The Simple Joy of Tending an Alberta Pond
You can just fall in love with the land and the water.
The pond can just pull you in, almost make the buying decision for you.
This blog post is the story of Geoff Gosling’s pond, and the first thing he will tell you about the pond is that when the property was being considered, “The pond put me over the top. I just said, ‘OK, I’m done.’”
Geoff, along with his spouse, purchased the property for a family retreat about nine years ago in the central west part of Alberta, north of Calgary. At one point, during a long ago construction season, the prior owner had sold some fill and told the construction company where to dig and how deep. The construction company listened and went down about 18 feet, creating an acre of coverage holding about three million gallons. The dimensions were well within the ideal range for creating a managed viable and sustainable water body. However, after the water fill and retention, the pond rested under benign neglect.
The situation lasted until the land went up for sale and the realtor mentioned that apparently there was a pond somewhere nearby on the 154 acres. The property showing quickly included a walk across the fields to the pond, tucked away in a bit of a corner of the property.
“There were fish, but the pond wasn’t particularly well cared for,” recalls Geoff. “It was large, essentially useless lawn ornament.”
It was enough to get started on an excellent pond, fisher and recreational water body.
A before image of the Gosling Family's pond. Algae growth indicated an abundance of nutrients in the muck (bottom) layer of the pond, which create anoxic (zero-to-low oxygen) layers of water. This decreased available habitat for fish, and slowed the cycle for oxidizing nutrients. This led to a higher nutrient load, which in turn created an opportunity for more algal growth.
Get To It (How to start a pond renovation)
Aeration is the starting point of virtually every pond rehabilitation project. Geoff’s aeration system design took into account the age of the pond, the muck build-up on the bottom, the depth and dimensions of the pond and the water quality. These facts were matched to Geoff’s goals for managing the pond: an excellent ecosystem for fish and a high level of water quality for human enjoyment. It was determined that after installing the aeration system, bio-augmentation would be necessary to maintain water clarity and inhibit algae growth.
This image shows the general plan for the aeration system.
Once the areation system was installed the first indication of success was the smell. "It stunk for three days," recalls Geoff.
The existing stratification of muck layer, anoxic water and temperature zones became a quietly seething cauldron of oxidizing material. There was even a temporary algae bloom as nutrients were moved through the water column. It’s normal for things to get worse before they get better. After about two weeks the aeration process had taken a firm hold on resetting the pond’s water structure and kickstarted the conditions of a sustainable fishery and ecosystem.
“If memory serves, it was a remarkable transformation,” says Geoff.
Soon after the water treatment and rehabilitation process was fully underway, additional rainbow trout were stocked to build the fishery. It rekindled a life-long passion, albeit on a larger scale: aquarium tending. This means Geoff’s pond doesn’t experience a tremendous amount of fishing, however the fish are tended almost like pets. The water management strategy has created a robust fishery.
The aeration design is the foundation of the pond. The oxygen saturation levels dictate the initial dosage amounts of bio-augmentation added to the pond to maintain clarity. This is not a static management strategy that assumes the ecosystem is on a continuous loop. Rather, Geoff has learned to shepherd the pond, keeping an eye on certain indicators which inform decisions around water management. This means that bio-augmentation dosages can change to meet new water quality developments in response to environmental factors like the weather.
“Max at Smoky Trout has been great at teaching me. He’s got me to the point where I can make some decisions and have some knowledge. He held my hand through the process,” says Geoff.
Water Quality and Quality of Life
The extraordinary water quality has transformed the purpose of the pond. It has become the focal point of the property. All summer long, guest stop by for kayaking, jumping off docks, swimming and just whiling away the hot days of a prairie summer. The water clarity is achieved with a bio-augmentation approach that builds on the aeration design to create enticing water.
This is an "after" picture of the Gosling Family Pond, and it shows what good water management can do.
“The water is just that clear, people can’t stay out. They bring floaties, they can’t wait to get in their bathing suits and on the water,” says Geoff.
A thriving social life built around the pond is just one benefit for Geoff. When the invited crowds go home and it is Geoff, the fish and the pond there are some benefits that can’t quite be quantified. There is time to take pleasure in the small routines of maintenance. Now that the pond management is set up, the maintenance time is minimal, which leaves plenty of time to appreciate what has been built.
“It’s not just a body of water, it’s something I care for,” says Geoff.
Nicole and Midnight enjoying the water on a hot summer day. Kayaking is just one of the ways that the Gosling Family and Friends spend their summer.