By Ean Sims, Aquatic Biologist / Published April 2022
Despite the beauty, recreational space, and natural wildlife habitats that our nearby waterbodies provide, lakes and ponds that are not properly and proactively managed are often plagued with various ailments like nuisance weeds and algae, cloudiness, bad odors, flooding, and erosion. Property managers understand the financial and reputational risks that unhealthy waterbodies pose in their communities and often express similar questions and concerns when meeting with aquatic management experts for the first time.
Without proper water quality testing and analysis, it can be difficult to determine the exact cause behind a green pond. The green you’re seeing may be algae. While algae look similar to some aquatic plants, they lack true roots, stems, and leaves and can be present in two forms: microscopic or filamentous.
Microscopic algae are single-cell plants suspended within the water column, usually resulting in a “pea-soup” look. Microscopic algae, specifically cyanobacteria (blue-green algae), are capable of producing toxins, which can be detrimental to the health of humans, pets, and wildlife. Filamentous algae have a “stringy” look and often create large mats on the water’s surface or along the bottom.
Nuisance weeds and algal blooms can be the result of various factors but are usually due to excessive nutrient loading from stormwater runoff that contains fertilizers, sewage, trash, and animal waste. Nutrient mitigation treatment can be performed to remove excess nutrients from within the waterbody. These treatments may involve the application of eco-friendly products that bind with phosphorus and nitrogen, thus improving water quality and limiting the potential for excess nutrients to fuel weed and algae growth.
It’s also important to address the source of excess nutrients. Phosphorus and nitrogen typically flow into waterbodies through stormwater runoff. Installing a beneficial vegetative buffer comprised of native flowering plants will help preventively filter out nutrients and other pollutants while adding aesthetic beauty to the shoreline.
To target severe growth, highly targeted herbicide or algaecide treatments conducted by licensed professionals may also be needed. New technologies like professional drones are making this safer, more efficient, and less intrusive in HOAs, apartment complexes, and communities.
There are some visual ways to determine if a pond is safe for swimming. Using basic observation skills and judgment, some “red flags” of unsafe waters can indicate the need for water quality testing.
Water color is a good primary indicator of water quality; if it is noticeably different or unusual (i.e., green, soupy-looking), toxic algae may be present. Another red flag is scent—foul odors can be produced by harmful factors within the waterbody and can indicate that something is wrong. A visible fish kill or other wildlife impact can also signal that the waterbody is unfit for use. Furthermore, aquatic plants may not seem problematic but can be dangerous if they are dense and high within the water column as they could become tangled in the legs of swimmers or boat propellers. Unstable shorelines may also pose a danger.
Although signs of unsafe water are not always inherently obvious, good judgment and observation can offer a lot of information. The best approach for validating safe water is periodic inspections and water quality analysis by a professional.
Shoreline erosion is natural but is expedited by urban development, pollution, and recreation. It can degrade shoreline property, increase the risk of flooding, threaten aesthetic appeal, and endanger residents. In many cases, the deep cracks and gullies that appear can expose sprinkler systems, drainage pipes, and electrical cables, leading to costly repairs. Likewise, due to the effects of erosion, lakefront homeowners may find that their property decreases in size and value over time.
Proactive, ongoing shoreline maintenance is an important part of lake and pond management. Introducing native, deep-rooted buffer plants can help contain the sediment and filter the polluted runoff that flows into the water during rainstorms. Shorelines that are already suffering from severe erosion may benefit from complete restoration using bioengineered shoreline techniques. Patented knit mesh materials are available to reshape, anchor, and stabilize sediment for long-lasting durability. Once a system is in place, sod and beautiful beneficial buffer plants can be planted on top for aesthetic appeal and additional soil containment benefits.
Sediment and organic matter often accumulate within waterbodies over time. Bathymetric mapping studies every one to three years are the best way to determine if a pond is filling in with sediment and can indicate when it is necessary to conduct hydro-raking or dredging efforts.
Hydro-raking is an option to regain depth by removing plant material and unconsolidated bottom sediment. A hydro-rake is essentially a floating backhoe that removes muck and debris from the bottom of a waterbody. The removal of organic material and unconsolidated bottom sediments helps restore pond volume and maintain pond nutrients at healthy levels.
Hydro-raking offers an affordable alternative to dredging, which can be a tremendous expense for a community; however, if sediment build-up is excessive, dredging may be necessary to completely restore pond depth and reset the waterbody for long-term health and functionality. Communities can prepare for a future dredging project with strategic budgeting and recurring bathymetric studies and postpone it with preventive management solutions like biological bacteria applications, nutrient remediation, and erosion control.
There are various management options for ailments impacting our lakes and ponds, but the most important element is prevention through diligent, proactive attention to your waterbody. It is crucial to seek out professionals to conduct regular inspections, accurately identify problems, and develop a year-round management plan for your aquatic ecosystem. Early detection of problematic aquatic plants and conditions can help prevent irreversible imbalances in your waterbody while enhancing its health and natural beauty.
Aquatic Biologist, SOLitude Lake Management
Ean Sims is an aquatic biologist at SOLitude Lake Management, a leading freshwater management firm that provides sustainable lake, pond, wetland, and fisheries management solutions. Ean is dedicated to using eco-friendly tools and technologies to enhance the health and beauty of aquatic habitats in Florida. His expertise is invaluable for property managers who desire to make water a focal point in their communities. He takes pride in helping them understand the science and psychological impact behind freshwater management so that they can make decisions with confidence. For more information, visit solitudelakemanagement.com.