Ponds can create a sense of serenity, a focal point, and a source of recreation on your property. They can also be used as a source of drinking water, fire suppression, and watering source for crops and livestock. Many people think that creating and owning a pond is as simple as digging a hole and letting it fill up with water, right? There are a lot of factors you must consider before installing a pond. Here are a few to consider:

  1. What size pond do you want?
  2. Do you have enough land to accommodate the pond size?
  3. What types of soils are present in the proposed pond site?
  4. Will the parent material at the site be sufficient for a pond, or will offsite material have to be brought in?
  5. How much watershed do you have, and will it be sufficient to fill your pond?
  6. How much do you want to spend on your pond?
  7. Will it need a liner?
  8. What type of aeration will be used?
  9. Do you need soil inclusions and how will they be handled? This can pertain to pockets of wet soils – sand veins – gravel veins and large rocks.

All these things can add additional costs to your planned pond, and this is before you start looking at the design of the underwater structure itself. If this is for fishing then you will need to take into consideration the underwater structure the fish need such as areas for hunting, loafing, brood rearing, and hiding. Some of these items can be accomplished with differing depths of the water level and others can be accomplished by adding natural or artificial underwater structures for your feeder and game fish.

With advance planning, Richland Soil and Water Conservation District can usually be at the pond site evaluation. A backhoe is needed to dig several test holes. We want to be present as the holes are being dug to see the parent material coming out of the holes and feel the soil to see what potential the site may have for the pond.

If you decide to proceed with a pond, you need to take into account some design considerations:

  1. Pond size
  2. Excavation depth
  3. Spoil pile size and ability to stabilize it
  4. Primary overflow location and size
  5. Secondary or Emergency overflow
  6. Amount and size of riprap needed for the outflow areas

This is a lot of information to digest and think about. All too often people put upwards of 6 figures into a pond only to have it fail because someone convinced the property owner they “know what they are doing” only to end up with a large deep mud hole.

One of the resources available to you is the Web Soil Survey from the United States Department of Agriculture-Natural Resources Conservation Service (USDA-NRCS). This online tool can give you good general information about your property, but you must keep in mind that once you get below a certain aspect ratio the map may not be representative due to the possibility of soil inclusions. Therefore, a site visit while the soil is being excavated is necessary.

This list is not inclusive of all you should consider before installing a pond and some may not apply to your project.

We all love and enjoy our own ponds where we make memories from catching bluegill to family events and gatherings near our favorite spots along them. Now that we are into fall there are some considerations that you will want to take into consideration. Things like pond weeds like cattails, coon-tail, long-leaf pondweed, water millet, duckweed and the potential list is endless. Some of these aquatic plant species are considered ok to be there in lesser amounts but can point to larger problems that you may be aware of. Cattails while able to provide a food source, hunting, loafing, and rearing of distinct species of aquatic and terrestrial life can be an invitation to muskrats. Long-leaf pondweed, in substantial amounts, can be an indicator that your pond may have excessive sediment or heavy nutrient loading which can reduce the overall volume of water in your pond and habitat too. Duckweed and water millet while ok in small doses for aquatic species and waterfowl can completely cover a pond and create a green mat across your pond and should be addressed in the spring. The one thing that all these plants have in common is that most will soon be dying and decaying in your pond which can potentially be detrimental to your fish. One method for dealing with dying aquatic plants is to physically remove them. A second option would be to utilize a biologic control that will add good live bacteria to your pond to help breakdown plant and muck material. This will help add volume and longevity to your pond unless your pond is silted into a point that it may need to be dredged to regain its original volume. Low oxygen in the winter can cause a fish kill if the pond becomes frozen and snow covered. Removing the snow, approximately 25-50%, can provide sunlight to plants that can over winter and provide the much-needed oxygen to your fish. Another option to keep the snow off a pond is to add an aeration to your pond by adding air stones that will add supplemental oxygen to your pond keeping your fish alive and assisting in breaking down plants and muck.

Pond Types

Pond Components

New Pond Construction

Site Selection

Before getting to the point of actually constructing a pond, it is a good idea to take a close look at your site. This can help you visualize how much property a pond can take up. Also, it can help you plan to keep proper setbacks from: buildings, driveways, septic systems, wells and property lines.

Flag Marking

Use highly visible flags to mark out important pond components such as:

  • Dam or Embankment: Make sure to consider the total overall width of the dam. This includes not only the top width, but also how far the inside dam toe and outside dam toe will extend. Example: a 6’ high dam with a 2:1 inside side slope and a 3:1 outside side slope and a 8’ Top Width, would take up 38’ of total width!
  • Regular Water Level: Mark where the water level of the pond will be during its normal elevation.
  • Emergency Water Level: Mark the water level where the pond water will be overflowing out of the emergency spillway.
  • Spillway Locations: Mark where you will outlet the principal spillway and mark where the emergency spillway will be located.

How to Build a Pond

Constructing a pond can be a complicated and expensive process. Therefore we recommend you seek a professional engineer and/or a professional excavation contractor to design and/or construct your pond. The following items are good general construction practices that should be followed when constructing any pond. Become familiar with these practices so that you can question prospective engineers or contractors on how they will accomplish these practices.

Remember: If you decide to construct a pond, you will need to apply for a stormwater permit. Visit the Stormwater Documents page for info.

How Richland SWCD can Help

The Richland Soil and Water Conservation District does not offer design services for ponds at this time.

Additional Links for New Ponds

Existing Ponds


Ponds require maintenance to keep them operating properly and to maintain the desired appearance.


Experiencing concerns with your pond’s appearance or function?

Additional Links for Existing Ponds