If God Wanted Us
To Have A Pond...

Dateline: 7 February 2016 AD

The conventional wisdom when you buy a piece of rural land is to spend a year or so getting to know the land before you build on it or make any improvements. Well, We bought our 16 acres of field and woods in June of 2012 and last fall (three years after the purchase) we decided how best to fix the extremely wet lower section of the field.

The picture below shows the problem. Springs on our neighbor's property flow onto our field. You can clearly see the springs in the ariel view. For as long as anyone remembers, the water from the springs has been directed through 4" drain pipes onto our land (the red arrow shows where the drain tiles are) and down to an open ditch behind the house. From there it flows into a stream in the woods.

(click picture for larger view)

But the drains have repeatedly plugged up over the years. When they get plugged, the water bubbles up to the surface and spreads out over the field, making is too wet to drive on or grow anything. Fixing the drains has always been a big mess in the past because the volume of water coming out of those springs is considerable. When we bought the property, the drains were plugged up.

I decided the best solution to this problem was to eliminate the drain tiles and just dig an open ditch from my property line to the ditch behind the house. It would be a simple, permanent fix, and if done properly, I could be a pleasant feature of the land. 

Last fall the wet area was as dry as we've seen it. Perfect for getting the job done.

My neighbor is a farmer who has heavy equipment and knows how to use it. I called him about digging a ditch. He came over and we walked the land, looking the situation over. I explained to him that an enormous amount of water normally flows over the land. Now was a perfect time to get the job done, before the fall rains came.

As we were walking and looking at the lay of the land he said that it would make for a nice pond location. Marlene and I liked the idea of a pond but didn't think it would be something we could afford. 

My neighbor then said he could put a 1/3 acre pond in for $3,500. I looked at Marlene and knew what she was thinking. I don't think it took me more than 5 seconds to tell my neighbor that we could afford that, and we would love to have a pond.

We were excited about the prospect of a pond. In the ariel view above, you can see  my neighbor's pond. That pond was the source of a lot of fun for my kids when they were growing up. The picture at the top of this blog post is my son James jumping off the dock of that pond.

I loved the idea of a pond because it would be a reservoir of water that I could tap into and gravity-feed to a frost-proof hydrant in a future garden area I have planned for the lower portion of the field.

So the heavy equipment came in. A bulldozer pushed the top soil off the pond area. Then my neighbor left the project to focus on harvesting his 100 acres of buckwheat. He had equipment problems with getting the crop in. More than a week went by. The rains held off, but they would surely be coming. We were getting a little nervous, knowing how much water normally ran over the land. I had told my neighbor it was a LOT of water. 

Finally, he got back to the pond with the trackhoe below. Everything was going to come together. What a relief.

Our house is located past the woods, out of sight, in the upper right corner of the ariel view above. I could hear the heavy equipment getting to work. And then, a short while later, my neighbor drove into my driveway. He got out of his truck and told me he had some bad news. Oh? What kind of bad news?...

The picture above shows the bad news. It's solid rock, around 5' down. Actually, it's not solid. It's shale. It's full of cracks and fissures. 

I wondered what our options were. My neighbor said he could still dig the pond and berm it up. It wouldn't be as deep as he would like to see it, and it might not hold water. Besides that, he was concerned about the scanty clay later under the soil. The clay was necessary to build a good pond. He figured he would have to dig more clay off a larger section of land, and that would cost more. So it was up to me to decide whether or not to proceed. The pond project was on hold.

This was a total shock to Marlene and I, and a huge disappointment. We had visions of a nice farm pond and family activities around the pond. It never occurred to us that there would be rock like that down there. It never occurred to our neighbor either, and he does all kinds of digging around here. There are numerous farm ponds around us.

I did some internet research on ponds, and shale, and sealing with clay, or using a liner. Nothing was a clear and compelling solution to our problem. Everything was more money. I finally decided that the best course of action would be to fill it all in and get the open ditch dug, before the fall rains came.

I figured that if God wanted us to have a pond, He would not have put a rock down there like that. 

I told my neighbor what I decided and that we needed to really get that ditch dug because it was surely going to rain soon. A couple days went by.... and the rains came. Then my neighbor showed up to dig the ditch. But it was much too wet.

Some days after the rain, he managed to get most of the top soil spread back over the pond area, but he said there was too much water to dig the ditch.

So, our plans to improve our land in 2015 were a total failure. The land and the water problem is now actually worse now than it was before we commenced to make our improvements. Without the established sod in the field, it is a giant mud hole. Very discouraging.

(click for larger view)

With all the water, and no heavy equipment to dig a ditch, I decided to just hand-dig a shallow ditch down through the field, hoping to channel much of the water flows coming up out of the ground in so many places. And that's what I did.

That simple little ditch made a huge difference. It is channeling a LOT of water in a steady stream. Were it an open ditch, as I had wanted to have, it would be a nice babbling brook. And wet sections of field on either side could be tiled into the ditch. Hopefully, next year we can get this done!

This next picture shows where my little ditch/stream empties into the open ditch behind the house.

This next picture is a view of the stream that the ditch leads to. The stream is fed in large part by springs about a mile away. When it rains, the stream swells (like in this picture), but it flows to some degree all the time. Only once, in the decades we've lived here, have I seen the stream totally dry. 

In retrospect, that shale bed in the field was totally unexpected, but not a total surprise. The picture below shows a section of shale bank in the stream that is along the field. 


ElderberryWine4u said...

What a nightmare! I hope things work out better for you this year, Herrick. Just a thought: permaculture concepts could be used to create a series of small ponds that can be aesthetically pleasing, productive, and lucrative at the same time.

Granny Miller said...

You're not alone. Our pond was a total bust too :-(
The pond wouldn't stop leaking around the berm and we tried EVERYTHING to fix it. Ended up pushing it in so basically we spent $16,000 for nothing. Probably the biggest failure on our farm in the last 100 years...

Herrick Kimball said...


I like the small ponds idea and hope to do that. Thank you. First I'll get the ditch in.

I should call an "artificial brook." Sounds more pleasant. And drain tile any wet sections of field into it.

Then I'll look at the multiple smaller ponds idea.

One step at a time.

Herrick Kimball said...


Wow. That's terrible. I'm sorry to hear it. The thought of it makes me kind of sick.

Your story makes me think that I probably made the right decision by not proceeding with the pond. We were only out $2,000 for nothing. But it still hurt.

J Eby said...

I second the idea of putting in a series of small ponds. We put our first one on our farm last fall right before the winter freeze and hope to dig another five or six over the next several years. They don't have to be large to be useful. Our first one is about 8' deep at the center and only about 30 feet across and should hold about 15,000 gallons once it fills up.

People have used pigs and ducks with quite a bit of success in sealing up leaky ponds.

-Matt the Farmer

Keevan said...

I love finding ways to make lemonade out of lemons. In fact, I call my property Swampy Oasis. When I first saw the property, I dismissed it from consideration for 6 months as I continued my property search. But the value of water, especially in California kept me revisiting the property mentally and eventually on site. The road into the property was full of small craters from springs which was fixed with good road building by professionals. then, like you, other areas were as wet as you described your land. Wherever I dug a small hole, I had a "pond". I start to redirect the water with open trenches which later, after the purchase of a used Kubota 29 Hp tractor with a small backhoe (B2910), became gentle swales, using the excavated soil to raise the surrounding areas. You could create terraces out of the raised areas of the swales which if not too high could be irrigated by control of the water level in the swale bottom,

If you have enough height changes (head) and/or flow, you could develop a small spring box at the highest area and build a small hydraulic water ram (it's easy and inexpensive-check out You Tube) and "pump" a portion of the water to any other part of your property without the need for power. I have done that also and I actually feed a small pond in a greenhouse with it.

Then revisit your your shale area and think of it as your personal quarry. I have created many small ponds at "The Swamp" and find as much use of the excavated soil as the water that fills the hole. I am fortunate to have lots of clay but no rock. Maybe God wants you to have a quarry and a pond, just in another place. Most importantly, he gave you the water.

And get a tractor with a small backhoe and spend many wonderful hours "pondering" more projects with water.

Anonymous said...

Here's more on property rights and liberty. Funny I just came across this today.
Nick L