Association of State Wetland Managers - Protecting the Nation's Wetlands.

The Compleat Wetlander: The Trouble with Ponds

“I would never, never build a pond—
A water of which I am not fond.

I would not make one for a boat
I would not shape one like a moat
I would not build one to catch the rain
Nor as a place to entertain
I would not put one in a park
It’s a fatal place to store a shark
I would not place one near a house
Nor as a place to water grouse
I wouldn’t want one by a tree
Nor on a river to the sea

I would not build one here or there
I would not build one anywhere”

—Jeanne Christie

I am not a fan of man-made ponds.  This amazes many landowners who believe the addition of a pond to their property is an amenity that is pleasing to them and good for wildlife.   It is not so much that there is anything wrong with ponds as it is that there isn’t much right with them.  Their steep sloped sides are unfriendly to aquatic plants and wildlife.  The disturbed soils provide inviting conditions for many invasive species. They may steal water from  rivers and streams in the arid west leaving fish with little water and low oxygen levels during the hot, dry months of the year.   They are often located where a perfectly good wetland previously resided.   Finally, they frequently play host for an ugly green algal bloom because their small size and bowl-like shape guarantee that they will be overwhelmed by nutrients that flow into them from the surrounding hillsides.  Worst case is that with additional nutrients the green algae may be replaced by blue green algae, which can kill livestock, pets or wild animals that drink there.

My biggest gripe is that there are just so many of them.

Take a look out the window of an airplane the next time you take a flight and count the ponds.  They are everywhere populating both urban and rural landscapes. And they count as wetlands.  Since the first wetlands Status and Trends report covering the period from the  1950s to the 1970s, ponds have accounted for the greatest area of ‘wetland gain’ counted against ‘wetland losses’ to identify overall trends.  In fact between the 1950s and 1997, the area of open water ponds in the lower 48 states doubled from 2.3 to 5.5 million acres, which equaled the total area occupied by all estuarine wetlands.

However, notwithstanding my personal aversion to ponds, there are good reasons to count them.  First, there are many kinds of ponds.  They include beaver ponds, farm ponds, water retention ponds, barrow pits, small open mine pits, dug outs, small residential area lakes, water traps on golfs courses, fish farms and natural ponds.  From the air it is difficult to tell one type from another so they are all counted in the Fish and Wildlife Services’ Status and Trends reports.  Also, some ponds change to higher quality waters over time.  In addition, a large number of them come from upland habitat and represent new aquatic resources.  Finally, there are far fewer ponds being built nowadays.

From 1950 to 1970 the acres of nonvegetated wetlands (ponds) increased by 1.7 million acres.
From the mid 1970s to the mid 1980s acres of ponds increased by 0.8 million acres.
From 1986 to 1997 acres of ponds increased by .6 million acres.
From 1998 to 2004 acres of ponds increased by  .7 million acres.
From 2004 to 2009 acres of ponds increased by  .2 million acres.

Over the past 20 years the public has come to appreciate that wetlands  are important; they have also learned that created ponds aren’t really very good wetlands.  This change in understanding and attitude was captured perfectly by Stephen Colbert who took issue with the Bush Administration for redefining the word, ‘wetlands’. http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/61258/april-04-2006/the-word—birdie In truth the Bush Administration hadn’t changed anything.  People did.

I believe that there are fewer ponds being built because programs and the public at large place more emphasis on restoring and protecting  other, higher quality wetland types.

Dr. Seuss’  Green  Eggs and Hams was a ‘beginner book’ written using only 40 words.  That’s my view of ponds—a project for beginners.  We can do a lot better.

National Wetlands Inventory Status and Trends reports: http://www.fws.gov/wetlands/Status-And-Trends/index.html
Wetland Losses in the United States 1780s to 1980s
http://www.npwrc.usgs.gov/resource/wetlands/wetloss/
Technical Procedures for Conducting Status and Trends of the Nation’s Wetlands http://www.fws.gov/wetlands/Documents/Technical-Procedures-for-Conducting-Status-and-Trends-of-the-Nations-Wetlands.pdf
Technical Aspects of Wetlands: History of Wetlands in the Conterminous United States
http://www.fws.gov/wetlands/Documents/History-of-Wetlands-in-the-Conterminous-United-States.pdf

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