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Hey PB team. Long time lurker and learner (mostly about fish populations/management), first time poster.

It's a two pond system consisting of a 2 car garage sized pond that catches water off a deep ravine which overflows down a stream into a larger 1/2 acre pond. I was told this was professionally installed a long time ago- I've owned it 16 years. I assume this first, smaller, pond is a "settlement" pond just to catch debris - it's surrounded by woods, the larger pond is not. Maybe it went dry a time or three but it seems to hold water and/or is wet all year long.

This first settlement pond is now "full" of mud, leaves, and sticks and I need to clean it out.

1. Is "settlement" pond the right terminology for a pond like I'm describing?
2. Perusing pondboss it seems like both ponds almost certainly have a liner.
3. It seems like I'll be wasting a lot of time digging by hand so I'd prefer to use a backhoe but then I risk destroying the liner...

what say the bosses?

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It would be odd for a settling pond (forebay) to have a liner because if it went dry during dry periods it would be easier to clean out. I have a small forebay on my second pond, and when it comes time to clean it out, I plant to use a backhoe. If your settling pond leaked badly, what would be the downside for you?

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Originally Posted by RAH
It would be odd for a settling pond (forebay) to have a liner because if it went dry during dry periods it would be easier to clean out. I have a small forebay on my second pond, and when it comes time to clean it out, I plant to use a backhoe. If your settling pond leaked badly, what would be the downside for you?

It would almost seem like a good thing I would think, other then maybe holding a reserve of water to keep the main pond topped off with a siphon or drain during dry summer months.


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I'd dig by hand in the very shallow area of the settlement pond to see if it has a liner, whether a PVC or clay liner. If it's a PVC liner, then I'd just bite the bullet, dig it out with an excavator and put in another geotex liner by BTL. For the help it does with the 1/2 ac pond, it's cheap insurance.

If it's a clay liner, you can dig the settlement pond out with an excavator (do it with no water in it, even if you have to pump it dry). Watch the color of the sediment that comes out, don't dig deep with each scoop. Scrape to make a pile, scoop that pile out of the pond. When the color of the dirt coming out changes, that's most likely the clay liner that you have reached.


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I have a settlement pond ahead of my two main ponds. It's about 30 feet wide and 50 feet long. I have recently drained it and it has about a foot of muck in the center part of the bottom. I have had trouble with this pond being muddy since it was first built in December 2016. It's in all red clay, and I think the builder left a lot of loose stuff on the banks and in the bottom that has made the muck.

It has a very hard, pure red clay bottom under the muck. I have been all over it with hip boots. No sinking beyond the muck.

I wonder if I could successfully muck it out with a compact tractor loader after it dries a bit more? It's only about four feet deep, and the muck in the middle is about a foot thick, so effectively three feet deep now.

Last edited by John Fitzgerald; 06/26/22 06:49 PM.
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John, no idea about your question. Just want to say welcome back.


It's not about the fish. It's about the pond. Take care of the pond and the fish will be fine. PB subscriber since before it was in color.

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I am NOT an expert, but I don't recall any posts about successfully mucking out a pond with a small wheeled piece of equipment. It just takes forever for the muck to become workable because the top dries out and preserves the deep moisture.

I believe a medium excavator could easily do that job in a day's rental. You could ring the pond with a silt fence so the muck doesn't run back in. After the spread out spoils dried, you could then use your FEL to eventually move the muck to its final resting place.

Good luck on your pond rehab!

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Our 1/4 acre pond loses several feet of water depth each winter when there is no irrigation water inflow. We normally have a long hot dry period of a few months in late winter and spring. The pond bottom muck dries sufficiently that I've been able to enter the pond with my compact tractor and "harvest" muck for our gardens.

I'm very cautious to keep my wits about me and not sink the tractor in the couple feet of muck that has accumulated. I've pulled about 10 cubic yards out over the years. That's not much of course but our gardens thrive.

Only once did I "stick" the machine in the bottom crud. I wished I'd had a winch then! We hooked up my Tundra to the tractor and eased the whole works backwards with multiple sighs of relief.

Muck dries much much faster out in this arid climate I'm certain.

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So there's no consensus, or norm, when it comes to a settlement pond (forebay)?
Do certain regions use clay and others use PVC or they're both used everywhere?

Our soil is heavy clay and holds water if you dig a hole and it rains. Maybe they just forgo liners here!? haha

Originally Posted by esshup
If it's a PVC liner, then I'd just bite the bullet, dig it out with an excavator and put in another geotex liner by BTL. For the help it does with the 1/2 ac pond, it's cheap insurance.
That's a fantastic idea. Thanks.

Originally Posted by RAH
It would be odd for a settling pond (forebay) If your settling pond leaked badly, what would be the downside for you?
Forebay? That doesn't sound familiar, thanks.
I'd don't know ponds so i'd rather not guess. I almost thought I DO NOT want it to retain water, so as to ensure it doesn't as easily overflow in storms. Unless that means significant loss of the ponds water level during dry spells. Amount of rain and adjacent springs lead me to believe it wouldn't drop much. I do like how it is now - it has hundreds of frogs and newts in it!

Originally Posted by esshup
I'd dig by hand in the very shallow area of the settlement pond to see if it has a liner, whether a PVC or clay liner. If it's a PVC liner, then I'd just bite the bullet, dig it out with an excavator and put in another geotex liner by BTL. For the help it does with the 1/2 ac pond, it's cheap insurance.


Will it be obvious if I hit PVC or clay liner? It seems like I have no idea where the liner edge is - the current water level/muck/silt could be any number of feet from the current edge and any number of feet deep. I guess I just start at the current edge and keep going.

Originally Posted by 4CornersPuddle
"harvest" muck for our gardens. That's not much of course but our gardens thrive..
Excellent - we have sizable gardens. Is yours dense or loose like nice compost or in between? Local clay soil run off is my only concern of it being too dense for the garden, but it's full forested around it so tons of leaves/sticks.

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12footer,

We can't say with certainty what type of liner you have.

However, IMO it would be rare indeed to use a plastic pond liner in an area that contains heavy clay. I think you should probably work on the assumption of a clay liner.

I have been digging test holes on our property to put in a few small ponds. We have loam to sandy loam soils that readily transmit water. However, we have a layer of solid clay below the topsoil.

I can always tell when I get close to the clay layer, because the soil just above the clay layer is damp, and I always have free water sitting on top of the clay.

I would follow esshup's advice above about determining the level of your clay liner. I suspect you will see an obvious color change and the clay liner will be much more compact on your bucket scrapes.

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Thanks all for your time, very helpful for my first time with pond maintenance. I'm very confident in mechanical and design areas but don't like to transfer that confidence to new areas. Time to start digging.

Originally Posted by FishinRod
I can always tell when I get close to the clay layer, because the soil just above the clay layer is damp,

I suspect you will see an obvious color change
Given the wooded surrounding area and amount of dark leaf/tree debris - good point, probably a good chance even an untrained eye will notice it.

Same here - neat how that clay just stifles water flow.

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Originally Posted by FishinRod
I am NOT an expert, but I don't recall any posts about successfully mucking out a pond with a small wheeled piece of equipment. It just takes forever for the muck to become workable because the top dries out and preserves the deep moisture.

I believe a medium excavator could easily do that job in a day's rental. You could ring the pond with a silt fence so the muck doesn't run back in. After the spread out spoils dried, you could then use your FEL to eventually move the muck to its final resting place.

Good luck on your pond rehab!

I have it mucked out except about a roughly 10 foot square in the center, on the flat bottom. It's like a plateau of muck, with dry pushed up dirt holding it on all sides. It's a standard round point shovel blade deep. If we have a long dry spell, it might dry enough, but maybe not. It's starting to crack on top. Too sticky and slick to handle now.

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Impressive work John!

I hope you get just enough dry weather to polish off your muck - and then some rains when it is time to re-fill your pond.

P.S. I think "Plateau of Muck" sounds like a great name for a punk band. grin

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LOL. It's a small sediment pond. About 30 feet wide by 50 feet long. About four feet deep in the middle, which is about a 10 x10 square. Sides are pretty steep on three sides.

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Our muck is very dense, very dark when saturated, and dries to a lighter color. It sets up into hard clumps.
I till it into parent soil, clay based, while adding gobs of other organic matter including wood shavings litter from our chicken house, dredged pond weeds, elodea primarily, even deciduous tree wood chips. I'm an arborist so I have a big badass wood chipper.

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Still slowly mucking it out with my compact tractor. All the remaining mud is a bit above the bottom portion I already have cleaned out, so it should drain, if any free water remains. I estimate I have about 1.5 cubic yards to go. It's slow going with a compact tractor. Scoop out a little and wait for the exposed hard bottom to dry. Get a little more the next day.. Good thing we have a dry spell. If I get enough drying, I may be done tomorrow evening. The upper three fourths of the pond is dry and dusty.

Last edited by John Fitzgerald; 07/02/22 05:58 PM.
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Brilliant move, John.

You have now created a basin entirely free of flammable items for kids/grandkids to light off their fireworks!

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Not quite done. About 4 bucket loads left, hard to get to, probably have to shovel. It's a small bucket. 25 big shovel loads per bucket. Another day or so. The sides are so steep, I can only enter from one direction, and the bottom is too small to turn around in. With a compact tractor, you have to be always conscious of roll over, if tipped too far one way. I use the ROPS and seat belt.

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Good you are able to get it done John!


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Thanks, John! Hope you are doing well.

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Doing pretty well. Thinking we need to get down your way on a motorcycle ride in that beautiful area you are in and around that part of Arkansas. But I'm still considering myself at only about 80% from my motorcycle accident so have been limiting myself to the smaller motorcycles till I get my leg strength and balance back up to par. Been riding the two small bikes a LOT but only had the 950 out once and the Goldwing not at all.

But slow recovery is a lot better than no recovery and I am thankful daily on the things I am still able to do. That deal could have easily turned out a lot worse.


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The sediment pond is all mucked out. I just need to "pretty it up" by picking up 8 or 10 five gallon buckets of random clods. While I have it empty and dry, is there some way to keep it from being so muddy again short of lining it with tarps? The bottom is all hard clay, and so are the sides, but the sides are covered with a thin layer of pulverized clay from tractor driving.

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Originally Posted by John Fitzgerald
The bottom is all hard clay, and so are the sides, but the sides are covered with a thin layer of pulverized clay from tractor driving.

If you have the ability to lightly spray water on the pulverized clay, you can probably compact it with your tractor to stay on the sides rather than having it all wash down to your newly deepened pond bottom with the next big rain.

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It's been very dry and hot. I raked up all the loose stuff I could, shoveled it into the tractor bucket with a grain scoop, and hauled it away. I am at the point of diminishing returns, short of covering the bottom with plastic or such, to prevent erosion when it does refill.


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