Editor's note: Because ponds are so much a part of our landscape andfulfill a variety of functions, this is part one of a two-part series on farm ponds. This week's column will discuss pond construction and maintenance; next week's will look at pond fishing.
From one endof Carroll County to the other, farm ponds dot the landscape, providing beauty and refreshment.
Children leap into the welcoming waters on hot summer days, and afamily enjoys fresh fish all year. Cattle wander from the pasture for a cool drink and a herd of deer slips by quietly to drink at night.
Idyllic as it may appear, a farm pond is more than just a source of beauty and recreation. It is a living organism which must be carefully monitored and maintained.
A properly managed pond provides recreation and water supply, helps control erosion and protects the quality of stream water and may even reduce the landowner's insurance rates. Improperly managed, a pond may produce green scum, dead fish and ongoing headaches for its owner.
"People who think you just put in a pond and that's it are very much mistaken," says Eugene vonGunten, referring to the pond on the farm owned by his father, Carl vonGunten. "Maintenance is a perpetual job."
The pond on the vonGunten farm on Old Westminster Road in Reese was built in 1966 with the planning assistance of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Soil Conservation Service and financed in part by Maryland's Cost Share Program.
Ed Null, district manager of the USDA's Soil Conservation Service, says his department assists anyone wishing to build a pond but gives priority to ponds for agricultural use.
"We require a security deposit before accepting the job of designing a pond," Null says. "If theproject is feasible, and if the pond meets requirements when constructed, that deposit is refunded. Actual construction costs, however, are usually at the landowner's expense."
At the vonGunten farm, a site was chosen where one of Beaver Run's feeder streams would supply sufficient water flow. Bollinger Contractors excavated a one-third acre basin to a depth of 8 feet and piped water from a collecting port in the stream.
That system worked rather well, though torrents from summer storms frequently washed out the collector and blocked the pipe with silt. Runoff from the vonGunten's own cattle and an adjacent dairy farm introduced nutrients into the stream and caused the growth of algae.
To eliminate those problems, Carl vonGunten recently rebuilt the pond's water supply. He piped water to the pond from a natural springhead into a large concrete trough from which the cattle drink. An overflow pipe carries water into the pond.
"Since we put the trough in, we've had much less of a problem with algae," Carl vonGunten says. "The cows like the trough, because the spring water is nice and cold even on the hottest days. Now we don't have the problem of them standing in the stream and dirtying the water."
Eugene vonGunten, a program specialist for Innovative and Alternative Sewage Disposal Systems in Frederick County, is conscious of the biological aspects of algae control. He notes, for example, that some agriculturalexperts suggest adding fertilizer to the pond in early spring to promote the growth of planktonic algae, which retards the growth of the undesirable filamentous, or floating, algae.
The filamentous algae, he says, is the green scum which floats on ponds. If permitted to grow, it can cover the surface of a pond and deplete its oxygen supply, and later absorb the oxygen from fish when it sinks to the bottom.
At a recent farm pond workshop at the Ag Center, Regional Pond Specialist Dan Terlizzi discussed consequences of the indiscriminate useof chemicals used to control algae growth in ponds.
"There is such a diversity of life in ponds," he says. "In addition to the plant life such as algae and cattails, you have a wide variety of micro-organisms, such as the tiny crustaceans that provide food for larval fish, you have freshwater sponges, a variety of protozoans, all of which interconnect.
"When you add chemicals, you interrupt the linkages.Chemicals are tools which have a place in pond management, but they should not be used indiscriminately. Eventually pond water and whatever chemicals it contains pass back into the streams where they may cause further pollution problems."
For information about pond construction, call the Soil Conservation Service at 848-6696. For information on control of aquatic weeds, request fact sheet No. 415 from the Extension Service at 848-4611.