December 1, 2013
By Melanie Downes
When people think of ponds, some may think ‘green’ is just for algae. Today, however, ponds can be crystal clear and environmentally ‘green.’ In fact, ponds are esthetically beautiful, incredibly relaxing, and offer a variety of ecological benefits. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), for instance, gasoline-powered landscape equipment (e.g. mowers, trimmers, blowers, and chainsaws) used to maintain traditional landscapes account for more than five per cent of urban air pollution. Further, residential application of pesticides is typically at a rate 20 times that of farmers per acre; yard wastes (mostly grass clippings) comprise 20 per cent of municipal solid waste collected, and most still ends up in landfills; and a lawn has less than 10 per cent of the water absorption capacity of a natural woodland—one reason for suburban flooding. Replacing all or at least some portions of a lawn with a pond can actually support the environment.
Ponds have been around forever, but the trend is increasing in popularity. Ecosystem ponds and ecological swim ponds are inspired by natural environments and use nature as a living filtration system. Without the use of chemicals, pond owners are as close to a natural body of water in their own backyard without the need to drive anywhere. This is one of many ‘green’ benefits—less harmful emissions from cars as pond owners get to enjoy their ‘staycation’ every day without having to commute to the cottage.
There are five main elements to creating a healthy ecosystem pond. They include: filtration (both biological and mechanical), rocks and gravel, recirculation pump systems, fish, and aquatic plants.
These elements all work together in nature by the infinite and constantly evolving ecosystem. For instance, fish nibble on plants and algae, which in turn produce waste along with other debris, which falls to the bottom of the pond. Debris is then broken down by the aerobic bacteria and the other micro-organisms colonized on the rocks and gravel, which are also found on the bottom of the pond. Once broken down, these substances are absorbed as essential nutrition for healthy plants. The plants grow, and the fish once again nibble on them.
People want their gardens lush and their grass green, which requires spending endless hours of watering and thousands of gallons of water. In fact, running a sprinkler for two hours can use up to 1,900 L (502 gal) of water. Unfortunately, much of this water is not actually absorbed by the lawn’s root system and is simply a waste of a precious resource. On the other hand, ponds and swim ponds are enclosed systems, which require water only to replace that which has evaporated and not naturally restored by rain. Further, swim ponds never have to be emptied or the water replaced. The pond’s lush plants are also are self-sustaining with hydration from the pond water and rain.
Pesticides and fertilizers are harmful to water supplies; therefore, replacing grass with a pond eliminates the need to use chemicals to keep grass green and free of weeds. A pond’s natural ecosystem does not require the use of chemicals either. Water treatments (i.e. beneficial bacteria) are designed to be safe for fish, plants, and people. They are not poisonous and have no detrimental side effects to their surroundings. Further, pond water does not become runoff, nor does it carry harmful pesticides and fertilizers into nearby sewer systems.
Beneficial bacteria are specially formulated for pond use to help keep the water balanced and clear. They effectively reduce the buildup of sludge, uneaten fish food, fish waste, dead and decaying plant materials, and excess nutrients. One example is barley straw, which has been used for centuries to keep water conditions in ponds and streams clean and clear. In fact, it is still used today.
Building ponds also produce natural habitats, which further create homes for birds, frogs, and other creatures. Habitat loss and modification are likely the greatest threats to frogs and toads. Backyard pond/swim ponds, however, provide a natural habitat, thus helping the survival of frogs, newts, and native salamander species, which are losing their homes at a rapid rate due to urban sprawl. Birds also love having a place to stop during long migrations, and for their morning bath. Bathing and drinking is essential to their preening.
Pond owners who live in suburbia that think they will not see much animal activity are wrong. In fact, these ponds are a mecca for cardinals, finches, doves, chickadees, robins, and various species of butterflies as well.
Dragon flies breed in water and need submerged plants for the developing larvae. It is the most beautiful sight to have dragon flies zipping around. With all of this activity, pond owners reap the benefits of sitting and watching nature take course, while at the same time know their enjoyment is helping the environment.
Many clients never realize how intrigued they would be after installing a pond. For some it opens new opportunities to enjoy the local bird population, while for others it becomes a place where family memories are created.
Pond pumps have gone high tech; low-efficiency sump pumps or pool pumps are no longer being used. Now, asynchronous and magnetic-drive pumps are highly efficient and have low operating costs. For example, a 7,570 litre per hour (lph) (2,000 gallon per hour [gph]) pump costs approximately $12.67 per month to operate versus a 0.5-horsepower (hp) sump pump, which would cost approximately $95.04 per month. And, as people love to use their ponds at night to enjoy nature in the evening, halogen lights are now being replaced with light-emitting diode (LED) lighting. This alone saves approximately 85 to 90 per cent in electrical costs. Further, LEDs last up to 10 times longer than halogens.
Landscaping can also change the microclimate around a building by 20 to 25 degrees. According to the US Department of Energy, energy-efficient landscaping (including pond installations) can save homeowners up to 30 per cent on their heating bills. As such, even a small pond can change the microclimate around a building, significantly reducing the temperature.
Ponds can also be used to harvest rainwater whereby combining the beauty of a water feature with a revolutionary system for capturing water for reuse. Sustainable rainwater management is a major issue. According to the EPA, rainwater runoff is one of the main reasons 40 per cent of lakes, rivers, and estuaries are not clean enough to fish or swim. Rainwater harvesting is also a great method for reducing flooding in both residential and commercial areas. The unique integration of a pond provides a method of water filtration, while at the same time enhances the overall landscape design. Further, the water contained in the pond can be used as irrigation for lawn and flowerbeds, topping off the swimming pool or hot tub, or even washing the car.
Ponds also come in handy when so many municipalities today have water bans. Capturing rainwater in a pond creates true self-sustainability, drastically reducing the need for chemically treated traditional water sources.
Noise pollution in subdivisions and metropolitan areas can be a real concern. No one wants to sit and relax outside just to hear the sound of cars, or worse, neighbours. Water features such as ponds, which include moving water (e.g. waterfall), not only help to create a visual distraction, but also help to drown out many annoying sounds. Nature soundtracks are popular because people love to relax to the soothing melody of waterfalls and wildlife. Ponds help people escape from the world around them, whereby creating a private garden oasis. Further, they do not just attract creatures, they attract people—especially children. Ponds can help kids learn about the environment first-hand by interacting with a natural ecosystem.
For clients who have water drainage problems and/or noise pollution issues, or simply want to create a natural habitat in their backyard, natural ecosystem ponds are a great way to accomplish all of these things.
Melanie Downes is chief operations and marketing officer for Clearwater Ponds, certified aquascape and rainwater harvest contractors in Burlington, Ont. Downes has been in the pond industry for more than 10 years and is experienced in designing, installing, and maintaining natural waterscapes. The company recently opened a large showroom and retail store to cater to clients and contractors who want to build ponds and water features in the Golden Horseshoe area. Downes can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
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