubbler to circulate and/or aerate the water. The go-to answer is not always the chemical control ... a mistake commonly made.”

Many superintendents fail to leave a proper buffer between their ponds and their grass, choosing to manicure and cut grass right to the edge of the pond, which will cause grass clippings, fertilizer and other run off to seep into the pond, Hicks says.

“Use tall grass, or cattails to create a natural barrier,” he says. “Even a longer cut grass can filter some of the run-off. The denser and longer the turf you have around the pond the better the filter.”

This can be especially prevalent around areas with snow, because as the snow and ice melts and runs into the pond it picks up everything along the way and carries it into the pond, Hicks says. The barrier catches some of the run off and stops it from being washed into the water. He also advises to only use the amount of fertilizer needed, as excess fertilizer will run off into the nearby bodies of water.

Another common mistake is using herbicides and algaecides to kill off weeds, which only deals with the symptoms of the problem, and not with the root problem in the pond water, Hicks says.

“This practice only serves to further pollute these bodies of water and make them more prone to further algae blooms and weed regrowth,” Hicks says.

If it’s too late and the pond is a mess – aesthetically and biologically – there are solutions, Ellison says.

“Proper assessment would be the first step to remedy an aesthetically poor pond,” he says. “The typical cause of the excessive growth is a nutrient issue and a professional evaluation by a lake manager can establish a plan to remedy the situation.

Treating the source of a pond’s problems and not the symptoms is the approach used by The Wilderness at Fortune Bay (Minn.) superintendent Vincent Dodge. “The proactive solution is to ask yourself why is there an algae problem in the first place,” he says.
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“Water testing is often a good idea and can provide valuable information in solving the problems,” Ellison adds. “The plan may include the establishment of aeration, aquatic weed and algae treatments and an annual maintenance program.”

Superintendents fortunate to start with a clean slate during new pond construction should build ponds to a minimum depth of 8 feet, if possible, to minimize light reaching the bottom, Skorulski says. “The deeper water column should remain cooler, as well,” he says. “The ponds should be built with a more shallow shelve around the perimeter where some plant growth is encouraged. The plants are beneficial and useful on many fronts.”

Build a pond that adheres to the local storm water regulations, Ellison says. “An improperly built pond can have a significant effect on the sedimentation rate and length of time before dredging the water body may become a necessity,” he says. “Proper construction will also benefit the establishment of a healthy fish population, if that is a desired goal.”

When building, prepare with the future in mind, Dodge says. “During the construction process, it is always a good idea to route power lines to golf course ponds and lakes to accommodate future placement of fountains/aerators,” he says. “Most places I have worked at that did not do this, sooner or later regretted not doing so.”

Dodge suggests the creation of no-mow, longer grass buffer zones around all lake edges to help protect water quality.

With proper care and maintenance, even the most neglected pond can become an environmentally friendly and attractive water feature.

Rob Thomas is a Cleveland-based golf writer and frequent GCI contributor.