Pond Boss
COE has determined our wet low spot DOES NOT qualify as a wetland! Therefore, I am back to the planning stages for our ponds.

However, I need some expert help from the earthmovers on the forum.

Project is an excavation type pond in south-central Kansas. A little bit of a depression exists, but there is no chance of an embankment pond because the slope is only 32'/mile.

I did some more test holes with the mini-excavator last weekend. Average results are 1.5' of topsoil, then 4.5' of sandy clay, then water-saturated blue clay as deep as I could dig.

The plan is to make a 1-2 acre pond essentially just below the existing grade. The spoils will be used to make a contoured embankment about 20'(?) beyond the perimeter of the pond. The watershed drainage area is only about 65 acres. I have an existing waterway upstream of the pond where I will place a wide, level check dam just above normal pool elevation to serve as my emergency spillway. (I AM NOT worried about a "dam breach" due to heavy rains for this mostly excavation type pond. My problem will be not enough water.)

The sandy clay horizon easily balls up in hand, but you can feel sand (even up to a coarse grain size). I believe I can seal this horizon, if I scarify and then compact with a sheepsfoot roller. If not, I can always add some lifts of the blue clay that is to be excavated from the deep portion of the pond.

The blue clay horizon is saturated in every single test hole. I wanted to excavate the pond using mostly dozer work.

Question for forum: Can I use a dozer in wet clay that will have free water on top of it?

I suspect not, but I am not an earthmoving guy. zhkent has previously informed me that a dozer with rippers will be required to excavate the wet blue clay.

More info - The blue clay is wet because there are some sand stringers in the sandy clay horizon that act as springs. Usually, there is one just above the blue clay horizon. However, some test holes had additional sand stringers higher in the section.

These stringers transmit enough fluid that water visibly runs into your hole through a distinct layer in your cut bank. Overnight static water level is about 6-12" above the sand level.

I DO NOT think I can excavate this pond with a dozer with this much water on location.
Idea #1
Use an excavator to cut 1-2 trenches through the proposed pond site. I can draw the water into an existing waterway that is lower than the clay level - if I extend my trench far enough in the "downstream" direction.

This might work to drain the free water off of the blue clay horizon, IF the sand stringers are fairly contiguous. (I believe they are.)

I could then excavate the pond using a dozer during our next drought. However, I think the blue clay would still be "wet" in this scenario, it would just not have free-standing water.

Idea #2
Do the dozer work in stages. Excavate the "overburden" of the topsoil and sandy clay horizon at the next good opportunity. Cut some trenches in the blue clay to help it dry out. Come back in during the next drought and finish the rest of the excavation work with a dozer. (Mo' stages, mo' money! And our family finances are not great at this point.)

Idea #3
Do the dozer work as above to move out the overburden. Use a long-reach excavator to perform all of the deep portions of the pond that require excavating in the wet blue clay.

Any better ideas, cost estimates for these ideas, or ways to improve the process would be greatly appreciated!

Thanks, Rod.
Long reaches are slow because of the length of the stick and the small bucket they have to use because of the lever arm. If it was my pond, I'd use both the dozer and a large regular excavator with a good sized bucket. You might have a hard time breaking out full buckets of clay if it's the blue stuff, and definitely will have a hard time with the smooth long stick bucket. You'll need teeth on that sucker.

I'd dig the deepest part of the pond first with an excavator, make a couple of shelves so you can put a semi trash pump on them. Run the pump to keep the water out. Then while still pumping excess water, work your way out, stockpiling the blue clay to be used later.

I would think that if you have 65 acres of watershed to fill your pond you won't have much of a problem if the pond is sealed.

Be careful with the dozer in there on the clay. If it starts to slip, don't dig yourself deeper, it will be $$$ to pull it out......

You will need to keep the pond as dry as possible, because you will have to put clay back in there and compact with the dozer and sheepfoot roller or if the slope isn't too bad and the clay isn't that slippery you could get by with a vibratory sheepsfoot. Remember 6" thick lifts, don't try to compact 12" or more at a time. Correct soil moisture is the key too, too wet and you can't compact it.
Thanks for the advice esshup.

I was afraid I was going to have to add an excavator to the project budget, and your thinking seems to confirm that!

"Be careful with the dozer in there on the clay. If it starts to slip, don't dig yourself deeper, it will be $$$ to pull it out......"

That is why I wanted to strip the "overburden" first. I need to make it as difficult as possible to get stuck on this pond and I didn't want to be coming out of any deep holes with the dozer. Lately, I have had whatever is the opposite of the "Midas Touch".

The good excavator guys on the forum have posted about excavating massive yards of fill in short periods of time. I don't know how they do it, because in most cases the project dimensions are much larger than their bucket radius.

Is your idea to dig the deepest parts of the pond with the excavator and spoil it in the most optimum spots on the virgin ground towards the pond perimeter? The spoils are then moved later with the dozer? That sounds pretty efficient to me.
As regards sealing the pond - I believe the blue clay horizon is already sealed. The bucket cuts and teeth marks are just slicks in this clay, and no additional water comes in the hole as you dig deeper into the blue clay.

It is water saturated, but I think it already has zero permeability. Regardless, I will still compact the blue clay layer since the job already requires compaction equipment on location.

My main concern is sealing the overlying sandy clay horizon due to the thin, water-bearing sand layers or stringers. If I have good blue clay to use for the 6" lifts can I make portions of the shoreline steeper than 3:1? I would like to limit the shallow water plant growth wherever possible.

If I can go steeper (in parts), what are the steepest slopes that can be sealed with the various types of compaction equipment?

Finally, is it time and cost effective to use the sheepsfoot roller attachment on the excavator to compact shoreline, or is that only used when you are working in a narrow trench?
If you have the time, I would buy Mike Otto's book from the Pond Boss Store "Just Add Water". and read it a time or two before starting the project. https://www.pondboss.com/store

IIRC to move dirt less than 50 yds, use a dozer

If you have to move it further, you have 2 options. Get a pan scraper. Either pulled by a tractor or one of the big articulated ones. Scrape the overburden off and dump it as the pan scraper drives. You can make a pretty good pile that way, but remember to make it wide to start too. Once you get to the good clay, you can put that in the pan scraper with the excavator and that can move it out of the way to stock pile it. Or put it in a dump truck (straight one or off-road articulated one) and make piles. If you have a dozer on site, the dozer can move the dumped piles and make the pile taller or make a hill and have the dump trucks back up the hill and dump, then the dozer smooths out the area and the process is repeated, building up the hill. You want to avoid tracking the excavator out of the basin to pile up the spoils.

If you hit sand veins, excavate them out 3' deep and at least 2' wider than they are, and use the sheepsfoot on the excavator to pack clay back in the vein and stitch it to the good impermeable soil on the sides of the veins.

The wider the area that you can hit in one pass with the sheepsfoot the better you will be. You want the sheepsfoot roller to compact the clay enough so that it starts to "walk out" of the clay. Then put another layer on it. i.e. if on the first 2-3 passes the sheepsfoot has the drum almost touching the soil, and then on pass 4-5 the drum is half the sheepsfoot leg out of the soil, then add more clay and knit those 2 layers together. As far as how steep, that all depends on the amount of moisture and how well the operators butt can pucker him to the seat. :-) If it is really good clay that doesn't need compacting, you can go 1:1, but I really don't like to see steeper than 2:1. When near shore, 3:1 or more gradual. More gradual for fish spawning areas and as for the weeds, you need them. Without them you will be growing FA and you will have to treat that bi-weekly if you can't stock Tilapia yearly. I've seen weeds growing up from the bottom in 15' of water in clear water lakes. Try to think ahead and think how easy it would be for a kid or an older person to walk out of the pond with a clay bottom if the shoreline is steep......
Good advice! I have Mike Otto's book, but haven't read it in several years. Probably time to read it again.

I am definitely not moving spoils more that 50 yards. My biggest concern was that wet blue clay looks too slick for dozer work or pulling a pan scraper.

I was going to alternate steep banks (to reduce the substrate for FA growth) with gentle banks (spawning and human egress).

Your post also implies that beneficial plants compete for nutrients and therefore help suppress the FA. I had forgotten that bit of information. Obviously, I need to do even MORE searches on Pond Boss before breaking ground.
Digging trenches can help dewater an area, but using a dozer may require slowly removing layers and letting things dry a bit. Even so, a dozer may get stuck, so having a way to pull it out is very helpful, either a winch or another machine. I dug my last pond this way with a small finish dozer and a backhoe, and am working on another pond. Been stuck twice but the tracks are very worn. Its not fun when you get stuck. An excavator is much better. That blue clay makes the build more difficult but also makes the pond seal up good.
Thanks RAH.

What size dozer do you have and what size/depth ponds are in your comfort range?


I think someone mentioned that you(?) have a site for discussion of wildlife habitat management. I think I am improving the habitat at our farm, but I am not yet seeing increases in the quail/pheasant/turkey populations.

If my memory is correct, could you drop in a link in this thread if you want it to be public, or send me a link via PM if you would like to add only one more reader?

Thanks, Rod.
JD 550G dozer and JD 410E backhoe. 1st pond that I dug is about 1/2 acre and this one will be a bit bigger. First one is over >8' deep and this one will hopefully be that deep when I am finished. I have constant water coming in from springs so both required bottom drains so that I could dig them with the dozer. Here is link to my very small Facebook group "Midwest Landowner Wildlife Habitat Enthusiast Network". Anyone can join that finds it useful or fun. https://www.facebook.com/groups/442011656723370/

Thanks on the equipment list! I think my pond project will be similar to yours. I will have constant water coming in until I get to total depth and start sealing the sides.

I assume you packed in the bottom drain on your first pond and it is now holding tight?

I believe my springs will make my pond project wet during construction, but are not sufficient to fill the pond long term. Once the pond is full and begins to suffer evaporation losses, I believe the springs could never keep up over a longer time frame. Therefore, I believe I need to go your route and utilize a bottom drain during construction, then seal the sides and finally the bottom.

P.S. Thanks for the link. It was your Facebook group that someone had recommended.

My ponds have held water very well during a record drought this year. Pack your dam with a sheep's foot roller in 6-8" lifts. I bought one to tow behind my dozer. My ponds all hold water like a tub. Building wildlife habitat is my passion, My bottom drains are PVC pipe, so I capped them when I was done. I also was careful to pack the drain pipe with clay under the core of the dam.
With my experience, what RAH said is spot on, that old blue gumbo is a pain to work with, especially when you have water to deal with, which in my opinion is why it is that color, its pretty much similar to regular clay that has been water logged for many years, one thing for sure, when you do get that stuff packed in it is absolutely tight as a drum, very little dirt I know of will seal off better then it, at least that's how it is around this area. Good Luck and keep us posted!

I agree with your analysis of the blue clay. When cutting it at the bottom of my little test trenches, it certainly looks like it has been water logged for years. No filled cracks or root structures to indicate that it even dried out during a drought year.

I also agree that I think I have a good chance of building "bathtub" ponds. However, that stuff looks slick as h*ll, and I don't see how a dozer can push on it when wet. I am not sure I can excavate an actual bathtub.

I am worried my ponds project will look more like my bathroom floor used to after running three little kids through the tub. There is water everywhere, but none of it is where you actually want it! laugh

Any advice from your neck of the woods on working that type of saturated clay?
Originally Posted by RAH
My ponds have held water very well during a record drought this year. Pack your dam with a sheep's foot roller in 6-8" lifts. I bought one to tow behind my dozer. My ponds all hold water like a tub. Building wildlife habitat is my passion, My bottom drains are PVC pipe, so I capped them when I was done. I also was careful to pack the drain pipe with clay under the core of the dam.

I was also planning to put in PVC bottom drains during construction. I was going to dig a sump in the clay near the "dam" and install the inlet screen and pipe in the sump. Then pile gravel on top to get back above the grade of the bottom of the pond. (To reduce my muck invasion into the sump.)

Or is this backwards, should I put large diameter bare-end PVC in the sump and run it full blast before forecasted rain? Would this allow me to pull out a small % of the bottom muck each year with minimal effort?

Did you install anti-seep collars on your drains? Have you used them to drain, or even pull down your ponds?
I no longer use anti-seep collars but I am careful to pack the clay well. On my current pond, I dug a deep sump so silt could build up below the drain pipe without clogging the drain pipe for a while. I also put on an elbow and riser and drilled 3/4" holes in the riser and upside of elbow as a strainer, and put a grate on the top of the riser. I left a high shelf near the sump which will hopefully allow me to clean it out with the backhoe if needed. Time will tell how successful I am over the Winter and early Spring. On my previous pond, the sump never filled with silt, but this new one seems more susceptible to this, and this one is a 2 year project while the last was finished in 1 season. Never have used them to draw down the any of the 3 ponds and 3 wetlands where I have bottom drains.
Originally Posted by RAH
I left a high shelf near the sump which will hopefully allow me to clean it out with the backhoe if needed.

I like that idea! I will incorporate in my pond project if the slope profile works out to allow it.
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