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#391910 11/06/14 11:23 PM
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I've got a 60 acre farm in upstate NY. There are already some natural ponds on the property (beaver-caused messes, mostly), but I want to put in some dug ponds to get control of things. There's an area I am really champing at the bit to get dug, as it is turning some of my best bottomland into a swamp.
My farm sits at the bottom of a bowl-shaped valley, and he old timers tell me there are seven springs, of which I am pretty sure my spot is one.
It's about 3/4 of an acre and approximately round. There is no standing water except after a big storm, but it is covered in cattail and Joe Pye weed. I dug a 4 x 4 x 4 test hole last year with the following results. Dig down about 1 foot and you hit dense gray clay - it's diggable, but not fun. The hole was filled to the brim in less than 2 hours. It stayed more than 3/4 full even after a month long dry spell in August.
I have access to a small backhoe and excavator. I don't have a dozer, but I do have a pretty good 3 inch trash pump. I figured I could dig down a foot, then suck it out, dig and suck, dig and suck until the whole thing is dug. A couple of people who know dirt, but not ponds, say this is nuts and a couple of others say it will probably work. I want to know what "pond guys" think, so here I am.
Also, assuming the cattail zone is 3/4 an acre, how big is that watershed likely to be? How much larger than the visible wet are is this thing likely to be?

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Wow, nobody? Not even a "that's the stupidest thing I ever heard"? Oh well, was worth a try.

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Be very wary the EPA and wetlands issues.

Last edited by snrub; 11/08/14 02:19 PM.

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If I was lucky as you with a possible good water spring resource I would lay out a plan to have more than one pond and in a tier system. The coolest pond plan I have ever hear of was on this site from a guy whos ponds did this. The upper ponds had the feeder fish, minnow pond,then a perch pond, then walleye pond. The over flow had special sized screens to hold the breading size back and feeder size worked their way down to the next pond and so on. In the end he ended up with massive well fed walleye resource.

This is what I would do if I had the land and area that lead to this.

Cheers Don.


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The deeper you dig the faster and the more water could enter the hole. A 3" pump may not be enough to keep the hole dry for digging. It may take larger construction equipment. NY State could be pretty "touchy" about digging into a wetland area if the right agency hears about your plans.


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Phew, thanks everybody, I was starting to get a complex!

Snrub and Bill Cody both mention wetland regs - for wetlands to be protected in NY, it's got to be 12.5 contiguous acres. This area is only about an acre, surrounded by pasture, so I think I am covered. I am going to proceed based on the "its easier to ask for forgiveness than permission" principle.

Dono - That's a great idea! The way the area is, I could set up a small minnow pond at a higher level to flow into the main pond. Damn, back to the drawing board.

Bill Cody - What if I were to dig the pond in a few sections? Say, three or 4 mini-ponds, with a couple of feet of dirt between each section? Then I could just knock down the walls with the excavator when the whole thing was dug. My pump is 4.5 HP, and I was told it was one of the best available. The guy I bought it from was a swimming pool contractor who was retiring, so I figured it's meant for this kind of work.

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Check to see what kind of water the pump is rated for. If it's for clear water, then make sure you don't suck up dirt and debris from the pond bottom. If it's a semi-trash or trash pump, then you should be O.K.

I've found it's easier to float the suction end of the hose inside an innertube than to place it inside a bucket on the pond bottom. Less chance of sucking up sand and debris that way, no matter what the pump is rated for. You just have to watch it so it doesn't curl back to the shoreline - I'll shove a 1"x2" stake thru the center of the innertube into the pond bottom to help hold it in one place.


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essup - It's full trash. The manual with the pump claims it can handle rocks and debris up to 2".
That's a great idea with the tube. I was going to attach a piece of 3" PVC to the end of the hose so I could shove it down into a deeper hole and get more water out, but your way sounds easier and better for the pump.

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Originally Posted By: Bill Cody
The deeper you dig the faster and the more water could enter the hole. A 3" pump may not be enough to keep the hole dry for digging. It may take larger construction equipment. NY State could be pretty "touchy" about digging into a wetland area if the right agency hears about your plans.


I second the concern on the pump might not be big enough. When I dug my pond the water poured in when we hit 5 feet. The 3 inch pump (18000 gal) we had going kept up until the pond was about 40 feet in diameter. The pump was gasoline powered and if we let it run out of gas the hole filled in 12 hours and then took another 12 to pump the hole down. After 40 feet in diameter we gave up and the excavator dug blind in soup. Very quickly the excavator did not have the reach to get to the depth I wanted.


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For wetlands to be protected on a Federal level, it only takes some jackassed EPA field agent having a bad day to write you a cease and desist/reclamation letter....ignoring it can cost you $75,000/day (37,500 criminal, 37,500 civil fines)



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Rainman - don't get me started, I only just met you guys, and I don't want to go into politics! I'm the one who scrimped and saved and sacrificed to buy this land, and I will be GDed if some walking clipboard is gonna tell me I can't have a fishin' pond on it! This is a pretty big issue locally, as there are a lot of wetland around here. I know a guy who lost $1 million worth of property because some beavers took a liking to it. Well, not lost exactly - he still gets to pay the taxes on it, he's just not allowed to do anything else with it. The key is DESIGNATED wetlands. Apparently, they do a fly-over every now and again, and if they see 12.5 acres of "wetland" plants, you get a letter in the mail informing you that you can never use that plot for anything. That's one reason for a dug pond - you give the water someplace else to go so the wetland plants die off, and you stay off "the list". Not that this is why I am doing it - I've been daydreaming about "The Pond" since I got out of the Navy, but it's definitely in the back of the mind.

Bill D: You and Bill Cody have got me worried about this. I've got a couple of ideas though. Like I said, I could dig it in a few stages, with mini-ponds that are small enough for the pump to keep up with. Another possibility: I notice in my test hole that the water isn't quite level. It is a little higher on the west side of the hole. This means I've got a little downhill on that side, so I was thinking I could build a temporary sluiceway at that end. That way, if the water gets ahead of the pump I can open the gate and get rid of the top 2 or 3 feet.

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You might be able to think outside the box and as you mention build a sluiceway or diversion ditch around the area that you are digging to divert incoming water while you do the digging. The incoming water may be slower during drier summer periods so digging then may have fewer problems. You might want to explore building an upground, reservoir type pond that requires less dug out excavation and the side walls built higher than the surrounding elevation. Note the walls of these ponds in my area often have seepage due to the side walls not being compacted properly - very important. Compaction of the liner walls is probably 99% of the problems that cause leaky ponds.

Last edited by Bill Cody; 11/10/14 09:39 AM.

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Hey, a guy down the road from me made a living creating restoring wetlands for the wetland banks. If anyone knows about converting wetlands into ponds, it would be him. Last thing I knew is a lot of wetlands have been flooded into ponds in NYS to increase waterfowl habitat.

I can see if I can get his contact info. At the least, he may know who to contact.

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Why not dig the pond downhill from in the dry area, then clear out the wet spot to flow into the pond AFTER you are done digging? (sorry if I am stating the obvious.)

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Lots of good comments already mentioned that need to be listened too. My first gut instinct is that a 3/4 acre pond with only a small backhoe isn't going to go well. I had the same idea, and boy am I glad I upgraded before I "really" got into it. I imagine that in your area a pond should be at least 10' deep, and that's a lot of dirt. On the average, I had to take out 6', to me that sure seemed like a lot.

Your idea of a sluice is mandatory, I think. Then the general idea is to dig one deep hole and get the pump going in that spot. Then expand that hole to its depth as fast as you can. That always translates to "it's never fast enough". Hopefully the pump can keep up with springs, seepage and rainfall. If the hole gets big enough or the water fills it to fast, then you start another hole or buy a bigger pump. To dig the first hole more, flood the second hole from the first lowering the water to see better. Dig that second hole deeper than the first is always a good idea too. Keep repeating. This method does not allow for compaction, which Bill very lightly mentioned.

If I had to do my pond over again after years of sediment, I would highly consider a dragline. It allows you to work on it as time allows and with no pumping. Pumping gets to be a really big hassle. I used a 4" pump, and it was overall trouble free, but you just get tired of it after awhile. You have to stay on top of it all the time. Once you get behind its harder to catch up.

Another thing to remember, always dig as if it going to rain in the next hour. Look around you and imagine "what if". If it rains what would happen. Will the water drain off nicely, or will you have large puddles in your work are that needs to be dry. Keep it graded. The better you keep the area, the less you will be fighting bad scenarios.

I first found Pondboss in trying to find out "how to dig". Not to much info here on that (-or anywhere else), but a wealth of other info that you will need too. Most hire someone else to do the digging, and that probably the best route, but some of us just have to get our hands dirty. Every situation in digging is different, types of dirt, terrain, equipment, etc. There really are any defined rules.


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